Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/351

This page needs to be proofread.

army before Boston; Artemus Ward (cf. Appleton, sub nom.) was first major-general, and Washington commander-in-chief. Lee, who had a professional soldier's contempt for civilian generals, sneered at Ward as a 'fat churchwarden.' and appears to have regarded himself as a mentor, to whose guidance and tutelage in military matters Washington, a raw general, placed above him for political reasons, had been confided. Lee opened a correspondence (on 7 June 1775) with his old acquaintance Burgoyne, then lately arrived at Boston with reinforcements ; but his letter did not reach Burgoyne until a month later (Fonblanque, pp. 161, 168). Burgoyne, in a subsequent account of the correspondence, says that he knew Lee's failing to be avarice, and that he believed his apostasy to be dictated by resentment (ib. pp. l76 et seq.) Burgoyne's biographer is obliged to admit that Burgoyne had little hesitation in prompting, or rather proposing to prompt, his former brother-officer to a dishonourable course (ib. p. 178). A conference between Lee and Burgoyne was suggested by the latter, and the proposal was referred to the provincial congress of Massachusetts. That body disapproved of the scheme, and Lee declined Burgoyne's offer. Lee was employed at Newport in December 1775, and at New York in January following, where he did good service in beginning the erection of the defences. On the news of the death of Richard Montgomery (31 Dec. 1775) he was nominated to the command of the American forces in Canada, but was counter-ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, where he defeated the British attack on 28 June 1776. According to some American accounts, the credit of the defence was chiefly due to the engineer, Moultrie. The 'hero of Charleston,' as Lee was now called, proposed to invade Florida, but was ordered to report himself to congress at Philadelphia. The bills drawn by him on his agent in England to repay the advance of 3,000l. had been returned protested, Lee's property in England having been confiscated. Congress granted him thirty thousand dollars by way of indemnification, to be repaid if he recovered his English estates. Lee repaired to New York, and took command of the right wing of Washington's army. Artemus Ward had long since retired, leaving Lee second only to Washington in rank. He proved himself an intractable subordinate. On 13 Dec. 1776 Lee was surprised at White's Tavern, Baskenridge, a little outside his own camp, by a scouting party of the 16th light dragoons under Colonel Hon. William Harcourt [see Harcourt, William, third Earl]. Part of the 16th dragoons had fought under Lee at Villa Velha. The account in vol. xi. of the privately printed 'Harcourt Papers' shows the capture to have been a mere accident, the party having no- idea of the proximity of the enemy. No confirmation is given of the improbable stories of Lee's cowardice, but he appears to have been very roughly handled. In his shirt and a blanket coat, without a hat, he was tied on a spare troop-horse and hurried to the British camp through eighty miles of hostile country, whence he was sent to New York. The importance attached by the Americans to his capture is attested by their offer of six Hessian officers of rank in exchange. Sir William Howe [q. v.] rejected the offer, on the ground that Lee was a British deserter, a pretension he had to abandon under threat of reprisals. He was instructed from home to treat Lee as a prisoner of war, subject to exchange when convenient.

Lee informed the brothers Howe, who were the royal commissioners, that he disapproved of the Declaration of Independence, and hoped, could he but obtain an interview with a committee from congress, to open negotiations for an honourable and satisfactory adjustment of all differences. The Howes, who were well disposed towards America and sincerely anxious for peace, allowed him to seek the interview. But Lee's eccentric conduct had damaged his reputation, and congress refused to meet him. He was regarded with vague suspicion, but rather as wayward and untrustworthy than treacherous. Many British officers spoke of him as 'the worst present that could be given to the Americans.' When the conference was refused Lee is said to have sought favour with the Howes by professing to abandon the American cause as hopeless, and going so far as to draw up a plan of operations for a British expedition to the Chesapeake. A document, stated to be in the handwriting of Lee, and endorsed 'Mr. Lee's Plan— 29 March 1777,' in the handwriting of Henry Strachey, the secretary to the royal commissioners, was said to have been found among the 'Howe Papers' in 1858. It was published at New York in 1860 by George H. Moore, in a work entitled 'The Treason of Charles Lee.' Further information on the subject promised by the author has never appeared. But the volume of the 'Lee Papers' which deals with the period in question has not yet been published.

Lee was at length exchanged, and rejoined Washington's army at Valley Forge in May 1778. On 18 June Clinton [see Clinton, Sir Henry, the elder] who had succeeded Howe, evacuated Philadelphia, hoping to cross New Jersey on his way to New York without