This Day In History: January 19

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Confederate General Robert Edward Lee is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during most of the Civil War and his battlefield leadership earned him a reputation as a renowned military leader. 

Lee was born at his family home of Stratford Hall in northeastern Virginia on January 19, 1807. A member of the state’s aristocracy, Lee enrolled at West Point at the age of 18. He was second in his graduating class and attained top marks in artillery, infantry and cavalry studies.

Once Lee graduated, he married Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington from her first marriage, in 1831. The family raised seven children including three sons and four daughters.

In 1846, Lee served the U.S. military in its war against Mexico, where he stood out as a brave commander and brilliant tactician. In the aftermath, Lee was hailed a hero and rose to military prominence.

Lee was added to a shortlist of names to lead the Confederate army should the country go to war with itself around October 1859. Lincoln later offered Lee the post of Union commander during the war, but he turned it down to attend to matters at home. It was only after Virginia voted to secede from the nation on April 17, 1861, that Lee decided to help lead Confederate forces.

Lee challenged Union forces during the war’s bloodiest battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg, before surrendering to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865 at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, marking the end of the devastating conflict. 

He died at age 63 on October 12, 1870, following a stroke.