Robert E. Lee, 1807-1870
Mathew Brady Studio
Albumen silver print, 1865
National Portrait Gallery,
Robert E. Lee was known as an exemplary military commander when Abraham Lincoln asked him to command the Union army in 1861. Lee had graduated with distinction from West Point, served on Winfield Scott's staff during the Mexican American War, modernized the West Point curriculum in the early 1850s, and led the recapture of the Harpers Ferry arsenal from John Brown and his army in 1859. Though he opposed secession and favored an end to slavery, Lee declined Lincoln's appointment to head the Union army, instead supporting Virginia and the Confederacy. Under his leadership, Confederate forces scored important victories, despite the superior numbers and richer resources of the North. And even after Ulysses S. Grant began his final assault in 1864, Lee's troops held on for nearly ten months before the surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. Brady photographed Lee on the porch of his home in Richmond shortly after the surrender. As he recalled in 1891, It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit, but I thought that to be the time for the historical picture. He allowed me to come to his house and photograph him on his back porch in several situations. Of course I had known him since the Mexican War when he was upon Gen. Scott's staff, and my request was not as from an intruder.
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