June 3, 2019

Writing About Robert E. Lee

At Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Lee's home before the Civil War

by Brandon Marie Miller

I have a new YA (Young Adult) biography coming out on June 11, Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill & Kane Press). It's my first book in three years, which seems a lifetime in publishing. With Lee (and statues of Lee) so constantly in the news it's been a difficult book to write, but I hope a timely one.

I wanted to know who Lee was beyond the four years of Civil War that define him in history. What was his character, both strengths and weaknesses? Why has a myth of Robert E. Lee taken the place of the man? What was his family story? What about his long military career as a West Point graduate and army engineer? I needed to let Lee's own words explain his beliefs about slavery, emancipation, his racism. My journey took several years, reading books, articles, historic documents, and Lee family letters.

Most fun of all was traveling to places important in Lee's life. Come along for a quick tour of some of places I visited!

I visited three Civil War battlefields on this trip. This photo is from Manassas National Battlefield Park, where Lee won a victory at the end of August 1862. I also visited Antietam battlefield, witness to the single bloodiest day in American History, September 17, 1862. Lastly, I visited Petersburg, site of a nine month siege (summer 1864- spring 1865)  that forced Lee toward surrender at Appomattox Court House. I also visited Fort Pulaski National Monument where Lee had his first job out of West Point, a young army engineer building a new fort on Cockspur Island, Georgia.

Arlington House, on a foggy morning. The house was built by Mary Custis Lee's father, a grandson of Martha Washington, and was home to Lee, his wife, and seven children. Occupied early in the war by Union troops, federal officials turned Arlington into a national cemetery in 1864 to prevent the Lee family from ever returning to their  home after the war.

Lee's birthplace, Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Family scandals here marked Lee's youth.
The parlor in the McLean House, where Lee surrendered to Grant, April 9, 1865. This is a replica of the marble-topped table Lee signed his letter of acceptance of Grant's terms.
Lee served as president of Washington College after the war. (Washington and Lee University today) His office has been left virtually untouched from the afternoon he left it, suffering a stroke later that evening. Lee died October 12, 1870.

The President's House at Washington College, designed and built by Lee, is still used today. He included features designed for his wife, who was confined to a wheelchair with crippling arthritis.
ACTIVITY: For my book launch I've created a wordsearch game based on Lee's life. I hope you'll read the book to find out more, and see why these words mattered in Lee's world and in our nation's history.

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