The Birth of Robert E. Lee, 1807

2022-01-17T16:24:03-06:00January 17, 2022|HH 2022|

The Birth of Robert E. Lee, January 19, 1807

Robert Edward Lee’s father was a great cavalry commander and hero of the Revolutionary War, General Henry, “Light-Horse Harry,” Lee III. Upon the death of George Washington, Henry Lee proclaimed the immortal words that the Father of his Country, was “First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of his countrymen!” The same was said many times regarding his own son General Robert E. Lee, seventy years later. Robert, like his idol, General Washington, had also chosen secession from the central government, but the outcome proved very different.

General “Light-Horse Harry” Lee (1756-1818), father of Civil War General Robert E. Lee

Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) in 1838 at age 31,
as a Lieutenant of Engineers in the U.S. Army

Robert Edward was the fifth of six children born to General Henry Lee and Anne Hill Carter, January 19, 1807. The old war hero lived an impecunious life, went bankrupt and died in obscurity on an island off the coast of Georgia when Robert was eleven years old. Robert received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825, thanks to the influence of an uncle. After excelling at the academy, he commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Engineers, embarking on a successful military career that included fort-building, state border definition, and engineering duties along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.


Anne Hill Carter Lee (1773-1829)

A view of West Point from Phillipstown as it would have been in 1831, showing the original buildings of the United States Military Academy

Lee served on the staff of General Winfield Scott in the War with Mexico, where he was breveted from Captain to Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel. Scott commented that Robert E. Lee “was the very best soldier I ever saw in the field,” his engineer officer performing extraordinary reconnaissance as well as demonstrating fearlessness under fire in every major battle. Following the war, Lee was able to spend time with his growing family of seven children and his sickly wife Mary, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. After three years as commandant at West Point, Lee was assigned as second in command of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, protecting settlers from attacks by the Apache and Cheyanne tribes in Texas.

An 1854 engraving of
Mary Anna Custis Lee (1807-1873)

General Winfield Scott and U.S. soldiers enter the Plaza de la Constitución after the Fall of Mexico City with the iconic Metropolitan Cathedral in the background

Colonel Lee was at home at Arlington in October of 1859, when he was called upon by President Buchanan, to crush an attack by domestic terrorists against the town of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. They were led by wanted murderer John Brown, whose gang was financed by several New England preachers and millionaires, with the goal of inciting a bloody slave revolt. Colonel Lee sent in the United States Marines, who killed or captured the entire gang. The miscreants were hanged, but the incident became an important factor in the secession of southern states less than two years later.

Arlington House, former home of Robert E. Lee which overlooks the Potomac River and Washington, DC on the opposite side

An artist’s depiction of the scene inside John Brown’s makeshift “fort” (the fire engine house) in Harper’s Ferry during the raid by the U.S. Marines under the leadership of Col. Robert E. Lee

In 1861, seven Deep South states seceded from the United States and organized a government of their own, The Confederate States of America. Abraham Lincoln, the newly elected President, was determined to force the seceded states back into the Union through war, and offered command of the army to Robert E. Lee, recommended to him as the most respected leader in the Army. Because Virginia seceded after the government called for 75,000 volunteers to “suppress the rebellion,” Lee resigned his commission and followed his state of Virginia, saying he could not raise his sword against his own country and his family. He was offered, and accepted, command of the Virginia army.

Lee in full uniform, 1863

Map showing the first seven states to secede in February of 1861:
South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas

In the early days of what would popularly become known as The Civil War, Lee conducted an unsuccessful campaign in the western counties of the state. The Confederate President Jefferson Davis brought Lee to Richmond, the new capital, as his personal military advisor, without field command. General Joseph Johnston assumed command of the Confederate Army in Virginia, eventually numbering about 90,000 men. In the first major campaign in the Eastern Theatre of the war, the new commander was wounded in the first battle known as “Seven Pines.” President Davis replaced Johnston with Robert E. Lee, who then commanded what became known as “The Army of Northern Virginia,” for the next three years. As Lee’s biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman stated, in his first two years.

Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) President of the Confederate States of America

“Lee fought ten battles, and indisputably won six of them, while meeting definite defeat in only one . . . and occupied as much of the thoughts and attention of the Northern war effort that he prevented the hosts of the Union from achieving more success elsewhere. He was superb on both the offensive and the defensive.”

As a strategist and tactician he has had few peers in history. He worked in harmony with his superior, the President, as well as with his subordinate commanders. In the spring of 1864, Union General Ulysses Grant, after defeating Confederate forces in the Western Theatre of the war, came east, and with the overwhelming firepower of an army of more than 100,000, conducted the Overland Campaign and Siege of Petersburg against Lee’s dwindling numbers, but at great cost in lives and treasure. By April, 1865, Lee’s Army was trapped and compelled to yield to “overwhelming numbers and resources” at Appomattox, Virginia.

Union General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) in 1864

The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865

His errors and weaknesses notwithstanding, Robert E. Lee’s character and generalship have been admired, imitated, and celebrated ever since. His sterling example, faith in God, and submission to Providence, have kept him in the first rank of great Christian warriors in history. In recent years attempts have been made to erase him from the history books, and vilify his honor and reputation by the myth-makers who live in a utopian fantasy world of their own making. Facts, however, are still stubborn things, as are the hearts of people who know the truth and will not compromise with the ever-changing whims of fashion.

In this 1865 picture taken at his Franklin Street home in Richmond, Lee is seen seated between his son, George Washington Custis (on his right) and Lt. Colonel Walter H. Taylor on his left

The Secession of Florida, 1861

2022-01-10T15:36:19-06:00January 10, 2022|HH 2022|

“Brothers will turn against their own brothers and hand them over to be killed.” —Matthew 10:21a

The Secession of Florida, January 10, 1861

The State of Florida is no stranger to controversy. They are in the news today because of the high value the governor places on personal liberty and Constitutional fidelity. It is not the first time such has been the case. On January 10, 1861, Florida formally seceded from the Federal Union, joining six other states of the Deep South in forming an independent Confederacy. Most people, including Floridians, know little of the Confederate State of Florida since it was the least populous state and far from the major battlefields. Nonetheless, Florida played a key strategic role in the War Between the States as a haven for blockade runners, a breadbasket for the armies, and an occasional fight—including the second bloodiest battle of the war per number of participants!

Drawn c. 1565 by French artist Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, this is one of the earliest and most influential maps of Florida and the surrounding region ever published. The fascinating story of this map begins with the ambitions of the influential Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny who, desirous of establishing a French foothold on the American mainland, sent the talented navigator Jean Ribaut to establish a colony.

The election of 1860 featured the Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln against the split Democratic Party with Vice President John C. Breckinridge representing the Southern faction and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the titular leader of the Party. A fourth candidate of an ad hoc party, the Constitutional Union, and also a southerner, John Bell of Tennessee, filled out the slate. The Republican Party itself was only six years old but had made a surprisingly good run four years earlier. They were a conglomerate of special interest groups—former Whigs, Free-Soil Party faithful, Abolitionists, and others. Their platform contained positions which the South considered inimical to their interests, and threatened to leave the Union if Lincoln were elected. In Florida, Southern Democrat Breckinridge received more than 62% of the vote, and Bell got the rest. The Republican Party was not even on the ballot, though they won the general election with less than 40% of the U.S. popular vote, but more than enough of the Electoral College.

John C. Breckinridge (1821-1875) was an American lawyer, politician, and soldier, and served as the 14th and youngest-ever Vice President of the United States

The Electoral College results from the 1860 election where Abraham Lincoln won with just under 40% of the popular vote

On November 26, the Florida Governor, Madison Starke Perry asked the state legislature to call for the election of delegates to a secession convention to explore the possibility of leaving the Union. Florida’s Senators, Yulee and Mallory, both in favor of secession, sought information in Washington D.C. concerning the United States Forts on Florida soil, soon to be taken by the Florida militia army being formed. Most of the forts would succumb without fanfare. Several would remain in Union hands throughout the coming war.

