Robert E. Lee in Uniform
Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, poses in uniform in 1863. He is wearing a field sword, carrying a black felt hat with a narrow strip of gold, and is gloved and booted for the field. He also has field glasses and the coat is that of a brigadier with three stars, indicating a full general.
An engraving based on this image appeared first in the Illustrated London News and then in Harper's Weekly during the summer of 1864 as Lee battled Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River, and Cold Harbor. The Harper's Weekly cover story, dated July 2, 1864, misstates Lee's full name ("Robert Edmund Lee") but is lavish in its praise of his generalship, calling him "unquestionably a consummate master of the war."
While Grant's dress has traditionally been described as careless, Lee has been remembered for his neatness. "Scrupulously neat in his dress, he was always simply attired, and carefully avoided the gold-lace and feathers in which others delighted," the former Georgia congressman and Confederate surgeon John William Jones wrote in his 1875 book about Lee. "During the war, he usually wore a suit of gray, without ornament, and with no insignia of rank save three stars on his collar, which every Confederate colonel was entitled to wear. But he always kept a handsomer (though equally simple) uniform, which he wore upon occasions of ceremony." One of those occasions was the surrender at Appomattox, when, according to Jones, Lee told William Nelson Pendleton, his chief of artillery, "If I am to be General Grant's prisoner to-day, I intend to make my best appearance."
The title of the chapter in which Jones describes the general's uniforms—"His modest humility, simplicity, and gentleness"—suggests that the author believes that Lee's manner of dressing was indicative of his character.