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

Sir,

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

General:

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.

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Civil War 1861 Timeline

What Happened In The Civil War During 1861?

The Civil War began in 1861 when the Rebels fired upon Fort Sumter. Some other major events of 1861 are: Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated as the 16th president of the United States, the Southern states secede from the Union, the Confederate States of America’s government is formed with Jefferson Davis as its president, Robert E. Lee resigns from the United States Army and decides to fight for the South, both North and South begin to fill their armies by calling for volunteers, United States General-In-Chief Winfield Scott proposes his Anaconda Plan, the Border States are established, the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) is fought, George B. McClellan becomes commander of the Army of the Potomac, Ulysses S. Grant has command of Federal troops in southeastern Missouri and southeastern Illinois, William Tecumseh Sherman has a short time of command in the eastern and central parts of Kentucky, Ball’s Bluff is a Union disaster, Winfield Scott is replaced by George B. McClellan as general-in-chief, and the Trent Affair causes diplomatic problems for the Union.

January

“I cannot comprehend the madness of the times. Southern men are theoretically crazy. Extreme northern men are practical fools, the latter are really quite as bad as the former. Treason is in the air around us every where & goes by the name of Patriotism.”
… Words of Thomas Corwin to Abraham Lincoln on January 16, 1861.

1–6 – During this stretch of dates Southern state militias are busy. Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia, two forts and an arsenal in Alabama, and a United States Arsenal in Apalachicola, Florida, are all occupied by state militias.

5 – A caucus is held by United States senators from six gulf states and Arkansas. Their conclusion is that reconciliation is only a waste of time, and that the slave states should secede and form a confederacy.

Star of the West

Star of the West

5 – The Star of the West is loaded with 200 troops and provisions as it leaves New York. The ship is sailing to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina to provide relief for the troops on duty there.

8 – Jacob Thompson resigns his position as the Mississippi Secretary of the Interior.

9 – The Star of the West has made its way to the South Carolina coast, but rebel fire prevents the ship from entering Charleston Harbor, it returns to New York.

“The first gun of the new struggle for independence [if struggle there is to be] has been fired, and Federal power has received its first repulse.”
… An excerpt from an editorial by the Charleston Mercury on January 10, 1861.

9 – Mississippi secedes from the Union.

10 – Florida secedes from the Union.

11 – Alabama secedes from the Union.

19 – Georgia secedes from the Union.

“The day that Georgia was declared out of the Union was a day of the wildest excitement in Rome [Rome, Georgia]. There was no order or prearrangement about it all, but the people met each other and shook hands and exchanged congratulations over it and manifested the utmost enthusiasm. Of course, a great many of the older and wiser heads looked on with a great deal of foreboding at these rejoicings and evidence of delight, but the general feeling was one of excitement and joy.”
… Georgian Mary A. Ward speaking before Congress after the war.

19 – In an attempt to stave off secession, the state of Virginia proposes a national peace conference.

21 – The United States Senate loses five more members from the South (others had resigned in December, 1860) as they resign. Notable among these resigning senators is Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.

26 – Louisiana secedes from the Union.

29 – After losing five states to secession, the new state of Kansas is admitted as the thirty-fourth state of the Union. The Kansas state constitution prohibits slavery.

February

“Upon my weary heart was showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers, but beyond them, I saw troubles and thorns innumerable. We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by a powerful opposition; but I do not despond and will not shrink from the task imposed on me.”
… Jefferson Davis, the provisional president of the Confederate States of America, writes to his wife, Varina, in February, 1861.

1 – Texas secedes from the Union.

“I am for the Union without any ‘if.’”
… Unlike others in his state, Texas Governor Sam Houston was not in favor of secession.

4 – Virginia’s national Peace Convention opens in Washington, D.C. with former President John Tyler presiding. There are 131 delegates from 21 states in attendance, but there are no delegates present from the seceded states. The convention is boycotted by states of the Deep South.

4 – The six seceded states begin to organize as they meet at a convention in Montgomery, Alabama to create their new government. The seceded states at this time are: South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

8 – At the Montgomery convention, the seceded states adopt a Constitution for their provisional government.

9 – The provisional Confederate Congress at Montgomery elects Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as the provisional Confederate President, and Alexander Stephens of Georgia as the Confederate provisional Vice-President.

“Mr. Davis is a man of slight sinewy figure, rather over the middle height, and of erect, soldierlike bearing. He is about fifty-five years of age; his features are regular and well-defined, but the face is thin and marked on cheek and brow with many wrinkles, and is rather careworn and haggard. One eye is apparently blind, the other is dark, piercing, intelligent.”
… A description of Jefferson Davis by William Russell of the London Times.

“You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”
… Words of Jefferson Davis, the provisional president of the Confederate States of America. February, 1861.

9 – A secession convention up for vote in Tennessee is rejected by nearly ten thousand votes.

10 – In Springfield, Illinois, a tall man named Abraham Lincoln leaves on his journey to Washington, D.C., and his place in history.

13 – The Electoral College confirms Abraham Lincoln’s election as President of the United States.

15 – Now that it has provisional President Jefferson Davis and provisional Vice-President Alexander Stephens, the Montgomery, Alabama Confederate convention acts as a provisional Congress and passes a resolution to take Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina and Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach, Florida. The resolution says that if necessary, force can be used to take these forts.

18 – Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as the provisional President of the Confederacy.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

“The man and the hour have met. Prosperity, honor and victory await his administration.”
… Fire-eater William Lowndes Yancy introducing Jefferson Davis to an enthusiastic crowd. Yancy was one of the South’s most vocal proponents for secession.

23 – Abraham Lincoln completes his journey from Springfield, Illinois when he arrives in Washington, D.C., he has many challenges awaiting him.

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