Charles Lee, a general in the American Revolutionary war, is a historic figure in American history. Serving under George Washington, Charles Lee participated in a number of battles. However, history says Charles Lee was treacherous to the cause, all the while that he was in command during that time; he was acting in bad faith toward the Americans. His influence in the army was, at all times, mischievous (General Charles Lee: Traitor of the American Revolution). To the British, Charles Lee was a traitor who turned on England to fight under George Washington. Due to Charles Lee’s treacherous actions against America, it would lead to his downfall in the following years.
Born in England to an aristocratic family, Lee had already joined the army at the age of 12, and in the 1750's was sent to colonial America to fight in the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War). It was here that he first served with the man who would be his superior officer later in life, General George Washington. Together they survived the bloody disaster of Major General Edward Braddock's defeat at the hands of the French Canadians and Indians in 1755 (American History Suite 101) at the Monongahela River at the forks with the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers near modern Pittsburgh (Fort Pitt) in the Battle of Monongahela (British Battles). Not only was it here that Charles Lee first came into contact with George Washington, it was also Washington’s first defeat, which probably leads to Lee’s treason later on. Why this happens is because Lee was arrogant and ugly, and felt he was a better General overall than to his superior George Washington. Outside of battle, Lee was rarely seen around people; Lee was more surrounded by dogs. His prized dog was Pomeranian (US History, War for Independence). Later on, after the defeat during the French and Indian War, Lee purchased a compound in the Mohawk Valley. With this, he casually married a Mohawk woman and was adopted by the tribe. His unpredictable behavior and violent temper earned him the name of “Boiling Water” among the Natives (US History, War for Independence).
Later on, Lee left the colonial states and returned to England, where he took other assignments to different countries. To me, this showed Lee was an adventurous type of person and always looking for some kind of work. When Lee returned to England again, things did not go in his favor. After a denial to offer the desired command from Lee’s service in the Polish army, Lee hoped to parlay that experience into a lucrative appointment with King George III (US History War for Independence). When denied, Lee rebuked the monarch and swore that he would never give the king an opportunity to break another promise. An embittered Lee became enmeshed in Whig politics and retired to America on half pay in 1773 (US History, War for Independence). Due to Lee’s erratic behavior and attitude towards the king and politics, Lee was asked or forced to leave England since he only received half pay, and chose to retire to America.
When Lee supposedly retired to America, he was known to be an outspoken person, and he soon found out to be under the wing of George Washington, something he did not like. Lee’s pride was slighted when the less experienced Washington was appointed commander of the American forces (US History, War for Independence). When Lee was ordered to defend a position with fellow fighters, he showed in one instance, taking credit from another fighter like he did all the work. Such an example is this, Lee’s orders was to protect Charleston, the most important port in the South, from a sea-based British force under Sir Henry Clinton. Hostilities in that theater commenced in June. The patriot forces succeeded in holding a fortified position on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor. Lee emerged from the successful defense with a heightened reputation, despite the fact that much of the credit rightly belonged to Colonel William Moultrie (US History, War for Independence). Most of the credit rightfully belonged to Colonel Moultrie because nine warships mounting nearly 270 guns (cannon) were soundly defeated by Colonel William Moultrie. Also, with limited ammunition, Moultrie’s orders were not to waste fire (Preservation Society of Charleston). When Washington gave Lee another command sometime after, Lee was reluctant to carry it out. Lee questioned Washington’s ability, possibly from his earlier experience with Washington at Braddock’s. Some have speculated that Lee wanted to see his superior defeated so that he could take command of the continental army (US History, War for Independence).
In December 1776, Lee left his army to spend the evening in White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey (US History, War for Independence). Things may have gone good to Lee at first, having nice food and being around women, but all that changed when Lee stayed the night at the tavern and woke up the next morning. When morning came, Lee was surprised by the arrival of British troops under Benastre Tarleton, a former comrade who had sworn an oath in a London club to track down and decapitate Lee. Following a brief skirmish during which escape routes were cut off, a humiliated Lee was taken prisoner and removed to New York City (US History, War for Independence). Because of Lee’s lust and desire to get away from battle, lent him to be captured by the very same people who considered him a traitor. This news eventually reached Washington’s ears; he was distraught because this could spell disaster for America. Lee, however was not concerned about Washington or the army he left, instead he was getting taken care of and doing an aid for the British. While in confinement, Lee drafted a battle plan for the British and received excellent treatment in return. He was provided with a comfortable three-room suite, food, wine and a personal servant. Lee was released in an exchange in the spring of 1778, in the wake of the major British defeat at Saratoga the previous fall. (US History, War for Independence).
Upon Lee’s return to Washington and his army, the soldier’s set out for Valley Forge but engaged with the British at the Battle of Monmouth. Washington commanded Lee to take his men and attack the British from the rear. As the fighting continued, Lee lost his touch in the flow of battle. When Washington arrived with the 6,000‐man main army and found many American soldiers retreating, he severely reprimanded Lee, who was later court‐martialed and removed from the army (Battle of Monmouth). Possibly hurting his pride and experience on the field, this of course did not fly with Lee, who wanted an apology but did not get one. Instead, Lee was found guilty of disobeying orders and insubordination and was removed from service for one year. This verdict was upheld by Congress in December 1778 (US History, War for Independence). That did not keep Lee quiet on the issue, he still attacked and slandered Washington and Congress for the decision they made regarding his action at the Battle of Monmouth. He was officially dismissed from the army in 1780 (US History, War for Independence). Probably because Congress got tired of Lee’s attacking words and not so nice attitude, and the possible result of him not following an order and jeopardizing an attack or defense. Lee later moved to Philadelphia and lived in obscurity until his death in a tavern in October 1782 (US History, War for Independence). How Lee died however, I do not know. Upon his death though, Washington and others attending his funeral, but one thing they found from Lee’s will was interesting. Aside from not wanting to be buried in a churchyard, but in the will Lee stated “I have kept so much bad company when living that I do not choose to continue it when dead.” (US History, War for Independence).
In conclusion, what made me want to do research on Charles Lee was pretty much curiosity. I only heard of Charles Lee upon reading a gaming book on which he would be featured in on an upcoming title. After learning a good enough info on Lee’s life and what he did while in America, I have to say he is a forgotten figure in some respect, because when history is taught and talked about, Lee is barely brought up if not never. Now, I ask this question, was Charles Lee a patriot or a traitor? To me, Lee was perhaps both. He betrayed England and fought under George Washington and the Continental Army, but then again, he betrayed his own army by cooperating with the British after his capture. Maybe the term double agent can be used to describe Lee.
1)US History – The War for Independence: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1117.html 2)American History Suite 101: http://isaacmmcphee.suite101.com/general-charles-lee-a44059 3)General Charles Lee: Traitor of the American Revolution: http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/Our_Country_vol_2/generalc_bbe.html 4)British Battles: http://www.britishbattles.com/braddock.htm 5)Preservation Society of Charleston: http://www.halseymap.com/flash/window.asp?HMID=47 6)Battle of Monmouth: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/battle_of_Monmouth.aspx