He went to West Point because it was tuition- free and his father had squandered any money the family had.
At the time, the focus of the curriculum was engineering. Cadets were not allowed to leave until they had finished two years of study. Lee was a premier student at West Point. He was made a math instructor in his second year as well as class staff sergeant, the highest honor available to a yearling or second-year student.
Named as one of four assistant professors, he taught mathematics and studied the strategy and tactics of the recent Napoleonic Wars. He also proudly read a new addition to the curriculum, his father’s Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, introduced as a textbook study of the American Revolution.
Lee graduated with highest honors in 1829, only weeks before his mother died.
He graduated second in his class. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. Lee was one of six in his graduating class without a single demerit. He had perfect scores in artillery, infantry and cavalry.
He now faced the life of a newly commissioned Army engineer that promised low pay and very slow promotion. The United States was at peace from 1815 to 1846. All there was to occupy a young officer was desk work or fort-building.
His first assignment was to strengthen Fort Pulasky on the mosquito-infested Cockspur Island off the Georgia coast for seventeen months.
He was transferred to Fortress Monroe, a giant new artillery installation aimed at preventing an enemy from sailing right up to Washington, D. C. as he had seen the British do in 1812.
Lee began courting Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the great granddaughter of Martha Washington. She lived in a stately, Greek-columned mansion her father, George Washington Parke Custis built high above the Potomac River at Arlington.
He courted Mary for two years before her father relented and allowed Lee to marry her.
After giving birth to the first of seven children, Mary developed a recurring pelvic infection that kept her bedridden for a year. She could only walk with the aid of a cane.