Robert E. Lee's Civil War Battles

Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia

General Robert E. Lee mounted on horseback in black and white.

Historical / Contributor / Getty Images

Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia from 1862 to the end of the Civil War. 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. Throughout his years in service, Lee was the principal commander in several key Civil War battles.

Battle of Cheat Mountain

September 12-15, 1861

This was the first battle for which General Lee led Confederate troops in the Civil War, the brigade serving under Brigadier General Albert Rust. Lee 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 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 in seven battles, collectively called the Battles of Seven Days. 

  • Oak Grove: The Union army, led by Major General George B. McClellan, 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 advanced against General McClellan's right flank, who had stayed put after the battle at Oak Grove. The Union army was able to hold back the attackers and cause heavy casualties. The arrival of Confederate reinforcement offered by Stonewall Jackson's troops pushed back the Union's position, but this was a Union victory nonetheless. 
  • 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 battles 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 the battle at White Oak Swamp, while the rest of the army tried to stop the retreat at Glendale. In the end, this battle, too, 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, troops led by Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet scored 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 took over Lee's position on South Mountain, but McClellan failed to pursue Lee's devastated army on the 15th, which left Lee time to regroup at Sharpsburg. 

Battle of Antietam

September 16-18, 1862

McClellan finally met Lee's troops again on the 16th. The bloodiest day of battle during the Civil War occurred on September 17th. 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, the general marched his troops to meet the federal troops 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, but this was ultimately a Confederate victory.

Battle of Gettysburg

July 1-3, 1863

In the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee attempted a full assault against Union forces led by Major General George Meade. Fighting was fierce on both sides. However, the Union army managed 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 offensives 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 casualties total. The results for the war were inconclusive. Grant continued 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 made headway to Cold Harbor, but 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 well-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

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