Robert E. Lee's Western Virginia Headquarters
This historical marker is located near one of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's headquarters during his disastrous Western Virginia campaign of 1861. Union victories gave control of much of Western Virginia, including the future state of West Virginia, to the Union thereby depriving the Confederacy of resources, transportation routes, and territory where slavery was practiced and support for the Confederacy was significant. Union sentiment was also strong, and with Union control of most of the area secured early in the war the stage was set for western Virginia counties to form their own government in 1863. The site is located near the town of Rainelle in Greenbrier County which is part of present-day West Virginia. During this campaign, Lee received his "Granny Lee" nickname due to his failures. His reputation as a military leader grew in the years that followed owing to his success in thwarting Union offensives in Virginia. However, Lee also made the fateful decision to invade Northern territory in 1862 and 1863. The resulting Union victories marked important turning points in the military history of the war. Despite the failure of those campaigns and the series of defeats he endured in this 1861 campaign, Lee continues to be regarded by many Americans as a brilliant military leader largely owing to his success in defending Virginia from several Union offensives in the early years of the war.
Backstory and Context
During Lee's Western Virginia campaign from May to December 1861, Lee maintained a mobile headquarters as his men fought battles in Fayette and Pocahontas counties. The campaign was plagued by heavy rain and Lee was frustrated by several defeats which he attributed to inexperienced soldiers. J.E.B. Stuart would later become one of Lee's strongest supporters, but during this campaign, Stuart wrote in a letter that Lee was a disappointment as a general. Following more successful campaigns, Stuart would go on to become one of Lee's most trusted generals and his words and actions helped to build Lee's reputation as an effective military leader within an outmatched Confederate army. However, it is important to note that Lee made many mistakes in this campaign as well as strategic errors in the years that followed that led to disastrous campaigns at Antietam and Gettysburg. Despite having fewer troops, Lee and the Confederacy had the advantage of fighting on the defensive. Had Lee not made the fateful decision to attack the North in 1862 and 1863, the Confederacy could have likely had more success repelling Union attacks. Instead, victories at Antietam and Gettysburg united Northern opinion behind the war effort and served as two of the most important turning points in the Civil War.
The marker focuses heavily on Lee and says little about the Western Virginia campaign. It also states that his horse, Traveler (the sign should record the horse's name as "Traveller"), was brought to him at this site. Although a small detail, it is worth pointing out that while Lee did meet the horse during the campaign he didn't take possession of Traveller until he was in South Carolina in 1862. Captain Joseph Broun that initially purchased Traveller from Andrew Johnston's son. However, the horse was born at a farm near Blue Sulphur Springs in southern Greenbrier County. Lee formed a bond with the horse during this campaign and remarked to Broun that he would use it before the war was over. Lee rode a horse named Richmond during the 1861 campaign but would later acquire Traveller.
The Western Virginia campaign and its losses served to teach Lee valuable lessons which he took with him to each and every subsequent battle. He may have left western Virginia as "Granny Lee", but it would not be how he would be remember by the time the war was over.
Encyclopedia, W. V. (n.d.). October 29, 1861: General Lee Ends Three-Month Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.wvpublic.org/post/october-29-1861-general-lee-ends-three-month-campaign-0#stream/0.
West Virginia Archives and History (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.wvculture.org/history/journal_wvh/wvh5-1.html.
Stratford Hall (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.stratfordhall.org/meet-the-lee-family/general-robert-e-lee-1807-1870/general-lees-horses/.
Stratford Hall Website
THE HISTORICAL MARKER DATABASE
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