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William Henry Fitzhugh Lee

By John T. Marck

The second son of Robert E. Lee, William was born at the family home of "Arlington" in Virginia on May 31, 1837. Known as "Rooney," he graduated from Harvard and entered the army in 1857 as a 2nd lieutenant in the 6th Infantry. Two years later, after participating in the Utah Expedition, Lee resigned to farm at his plantation known as "White House," that he had inherited from his maternal grandfather, located on the Pamunkey River.

When the Civil War began, and with the secession of Virginia, Rooney joined the Confederate army as a captain, then was promoted to major upon joining the Confederate cavalry. During the summer of 1861 he served in Western Virginia in Brigadier General William Loring's cavalry. He then spent the remainder of 1861 and a portion of 1862 in and near Fredericksburg. Following this he was appointed a lieutenant colonel and within a short time was promoted again to colonel, serving under Major General J.E.B. Stuart.

At the Battle of South Mountain, he was thrown from his horse and knocked unconscious. Still, his performance there was noteworthy and consequently he was promoted to brigadier general on September 15, 1862.

As a brigadier general, Lee served well, commanding the 3rd Brigade at the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, Rooney was wounded, suffering from a severe leg injury. While recovering, he was captured on June 26, 1863 by Union soldiers. Taken to a Union prison, he stayed there for nine months before being exchanged in March 1864. Upon his release, he learned that his wife had died during his incarceration.

Given a new command, Rooney was promoted to major general on April 23, 1864, and upon accepting this promotion, became the youngest officer to attain that rank in the Confederacy. During the final year of the war, as the Confederacy had fewer and fewer officers through attrition, Rooney's role increased. In August 1864, near Petersburg at Globe Tavern, Lee commanded a cavalry brigade. Near war's end in April 1865, Rooney was the second-in-command during the retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox, having the total responsibility for the army's right flank.

When the war ended, Rooney returned to his plantation, "White House," to find that it had been unfortunately, destroyed by Union troops in 1862. He then rebuilt his home, farmed the land, and served as president of the Virginia Agricultural Society. We went on to become a state senator followed by his election to the House of Representatives in 1887. While serving his second term, he died at "Ravensworth," his wife's inherited home in Alexandria, Virginia on October 15, 1891.

William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee is buried at the Lee Mausoleum on the campus of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, near his famous father, and grandfather.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.