Most Civil War sites tell a story of battles lost and won. But a handful of sites in and around Fairfax County tell the tales of the men who changed the course of history.
One such man was Robert E. Lee. Born in 1807 at Stratford Hall Plantation, Lee was part of one of Virginia's most prominent family dynasties. Lee's ancestors were among the earliest settlers in Virginia and his father was Revolutionary War hero, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee. Lee himself was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican-American War.
While the nation prepared for civil war in 1861, President Lincoln summoned Lee to Washington and offered him command of the Union Army. Less than a month before, Lee stated, "I shall never bear arms against the Union, but it may be necessary for me to carry a musket in the defense of my native state, Virginia, in which case I shall not prove recreant to my duty."
Caught between his national loyalty and his love for Virginia, Lee turned down Lincoln's offer and returned to his Arlington estate. He spent the evening in his wife's flower garden contemplating the most momentous decision in his life. Afterward, he resigned from the U.S. Army and the next day took command of the Virginia state militia and ultimately, the Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee would lead his army to such hallowed grounds as Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor. His abilities as a master tactician and supreme motivator in battle have been praised over the years by most military historians.
Lee and his undersupplied and overmatched army would eventually succumb to General Grant at Appomattox Court House in 1865. After surrendering at Appomattox he found himself departing the life of a soldier and using his leadership skills as president of a small college in Virginia. Lee died in October 1870 and was buried at the chapel at the University that now bears his name.