Colonel Robert E. Lee Resigns

Will Robert E. Lee Be Loyal To The United States Or To Virginia?

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807, at Stratford in Westmoreland County, Virginia and he spent his youth and adulthood in Northern Virginia. The Lee family roots run deep into the early history of the United States and Virginia. When the Civil War begins, Robert E. Lee will have to decide between giving his loyalty to the state of Virginia, or to the United States of America.

Winfield Scott Recommends Robert E. Lee For United States Army Command

Winfield Scott

General Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott’s long military career was a distinguished one. Scott served the United States in the War of 1812 and in the Mexican-American War, at the beginning of the Civil War, he was general-in-chief of the United States Army. By the time of the Civil War, General Winfield Scott was not the strong and healthy physical specimen he once was. He was now in his mid-seventies and he was unable to lift himself up onto a horse. Although his mind remained sharp, his physical condition meant Scott’s days of field command were behind him.

Winfield Scott knew the Civil War would be a long and difficult conflict that would require more time, men, and resources than was generally believed. General Scott understood it would take a time to raise and train an army before it could be effective in the field. He knew that a plan must be in place for the conduct of the war. Scott developed the Anaconda Plan which included blockading the coast, gaining control of the Mississippi River, take military power into the South. Scott’s plan was a good one and it is basically how the United States fought the Civil War. General Scott also knew the army would need a commander. After Abraham Lincoln’s election, secession fever was in the air as Southern states began steadily seceding from the Union. Scott made a recommendation to Lincoln in April 1861, that Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia be made field commander of the new and now forming Union Army outside of Washington. Southern states had seceded from the Union, but Virginia had not left the Union.

Ten States Had Seceded From The Union Through February, 1861

  • Alabama – January 11, 1861
  • Arkansas – May 6, 1861
  • Florida – January 10, 1861
  • Georgia – January 19, 1861
  • Louisiana – January 26, 1861
  • Mississippi – January 9, 1861
  • North Carolina – May 20, 1861
  • South Carolina – December 20, 1860
  • Tennessee – June 8, 1861
  • Texas – February 1, 1861

Virginia Secedes And Robert E. Lee Chooses Virginia Over The United States

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee was stationed in Texas when it seceded on February 1. Lee received orders from Lieutenant General Winfield Scott to report to him in Washington. On March 1, 1861, Lee arrived at his family home of Arlington, located just across the Potomac River from Washington.

Robert E. Lee served under Winfield Scott during the Mexican War and Scott held Lee in high regard. Scott once said of Lee, “the very finest soldier I’ve ever seen.” Winfield Scott was a Virginian, he wanted his fellow Virginian to stay loyal to the United States and to remain in the United States Army. On March 16, Robert E. Lee was promoted to Colonel of the First United States Cavalry. Although Lieutenant General Winfield Scott could not technically offer Lee the command of United States forces in Washington (that was up to Secretary of War Simon Cameron), discussions between Winfield Scott and Robert E. Lee began that early March. Scott was almost certainly urging Lee to remain loyal and to accept command of the United States Army.

Fort Sumter was lost for the Union when it was surrendered on April 13 and then evacuated on April 14. Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861 (See: Virginia Ordinance Of Secession). On April 18, Robert E. Lee was requested to meet separately with Winfield Scott and Francis Preston Blair. Blair was a journalist and newspaper editor with significant political influence. Blair later said the reason he met with Lee was, “In the beginning of the war Secretary Cameron asked me to sound General Robert E. Lee, to know whether his feelings would justify him in taking command of our army.” During Blair’s meeting with Lee (which was through President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron), Blair offered command of the Federal forces outside of Washington to Robert E. Lee with the goal of suppressing the rebellion.

The question challenging Robert E. Lee was whether he would remain loyal to the United States of America, or would he pledge his loyalty to the state of Virginia, with loyalty to the Confederate States of America to follow. It was not an easy question for Lee to answer.

Robert E. Lee’s roots in the United States of America and its army were deep. Lee was a West Point graduate, he’d ranked second in his West Point 1829 class, he was an officer in the United States Army holding the rank of lieutenant colonel, he’d been Superintendent of West Point, and his father was Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee III who was a Revolutionary War officer, “Light Horse Harry” had given George Washington’s eulogy. But foremost, Robert E. Lee was a Virginian. Lee’s loyalty was to the slave state of Virginia.

Robert E. Lee declined the offer to become the commander of the Federal armies. Early on April 20, 1861, Robert E. Lee resigned from the United States Army with a letter to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. Later the same day, he sent another resignation letter to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott.

Robert E. Lee’s Resignation Letter From The United States Army To Simon Cameron

Robert E. Lee resigns his Commission of Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Cavalry in the United States Army

Arlington, Washington City P.O.
20 April 1861

Honble Simon Cameron
Sect. of War


I have the honor to tender the resignation of my Commission of Colonel of the 1st Regt. of Cavalry.

