We here in the United States seem sometimes to bewilder our friends a bit, especially in our choice of heroes. It pays to remember that we are a people who have gloried in our enemies (who have mostly become our friends). The war of 1812, while it had no outcomes that really showed on a map, had results in forming the United States, and Canada as well, into the nations they are now. Part of that for us was that for the first time American troops stood up in the open field to the charge of British regulars, who were the best in the world. The commander of that force, Winfield Scott, would be the Commander of the force that landed at Vera Cruz and took Mexico City, and he would be the commanding general of the entire army in the spring of 1861.
He trained many of the officers who would fight in the Civil War on both sides. It’s worthwhile to remember that the regular army before the Civil War, was very small, and the officers all knew each other. That led to many anomalies, in the war where opposing commanders often knew each other, in fact may well have been friends before the war.
The Mexican war produced quite a few heroes, one of them was a captain, who was brevetted for bravery all the way to Colonel, by the name of Robert Edward Lee.
He was the son of Colonel Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee III one of the best officers of the Revolution, and later Governor of Virginia, and Congressman. It was Lee who was asked to eulogize his friend Washington on his death and did so with the phrase
First in War, First in Peace, First in the hearts of his countrymen
second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life.
There is a genealogy of the family here, although I would warn you the term Professor in 19th century America had a variable meaning, and parts of the South seemed to live in a dream inspired by Sir Walter Scott. In other words, this might be so but, I’d be surprised. It’s fun though. And the Lee’s were among the ‘First Families of Virginia’ in any case.
Light Horse Harry was anything but a farmer and just as bad as a land speculator and ended up spending a couple years in debtors gaol where he wrote Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, still the standard text on that portion of the Revolutionary War.
His last few years were marred by pain from a beating, nearly to death, that he received while defending a friend and freedom of the press, he spent most of the rest of his life in the Caribbean, dying in Georgia at the home of the daughter of his old friend General Greene.
Robert was born to Ann Hill Carter of Shirley Plantation, who married Light Horse Harry while he was Governor in 1793. Because she too had health problems, Robert ended up taking care of her to the point that she said at one point that Robert was both her son and her daughter. It is said that his noted faith in God and attention to duty, which so marked his later life, came from her.
Lee graduated 2d in his class at West Point without a single demerit, and as was traditional for the best was posted to the engineers.
It wouldn’t hurt to note here that West Point was the very first school of engineering in the United States and many, many of the engineers who built America, the railroads, the factories and everything else, came from the Point. This may be one of the biggest legacies that we as Americans owe to our military.
Lee distinguished himself as a combat leader and as a brilliant planner during the Mexican War, when he was on the Staff of Winfield Scott from the amphibious landing at Vera Cruz to the capture by assault of the Citadel of Mexico, in Mexico City. One of the people he impressed greatly was a Captain by the name of Sam Grant.
During the ’50s he took a series of leaves to settle the affairs of his father in law, he was married to Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of George and Mary Washington. During this time he was called from his home, Arlington House, to suppress John Brown’s raid on Harper Ferry, which he did with a coordinated assault by a detachment of Marines. Shortly thereafter he was posted back to Texas as the Colonel of the 1st Cavalry, which is where he was until the Civil War broke out.
He was ordered back to Washington then, where GEN Scott offered him command of the Union Forces gathering in Washington. When Virginia seceeded, he found that his honor forced him to decline, saying in a letter to his sister.
“With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword…..”
This was going on all over the Army at this time. America and it’s army believed above all in the honor of it’s officers, and was well repayed by them.
Well ,it may not have been that formal, but the officers were saying goodbye to their best friends, knowing that the next time they met, it would be on a battlefield, and there are many reports of great sadness and tears on both sides.
Lee would become Military advisor to the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis and then the commander of the Carolina coast defenses, and finally in the spring of 1862 to command of what would become America’s most romantic army, The Army of Northern Virginia. His first campaign was the 7 days battle in the Pennisular campaign where he suffered tactical defeats every day (and even lethargy from Stonewall Jackson) but won a strategic victory by pinning McClellan to his James River base although McClellan had a huge preponderance of force available.
[We will be continuing this]
- When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen… George Washington (sesquicentenary.wordpress.com)
- I had known General Pillow in Mexico, and judged that with any force, no matter how small, I could march up to within gunshot of any entrenchments he was given to hold… U. S. Grant (sesquicentenary.wordpress.com)
Authored By nebraskaenergyobserver