Henry Lee, an American soldier, born in Westmoreland co., Va., Jan. 29, 1756, died at Cumberland island, Ga., March 25, 1818. His father was Henry Lee, first cousin of Richard Henry, Francis Lightfoot, and Arthur Lee; his mother was Mary Bland, daughter of Col. Bland of Jordans, in Prince George co., Va. He received his early education from a private tutor, and was afterward sent to Princeton college, then presided over by Dr. Wither-spoon. While at college Dr. Shippen predicted his future distinction. He graduated in 1774, in his 18th year, and returning home took charge of all the private affairs of his father, who was then engaged in negotiating a treaty with some Indian tribes on behalf of the colony. This charge he executed with great prudence, industry, and ability for one so young. In 1776, when 20 years of age, he was appointed, on the nomination of Patrick Henry, captain of a company of cavalry in Col. Theodore Bland's " Virginia regiment," and in September, 1777, marched with his regiment to join the main army. He soon dis-tinguished himself by the excellent discipline which he introduced into his company, the care which he took of his men and horses, and by skirmishing, foraging, and procuring information of the movements of the enemy.
He was enabled by his strict discipline to move with celerity and effect, and seems at once to have adopted that rapid and daring system of tactics which made " Lee's legion " afterward so efficient in the south. It is certain that his vigilance and zeal secured for him the respect and confidence of Washington, who selected Capt. Lee's company for his body guard at the battle of Germantown. The enemy seem also to have formed a high opinion of his abilities, and of the importance of taking him prisoner. In January, 1778, it was discovered that Capt. Lee, with only ten men, was at a stone house not far from the British lines. A design was immediately formed to capture him; and 200 troopers were detached to make a circuit and fall upon him by surprise. The troopers approached without his knowledge, seized four of his patrols who were prowling in search of forage, and attacked him before he was aware of their vicinity. He made a desperate defence, and the enemy were forced to retire with a loss of four killed, and one officer and three privates wounded. Of his own men, besides the patrols and the quartermaster sergeant, who were made prisoners, he had but two wounded.
Washington wrote him a letter complimenting him upon his gallantry on this occasion, and he was soon afterward raised to the rank of major, with the command of an independent partisan corps of two companies of cavalry, subsequently enlarged to three, and a body of infantry. He continued in active service, and on July 19, 1779, at the head of a body of 300 men, surprised the British garrison at Paulus Hook, took 160 prisoners, and effected his retreat with the loss of only two men killed and three wounded. For the "prudence, address, and bravery" which he displayed in this affair, congress voted him a gold medal. In January, 1781, he inarched his legion to the south, and joined the army of Greene, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In the great retreat of Greene before Lord Corn-wallis, Lee's legion formed the rear guard of the American army, the post of greatest danger. The pursuit was hot, and at one time the rear guard came in contact with the troopers of Tarleton. Lee charged Tarleton, killed 18 of his men, and took one captain and several privates prisoners.
When Greene had effected his retreat, he despatched Lee and Col. Pickens into North Carolina, to watch and harass the movements of Cornwallis. On their march they fell in with a couple of messengers from Col. Pyle, commander of a body of 400 tories, to Cornwallis. The messengers, supposing from the accoutrements of the troopers that Lee was Tarleton, communicated to him the substance of their instructions, which embraced full information of Pyle's intended movements. Lee did not undeceive them, personated Tarleton throughout, and despatched one of the messengers back to Pyle, directing him to post himself with his force at a place which he indicated. The tories accordingly took their position, and the troopers came up with them, and charged and defeated them, killing 90, and taking others prisoners. At the battle of Guilford Court House Lee performed very important services, and greatly distinguished himself. On the morning of the day of battle he encountered Tarleton's celebrated troop of cavalry, and drove them back with considerable loss.
In the main engagement he was stationed with his legion on the left wing of Greene's army; and although the body of militia which composed the principal force attached to his position abandoned him at the very commencement of the action, Lee obstinately held his ground, and kept the enemy at bay until he received the order to fall back upon the main body, whose retreat he covered. It was by the advice of Lee that Greene came to his celebrated and daring decision not to follow Cornwallis into Virginia, but to leave that province to its fate, and march southward, with the view of ending the conflict in South Carolina and Georgia. The praise or blame attached to this extreme step must therefore be shared between the two commanders. The result is known, and fully vindicated the expediency of the movement, cruel as it appeared to Virginia in her prostrate condition. In pursuance of his plan of operations, Greene detached Lee with his legion to join the body of partisans under Marion, and fall upon the lesser posts of the enemy.
By a series of vigorous operations, Forts Watson, Motte, and Granby were speedily compelled to surrender; and Lee was then ordered to join Pickens, and assist in the attack upon Augusta. On his way he surprised and took Fort Galphin. The defences of Augusta consisted of Fort Cornwallis and Fort Grierson. The latter was taken by assault, and the former at the end of a siege of 16 days. Col. Brown, its commander, was particularly obnoxious to the Americans, and his life was only preserved by the interposition of Lee. That officer marched with his prisoners to rejoin the army of Greene, which had sat down before Fort Ninety-Six. Lee was intrusted with an important position when the attempt was made to take the place by storm. He led the assault with his habitual daring, and was completely successful; but the other division failed in its object, and the advance of Lord Rawdon compelled Greene to abandon the siege. His gallantry at the battle of Eutaw Springs contributed largely to the result of that action. His legion covered the right flank, and when the militia gave ground before the enemy, he obstinately maintained his position unsupported.
