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Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1992 Mar;174(3):237-44.

The cardiac illness of General Robert E. Lee.

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Department of Surgery, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville.


We believe that General Robert E. Lee had ischemic heart disease. It is our opinion that he sustained a heart attack in 1863 and that this illness had a major influence on the battle of Gettysburg. Lee experienced relatively good health from 1864 to 1867, but by 1869 he had exertional angina and by the spring of 1870 had intermittent rest angina. Although his symptoms were typical of angina, his physicians consistently diagnosed pericarditis, which we believe was erroneous. This misdiagnosis can be explained by the lack of familiarity of American physicians with angina during the 19th Century. It often was stated that the loss of the war broke the heart of Lee, but in view of our modern day understanding, it probably is more accurate to say that advancing coronary atherosclerosis was the culprit.

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