General Lee Is Ordered By Washington To New Jersey – 11/21/1776

US History |


There are those who say that man makes his own destiny while others feel that life has been pre-ordained. Looking back at American history, it makes me wonder which view Continental Commander in Chief General George Washington would believe in if he knew what the end result of a certain decision was. The fateful day in question happened on November 21st, 1776 when Washington sent a letter to General Charles Lee in Westchester County, New York to order Lee to come to New Jersey with his troops because Fort Lee was no longer theirs.

Washington was forced to wait impatiently for Lee and his reinforcements to arrive because he took his time to cross the Delaware River in order to get to New Jersey as he wanted to stay in New York as long as possible. Another reason for the delay was his feeling of being slighted by Washington for being given control of the Continental Army. Lee finished military school when he was twelve and was immediately given a commission in the British army as well as serving in the Seven Years’ War in North America; so, he had no desire to rush to Washington’s aid.

The Mohawk had named Lee “Boiling Water” for his well-known intemperance and temper. His marriage to a Mohawk woman made him an adopted tribesman although his desire for prostitutes had not changed. This proved to be his downfall as on December 13th, Lee was continuing to waste time before joining Washington and decided to ride into New Jersey, without much protection, to look for female companionship at the Widow White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge. Two days later, Lee found himself that morning being captured by British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the 16th Queen’s Light Dragoons.

Ironically being former soldiers in the British army, Lee and Tarleton were now captive and captor. Lee’s unsuccessful attempts to acquire a lucrative royal position led him to leave in 1773 to the colonies and immediately sided with the Patriot cause. Tarleton in a London club vowed to hunt down the now traitor to Britain and remove his head! Although Lee was originally grateful that Tarleton had not kept his vow, the conceited general might have wanted an immediate end to his humiliation as he was removed from the tavern to New York City clothed only in his nightdress.

While Washington tried his best to secure Lee’s release, The British celebrated the capture of the best-trained commander of the Patriots. Surprisingly, Lee was happy with being a prisoner as he offered to his captors a battle plan from fancy accommodations. Also, Lee had his own servant who cleaned his three rooms while most likely served his wine and food in civilized fashion. All things must come to an end as he was set free in May of 1778 and reported to Valley Forge; Britain failed to follow through with his battle plan. Washington and Lee had many quarrels which found Lee being suspended in December of 1778 from the army and in 1780 was finally dismissed.

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