During the Mexican War he served briefly as a private in Benjamin McCulloch's famed Company A - the "Spy Company" - of Col. John Coffee Hays's First Regiment, Texas Mounted Rifles, before transferring in October 1846, as a second lieutenant, to Mirabeau B. Lamar's independent company of Texas cavalry. Bee volunteered for a second term in October 1847 and was elected first lieutenant of Lamar's Company, now a component of Col. Peter Hansborough Bell's Regiment, Texas Volunteers.
After the war Bee moved to Laredo and was elected to the Texas legislature, where he served from 1849 through 1859. From 1855 through 1857 he was speaker of the House. He was elected brigadier general of militia in 1861 and appointed brigadier general in the Confederate Army to rank from March 4, 1862. His brigade was composed of August C. Buchel's First, Nicholas C. Gould's Twenty-third, Xavier B. Debray's Twenty-sixth, James B. Likin's Thirty-fifth, Peter C. Woods's Thirty-sixth, and Alexander W. Terrell's Texas cavalry regiments. Given command of the lower Rio Grande district, with headquarters at Brownsville, Bee expedited the import of munitions from Europe through Mexico and the export of cotton in payment. On November 4, 1863, he was credited with saving millions of dollars of Confederate stores and munitions from capture by a federal expeditionary force under Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. After transfer to a field command in the spring of 1864, Bee led his brigade in the Red River campaign under Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor. Having had only slight training or experience in the art of war and having served only in an administrative capacity to that time, he was less than skillful in handling troops. While he was leading a cavalry charge at the battle of Pleasant Hill, two horses were shot from beneath him, and he suffered a slight face wound. Though he was afterward the object of some heavy criticism, he was assigned to the command of Thomas Green's division in Gen. John A. Wharton's cavalry corps in February 1865 and was later given a brigade of infantry in Gen. Samuel Bell Maxey's division.
After the war Bee went to Mexico for a time. In 1876 he returned to San Antonio, where he remained until his death, on October 3, 1897. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in San Antonio. Bee was married to Mildred Tarver of Alabama in 1854, and they had six children. He was the brother of Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr.
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