You learned about the American Civil War in your history classes. You know the North was victorious and Commanding General of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant went on to become the 18th President of the United States.
But what about Confederate Army Commanding Officer Robert E. Lee? What happened to him? We study his history during the war, but what happened to him after the war ended? He had an interesting life, but one that isn’t well-known to the public — because he preferred it that way.
Facing an uncertain future
After the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union Army on April 9, 1865, Lee had no idea where he would go from there. He faced an uncertain future. His military career had ended, and he decided to move his family to the country in Powhatan County, Virginia. He could never leave Virginia — his beloved state.
“I cannot desert my native state in the hour of her adversity,” Lee remarked.
But Lee’s family didn’t stay in Powhatan County for very long. Lee’s future was set for Lexington, Virginia, with a career in an entirely new field: higher education.
From leading an army to leading a university
Lexington’s Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) needed a new president. They figured Lee was the best choice, given his highly recognizable name. Lee’s family arrived in Lexington in mid-September of 1865, and he began to work right away.
Washington College faced many financial difficulties, but that was before Lee arrived. Over the next five years, the college grew physically (student enrollment increased) and financially. Because of Lee’s efforts, Washington and Lee University still has its doors open today.
His unfortunate decline
But being the president of a university isn’t an easy job, even for someone who survived the Civil War. The heart condition that plagued him during the war grew more apparent in the late 1860s. But just like his ethics during the war, Lee wasn’t about to quit and leave the university.
Unfortunately, Lee had a massive stroke on September 28, 1870. Two weeks later, on October 12, Lee died at his home on the college campus. He was 63 years old.