The son of Revolutionary War officer Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee III and a top graduate of the United States Military Academy, Robert E. Lee distinguished himself as an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. During this time, he served throughout the United States, distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War, served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, and married Mary Custis.
When Virginia declared its secession from the Union in April 1861, Lee chose to follow his home state, despite his personal desire for the Union to stay intact and despite the fact that President Abraham Lincoln had offered Lee command of the Union Army. During the Civil War, Lee originally served as a senior military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. He soon emerged as a shrewd tactician and battlefield commander, winning numerous battles against larger Union armies. His abilities as a tactician have been praised by many military historians. His strategic vision was more doubtful, and both of his invasions of the North ended in defeat. Union General Ulysses S. Grant's campaigns bore down on Lee in 1864 and 1865, and despite inflicting heavy casualties, Lee was unable to force back Grant. Lee would ultimately surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. By this time, Lee had been promoted to the commanding officer of all Confederate forces; the remaining armies soon capitulated after Lee's surrender. Lee rejected the starting of a guerrilla campaign against the North and called for reconciliation between the North and South.