The beginning of his military career: Lee commenced his studies at West Point in 1825. He was an excellent student and excelled at his academic pursuits. He graduated in 1829, and was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers the same year.
During his time in the Corps of Engineers, Lee was involved in many projects. These projects included construction at many military posts and river and harbour improvements at Saint Louis. Lee was a good soldier, but promotion was slow - it was not until 1838 that he was made a captain.
Lee excelled himself during the Mexican War. During the war, Lee was an engineering officer with Winfield Scott's force. This force managed to fight it's way to Mexico city. Lee was noted for his work at the battles of Cerro Gordo, Churubusco and Chapultepec. These battles won him much praise and a brilliant reputation.
Based on his reputation, Lee became the superintendent of West Point between the years of 1852 - 1855. Lee was made lieutenant colonel of the Second Cavalry in 1855, leading the force that suppresed the John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry (1859).
The Civil War: Lee was personally dismayed by the events of the 50's, particularly the actions and ravings of extremists on both sides. Lee was a man that knew where his loyalties lay however, and he did not accept an offer to command the Federal Army - even going as far as resigning his whole commission.
When Virginia seceded from the union in April 1861, Lee offered his services to the military. Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, appointed Lee as a general in the Southern Army. Lee's initial efforts in his new posting were largely unsuccessful. He failed to repel an invasion force in western Virginia and was subsequently sent off to prepare Atlantic costal defenses - a task, given his time In the Corps of Engineers, that he no doubt felt much more suited to. Lee returned to Virginia again in March 1862. He had returned to become the advisor to Davis, but a scant two months later fate had more in store for him. When Joseph E. Johnston was wounded during the Peninsular Campaign (May 1862), Lee was appointed as the commander of the main Confederate army in Virginia. This army Lee renamed the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's new command was not a posting many would have wanted. Federal troops were gaining control of the Mississippi Valley and a large Federal force had moved within sight of Richmond. Lee was determined to put a stop to the Federal advance and lead a counter-attack on the forces near Richmond. It was a fierce seven day battle, but Lee was victorious - driving the enemy forces away from the capital.
Lee's successes continued to mount up, he was victorious over a Northern army at the second battle of Bull Run. Lee seized the initative after this and launched an invasion of Maryland. Lee was forced to concede a draw at the battle of Antietam (September 17,1862), and subsequently withdrew back to Virginia. Back in Virginia, Lee was victorious once more at the battle of Fredericksburg (December, 1862). The victory was costly though and unfortunately a sign of heavier losses that were soon headed Lee's way.
Lee's greatest victory, and also his greatest losses, came at the battle of Chancellorsville (May, 1863). Lee was faced with a vastly superior force, undaunted by this though, Lee boldly split his force into three parts. The Unionist forces became confused by this tactic and began to withdraw, suffering heavy casualties during the retreat. Although Lee was victorious, the costs were tragic. Lee lost his greatest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson (Died May 10th), and southern casualties were very high. Lee was determined to relieve the pressure from Virginia, and again invaded the North in an attempt to draw of Unionist forces. There is also some evidence to suggest that another of Lee's aims was to draw the Federal army into the open - so that he could crush it, and thus the Confederacy could force the North into surrender. Lee's second invasion of the north began in the summer of 1863.
In early July, Lee engaged Federal forces near a little town called Gettysburg, Pa. The battle of Gettysburg, apart from being the most famous battle of the Civil War, was destined to become the turning point of the whole conflict. The battle raged for three days, and Lee was eventually forced to admit defeat. The casualties were immense for both sides, 6000 men were killed in Pickett's charge alone. Lee and his Confederate army were forced to fall back into Virginia.
Lee was forced to fight a series of engagements in 1864. He lead his forces against the Northern army, now commanded by Ulysses S. Grant. Lee found himself beset by many problems, including the loss of many of his reliable officers - J.E.B. Stuart (May 11th) and James Longstreet (May 6th), amongst others. Lee inflicted heavy losses on the Federals but he was eventually pushed back to both Richmond and Petersburg - where Lee was forced to defend these cities against minor seiges.
The ensuing months took their toll on Lee. Lee's army was beginning to weaken in strength and Grant was able to break through the Southern lines in April 1865. Lee tried to escape with his army, attempting to join up with other confederate forces in North Carolina, but Grant cornered him at Appomattox Court House. Lee was forced to surrender on the 9th of April. At the time of his surrender, Lee had been appointed general in chief of all Confederate armies (February) and his surrender soon saw other southern armies laying down their arms.
Post war life for Lee: His soldiering life now over, Lee accepted the position of president of Washington College (These days renamed the Washington and Lee University) in Lexington. Lee became a firm believer in Education and worked tirelessly to rebuild the south until his death on October 12, 1870.