General Robert E. Lee was without a doubt one of the greatest commanders in military history, managing to pull off a string of victories against vastly superior Union armies. His reputation was such that his name has become synonymous for a great leader who fights for a lost cause.
Yet few people know that Lee was actually offered command of the Union Army. Namely, the highest-ranking U.S. general, Winfried Scott, advised President Lincoln to put Lee in command of the Army (or, according to some interpretations, the position of second-in-command). Colonel Robert E. Lee ignored a Confederate offer of command, and Lincoln promoted him to major general.
Looking at Lee’s moral and political beliefs, one can immediately see that he wasn’t a strong believer in the Confederate cause. He was politically indifferent and considered secession to be a very unwise decision. In fact, he even privately ridiculed the Confederate “revolution” as a betrayal of the Constitution. Lee was also personally opposed to slavery, though he believed that the African American slaves were better off living in the USA than in Africa (he thought that their subjugation would “prepare and lead them to better things”), and that slavery would end when God willed it. Lee’s primary loyalty was to his family and the state of Virginia.
Ultimately, Lee was a Virginian first and an American second. When Virginia joined the Confederacy on 17 April 1961, he reluctantly turned down the offer to command the Union Army, and resigned his commission on 20 April. Three days later, he accepted command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. However, not all Virginians supported the Union – the northwestern part of the country seceded and joined the Union, founding the state of West Virginia.