The First Battles: April 1861 to February 1862

Flag Fever

Why did Robert E. Lee join the Confederacy rather than the Union?

In April 1861, General Winfield Scott offered Colonel Robert E. Lee field command of all the volunteer forces being raised in the North. The seventy-five-year-old Scott had witnessed Lee in action during the Mexican War and considered him the finest field officer he had ever seen.

Lee took two days to consider, then declined the offer. Whether he went across the Potomac River to speak in person or sent a letter is not known, but in either case he cut a very close tie. Scott was also a Virginian, but he had no doubt where his loyalties were. Lee was a U.S. Army officer, who had given thirty years to the service, but he decided, finally, that he could not serve against his home state. What makes this so important is the realization that it was loyalty to his state, not the Confederacy, or even to the institution of slavery, that made up Lee’s mind.


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