On Robert E. Lee Day, certain states to the South of the U.S. honor and commemorate the famous Confederate general Robert E. Lee on his birthday on January 19. As January hosts two famous state holidays — the other being Martin Luther King Day — some states decided to merge the two events and celebrate both on the third Monday in January. While not a public holiday, this day sees a lot of public outreach programs, educational events, and other activities to convey the significance of this day to citizens.
History of Robert E. Lee Day
Robert Edward Lee came from a blue blood Virginia family, many of whom were legends in the U.S. military. Lee certainly seemed to follow in the family’s footsteps, joining the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduating second in his class in 1829.
For a long while after this, his career with the military did not involve any direct action whatsoever. That is, until the U.S.’s 1845 war with Mexico. He met with and worked with several soon-to-be high-ranking officials across the army, including George Pickett, Ulysses S. Grant, and Winfield Scott. Lee was also serving on the staff to Scott when Mexico City was captured in 1847. Lee greatly impressed his superiors and peers alike with his operations during this war, and he earned promotion after promotion, going from titles of major to lieutenant colonel, and later, to colonel.
Thereafter, America went into the grip of a devastating civil war, with the entire nation divided into two main sections — the Union Army and the Confederate Army. Lee’s reputation as one of the U.S. Military’s best had earned him a recommendation to command the “Union Army” in April 1861 by none other than Abraham Lincoln. However, Lee declined this post, instead of resigning his command and going home to Virginia, where the civil war was just beginning. He supported his home state, acting as the adviser to Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, and later, joining the newly formed “Confederate States Army” as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862. He remained in this post until his surrender three years later.
Robert E. Lee Day timeline
Robert E. Lee is appointed the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point and left his post in 1855 to join the cavalry.
Lee is appointed as the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia.
Texas makes the day an official state holiday, which is renamed Confederate Heroes Day in 1973.
Georgia commemorates Robert E. Lee Day since its establishment, but now changes the name to State Holiday.
Robert E. Lee Day FAQs
Was Robert E Lee a good leader?
Lee was a great leader and tactical leader who deserves to be remembered for his moral strengths. He is still the only person to graduate from West Point Military Academy with not a single demerit. His military tactics were studied and used during World War II even.
Why did General Lee resign his job?
Lee offered to resign his command on Aug. 8 after he had brought the remains of his forces back to Virginia. Lee’s offer to resign stemmed from his military failure, as well as his belief that the public had lost confidence in his ability to command.
Did General Robert E. Lee have a wife?
Mary Anna Custis Lee was his wife. She was the great-granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington, step-great-granddaughter of George Washington, and daughter of George Washington Custis, the step-grandson and adopted son of George Washington
How to Observe Robert E. Lee Day
Check out various official events
Robert E. Lee's birthday might not be celebrated by all U.S. states, but those who do honor him plan a host of special events like marches, parades, or musket salutes. Attend these events in person or online for a reminder about Lee's life and achievements.
Learn about Lee
What inspired his worldview, how many military accomplishments did he have to his name, and why did he fight for the Confederates and not the Union Army? There are plenty of things to learn about Lee. Uncover the man behind the story for a look at how people are eventually shaped by their environment and experience.
Watch a Civil War Reenactment
Plan a visit to a Civil War reenactment site. If you can find one that also involves Lee's part, all the better!
5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Robert E. Lee
Very distant ties to George Washington
Lee's wife Mary was a descendant of George Washington's adopted son — John Parke Custis.
He was an army engineer
Over 26 years, Lee worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping build the waterfront in St Louis and coastal forts in Savannah and Brunswick, Georgia.
He was called the “Marble Model”
His fellow cadets at West Point gave him a nickname that was likely a result of what historians refer to as Lee's 'striking good looks.
He was also called the “Gray Fox”
'Gray' came from his gray horse and the color of his Confederate uniform ' — ‘fox' was to spotlight his military prowess and cunning.
Another Lee celebration
Given his role in the Confederate Army, Lee is also honored on Confederate Memorial Day — also called Confederate Heroes Day — which is celebrated on different dates depending on the state.
Why Robert E. Lee Day is Important
Lee inspired other military men
Like Winston Churchill, who held Lee's military skills in high regard. He even went so far as to call him the 'noblest American who ever lived.
Lee's military legacy is great indeed
Multiple historians believe Lee was one of the better military commanders to serve the U.S. Army. He was also humble enough to admit when he was wrong, as evidenced during his loss in 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. He apologized and admitted his hasty decisions led to his army's defeat, right after the Confederates retreated.
Lee teaches us how to lose
Despite his lingering feelings about losing the Civil War, Lee never publicly criticized the winning side. He reportedly thought that while the Confederacy had given their all to the fight, they lost to a more powerful foe and should accept their defeat.
Robert E. Lee Day dates