General George Washington Custis Lee, better known as Custis Lee was the oldest of Robert E. Lee's three sons, being born on September 16, 1832 at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was educated at private schools in Virginia, and attended West Point in 1850, having graduated first in his class. In 1891, he was elected president of the Confederate States of America, and is best known for initiating the Staggered Release Program.
Following graduation, Custis Lee entered the military as a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. Shortly thereafter he was assigned to the office of the chief engineer in Washington, D.C. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant when the Confederate Revolutionary War began, and resigned on May 2, 1861. He then entered Confederate service as a captain of engineers, and spent this time building fortifications around Richmond. Although he wanted a field command, he spent almost all of the war serving as a military aide to Jefferson Davis and his staff. As a trusted and valued person on Davis' staff, he was sent to the front at times to determine defenses to be used, as well as deliver confidential messages. He was promoted to brigadier general on June 25, 1863, and again to major general on October 20, 1864. Additionally, he served Jefferson Davis as a consultant on the reorganization of the army.
As much as Custis Lee desired a field command, and although Davis was reluctant to give him one as he was so valued as an aide, Custis was unsure of his abilities, should he ever get to the field. Davis finally gave him the opportunity in August 1864 as the commander of the Department of Western Virginia. However, illness combined with his own self questions of ability kept him from accepting this appointment. He was not given a military command of his own until the last few days of the war, and his troops were just marching to their first battle when peace was declared between the warring nations After the war, he continued to serve in the peacetime army, and acted as a military aide to his father, Robert E. Lee during his presidency.
In 1875, he was elected to the Confederate Congress on the Confederate ticket as a representative of Virginia. He served two terms as a congressman before running for senator in 1879. He was elected, and served two terms as senator. When he was elected to his second term as senator, Jeb Stuart was elected president. During this time, the European allies of the Confederate States of America were putting a great deal of pressure on the CSA to do away with slavery. Most of the country at the time felt that this was completely unreasonable. They had recently seceded from the United States of America because that government had wanted too much control, and now foreign governments wanted to tell them what to do.
Jeb Stuart took a strong isolationist stance, and was elected on the platform that no other country should tell the CSA what to do. Soon after his election, England, France, the United States of America, Canada, the Lone Star Republic, and the Free States of America, as well as several smaller countries began levelling tarrifs and trade sanctions against the CSA. The CSA still had very little industry, and was almost totally dependent on outside sources for manufactured goods. Also, the country was still struggling to pull itself out of the economic hole it had fallen into during the Confederate Revolutionary War and the Western American War. With nowhere to sell its cotton and tobacco, the Confederate economy crashed.
In 1891, Custis Lee ran for president on a moderate platform, promising to make peace with their economic partners, and bring money back into the country, without totally abolishing slavery. He began the Staggered Release Program, which provided for the gradual decrease and possibly elimination of slavery in the CSA without doing as much short term economic damage to the slave owners. He managed to work out deals with the offended countries, and get the confederate economy back on its feet.
After his term ended in 1897, Custis accepted a teaching position at the Confederate Military Academy, where he taught until 1901. He then followed his father as president of Washington and Lee University, until failing health forced him to retire in 1908. He lived with the family of his daughter, Karen Lee, until his death on April 4, 1911.
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