Friday, January 11, 2008

Gen. Charles Lee (1731–1782)

Charles Lee was born in Cheshire, England, the son of General John Lee and Isabella Bunbury (daughter of Sir Henry Bunbury, 3rd Baronet). He was sent to school in Switzerland and became proficient in several languages. He returned to England in 1746 at the age of fourteen to attend school at Bury St Edmunds. That same year his father, then colonel of the 55th Foot (later renumbered the 44th), purchased a commission for Charles as an ensign in the same regiment.

Lee purchased a lieutenant's commission in 1751. He was first sent to America in 1754 for service in the French and Indian War under Major General Edward Braddock, but was apparently not with the regiment when it suffered disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela. He purchased a captain's commission in the 44th Foot in 1756. The following year Lee took part in an expedition against the French fortress of Louisbourg, and in 1758 he was wounded in a failed assault on Fort Ticonderoga. After recovering, he took part in the capture of Fort Niagara in 1759 and Montreal in 1760. Lee went back to Europe, transferred to the 103rd Foot as a major, and served as a lieutenant colonel in the Portuguese army, fighting against the Spanish in Portugal. He returned to England in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years' War. His regiment was disbanded and he was retired as a major.

In 1765 Lee fought in Poland, serving as aide-de-camp under King Stanislaus II. After many adventures he returned to England. Unable to secure promotion in the British Army, in 1769 he returned to Poland, saw more action, and lost two fingers in a duel in which he killed his opponent. Returning to England again, he found sympathy for the American colonists in their quarrel with Britain. Lee moved to the colonies in 1773 and purchased an estate in western Virginia.

At the start of the Revolutionary War, Lee's military experience won him a commission as major general in the Continental Army. After directing the fortification of New York City early in 1776, he was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, and received credit for the successful defense of that city, despite having advised William Moultrie to abandon the fort that saved the city. Lee was afterwards recalled to New York.

Toward the end of 1776, Lee's animosity for Washington began to show. He dawdled with his troops in New York, disregarding General Washington's numerous pleas to cross the Hudson River and join the retreat following the battle of White Plains. In the meanwhile, Lee intensified a letter campaign to various Congress members in Philadelphia, trying to convince them that he should replace Washington as overall commander. During this time, Washington accidentally opened a letter from Lee to Colonel Joseph Reed, in which Lee condemned Washington's leadership abilities and blamed Washington entirely for the dire straits of the army. Although his army was supposed to join Washington's in Pennsylvania, Lee set a very slow pace. On the night of December 12, 1776, Lee and a dozen of his guard inexplicably stopped for the night at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, some three miles from his main army. The next morning, a British patrol of two dozen mounted soldiers (including Banastre Tarleton) found Lee writing letters in his dressing gown, and captured him. Lee was eventually freed in a prisoner exchange, after which he rejoined Washington at Valley Forge.

Lee is most infamous for his actions during the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. Washington ordered him to attack the retreating enemy. Instead, Lee ordered a retreat. He retreated directly into Washington and his troops, who were advancing. Washington dressed him down publicly. Lee responded with "inappropriate language," was arrested, and shortly thereafter court-martialed. Lee was found guilty and relieved of command for a period of one year. He continued to criticize Washington abusively, and in 1780, Lee was finally dismissed from service.

(info: Wikipedia,; and Infoplease,