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Summary Article: Lee, Charles
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1731–82, American Revolutionary army officer, b. Cheshire, England. He first came to America to serve in the French and Indian War and took part in General Braddock's disastrous campaign (1755), in the unsuccessful campaign against Ticonderoga (1758), and in the capture of Montreal (1760). His duties as a British officer later took him to Portugal under Gen. John Burgoyne (1762) and to Poland. In 1773 he went to Virginia to live and became a supporter of colonial independence. At the start of the American Revolution his 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 went to Charleston, S.C., and received credit for the successful defense of that city, despite his having advised William Moultrie to abandon the fort that saved the city. Returning to New York, he repeatedly disregarded General Washington's command to cross the Hudson River in the retreat after the battle of White Plains, in the hope that he could win a personal success and replace Washington as commander in chief. When he did cross he was captured (Dec. 13, 1776) by the British at Basking Ridge, N.J. As a captive he gave Gen. William Howe a plan for defeating the Americans, but his treason was not discovered. Lee was exchanged and joined Washington at Valley Forge (1778). At the battle of Monmouth (1778) he ordered a retreat of his forces and thus prevented an American victory. The rout was stemmed only by Washington, Baron von Steuben, and Nathanael Greene. A court-martial resulted in a year's suspension from command for Lee, who continued to criticize Washington abusively. In 1780 he was finally dismissed from service. His papers have been published by the New-York Historical Society (1872–75).

  • See biographies by J. R. Alden (1951) and S. W. Patterson (1958).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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