5 Things You Didn't Know About Robert E. Lee

On this day in 1870, General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, died at his home in Lexington, Virginia. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Robert E. Lee.


Lee Was Offered The Command of Both Armies Lee was a West Point graduate, made a career out of the Army, and was respected by many. President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the position of commander for the Union forces. He was also offered a high rank in the Confederate Army. In the end, he chose the latter. When he turned down the Union position, he stated that he could not engage in war against his homeland of Virginia. And, since Virginia had democratically decided to leave, he felt compelled to join their cause.

He Married George Washington's Great-Granddaughter Robert E. Lee might have fought for the South, but you can't get much more American than marrying George Washington's great-granddaughter (which he did). Lee’s family left Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, a short distance from Mount Vernon, which was owned by George Washington Parke Custis, the former president’s step-grandson. Parke Custis had one daughter, the vivacious Mary, who stood to inherit the estate, and Lee married her in 1831. The couple had seven children, with six surviving their father.


He Had a Perfect Record at West Point With little money for his education, Robert E. Lee went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for a military education.  In 1829, he graduated second in his class, and – in a true feat – he graduated with no demerits during his four years at the academy. He is only one of two cadets who never had a single demerit. Following graduation, he entered the Engineer Corps but went back to West Point to serve as its superintendent in 1852.

His Estate Became Arlington National Cemetery Arlington was the 1,100-acre property that Lee’s wife had inherited through her father, George Washington Parke Custis, and both of her parents were buried there. After the Lees abandoned the property at the start of the Civil War, the U.S. Army seized the estate to defend Washington, D.C. The property was basically confiscated during the war, and the Lee family continued to wrangle with the government about the estate as late as 1882 when it had already been established as Arlington National Cemetery.

Lee Was Buried Without Shoes After the war, Lee was not arrested but he lost his right to vote. He accepted an offer to become the president of Washington College in 1865 and remained so till his death. Lee suffered a stroke on September 28, 1870 and died 2 weeks later due to the effects of pneumonia. Due to heavy rains, the only undamaged coffin that could be found for him was a little short and hence he was buried without his shoes.