Sunday, December 23, 2007

Maj. Gen. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee

Henry Lee III, called "Light Horse Harry", (29 January 1756 – 25 March 1818) was a cavalry officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He was born near Dumfries, Virginia, the son of Maj. Gen. Henry Lee II of "Leesylvania" and Lucy Grymes, the "Lowland Beauty".
Lee and his younger brother Charles entered The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in the summer of 1770 when they were fourteen and twelve, after a ten-day journey from Virginia by stage and on horseback, along with their friend James Madison. With a view to a legal career, Lee graduated in 1773, but on the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he joined the Continental Army. In 1776, Lee became captain of a Virginia Dragoon detachment, attached to the 1st Continental Light Dragoons. In 1778, he was promoted to major and given the command of a small irregular corps, with which he earned great reputation as a leader of light troops.
Lee came into prominence in 1779 when, as a 23-year-old major, he led the capture of the British fort at Paulus Hook, New Jersey. He later became cavalry commander in the Southern campaign under General Nathanael Greene. Lee served notably at Guilford Court House, Camden, and Eutaw Springs. He was present at Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, but afterwards left the army owing to ill health.
From 1786 to 1788, Lee was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in the last-named year in the Virginia convention, he favored the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. From 1789 to 1791, he served in the General Assembly and, from 1791 to 1794, Lee was Governor of Virginia. In 1794, Lee accompanied George Washington to help suppress the "Whiskey Rebellion" in western Pennsylvania.
Henry Lee served as a major-general in the U.S. Army in 1798-1800, and from 1799 to 1801, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is credited with writing the phrase used by Chief Justice John Marshall in his address to Congress on the death of Washington–"first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Lee had been at his best as a dashing cavalry officer in the Revolution– "a Rupert in battle," Woodrow Wilson called him, "a boy in counsel, highstrung, audacious, wilful, lovable, a figure for romance." He was less well fitted for civil and domestic life, and his later years were marred by financial reverses and long periods away from home. He lost heavily in land speculations and spent a year in debtor's prison when Robert E. Lee (his fifth child by his second wife) was only two. While in prison he wrote his memoirs of the Revolution. In 1812, in Baltimore, he was seriously injured while in the company of a group opposed to "Mr. Madison's War," who were under attack by an angry mob. Madison denounced the rioters as barbarians and offered Lee a commission as major-general in the army, but he was too weak to accept. Ill and impoverished, he spent his last years in the West Indies in a vain effort to regain his health.

(Source: Wikipedia,, and A Princeton Companion, by Alexander Leitch, pub. 1978, Princeton University Press)