Lee commanded troops and generals that continually won victory after victory against their Union adversaries.
In September 1862, Lee launched an invasion into Maryland with the hope of shifting the war’s focus from Virginia. But a misplaced dispatch outlining the invasion plan was discovered by Union commander George McClellan, and the two men’s armies faced off at the Battle of Antietam.
Lee fought McClellan to a stalemate on Sept. 17, 1862, following the bloodiest one-day battle of the war. The remainder of 1862 was spent on the defensive, parrying Union thrusts at Fredericksburg and, in May of the following year, Chancellorsville.
Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville inspired him to once again take the fight to enemy soil. In late June 1863, he met the Union army at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in what would become the most famous battle of the entire war. The Confederate war effort reached its high-water mark on July 3, 1863, when Lee ordered a massive frontal assault against the Union center, spearheaded by Virginians under Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett. The attack known as Pickett’s Charge was a failure, and Lee, recognizing the battle was lost, ordered his army to retreat.
Lincoln turned to his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant, to assume overall command of the Union armies. Grant focused on destroying Lee’s army, and by the summer of 1864, the Confederates had been forced into waging trench warfare outside of Petersburg.
On April 9, 1865, Lee was forced to surrender his weary-and-depleted army to Grant at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the Civil War.
Lee returned home on parole and eventually became the president of Washington College in Virginia, now known as Washington and Lee University. He remained in this position until he died in Lexington, Virginia.