Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lt. Gen. Stephen Dill Lee

Lt. Gen. Stephen Dill Lee
(Library of Congress)
Lt. Gen. Stephen Dill Lee has had a profound influence on the Sons of Confederate Veterans that endures to this very day. Lee delivered his inspirational "Charge" to the group at the April 25, 1906 SCV Reunion at New Orleans, La. His "Charge" has been adopted as the mission statement of the organization, which is a living legacy that has guided generation after generation of SCV members. It reads:

To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the Cause for which we fought.  To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.  Remember, it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations.

      At the time of its presentation, Lee was the commander-general of our parent organization, the United Confederate Veterans. Lee was born September 22, 1833 to Dr. Thomas Lee and Caroline Allison in Charleston, S.C. He was not closely related to General Robert E. Lee, but did find out later in life they did shared a common ancestor, Francis Lee, Stephen's third great-grandfather who was Lord Mayor of London in 1602. His parents had one other child, a daughter, but his mother died when he was about two-years-old. His father suffered a serious fever which impaired his health. The family then moved to Abbeville, S.C. where his father remarried to Elizabeth Cummings Humphreys in 1839. They couple were blessed with five children. 

      Lee received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in 1850 and he graduated 17th out of a class of 46 in 1854. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in Company D, 4th U.S. Artillery and was stationed at Ringgold Barracks, near the Texas-Mexican border. In 1856 he was transferred with his battery to Florida where he was promoted to first lieutenant in 1857. They chased Seminole Indians in the swamps and then, in October, 1857, the 4th Artillery was assigned to Fort Leavanworth, Kansas, where Lee served as post quartermaster. He was then assigned to Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory in May 1858 as the post treasurer. Lee next served at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory in June 1859 as where he served a quartermaster, commissary and ordnance officer. Two months after the secession of his native state, South Carolina, he resigned from the U.S. Army.
        Lee moved back to South Carolina and became a captain in the South Carolina state militia and was assigned to the staff of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard. Lee carried messages back and forth between Beauregard and Major Richard H. Anderson, the U.S. Army garrison commander at For t Sumter. Following the surrender of Fort Sumter, Lee managed to get a transfer into Hampton's Legion, commanding the artillery part of that unit. He missed the First Battle of Manassas, Virginia July 21, 1861, still being tied up with paper work in Charleston.
       When he got to Virginia, Lee drilled his battery thoroughly and it was ready for action Sept. 25, 1861 when it began dueling with Yankee gunboats on the Potomac River. He earned a promotion to major on November 8, 1861. In the Yorktown Peninsula Campaign of Spring 1862, Lee saw action with Hampton in Hood's Texas Brigade at the Battle of Eltham's Landing and received a promotion to lieutenant colonel two days later. In the Seven Days Campaign, June 26-28 and especially at the Battle of Malvern Hill July 1, 1862, Lee was recognized for his contribution in driving the enemy from the gates of Richmond. Gen. Robert E. Lee said of him, "Lee I think has no superior in service as an artillery officer and has great modesty, enterprise, gallantry and skill." He was promoted to full colonel July 9, 1862. 
      Lee proved his versatility when he took temporary command of the 4th Virginia Cavalry after the Seven Days, but that lasted only six weeks before he was back with the artillery. By August he was in command of an artillery battalion with Longstreet's Corps. Lee performed brilliantly at the Second Battle of Manassas where the great General Lee complimented Colonel Lee again, saying of his artillery, "You are just where I wanted you; stay there." Three weeks later, at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam), Sept. 17, 1862, which Lee called "artillery hell," his artillery was crucial to repelling the repeated Yankee assaults. 
       After such outstanding performance in the heaviest combat thus far in the war, R.E. Lee personally recommended to President Davis that S.D. Lee be promoted to brigadier general, Nov. 6, 1862. Davis had a special assignment for the new young Gen. Lee, to help in the defense of the vital Confederate bastion on the Mississippi River, Vicksburg. He left for Vicksburg on Nov. 10, 1862, where he took command of a brigade of Louisiana Infantry, including the 17th, 26th, 27th and 28th regiments, and two batteries of light artillery. 
     Lee's finest performance in the War for Southern Independence may have been the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. The Confederate authorities in Vicksburg learned of  a major Federal attack at a Christmas Eve ball in the city, which Lee was also attending. Brigadier General Martin Luther Smith, the senior officer present, that a massive Yankee fleet was approaching the city on the Mississippi. He ordered all officers to immediately report to their commands. It was determined the most likely landing place would be Chickasaw Bluffs, just north of Vicksburg. General John C. Pemberton, commanding the district, was with the bulk of the army in Grenada, Miss. There were only about 2,700 Confederates at Vicksburg to fend off  Federal General William T. Sherman 30,000 man invasion force.
      Lee was given command in the field while Smith would stay in Vicksburg to send him reinforcements as soon as they arrived. He had his own brigade of Louisianians and reinforcements which eventually came to form a provisional division of about 12,000 men.  Lee immediately began entrenching on the Chickasaw Bluffs, about two miles inland from the river. The Chickasaw Bayou ran roughly parallel with the bluffs, forming a formidable defensive barrier for the Confederates. He also skillfully placed his artillery on the bluffs and with advance skirmishers, which included the Louisiana infantry. Among those units was Captain James W. Bryan's Company I, Calcasieu Tigers, of the 28th Louisiana Infantry. 
