Robert E. Lee Attempts to Resign 

U.S. #1049 from the Liberty Series.

On August 8, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee penned a letter to Jefferson Davis offering to resign in the wake of his loss at Gettysburg.

The year 1863 had been a tough one for Lee. He’d been sick since spring, possibly suffering a heart attack during that time. And he suffered a very public loss at the Battle of Gettysburg in early July.

Gettysburg wasn’t a total loss for Lee. He did drive the Union Army from Virginia as he’d intended. And the Army of the Potomac suffered more than 28,000 casualties. However, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia alone suffered 23,000 casualties, about one-third of the total casualties of the three-day battle.

U.S. #1180 was created by the Post Office’s first nationwide contest to design a U.S. postage stamp.

In the coming weeks, Union forces reentered Virginia and Southern citizens and newspapers began to question whether Lee was fit to continue to lead the army. And Lee was well aware of all this speculation. He took the loss personally and spent much of July and early August reflecting on his situation.

U.S. #2975b pictures Lee in his field uniform with his horse, Traveller.

Then on August 8, 1863, at his headquarters in Orange Courthouse, Virginia, Lee sat down to write a heartfelt letter to his president, Jefferson Davis. In the letter, Lee stated, “I have been prompted by these reflections more than once since my return from Pennsylvania to propose to Your Excellency the propriety of selecting another commander for this army… No one is more aware than myself of my inability for the duties of my position. I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire… I, therefore, in all sincerity, request your Excellency to take measure to supply my place.”

U.S. #CSA6 – Confederate stamp picturing Jefferson Davis.

Davis received Lee’s letter and sent him a reply: “To ask me to substitute you by someone… more fit to command, or who would possess more of the confidence of the army… is to demand an impossibility.” Lee would remain in command until the end of the war. As historian Shelby Foote stated, “Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Robert E. Lee as commander.”

Click here to read Lee and Davis’ full letters.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. All Confederate memorabilia, statues, ephemera, Graves and honoriums should be destroyed. Why was this Lee narrative and stamp put up?

    1. You got to get a grip J.P., you’re not the only one who reads these stories. I personally found this story very entertaining and worthwhile. This is a free country J.P., and just because your liberal and P.C. mentality does not like this story does not mean you have the right to dictate what others can write or talk about. I think you should just settle down, take a valium, and go watch CNN.

    2. Confederate memorabilia and monuments should not be destroyed, JP, but rather removed from public places and into museums or private properties. People who claim to celebrate their “southern heritage, is the same as post-war Germans celebrating their “Nazi heritage.” Both of these symbols have the same meanings! I agree that Confederate memorials perpetuate white supremacy in the public square for a nation that ceased to exist since April, 1865.

    3. Lets also bury ALL OF HISTORY, if it offends many or only a few. Take down all of the Monuments, Burn the Constitution and remove All names and replace them with numbers.
      Then we can all start to wear uniforms and shave our heads so we don’t Offend anyone!

    4. If you remove all traces of the Confederacy, then what was the purpose of the Civil War? Who was the North fighting?

  2. As a non-American (I’m Norwegian)- I am frequently puzzled by the honor that you bestow upon Robert Lee. He was after all the leader of the “guilty party”, and as such responsible not just for the rupture of the union- but also for retorting to violence to preserve the profoundly evil system of slavery and the consequent inhuman treatment of kidnapped Africans. Even today many Americans treat African Americans With disrespect. most notably the police.

    1. If you don’t like living in America with all of its foilbles then you can leave at anytime. There are flights daily that can take your sorry ass back to Norway. Also, when you need the help of the police I’m sure they won’t take their time coming to your aid even after your unfounded accusation about their treatment of blacks.

      1. I live in Norway, I do not live in the US. It must still be permitted to pose a question and show some interest in US affairs. I am sure thet General Lee was not a monster and a very capable military leader, but he fought for the wrong cause and this cause should have been brought to an end with the end of the Civil War.To have a statue of him is astonishing to me, and now we see the sad development in Charlottesville with a statue as the catalyst of the conflict, showing that many Americans still have difficulties in understanding they should accept their fellow countrymen as equals and respecti the American Creed, and understand that equality. love and respect is far bettter that violence and hatred.

    2. Being a non-American at birth, I agree with you wholeheartedly, Jon. The lack of positive closure from the rebellion still lingers on to this day; unlike the Germans after the Holocaust, southern whites were not properly rehabilitated and the rights of African Americans were not completely restored due to the untimely death of Abraham Lincoln. I don’t think that General Lee was a racist but, unfortunately, fought on the wrong side of history; he should still be recognized as a prominent figure in American history in postage.

  3. What if Robert E. Lee had accepted Lincoln’s overture to lead the Union Army, I believe
    that the war would not have lasted a year. The Southern Army HAD the best Generals and
    the best overall leadership. If Lee had led the Union Army he may have brought along some
    of these leaders.

  4. The Civil War was history. Our history , both north and south. WE have honored the even for years with tributes to both north and south. We should not destroy the monuments and Markers that tell the story. If you want to destroy the south then you should do the same for the north. Its history both sides. This argument is no better than the Hatfield vs McCoy fight. The south is just as proud of their side as we are ours. I lived in the south for years and was not offended by any of it. If fact I traveled around looking at a lot of those monuments and battle fields. I,am a US veteran and I honor the loss for both sides and hope we never repeat history. But do not erase it!

  5. It is a complete wonder to me that the Civil War ever took place.

    Let us hope and pray that our future will always be better.

    1. Actually the war should never have taken place. Problem was there were too many hot heads
      on both sides of the argument. The Southern States over reacted to Lincolns election. Lincoln
      never intended to ban slavery, he didn’t have that kind of power. To abolish slavery it would take
      a Constitutional Amendment and the anti-slavery crowd would never be able to get 3/4 of the
      states to ratify it. Also, the argument by the South of not allowing slavery in the new territories
      was equally incorrect. A compromise had been in place that the citizens of those new territories
      and states could vote yeah or nay on slavery. 4 years of war and 700,000 plus lives lost were a
      total waste. Eventually slavery would have collapsed as industrialization and new farming technology would have made slavery cost prohibitive due to inefficient production from slaves.

      1. The soldiers who died fighting against slavery were not a waste. People like Kenneth are the reason there’s a Black Lives Matter movement today.

  6. great story about a famous commander. Not many people appreciate the value of our history and its preservation.

  7. Hiatory should be remembered. For what it is. Not for what it once was . we should learn but not forget.

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