Madison Starke Perry (1814-1865) served as Florida’s 4th Governor from 1857-1861

Florida Senator David Yulee (1810-1866)

Florida Senator Stephen Mallory (1812-1873)

The 1860 census indicated there were about 140,000 residents in the state, 77,000 whites and 63,000 black, both slave and free. The state was primarily agricultural, with a number of large plantations and cattle ranches, especially in the center of the state. The Florida secession convention assembled in Tallahassee on January 3, 1861. Emotions ran high for secession as speeches for just such a measure proclaimed Floridian independence. On January 10, the Ordinance of Secession passed 62-7 and was signed publicly the following day. Florida became the third state, behind South Carolina and Mississippi, to leave the Union. Efforts to raise regiments began immediately, in case of retaliation by the new government in Washington. Both senators promptly resigned and returned to Florida. Stephen Mallory would eventually become the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, an excellent choice as it turned out; Senator David Yulee, raised in a Sephardic family and served in Congress as the first Jewish Senator, returned to his business interests, especially railroads for the duration of the war. (An aside: Yulee converted to Christianity when he married a Kentucky girl and they raised their children as Episcopalians.)

Composite of the men who attended the 1861 Florida secession convention

Handwritten copy of the Ordinance of Secession passed on January 10, 1861 by the members of the Florida Convention of the People (commonly referred to as the Secession Convention)

Regiments of Floridians served in both major Confederate armies, and a number of men of the Sunshine State rose to generalship, Edmund Kirby Smith of St. Augustine becoming a Full General and in command of all the CSA armies of the trans-Mississippi. His was the last major army of the Confederacy to surrender. Much of the military action in Florida involved small groups of troops and raids against outposts and foraging columns. Union troops captured Jacksonville and St. Augustine early in the conflict, and fought a battle in Gainesville. The state supplied the CSA armies with beef and provender, the last major “bread-basket” of the Confederacy after the destruction of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

General Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893), officer in the Confederate Army and native of St. Augustine, Florida

Join us next month in sunny Florida as we visit the magnificent Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Ft. Caroline, the French Huguenot colony at Jacksonville, and a top-notch Civil War reenactment at Olustee BattlefieldLearn More >

The Battle of New Orleans, 1815

2022-01-10T14:20:16-06:00January 5, 2022|HH 2022|

“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” —Ecclesiastes 9:11

The Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815

If ever there was an international city in America, New Orleans was it. The city was founded by the French Mississippi Company in 1718, ceded to Spain as a result of the French and Indian War (7 Years War) in 1765, returned to French control in 1803 and was the same year included in the Louisiana Purchase, making it a United States territory. Immigrants from all those countries, plus Germans, Jews, Poles and Italians, not to mention thousands of both free and slave Africans called New Orleans home in 1815. The city was known for its aggressive pirate bands led by Jean LaFitte, and the predominant religions of the area were Roman Catholicism and Voodoo. Toward the end of the War of 1812, England decided it was their turn to own New Orleans and thus control all the trade on the Mississippi River, so they sent an army fresh from defeating Napoleon Bonaparte, to seize it from the Americans. That most polyglot mixture of local ruffians, American regulars, militias, blacks, slave and free, and pirates—led by the only man on the continent who could command such a mob, Andrew Jackson—determined to prevent his majesty’s forces from capturing the immensely profitable chaos that was New Orleans.

The Battle of New Orleans was the climax of the five-month Gulf Campaign (September 1814 to February 1815) by Britain to capture New Orleans. Above is a depiction of the night attack of December 23, 1814 where Choctaws and a mixed group of Major Daquin’s Battalion of Free Men of Colour face off against members of the British 85th and 95th Regiments.

Great Britain and the United States had gone to war against each other in 1812. Both sides won and lost battles on the sea and land, with the British given the edge with their capture and burning of the enemy capitol of Washington, DC on August 24, 1814. With the repulse of the English Navy at Baltimore and the defeat of a major expedition on Lake Champlain, the British agreed to sit down at Ghent in Belgium and discuss a cease-fire and end the war. The belligerents signed the Peace Treaty on December 24, 1814, awaiting only the approval of the United States Senate for it to legally and officially end the war. While the treaty was crossing the ocean for that purpose, the expedition to capture New Orleans came to shore among the bayous above New Orleans.