Very respectfully your Ob’t servant

R. E. Lee
Col 1st. Cavalry


Robert E. Lee’s Resignation Letter From The United States Army To Winfield Scott

April 20, 1861

Arlington, Washington City P.O., April 20, 1861
Robert E. Lee


Since my interview with you on the 18th instant I have felt that I ought not longer to retain my commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance.

It would have been presented at once, but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life & all the ability I possessed.

During the whole of that time, more than 30 years, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors, & the most cordial friendship from my companions. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness & consideration, & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation.

I shall carry with me to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defence of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.

Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me most truly yours

R. E. Lee


Robert E. Lee Takes Command Of The Virginia State Forces

On April 25, the War Department had processed Robert E. Lee’s resignation, making it official. Lee was then summoned to Richmond where he met with Virginia’s Governor John Letcher. Letcher offered Lee a major generalship to take command of the Virginia State Forces. Lee accepted this offer. Brigadier General Irvin McDowell gained the command of the United States troops in Washington.


Pook Turtle Ironclad Gunboats

Pook Turtles: The Backbone Of The Brown Water Union Fleet

What Are Pook Turtles? How Did They Get Their Name?

Building City-class ironclad Pook Turtles

Building City-class ironclad Pook Turtles

Pook Turtles were seven ironclad Union gunboats that operated in the “brown water” of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. They were called “Pook Turtles” because their appearance in the water was like that of giant mud turtles, and because they were designed by Samuel M. Pook.

Pook Turtle gunboats were also referred to as City-class or “Eads gunboats.” They were the United States’ first ironclad gunboats. The construction of the Pook Turtles was finished two months before the famous ironclad battle between the Monitor and the Virginia at Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862. Pook Turtles played an important part in the river waters of the Western Theatre for the Union.

Who Made The Pook Turtles?

James Buchanan Eads

James Buchanan Eads

James B. Eads was contracted by the War Department on August 7, 1861, to build the seven ironclad gunboats and to have them and their crews ready for service in sixty-five days. Four of the Pook Turtles were built at Carondolet near St. Louis, Missouri, and three were built in Mound City, Illinois. The average cost per Pook Turtle to build was $101,808.

All seven Pook Turtles were very similar in appearance. To tell them apart, their chimneys had bands painted in different colors. The round-nosed Pook Turtles were flat-bottomed and drew only 6 feet of water so they could operate in shallow waters. The Pook Turtles were 175 feet long, 51 1/2 feet wide, were plated with 2 1/2 inches of iron, had flat sides, and their rear casemates had a 35-degree slope. Each Pook Turtle weighed 512 tons, 122 tons of that weight came from their 2 1/2-inch-thick armor plating. The coal-powered Pook Turtles had a stern paddle wheel, they were weak in power, and clumsy to operate. Most significantly, their design called for 13 heavy guns on each gunboat. The heavy guns on the Pook Turtles made them formidable and deadly war machines.

The Names Of The Pook Turtles And Their Chimney Band Colors

The names of the seven Pook Turtles and the colors of their chimney bands:

  • Cairo – gray
  • Carondelet – red
  • Cincinnati – blue
  • Louisville – green
  • Mound City – orange
  • Pittsburg – brown
  • St. Louis – yellow

What Did The Pook Turtles Do?

The Pook Turtles were effective gunboats. They were the strong backbone of the Union brown water river fleet. In 1862, Pook Turtles were successfully used in the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, Fort Donaldson on the Cumberland River, and Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River.

Pook Turtles were also employed during the campaign on Fort Pillow in April of 1864. The ironclad gunboat Pook Turtles played a strong role at Memphis in June of 1862. At Memphis, Pook Turtles and Union rams outmatched Confederate ram “cottonclads,” which partially used cotton padding as armor.

What Happened To The Pook Turtles?

The St. Louis, renamed to USS Baron DeKalb

The St. Louis, renamed to USS Baron DeKalb

  • The Cairo sank in the Yazoo River after being struck by a torpedo on December 12, 1862.
  • The Carondelet was decommissioned on June 20, 1865, and sold on the following November 29th. Its hull then became a wharf-boat at Gallipolis, Ohio. Its engines were used in a towboat.
  • The Cincinnati was decommissioned on August 4, 1865, then sold on March 28, 1866. It sank at its mooring on the Cache River in 1866.
  • The Louisville was decommissioned on July 21, 1865, and then sold on November 29.
  • The Mound City was sold on November 9, 1865, and broken up in 1866.
  • The Pittsburg was sold on November 29, 1865. Its owners abandoned it in June, 1870.
  • The St. Louis was renamed the Baron De Kalb on September 8, 1862. It sunk one mile below Yazoo City on July 13, 1863, after being struck by a torpedo.

Note: A torpedo during the Civil War was a mine that exploded upon contact. It would float on the water surface or just slightly submerged below.