Charles Lee was of Irish descent, but was born in England on February 6, 1732. His father was a colonel in the British Army. By the age of twelve in 1744, Lee was in military school in Switzerland and was already commissioned as an ensign in the British Army. In 1747, he began duty in his father's regiment. On May 2, 1751, he became a lieutenant in the 44th Foot. He was sent to America at the beginning of the French and Indian War. He saw action at Braddock's Defeat on July 9, 1755. He had served along with fellow officers George Washington, Horatio Gates and Thomas Gage under Maj. General Edward Braddock on that ill-fated expedition.
Lee next went to the Mohawk Valley in New York and purchased a Captaincy. He was adopted by the Mohawk Indians and married the daughter of a Mohawk Indian chief. The Mohawk gave him the nickname "Boiling Water" because of his simmering temper. Lee was severly wounded on July 7, 1758 during Maj. General James Abercromby's attack on Ticonderoga. He did manage to rejoin his regiment in time for the caputres of Niagara and Montreal. He returned to England during the Winter of 1760-61.
On August 10, 1761, Lee was appointed Major of the 103rd Regement. In 1762, Lee served in Portugal under Colonel John Burgoyne. He retired in November 1763 on half-pay with the rank of Major when his regiment was disbanded. In 1765 Lee joined the Polish Army and became the aide-de-camp to the Polish monarch King Stanislaus (II) Poniatowski. He was promoted to Major General in 1767. He returned to England when he remained for two years until 1769. He returned to Poland and fought against the Turks, but was invalided home to England in 1770.
When Lee returned to Britain, he lobbied for a post in the British Army. He was promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1772. He also was given an audience with King George III, who informed him that there was no military position available. Lee cut the King short and resigned his commission. When Lee arrived in America in 1773, he quickly became involved in the Patriot cause. He gained the respect of Virginian Richard Henry Lee and also had occasion to charm John Adams. He urged them to form an army. In May 1774, he began purchasing an estate in Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia). In December 1774, Lee journeyed to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, when war looked to be inevitable.
The Revolution Begins: 1775
When word of the shots fired at Lexington and Concord reached Virginia, Charles Lee immediately offered his services to the Continental Congress. Because of his experience in the British Army, he expected to be named Commander-in-Chief, but that went to George Washington. He now believed that he would be named the First Major General of the Continental Army, second only to Washington, but he had to settle for second Major General on June 19, 1775 behind Artemas Ward. Artemas Ward had been in command of the Siege of Boston and during the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was named First Major General in deference to his seniority and to balance colonial politics between New England and the Middle Colonies. The rank was largely ceremonial, because of Ward's delicate health and lack of ambition for greater command. Lee essentially acted as second-in-command except in matters pertaining to New England.
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