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Did You Ever Hear of Robert E. Lee’s Older Brother?

Robert E. Lee is well known by anyone interested in the Civil War. He had an older brother, Sydney Smith Lee, who also had a stellar military career.

Smith as he was called, or “rose” his nickname, entered the US Navy as a midshipman in 1820. He rose to the rank of lieutenant in eight years. He served in the Mexican War at Vera Cruz on a large caliber naval gun mounted in the siege of the city of Vera Cruz. Robert was an engineer involved in building the gun emplacements. He and Smith briefly met during this time.

Smith’s assignments were as commander of the Philadelphia Navy Yard for three years, a major responsibility, followed by assignment as Commandant of Midshipmen at Annapolis from 1848 to 1851. He sailed as Commodore Matthew Perry’s flagship captain on the USS Mississippi in 1853 after being promoted to Commander.

He was named chief of the Bureau of Coast Survey in Washington and his career was at it’s peak.

Neither he nor his brother were in favor of ssecession but made a pact to follow their state if Virginia left the Union.

Sydney Smith Lee was holding the bag when the Federals retook the Norfolk NAvy Yard of which Smith was commander. He had to give the unfortunate order to burn the CSS Virginia. It is often overlooked that he is responsible for saving the over 1000 heavy guns and the machine tools necessary to keep the Confederacy in the War.

Two brothers who had stellar careers.


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