Civil War Battles of Robert E. Lee

Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia

General Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee atop his horse, Traveler, after the end of the Civil War. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia from 1862 to the Civil War's end. In this role, he was arguably the most significant general of the Civil War. His ability to gain the most from his commanders and men allowed the Confederacy to maintain its defiance of the North against increasing odds. Lee was the principal commander in the following Civil War battles:​

Battle of Cheat Mountain (September 12-15, 1861)

This was the first battle where General Lee led Confederate troops in the Civil War, serving under Brigadier General Albert Rust. He fought against Brigadier General Joseph Reynold's entrenchments at the top of Cheat Mountain in western Virginia. Federal resistance was fierce, and Lee eventually called off the attack. He was eventually recalled to Richmond on October 30, achieving few results in western Virginia. This was a Union victory.

Battles of Seven Days (June 25-July 1, 1862)

On June 1, 1862, Lee was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Between June 25th to July 1st, 1862, he led his troops into seven battles, collectively called the Battles of Seven Days. These battles were as follows: 

  • Oak Grove - The Union army attacked in a swampy area. When darkness descended, the Union army retreated. The results of this battle were inconclusive.
  • Beaver Dam Creek or Mechanicsville - Robert E. Lee pushed against General McClellan's right flank. The Union army was able to hold back the attackers with heavy casualties. However, the arrival of Stonewall Jackson's troops meant that the Union position was pushed back. Nonetheless, this was a Union victory. 
  • Gaines' Mill - Lee led his troops against a fortified Union position north of the Chickahominy River. The Confederates were eventually able to push the Union soldiers back across the river resulting in a Confederate victory. 
  • Garnett's and Golding's Farms - Confederate Major General John B. Magruder under Lee's command fought against the Union line that was stationed south of the Chickahominy River while Lee was fighting at Gaines' Mill. The results of this fighting were inconclusive. 
  • Savage's Station and Allen's Farm - Both these battles occurred on June 29, 1862, the fourth day of fighting during the Seven Days' Battles. The Union was retreating after deciding not to advance on Richmond. Robert E. Lee sent his forces after the Union troops, and they met in battle. However, the results of both of these were inconclusive.
  • Glendale/White Oak Swamp - These two battles occurred as the Union troops were retreating. Stonewall Jackson's troops were kept tied up in battle at White Oak Swamp while the rest of the army tried to stop the retreat at Glendale. In the end, the battle was inconclusive. 
  • Malvern Hill - The Confederates under Lee tried unsuccessfully to attack the Union's fortified position on top of Malvern Hill. Confederate losses were high. McClellan withdrew to the James River ending the Peninsula Campaign. This was a Union victory.

Second Battle of Bull Run - Manassas (August 25-27, 1862)

The most decisive battle of the Northern Virginia Campaign, Confederate troops led by Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet was able to score a huge win for the Confederacy. 

Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862)

This battle occurred as part of the Maryland Campaign. The Union army was able to take over Lee's position on South Mountain. However, McClellan failed to pursue Lee's devastated army on the 15th which meant Lee had time to regroup at Sharpsburg. 

Battle of Antietam (September 16-18, 1862)

McClellan finally met with Lee's troops on the 16th. The bloodiest day of battle during the Civil War occurred on September 17th. The Federal troops had a huge advantage in numbers, but Lee continued to fight with all his forces. He was able to hold off the federal advance while his troops retreated across the Potomac to Virginia. The results were inconclusive though strategically important for the Union army. 

Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862)

Union Major General Ambrose Burnside tried to take Fredericksburg. The Confederates occupied the surrounding heights. They repelled numerous attacks. Burnside decided in the end to retreat. This was a Confederate victory. 

Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863)

Considered by many to be Lee's greatest victory, he marched his troops to meet the federal troops who were trying to advance on the Confederate position.The Union force led by Major General Joseph Hooker decided to form a defense at Chancellorsville. "Stonewall" Jackson led his troops against the exposed Federal left flank, decisively crushing the enemy. In the end, the Union line broke and they retreated. Lee lost one of his most able generals when Jackson was killed by friendly fire. This was a Confederate victory.

Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863)

In the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee attempted a full assault against the Union forces led by Major General George Meade. Fighting was fierce on both sides. However, the Union army was able to repulse the Confederates. This was a key Union victory.

Battle of the Wilderness (May 5, 1864)

The Battle of the Wilderness was the first of General Ulysses S. Grant's offensive into Northern Virginia during the Overland Campaign. Fighting was fierce, but the results were inconclusive. Grant, however, did not retreat. 

Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse (May 8-21, 1864)

Grant and Meade tried to continue their march to Richmond in the Overland Campaign but were stopped at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Over the next two weeks, a number of battles occurred resulting in 30,000 total casualties. The results were inconclusive, but Grant was able to continue his march to Richmond.

Overland Campaign (May 31-June 12, 1864)

The Union Army under grant continued to make their advance in the Overland Campaign. They were made headway to Cold Harbor. However, on June 2, both armies were on the field of battle stretching seven miles. Grant ordered an attack that resulted in a rout for his men. He eventually left the field of battle, choosing to approach Richmond through the less defended town of Petersburg. This was a Confederate victory.

Battle of Deep Bottom (August 13-20, 1864)

The Union Army crossed the James River at Deep Bottom to start threatening Richmond. They were unsuccessful, however, as Confederate counterattacks drove them out. They eventually retreated back to the other side of the James River.

Battle of Appomattox Court House (April 9, 1865)

General Robert E. Lee attempted at Appomattox Court House to escape the Union troops and head towards Lynchburg where supplies were waiting. However, Union reinforcements made this impossible. Lee surrendered to Grant.