Fitzhugh Lee came from the distinguished lineage of the Virginia Lee's -- grandson of Henry "Light-Horse Harry" and nephew of Robert E. Lee. He graduated from West Point in 1856, but resigned his commission with the U.S. army to join the Confederate forces. He rode with distinction in the cavalry and was named major general in September 1863. For the next twenty years, he wrote about and taught the history of the South during the Civil War capped by his biography of Robert E. Lee. He served as governor of Virginia from 1885-1889 and following an unsuccessful bid for the Senate, President Grover Cleveland appointed him consul general in Havana in 1896, a position he retained even after the election of President McKinley.
At this time, Cuba was in chaos. Lee hoped for a U.S. intervention to help the rebels desiring independence, even though President McKinley wanted the Spanish government to come to a settlement without recourse to U.S. troops. A few hours after the President ordered the U.S.S. Maine to Havana Harbor, Lee telegraphed his advice not to send such a ship. Following the explosion on the Maine, Lee returned to Washington. On May 5, 1898 he was made a major general in the army and put in command of the Seventh Army Corps. Although the unit trained thoroughly in Jacksonville, Florida, it never saw combat.
In January 1899 Lee and his troops went to Havana to establish order there. From April 12, 1899 to March 2, 1901 Lee was named brigadier general of volunteers by the Volunteer Services Act, during that time he published Cuba's Struggle (New York, 1899). He retired from the army on March 2, 1901.