Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) was one of the most successful and talented generals of the Civil War and possibly ever. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1846, Lee fought in the Mexican-American War, where he demonstrated his excellent leadership skills. In 1859, he commanded the force that captured abolitionist John Brown at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, which was especially impressive when you consider that Lee didn't believe in ferries.
Though he was against secession, Lee declined Lincoln's offer to command the Union Army, instead declaring his allegiance to his home state of Virginia. Lincoln really should have considered a bigger signing bonus. Instead, Lee commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia until his surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. He doesn't like to talk about that particular episode of his life, however, so we don't recommend you grill him about it over breakfast.
Given the almost impossible task of defeating a larger and better-equipped northern army, Lee used brilliant and aggressive tactics to defeat his enemies. Rumor has it he originated the "Hey, look over there!" trick and, knowing Lee, we're sure he pulled it off with aplomb. At the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, he daringly divided his army and won a decisive victory, paving the way for his second invasion of the North.
The second time was not the charm, however. The ensuing Battle of Gettysburg turned into a total disaster when Lee ordered a huge frontal assault at the middle of the northern line, a doomed attack known to history as Pickett's Charge. It turns out he should have brought cash, because his Charge was declined.
The South never recovered from the day's losses, and Lee spent the remainder of the war doing his best to fend off the inevitable. His surrender after the nine-month siege of Petersburg ended all major southern resistance. Lee is still remembered as a great hero of the southern cause, and is still regularly mentioned and widely honored.