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What was Robert E. Lee's role the American Civil War?

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Quick Answer

Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia during most of the American Civil War. One of the war's most important generals, Lee's leadership prevented the Northern Army of the Potomac from capturing Richmond and occupying Virginia, prolonging the South's rebellion.

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Full Answer

Robert E. Lee began the war as a military advisor to Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederate States of America. Lee became commander of the Army of Northern Virginia when its original commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, was wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines in May 1862. In February 1865, Lee was appointed General-in-Chief of the Confederate armies, but the Confederate position had deteriorated too far for Lee's appointment to alter the war's outcome.

He was responsible for the most famous defeats suffered by Union armies, including the Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Cold Harbor.

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