Washington & Lee Letters

 

The strong words in this series of five letters between Washington and Lee, written before and after the Battle of Monmouth, clearly illustrate the positions of both officers following Lee's disorderly retreat from engagement.

Letter 1

 

Near English Town June 27th 7 o'clock
Dr General-
I did not receive your order to halt until the head of the Detachment was within a mile of English Town Creek-I immediately halted on the receipt-indeed it was not my intention to proceed further than the first brook or water-I have taken a tolerable strong Post in the wood where I shall wait for further orders. Unless the expediency of making some movement is so forcible as to oblige me-the enemy certainly lay at Monmouth last night at least the rear of 'em; but whether They mov'd or no this morning is uncertain-The People here are inconceivably stupid. I have sent two lively young footmen (for they have no horses) to reconnoitre. I am, Dr Sir, Yours-
C Lee
P.S. I wish your Excellcy would order me some axes-a little spirits for the men and two or three (if they can be spared) active well mounted light Horsemen.

Letter 2

 

Camp, English Town, July 1st [June 28] 1778
Sir,
From the knowledge I have of your Excy's character-I must conclude that nothing but the misinformation of some very stupid, or misrepresentation of some very wicked person, could have occasioned your making use of so very singular expressions as you did on my coming up to the ground where you had taken post-They implyed that I was guilty either of disobedience of orders, of want of conduct, or want of courage. Your Excellency will therefore infinitely oblige me by letting me know on which of these three articles you ground your charge-that I may prepare for my justification which I have the happiness to be confident I can do to the army, to the Congress, to America, and to the world in general. Your Excellency must give me leave to observe that neither yourself, nor those about your person, could from your situation be in the least judges of the merits or demerits of our maneuvers-And to speak with a becoming pride, I can assert, that to these maneuvers the success of the day was entirely owing-I can boldly say, that had we remained on the first ground, or had we advanced, or had the retreat been conducted in a manner different from what it was, this whole army, and the interests of America, would have risked being sacrificed. I ever had (and hope ever shall have the greatest respect and veneration for General Washington) I think him endowed with many great and good qualities, but in this instance I must pronounce that he has been guilty of an act of cruel injustice towards a man who certainly has some pretensions to the regard of every servant of this country-and, I think Sir, I have a right to demand some reparation for the injury committed-ant unless I can obtain it, I must in justice to myself, when this campaign is closed, which I believe will close the war, retire from a service at the head of which is placed a man capable of offering such injuries. But at the same time in justice to you I must repeat that I from my soul believe, that it was not a motion of your own breast, but instigated by some of those dirty earwigs who will forever insinuate themselves near persons in high office-for I really am convinced that when General Washington acts from himself no man in his army will have reason to complain of injustice or indecorum. I am, Sir, and hope I ever shall have reason to continue your most sincerely devoted humble servt
Charles Lee

Letter 3

 

Head Qr. English Town June 30th 1778
Sir,
I received your letter, (dated thro' mistake, the 1st of July) expressed, as I conceived, in terms highly improper. I am not conscious of having made use of any very singular expressions at the time of my meeting you, as you intimate. What I recollect to have said was dictated by duty and warranted by the occasion. As soon as circumstances will permit, you shall have an opportunity either of justifying yourself to the army, to Congress, to America, and to the world in general; or of convincing them that you were guilty of a breach of orders and of misbehaviour before the enemy, on the 28th inst. in not attacking them as you had been directed and in making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat. I am Sir, your most obt. servt,
Go Washington

Letter 4

 

Camp June the 28th [30th] 1778
Sir
I beg you Excellency's pardon for the innacuracy in misdating my letter-you cannot afford me greater pleasure than in giving me the opportunity of shewing to America the sufficiency of her respective servants-I trust that the temporary power of office and the tinsel dignity attending it will not be able by all the mists they can raise to offuscate the bright rays of truth, in the mean time your Excellency can have no objection to my retiring from the army-I am Sir your most obt. hble srvt.
Charles Lee

Letter 5

 

Camp June 30th 1778
Sir
Since I had the honour of addressing my letter by Col. Fitzgerald to your Excellency I have reflected on both your situation and mine, and beg to leave to observe, that it will be for our mutual convenience, that a court of inquiry should be immediately ordered-but I could wish it might be a court martial-for if the affair is drawn into length it may be difficult to collect the necessary evidences, and perhaps might bring on a paper war betwixt the adherents to boh parties which may occasion some disagreeable feuds on the Continent-for all are not my friends nor all your admirers-I must intreat therefore from your love of justice that you will immediately exhibit your charge-and that on the first halt, I may be brought to a tryal-and am Sir your most obt. hble servt.
Charles Lee

 

 

On July 4, 1778 Major General Charles Lee was court martialed and charged with three counts: disobedience of orders, misbehavior before the enemy, and disrespect to the Commander in Chief. He was found guilty of misconduct and suspended from command for one year. Lee continued to openly criticize Washington, and in 1780 he was dismissed from service.

 

Sources:

 

The Papers of George Washington: http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/revdocs.html