Light Horse Harry Lee was a true hero of the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, many people really don’t know too much about him…
Interesting note: he graduated from Princeton at the ripe old age of seventeen!
Lee joined the Continental Army in 1777, and became a great help to General Washington. During the winter at Valley Forge, Lee and his detachment of light cavalry harassed the British continuously. Lee had a knack for ambushing British supply trains, and was key source of provisions during that brutal winter. Eventually, the British got fed up with his activities and decided to mete out some justice.
The British high command sent out a troop of 200 light cavalry. These men succeeded in trapping Lee and seven of his men inside a house, but Lee and his small force fought valiantly and successfully held them off. This action so impressed General Washington, that he offered Lee a position as his aide-de-camp, but Lee declined the offer by telling Washington, ”I am wedded to my sword.”
Lee and his men gained further notoriety by executing a secret night attack on the British fort at Paulus Hook. Lee and had some of his men pretend to be selling supplies to get the British to open the gate, then he and the rest of his force attacked. They succeeded in capturing the fort and taking many prisoners, but had to retreat in the face of overwhelming British reinforcements.
Lee was nearly court-martialed by jealous superior officers after the action at Paulus Hook, but thanks to General Washington’s support, the charges were dropped. In recognition of his bravery, the Continental Congress awarded Lee, then a Major, with a Gold Medal. Lee was the only officer below the rank of General to receive such an award during the war.
Lee went on to serve with distinction throughout the war, especially in the southern theater, until after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. After the surrender, Lee retired from the army in order to get married.
After the war, Lee fell on financial hard time, and even spent some time in debtor’s prison, but he should still be remembered as one of the true heroes of the Revolutionary War.
His influence on the course of American history was not limited only to the Revolutionary War period, however. Perhaps the greatest impact Light Horse Harry Lee had on our nations history was the son he left behind. Light Horse Harry Lee’s youngest son, a son he had almost no contact with, was none other than the future Commander of the Confederate Armies in the American Civil War, Robert E. Lee…