In a free public lecture with Washington Crossing Historic Park on Sunday, April 11, Christian McBurney will discuss his new book George Washington’s Nemesis: The Outrageous Treason and Unfair Court-Martial of Major General Charles Lee during the Revolutionary War.
The lecture will begin at 1:30 PM and last about an hour. Registration is required.
Major General Lee, second in command in the Continental Army led by General Washington, was captured by the British in December 1776.
“Washington ordered him to come to the Bucks County encampment. But Lee felt he should have been in charge. So, instead of coming straight here, he meandered. And he was captured along the way,” says Kimberly McCarty, the park’s curator.
As a prisoner, Lee submitted to his captors a military plan on how to defeat Washington’s army as quickly as possible – but this treason was not discovered during his lifetime. Throughout his sixteen months of captivity, Lee offered the enemy help to negotiate an end to the rebellion.
“It’s hard to say how much, if at all, that affected the course of the war,” McCarty says. “General William Howe, commander of the British Army in North America, may have taken some of it to heart. Lee, after all, worked closely with Washington. But Howe refused to see him. The British were appalled that he would betray his oath.”
After Lee rejoined the Continental Army, he was given command of many of its best troops and orders to attack the rear of British General Henry Clinton’s column near Monmouth, New Jersey. Lee intended to attack on June 28, 1778, but retreated in the face of Clinton’s bold move to reverse his march – and against Washington’s orders. Lee demanded a court-martial in an attempt to clear his name. Instead, his conviction led to his suspension from the army.
Historians and biographers of Charles Lee have treated him either as a hero or enemy of the Patriot cause. Neither approach is accurate, according to McBurney.
“Lee was overly confident in his abilities,” McCarty says, “and did not relish being second in command to Washington.”
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