William H F Lee

William H F Lee - Stories

Civil War (Confederate) · Confederate Army

William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee

    Rooney Lee

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    Rooney, so nicknamed to distinguish him for his cousin and contemporary Fitzhugh Lee of “Clermont,” Fairfax County, was the Lees' second son, born in 1837. He was one of the liveliest and most likable of the Lee children. He was adventurous and as a child evoked his father's praise couched in jest. Lee referred to him as “too large to be a man, too small to be horse” and believed he needed a tight rein. When he was eight years old, Rooney cut off his the tips of the forefinger and middle finger on his left hand while playing with a set of straw cutters.

    Rooney's adventures during the 1850s kept him away from Arlington much of the time. He entered Harvard in 1854, one of the three Virginians at the school. At Harvard, he was popular and quickly fell in with Boston society. He demonstrated his athletic prowess, pulling an oar on the Harvard crew. He did not remain at Harvard to graduate, however.

    In 1857, with the aid of General Winfield Scott, he secured a commission and fought in the campaign of 1858 against the Mormons. When the fighting was over, however, he became bored and by 1859 had given up the army and married Charlotte Wickham. Rooney and Charlotte settled down to farm the White House, the estate on the Pamunkey River in New Kent County, Virginia he had inherited from his grandfather, George Washington Parke Custis.

    In 1861, Rooney joined the Confederate Army as a calvary officer under J.E.B. Stuart. Perhaps having the most illustrious career of any of the three Lee sons, Rooney was captured by Union troops at his wife's family home in June 1863, while he was there nursing a thigh wound sustained at the Battle of Brandy Station. He was taken to Fort Lafayette, New York as a prisoner of war and spent eight months there before returning to the Confederate Army in an exchange. During the war Rooney lost his young wife and both of their children.

    After the war, Rooney returned to the White House estate. In 1867, he married Mary Tabb Bolling and they eventually had several children. He must have been much impressed by the daily routine he had learned at Arlington when he was growing up. For long after the Civil War, when the days at Arlington were dim memories, he still maintained the old regimen of evening tea, prayers before breakfast and at bed time, and Sunday evening hymn singing. Rooney Lee died in 1891.

    Through Rooney and his younger brother Rob, there are over twenty direct descendants of Mary and Robert E. Lee alive today.

    W.H.F. Lee

      Born at Arlington in 1837, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee was the second son of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis.  His pedigree included “Light-Horse” Harry Lee and Martha Washington.  Though hardly the most famous member of his family, “Rooney”—as he was known—nevertheless played an important part in the nation’s most trying ordeal.

      After spending most of his childhood moving from post to post with his father, Lee was granted admission to Harvard in 1854, where his record was less than exemplary.  It was hardly surprising that in 1857 Lee left the school to accept a commission in the army as a second lieutenant.  Assigned to the 6th Infantry underAlbert Sidney Johnston, the young officer was sent to Utah Territory to quell the Mormon Rebellion.  Following additional assignments in Texas and the Pacific Northwest, Lee resigned his commission in 1859 to take up farming at the White House estate on the Pamunkey River in Virginia.

      Lee’s simple agrarian life, however, was short-lived.  When his home state seceded in April 1861, the Virginian once again took up the sword—this time as a captain in the 9th Virginia Cavalry, attached to what would ultimately become his father’s command, the Army of Northern Virginia.  In his year of service with the regiment, Lee took an active part in the Seven Days’ Battles, and the Second Manassas and Maryland Campaigns, ascending to the colonelcy of the regiment along the way.  When the Army of Northern Virginia reorganized its mounted arm in November 1862, “Rooney” Lee was given charge of a brigade and promoted to brigadier general.

      Limited cavalry operations at the end of 1862 and in the spring of 1863 gave Lee little chance to test his mettle as a brigadier.  However, on the morning of June 9, 1863, Lee, then camped near Brandy Station, Virginia, heard firing in the direction of the Rappahannock River at Beverly’s Ford.  Riding to the sound of the guns, the general organized a defensive position, taking advantage of the terrain and a low stone wall.  For five hours Lee’s cavaliers fought off repeated assaults by Union cavalry under General John Buford, effectively stalling the Federal advance and exacting a fearsome toll in casualties.  Lee, however, did not escape unscathed.  As the battle of Brandy Station drew to a close, the brigadier was badly wounded in the leg.

      The general’s wound required several months of convalescence, during which he was captured.  The next nine months of Lee’s career were spent as a prisoner at Forts Monroe and Lafayette.  In December of 1863, Lee learned of the death of his wife.  He was exchanged in March of 1864.

      When Lee returned to the army that spring, he was given command of a division and promoted to major general, making him the youngest Confederate officer to hold that rank.  He rendered reliable service during the war’s final year, most notably at the April 1865 battle of Five Forks.  While his fellow generals George Pickett, Thomas Rosser and (his cousin) Fitzhugh Lee, enjoyed their lunch, Rooney defended against a combined assault by infantry and cavalry and, despite his best efforts, was ultimately overwhelmed.   Little more than a week later, Lee surrendered his cavalry along with the entire remnant of his army at Appomattox Court House.

      After the war, Rooney Lee resumed his life as a farmer and was the president of the Virginia State Agricultural society for several years.  He was eventually drawn back into public life, serving a term as a state senator from 1875 to 1879 and later as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1887 to 1891.  W. H. F. Lee passed away shortly after the expiration of his term and was buried in Alexandria.  In 1922 his remains were reinterred at the Lee Mausoleum in Lexington, Virginia.

      The Atlanta Constitution, 16 Oct 1891, Fri, Part 1

        The Atlanta Constitution, 16 Oct 1891, Fri, Part 2