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What was Robert E. Lee’s initial strategy going into the Civil War?


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Dear Christina,

At the start of the Civil War newly minted Confederate General Robert E. Lee did not have much of a strategy. He applied his skill in engineering to shoring up what defenses he could, especially around Richmond. In the fall of 1861 he led a campaign to try to regain western Virginia when it was invaded by Union forces—and failed miserably, allegedly returning with his dark beard turned white. He then retired to Richmond, where his lackluster performance earned him the nickname of “Granny Lee.” Only when put in charge of the Confederate defense of Richmond in June 1862, when there seemed to be nobody else available who was qualified to take the task, did he stumble on the right “dream team” of lieutenants and start to formulate the strategy that would begin to transform him and the Army of Northern Virginia into the fearsome war machine it became. Until then, if he had a strategy, nobody was paying him much attention.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History Group

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