The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Continental General Charles Lee
Charles Lee Born: February 6, 1732; England
Died: 1782; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Battles: Fort Sullivan

Revolutionary War: 1776-1778
The British patrol led by Lt. Colonel William Harcourt included twenty-five men from the 16th Light Horse and four officers including Cornet Banastre Tarleton to find the American detachment. This intelligence was relayed to the British. A Tory passed the intelligence onto the patrol and after some observation by Tarleton, Harcourt surprised Lee's guard on the morning of December 13, 1776, at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. After a few minutes of exchanging fire, Lee surrendered. Even though a rescue party was sent, Harcourt managed to get Lee safely to Brunswick, New Jersey.

Lee was then taken to New York and his capture was considered a great blow to the morale of the Americans. General George Washington attempted to negotiate a prisoner exchange, but he did not have any prisoners of similar rank. He offered five Hessian officers captured at Trenton, but this was denied and Lee was treated as a deserter and criminal. On March 29, 1977 Lee submitted a plan to his British captors which he believed would end the rebellion. The British ignored his plan and once the details of the plan were made known years after his death, Lee's action was considered an act of treason. Following the defeat and surrender of Maj. General John Burgoyne at Saratoga on October 17, 1777, the British relaxed their treatment of Lee. Lee was finally exchanged for Maj. General Richard Prescott on May 9, 1778.

Monmouth Courthouse and Courtmartial: 1778
On May 20, he arrived at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and rejoined Washington's main army. Lee's infamous end of service to the Continental Army took place at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey on June 28, 1778. He commanded the van of the main army and had been ordered by General Washington to attack the retreating enemy. However, he instead retreated, whereupon Washington came upon him still advancing. Washington gave him a severe dressing down in the field in front of other officers. Lee felt slighted by Washington and responded to his commanding officer using inappropriate language.

Lee furthered his troubles by writing two letters to General Washington that same day in which he was still disrespectful and asked for a trial to prove his case. He was placed under arrest and a courtmartial was convened on July 1, 1778 at Brunswick, New Jersey with General Alexander Lord Stirling presiding. Lee was officially charged with disobedience of orders in attacking the enemy on June 28 as instructed, misbehavior before the enemy on the same day by making an unnecessary retreat and disrespect to the Commander-in-Chief in two letters.

Hearings continued until August 9, 1778. On August 12, the court found Lee guilty of all charges sentenced him to suspension of command for one year. On August 16, Washington forwarded the case to the Continental Congress. Congress did not begin discussing the case until October 23 and finally on December 5, 1778, Congress voted to saction the courtmartial. From this time on, Lee attacked the character of General Washington and his popularity in the colonies waned.

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