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Gen. Robert E. Lee in Texas

December 27, 2023 - 00:00
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“There is probably no single person in Southern history more revered than General Robert Edward Lee,” states historian Jeff Carroll in his book Being Texan.

Few know that General Lee spent more military time in Texas than he did as President of the Confederacy.

Born into military life as the son of General Henry Lee and Ann Carter Lee in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1807, he graduated second in his class from West Point in 1829. Two years later while serving as a 2nd Lieutenant at Fortress Monroe in Virginia he married Mary Curtis in 1831. They had seven children.

During the time Texas was fighting for independence and became a country as the Republic of Texas, young Lee was a chief engineer, planning harbor facilities along the Mississippi River.

It would be ten years later after Texas became a state in 1846, before Lee would serve in Texas during the Mexican War.

Historian Carroll details his early Texas career. He began serving with General John E. Wool on the march from San Antonio to Buena Vista. Later in the war, he served as General Winfield Scott’s chief of staff on the march from Veracruz to Mexico City during which he was advanced first to major, lieutenant colonel, and then colonel for conspicuous gallantry during military action.

Carroll described these advancements as “stepping stones,” as following the war he was assigned to building forts and soon became commandant of his alma mater West Point from 1852 to 1855.

In 1855, Congress authorized formation of two new regiments of infantry and two of cavalry with Lee named second in command of the Second U.S. Cavalry and brought his troops to San Antonio. The Texas western frontier was over 1,200 miles long and only under 3,000 men to defend it against raiding Indians. Lee became the commander of two squadrons of cavalry at Camp Cooper in Shackleford County in the near Panhandle section of Texas.

This was a section of Texas open for settlement but with about 30,000 Comanches located in dispersed raiding bands. On July 4, 1856, Lee wrote his wife Mary that the only shelter from the sun was “my blanket elevated on four sticks driven into the ground.” That summer Lee led four squadrons of cavalry in a 1,600-mile exploration of the upper reaches of the Brazos River and the Cap Rock region.

In 1859, his wife Mary’s father died, and Lee returned to Washington to oversee the estate settling. During this time John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry that triggered Lee to lead a company of Marines to put down the insurrection. But, in 1860, Lee returned to San Antonio moving headquarters to Fort Mason in Mason County. His group was then dispatched to the Rio Grande in pursuit of Juan Cortina, called the Mexican Robin Hood.

During that time South Carolina seceded from the Union, to be soon followed by the secession of several other southeastern states. With Texas considering succession in December 1860, Lee was called back to Washington and offered command of the Union Army. Lee was earlier aware that he would soon be called by the Union, but deep down he was a Virginian and so chose his home state and the Confederacy.

The little-known 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that the Constitution recognizes us as citizens first of our sovereign states, and secondly of the United States. Lee followed the Constitution.

Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. See for more information and membership.