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The culmination of Robert E. Lee's career:

Official Confederate printing naming Robert E. Lee
"General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States"

(click to view larger image)

"Deeply impressed the the difficulties and responsibilities of the position, and humbly invoking the guidance of the Almighty God, I rely for success upon the courage and firmness of the people, confident that their united efforts under the blessing of Heaven will secure peace and independence."

–R. E. Lee upon being appointed General-In-Chief

"Providence raises up the man for the time, and a man for this occasion, we believe, has been raised up in Robert E. Lee, the Washington of the second American Revolution."

-The Richmond Dispatch, February 7, 1865

"Public demand led to [Lee’s] reluctant acceptance of an appointment as general-in-chief.  The Confederate Congress and Virginia Legislature adopted resolutions asking for Lee’s appointment, but Lee told the president that he did not want the job.  Davis was hard pressed to sustain his administration, though, and wanted to share responsibility.  On February 9, Lee accepted a rank similar to that bestowed upon Washington."  -McCaslin

[Robert E. Lee]. An Act to provide the appointment of a General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States. General Orders No. 3; Richmond, February 6, 1865. Housed in custom half-leather box. $8000.

Official broadside Confederate printing with seal on top left corner appointing Robert E. Lee "General in Chief" of the Confederate forces: 

"The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That there shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, an office, who shall be known and designated as 'General in Chief,' who shall be ranking officer of the army, and as such, shall have command of the military forces of the Confederate States... General Robert E. Lee having been duly appointed General in Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States, will assume the duties thereof and will be obeyed and respected accordingly."

By 1865 Jefferson Davis had lost widespread support throughout the South. As the Confederacy’s fortunes worsened, there was a growing sense that Davis lacked the political and, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, the military skills needed to deliver victory and independence from the Union.  Davis’s increasingly restive detractors began looking for ways to diminish the president’s role and expand that of their great general, Robert E. Lee, who enjoyed nearly god-like stature throughout the South.  Early proposals for expanding Lee’s authority included the idea of simply making him Commander-in-Chief and thus de facto leader of the Confederacy.  This never came to pass, in large part because Lee himself made it clear that he had no wish to encroach upon Davis’s authority.  Despite this there was a widespread desire among the public, as reflected in this Act of the Confederate Congress, for Lee’s role to be expanded and Davis’s diminished.  This Act gave formal expression to this important shift in the Confederate South.

Interestingly, it was Lee’s great adversary, Ulysses S. Grant, who understood far better than Lee himself that, for all practical purposes, Lee already was the de facto leader of the South.  This is why Grant was so disappointed when, after Appomattox, Lee refused to use his influence to encourage his subordinates to do as he had done and surrender.   As he wrote in his Memoirs, Grant “suggested to General Lee that there was not a man in the Confederacy whose influence with the soldiery and the whole people was as great as his, and that if we would now advise the surrender of all the armies [he] had no doubt [Lee’s] advice would be followed with alacrity.”  Indeed, on April 10, 1865, just days after Lee’s surrender, Grant went so far as to suggest that Lee bypass Davis’s authority altogether and speak directly with Lincoln to negotiate terms of surrender for the whole Confederacy  (McCaslin, 190).  Lee refused.  In Lee’s view only Davis, as president of the Confederacy, could negotiate with Lincoln toward a general surrender.   Just as Lee underestimated – or refused to acknowledge – his great influence among Southerners, so too did President Davis.  As McCaslin explains, “Davis and many others initially refused to accept that Lee’s surrender brought the end of the Confederacy…. British journalists agreed that the war did not end with Lee. Instead, they expected guerilla warfare. Lee’s refusal to participate made such a shift difficult, if not impossible” (pp. 191).  Despite both Lee’s and Davis’ insistence on Davis’s preeminence, as Grant observed, as a practical matter “The Confederacy had gone a long way beyond the reach of President Davis, and that there was nothing that could be done except what Lee could do to benefit the Southern people.”  This Act of February 6, 1865 reflects the Confederate Congress’s understanding of this fact. 

A highly important piece of Confederate legislation, these orders not only represent the culmination of Robert E. Lee's career, but had significant effects on the outcome of the war. After Lee was appointed "General in Chief" he became, like Washington for the North, the central figure in which the Confederates placed their hopes. Consequently, when Lee surrendered to Grant, the implications were profound. "Without their Washington, Southerner’s realized their revolution was over" (McCaslin, 191). 

In remarkable condition for such a fragile item, with small tear visible on verso and only very light browning. Scarce: Printed for and distributed to members of the Confederate Congress and military officers and officials, it can be assumed that only a handful of copies have survived; we can locate only one other copy having been offered for sale.





Literature/Modern Firsts