The Treaty of Ghent, December 24, 1814: The leading British delegate Lord Gambier is shaking hands with the American leader John Quincy Adams; the British Undersecretary of State for War and the Colonies, Henry Goulburn, is carrying a red folder

Knowing of the expedition, President Madison had ordered Tennessee General Andrew Jackson—the recent victor in settling the Creek Civil War, and subsequent acquisition of their tribal lands in the Treaty of Fort Jackson—to gather his forces and save New Orleans. Jackson, who had grown up on the frontier in the Carolinas and Tennessee and achieved great success as a lawyer, judge, and now General of the Tennessee Army and its allies, hustled over to the city at the mouth of the Mississippi River to prepare defenses along the bayous protecting the land approaches.

General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), c. 1819

Battle of New Orleans by Jean Hyacinthe de Laclotte (1766-1829), a member of the Louisiana Militia who participated in the battle; painted by him after the victory based on his sketches made at the scene, and showing Chalmette Plantation on the far left, next to Rodriguez Canal which leads into the Mississippi River in the foreground

Jackson was eager to face General Edward Packenham’s veterans, for he was still harboring a secret desire for revenge for a wound he had received as a young man from a British officer during the War for American Independence. The British arrived on New Year’s Day, 1815, and began an artillery bombardment on the American earthwork and cotton bale fortifications which crossed Chalmette Plantation. In the ensuing exchange of artillery fire, the Americans “silenced” thirteen British guns, killing or wounding about one hundred soldiers to their own loss of about thirty-five. A group of Tennessee militia and Choctaw warriors repulsed an attempted flanking attack by British infantry. Several other indecisive skirmishes ensued in the following week. A frustrated and angry General Pakenham determined to finish off the amateur “squirrel hunters,” in an all-out, two-pronged assault on the American entrenchments on January 8.

After refusing to clean the boots of one of his captors, young Andrew Jackson received a slash of a British officer’s sword, leaving the youth with scars on his left hand and head and an enduring hatred for the British.

A Landmark Events tour group at Chalmette Plantation, New Orleans, Louisiana

A left-flank British task force, on the other side of the river, was given the goal of capturing the American artillery position, then turning the guns on Jackson’s troops directly across, in support of the main British attack. The assault started eight hours late, due to the muddy terrain, and though ultimately successful, was too late to assist the main effort against the American fortifications. The British infantry stepped off on time against the main body of American defenders, in dark and foggy conditions. Difficulties immediately impeded the Red Coats’ efforts.

General Andrew Jackson stands on the parapet of his makeshift defenses as his troops repulse attacking Highlanders

The 44th Foot Regiment neglected to bring the ladders and fascines with which to cross the eight-foot-deep, fifteen-foot-wide moat in front of Jackson’s army. They were instantly exposed to a withering fire from artillery and rifles, with no means “to close with the bayonet.” The 93rd Highlanders (later in history known as the “Sutherlands”), captured a small segment of the American right flank, but were pinned in place and shot to pieces as Jackson rushed reinforcements into that sector. As the 21st Regiment of Foot assaulted the center of Jackson’s line, General Pakenham and his second-in-command General Gibbs, were both killed by artillery rounds. Desperate fighting destroyed the piecemeal attack, and the British troops were withdrawn altogether on January 28. For all practical purposes, the Battle of New Orleans was over, with the British army suffering more than 2,000 casualties to the Americans’ 71! New Orleans remained in American hands, not to be attacked again until 1862 when Yankee invaders recaptured the city from the Confederacy.

The death of Major General Sir Edward Michael Pakenham (1778-1815)
at the Battle of New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans vaulted Andrew Jackson into national attention in the eastern newspapers, and this greatest American victory in the War of 1812 was ranked with the triumph at Yorktown, thirty-four years earlier. It would prove to be the last serious attack on the United States by a European power, and lead to the domination of American politics by Andrew Jackson for an era.

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