       The Federals landed on December 26 and on the 27th, skirmishing began. The 28th Louisiana and the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, on the morning of December 28, held off an 8,000 man brigade of Yankees until about noon, when the 26th Louisiana gave them covering fire to retreat to the main defense line. On December 29, Sherman launched his main attack on the Chickasaw Bluffs, but every charge was driven back with heavy casualties for the northerners. Sherman lingered before the bluffs until January 3, and with Confederates being heavily reinforced and weather deteriorating, he ordered a withdrawal back to Memphis, Tenn. It may have been Sherman's worst defeat of the war, with 208 killed, 1005 wounded, and 563 wounded or missing fort total casualties of 1,776. The Confederates sustained 63 killed, 134 wounded and 10 missing for total casualties of 207. Lee had again proven himself  to be a masterful battlefield commander even against the Federal army's best troops and commander.
       Following the Chickasaw Bayou campaign, Lee manned part of the Vicksburg defenses with his expanded brigade. When Brigadier General Edward Tracy, was killed in action in the Battle of Port Hudson, May 1, 1863, Lee was given command of his Alabama brigade. He led the Alabamians creditably in the Battle of Champion's Hill on May 16, 1863, and then commanded the vital Railroad Redoubt defensive position in the Vicksburg defenses during the siege. The Railroad Redoubt was temporarily overrun by Federals in the May 22, 1863 assault, but was eventually repulsed in hand-to-hand fighting. Vicksburg was surrendered on July 4, 1863, and Lee was quickly paroled and given command over all the cavalry of the District of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana. His command included Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who got along better with Lee than any other superior commander. The respect was mutual and produced real results. Forrest won one of his most significant victories, the Battle of Brice's Crossroad, while serving under Lee, although Lee was not present for the battle. Lee was promoted to lieutenant general soon after that battle. At age 30, he was the youngest man to attain that high level of command in the Confederate Army. He led the army at the Battle of Tupelo, Miss, but that battle was a disappointing loss.
      When Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood was given command of the Army of Tennessee in July, 1864, Lee was given command of Hood's old corps in that army. As a corps commander, Lee again excelled as one of the most dependable, reliable and competent in the army. He then took part in the famous battles of the Atlanta Campaign of 1864, including Ezra Church and Jonesboro. During the Franklin Campaign, his corps wasn't present for the failure in letting the retreating Yankee army escape from a Confederate trap at Spring Hill, Tennessee, which has caused endless controversy to this day. He did lead his corps in the Battle of Franklin on November 29, 1864, but only one of his division took part in the actual disastrous charge. In the followup Battle of Nashville, December 15, 1864, the badly used up Confederate Army of Tennessee was nearly destroyed. The only thing that saved it from complete destruction was Lee's Corps, which maintained its cohesion and managed a fighting, rear-guard retreat that saved the rest of the army.
      The following January, Lee was married to Regina Lilly Harrison at her hometown of Columbus, Miss., which also became Lee's home in post-war years. They were blessed with one child, a boy, Blewett Harrison Lee. General Lee continued serving the Confederacy to the bitter end. Lee missed the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, although his  corps fought in it under the command of Lt. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill. He had rejoined his command in time for the Confederate surrender of the Army of Tennessee on April 26, 1865. Lee was paroled May 1 at Greensboro, N.C. and returned to his new home in Columbus, Miss. 
        Lee remained quietly at home in Mississippi farming during the Reconstruction Era, 1865-1877. He gave up on farming and tried his hand at selling insurance, but then was offered and accepted the presidency of the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College, newly created by the state legislature in 1880. He held this post for most of the rest of his life, although he was elected to the state senate and ran two unsuccessful campaigns for governor of Mississippi. He also served a member of the 1890 Mississippi State Constitutional Convention.
Lt. S.D. Lee statue,
Vicksburg NMP
(National Park Service)
      Lee was especially active in veterans affairs and making sure the true history of the South, and the Confederacy in particular, were taught in Southern schools. He was one of the founders of the United Confederate Veterans and served as the chairman of the very influential UCV historical committee. This committee was aggressive in its review of historical school text books and promoted histories of the Confederacy written by Confederate veterans and Southerners to counteract the negative Northern histories. 
        Lee was also instrumental in the creation of the Vicksburg National Military Park and served as the first president of the board of directors. He battled endlessly for a correct Confederate interpretation of that park and served on the board until then end of his life. Lee was also instrumental in the creation of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, promoted it, and gave it its "Charge." The direction that Lee set for it, is still the one that is the guiding light for the SCV until this very day. Lee is remembered at Vicksburg by a heroic statue and monument on the battlefield. The SCV honors him continually, and has named its academic arm, the Stephen Dill Lee Institute. He died on May 28, 1908 after giving a speech at Vicksburg. He is buried in Friendship  Cemetery in Columbus, Miss. His home in Columbus is now the Stephen D. Lee Home and Museum. The house was designated at historic landmark in 1971 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

--by Michael Jones, member of Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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