General Fitzhugh Lee, 1835-1905; a biographical study

Readnour, Harry Warren, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia

Fitzhugh Lee was born on November 19, 1835, in Fairfax county, Virginia. He was the grandson of General "Light Horse Harry" Lee and the nephew of General Robert Edward Lee. His father, Sidney Smith Lee, served as a fleet captain under Commodore Perry in the voyage to reopen Jampan (1852- 1854). His mother, Anna Maria Mason, was a granddaughter of George Mason, the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights.  

In 1852, "Fitz" Lee entered West Point where he excelled in horsemanship but narrowly escaped dismissal for his pranks. In 1858, he was assigned to the Second Cavalry in Texas. As a subaltern under Major Earl Van Dorn, he distinguished himself by gallant conduct in actions against the Comanches. He returned to West Faint as a cavalry instructor in 1860.

Lee opposed secession but when Virginia withdrew from the Union, he followed the examples of his father and uncle by resigning his commission. Thereupon, he entered the Confederate army and spent most of the war as a cavalry man in his uncle's Army of Northern Virginia. As a trusted lieutenant of General "Jeb" Stuart, he participated in many of the notable cavalry operations. Perhaps his greatest service was at Chancellorsville, where he performed invaluable reconnaissance for General "Stonewall'' Jackson. During the war, he proved to be skillful in tactics and reconnaissance and won a reputation as an active leader who conducted hard-hitting campaigns. He was promoted to major general on September 3, 1863, and ended his career by serving as senior cavalry commander during the retreat from Richmond to Appomattox in April 1865.  

Following Appomattox, Lee engaged in farming in Stafford county, Virginia. In the 1870's, his conspicuous efforts to bring reconciliation between the sections were counterbalanced by his ardent defense of the generalship of R. E. Lee against all critics. In 1877, his wartime comrades failed to secure the gubernatorial nomination of the Virginia Conservative party for him, but, in 1885, the revitalized Democratic party selected Lee as its gubernatorial candidate.  

As governor of Virginia (1886-1890), Lee devoted himself to bringing stability to state finances. In general, he allowed the Democratic-controlled legislature to make policy decisions while he remained aloof from politics. His tenure was characterized by an economic ''boom," and Governor Lee was an active participant in the New South movement. After 1890, he headed a company which sought to establish a new industrial city in the Valley of Virginia but the enterprise collapsed following the Panic of 1893. Concurrent with this economic setback, Lee unexpectedly failed to win the United States senatorial nomination by the Democratic state legislative caucus in 1893. His victorious opponent, Thomas Staples Martin, Jr., emerged as the undisputed leader of the Democratic "organization'' in Virginia for the next quarter-century.  

In April 1896, President Cleveland appointed Lee consul-general in Havana, where he performed duties of a diplomatic and military character in the midst of the Cuban insurrection against Spain (1895-1898). Although he believed only American intervention would restore peace, he tried to implement the Cleveland policy of non-intervention. His zealous defense of American interests aroused the ire of Spanish officials, but Republican President McKinley retained him in the post. In April 1898, following the declaration of the war against Spain, Lee received a commission as major general of volunteers in command of the Seventh Army Corps. His command did not participate in the fighting, but he served two years with the American occupation forces in Cuba where he worked to aid national recovery. He urged the granting of Cuban independence; however, he expected an eventual voluntary union of Cuba with the United States.  

In 1901, he retired from the army and, in 1902, accepted the presidency of the Jamestown Exposition Company (chartered to promote the Jamestown Tercentennial Celebration of 1907). His death on April 28, 1905, cut short this last major venture.  

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Lee, Fitzhugh -- 1835-1905

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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