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June 1, 1862: Lee takes Command

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The following is a guest post from Head of Acquisitions & Processing Denise Gallo.

Gen. Robert E. Lee / photograhed by Brady, N.Y. ; engraved by J.C. McRae, N.Y. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

When the Civil War began, Lincoln’s army was under the command of a well-seasoned war hero, General Winfield Scott. For the task at hand, though, his reputation served little, since Scott, whose initial Army commission had been issued in 1808, was 74. Obese and suffering from gout, he was unable to lead troops into battle since he could no longer mount a horse. To take his place, Scott put forth the name of one of the superb young officers who had served on his staff during the Mexican-American War: Robert E. Lee.

Lee, a native Virginian, chose a different path – one which radically changed his destiny and that of thousands of men who faithfully served under him. He declined Lincoln’s invitation to take Scott’s place, resigned his commission in the U.S. Army, and, on June 1, 1862, assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia (he would not be named Confederate Commander-in-Chief until late January of 1865, barely three months before the war ended). In choosing to fight for the South, he joined four other fellow West Point graduates – Joseph E. Johnston, Samuel Cooper, Albert S. Johnston, and P.G.T. Beauregard – as commanders of the various armies of the Confederacy. The aged Scott held onto the command of Union forces until he relinquished it to George McClellan in November.

At the beginning of the war, Northerners celebrated the Union commander in the piano piece “The American Hero’s March,” its title referring more to Scott’s military past than to his future. It would take some time for Lee to gain sufficient reputation to warrant similar musical tributes, but this grand march, published in 1863, serves as one example of the music that memorializes his role in the Civil War.

Comments (2)

  1. That year is not correct. Lee would take command on that date in 1862 following the battle of Seven Pines where his predecessor Joseph E. Johnston was wounded.

    • Thank you! We have corrected the error in this archived blog post.

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