Artifacts Portraits

Hall of Fame: Stephen Dill Lee

Nominations are currently being sought for the 2011 class of the Mississippi Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame honors women and men who made noteworthy contributions to the state. Consideration for the Hall of Fame takes place only once every five years and any Mississippian—native or adopted—deceased at least five years may be nominated. The deadline for nominations is October 1, and elections will be held at a special meeting of the MDAH board of trustees in December. Click here for complete nomination guidelines.

This series recognizes members of the Hall of Fame, whose portraits hang in the Old Capitol Museum. Special thanks to Anna Todd, University of Southern Mississippi student and MDAH summer intern, for researching this post.

Stephen Dill Lee, Hall of Fame portrait. Accession Number: 1978.88 (Museum Division Collection)
Stephen Dill Lee, Hall of Fame portrait. Accession Number: 1978.88 (Museum Division Collection)

Stephen D. Lee (1833-1908) was born in Charleston, South Carolina. A graduate of West Point, Lee was originally a lieutenant in the United States Army before resigning his commission to join the Confederate Army in 1861. During his Confederate career, Lee was involved in firing the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. He then went on to assume the command of Confederate troops in a number of battles including those of the Vicksburg Campaign in 1863. Lee was eventually promoted to lieutenant general in 1864 at age thirty, making him the youngest Confederate to hold the title.

After the war, Lee settled in Columbus, Mississippi, and made his living as a planter until 1878, when he was elected to the Mississippi state senate. In 1880 he became the first president of the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Mississippi State University, where he served until 1899. He was acclaimed as a pioneer in the fields of agricultural and industrial education. An active member and prominent leader as commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans, Lee played a major role in establishing Vicksburg National Military Park and served as its first superintendent.

Lee spent the final six years of his life as president of the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History. After giving a speech to former Union soldiers whom he had faced years earlier at the Vicksburg campaign, Lee fell ill with what was believed to be a cerebral hemorrhage. He died in Vicksburg in 1908 and was buried in Friendship Cemetery in Columbus. A statue is dedicated to Lee at Vicksburg National Military Park, and a bust was erected of him in the center of the Drill Field at Mississippi State University. His portrait was presented to the Mississippi Hall of Fame in 1903 by the faculty and alumni of the Agricultural and Mechanical College (Mississippi State University).