His order to Capt. Rudolph, of the infantry corps attached to his legion, to turn the enemy's flank, and give them a raking fire, resulted in the retreat of the left wing of the British forces, which were completely broken, and driven from the field. The charge upon the enemy's right was not so fortunate, and the Americans were compelled to retire. It is more than probable that Lee's impetuous charge alone saved the army from defeat. The revolutionary struggle was now drawing to a close. Greene had rightly supposed that the main army under Washington was more than a match for the force of Cornwallis. In October, soon after the battle of Eutaw, Lee was sent on a special mission to Washington, with the request from Greene that he would prevail on the count de Grasse to afford naval assistance in the proposed siege of Charleston; and he arrived at Yorktown about the period of the surrender of Cornwallis. Lee's relations with Greene have been misrepresented by the partisan adherents of that great and excellent man.
Lee fancied that he had been injured by the neglect of Greene to speak of him in his general reports as his services deserved; and a correspondence ensued upon the subject in 1782. The general declared that Lee's wish to retire originated, he believed, in "distress" rather than the injuries which his health had undergone, and combated his resolution in a tone of affectionate remonstrance. He had been under obligations to Lee, he said, which he could " never cancel." As to his military services, Greene wrote: "I believe that few officers, either in Europe or America, are held in so high a point of estimation as you are. . . . Everybody knows I have the highest opinion of you as an officer, and you know I love you as a friend. No man in the progress of the campaign had equal merit with yourself." The friendly relations afterward subsisting between these two eminent men, and the manner in which Lee speaks of Greene in his memoirs of the southern campaign, show that this temporary misunderstanding* did not continue.
Finding his services no longer necessary, however, Lee retired from the army, and returned to Virginia, He settled down at Stratford, the old family mansion in Westmoreland, and was soon afterward married to his cousin Matilda, daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee. Upon the death of this lady, he married Ann, daughter of Charles Carter. In 1786 he was appointed by the Virginia assembly one of the delegates to congress, in which body he remained until the federal constitution went into operation. In 1788 he was a member of the Virginia convention to decide upon the adoption of the proposed instrument, and took a prominent position among the advocates of the measure. He subsequently served in the Virginia house of delegates, and in 1792 was elected governor of the commonwealth for the term of three years. In 1794 occurred the whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania. Every peaceable attempt to suppress the outbreak having failed, the president ordered a military force to be raised, which he placed under the command of Lee. The advance of the well known partisan of the revolution at the head of 15,000 men speedily terminated all resistance, and Lee soon returned to Virginia. In 1799 he again served in congress; and when intelligence was received of the death of Washington he was appointed by the house to pronounce a eulogium.
The resolutions which he drew up on this occasion, and which were presented during his temporary absence by his friend Judge Marshall, contained the words now so celebrated: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." On the election of Jefferson to the presidency in 1801, Lee retired from public affairs, and established himself as a country gentleman in Virginia. The remainder of his life was not, however, to be tranquil. The profuse hospitality and free mode of living then the fashion plunged him into pecuniary trouble, and terminated in the ruin of his estate. He was even arrested for debt, and, if the statement of some persons is to be credited, lodged in the jail of Spottsylvania. The more probable account is, that he was confined within " the limits" of that county only. Here, in the year 1809, he wrote his " Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States," which deservedly ranks among the most valuable and interesting works of a similar description. It seems to have been largely based upon communications from his brother officers, is written with candor and impartiality, and possesses the charm peculiar to writers who have witnessed with their own eyes the scenes which they describe.
In 1811 he took up his residence at Alexandria, Va., where his family remained after his death. Few subsequent traces of the life of Lee remain, up to the year 1814. He seems to have been harassed by pecuniary trouble, but not to have discarded his habits of free living. In 1814 he was in Baltimore when the riots connected with the " Federal Republican " newspaper took place, and exposed himself by the part which he took in them to serious injury. The printing office of the journal was destroyed by the mob, and an attack upon the dwelling of the editor followed. Lee was a personal friend of this gentleman, and with characteristic impetuosity offered to aid him in defending his house. The result was that two of the assailants were killed, and a number wounded; which so inflamed the rage of the crowd, that but for the arrival of the city military Lee and his friends would in all probability have been torn to pieces. They were conducted by the military to the city jail for safety; but during the night the mob reassembled in greater force, broke open the jail, and either killed or shockingly maimed all its inmates. From the injuries which he received on this occasion Lee never recovered. He made a voyage to the West Indies for the restoration of his health, but all his hopes failed.
Finding his strength giving way, he returned to the United States in 1818. - In person Lee was above the medium height, well proportioned, and pleasing. His complexion was dark; his manner the frank and open address of a soldier. Self-esteem, based upon the conscious possession of commanding talents, was a marked trait of his character; and in this doubtless originated his misunderstanding with Greene. The opinion formed by that great soldier of his military genius has been stated. The " love and thanks " expressed in a letter to Lee from Gen. Washington in 1789, exhibit the affection which his generous qualities had inspired in the bosom of the chief; and in Virginia he is still known by the name of " Legion Harry " or "Light Horse Harry," in allusion to the rapid and daring movements of his partisan corps in the campaign of the Carolinas. He was father of Robert E. Lee, commander-in-chief of the confederate armies in the civil war.