The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


Henry Lee, Jr. (1756-1818)
(portrait -- 117k)

NG had known Henry "Light-horse Harry" Lee for several years and was well acquainted with his extraordinary talent as a commander of cavalry. Since 1778, Lee had commanded his own legion, a mixed force of three troops of cavalry and three companies of infantry. A master of partisan fighting, he successfully engaged the enemy numerous times while with Washington's army. The most notable of these forays was his attack on the British garrison at Paulus Hook, N.J. in August 1779. In discussing Lee's transfer to the South, Lafayette called him "beyond compare the best officer of light infantry in the English Hessian, or American armies on the continent." (Lafayette to La Luzerne, 28 October 1780, American Historical Review, 20 [1915]: 375-376)
Lee performed brilliantly in the South. As NG's most trusted subordinate, he enjoyed great autonomy. Always sensitive to criticism, however, he resigned from the army in early 1782, charging that NG had slighted him and his corps in battle reports--a charge that does not stand up to scrutiny and that Lee later discarded, as evidenced by his very favorable treatment of NG in his memoirs of the war in the South. As a civilian, Lee was never able to duplicate the success he enjoyed during the Revolution. He served one term as governor of Virginia, but his personal affairs resulted in bankruptcy, and he died crippled and penniless. At the end of his life, in a twist of fate, Lee's strength failed while he was sailing home from the West Indies. He asked to be put ashore at Cumberland Island, Ga., where he spent his brief remaining time in the tender care of NG's daughter, Louisa Greene Shaw. (A well received study, contrasting Lee's military prowess with his inability to adapt to post-revolutionary America, is Charles Royster, Light Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981]; a more standard, through far from exhaustive, biography is Thomas Boyd, Light-horse Harry Lee [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931].)
Excerpted from PGNG 6: 430n-431.