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    Description

    General Charles Lee on Adams' captured correspondence, riotous riflemen, and the Hessians

    Charles Lee (1732-1782), Major General in the American Revolution and traitor, Autograph Letter Signed, "Charles Lee", three pages, 7.75" x 12.5", "Camp on Winter Hill" [near Cambridge], October 10, 1775 to Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) Signer of the Declaration of Independence. A rich, detailed (and ever colorful!) letter written in the early months of the war to his friend in Philadelphia. Lee comments on the recently captured and published letter by John Adams criticizing rival John Dickinson (as well as a veiled insult directed at Lee), on news that Great Britain would contract German troops to fight in America, and then laments the presence of wild and undisciplined Virginia riflemen whom he labels "...soft, dirty mutinous and disaffected...". In an interesting combination of colorful discourse and straightforward complaints, he writes: "General Washington[']s letter I think, a very good one, but Gage certainly deserv'd a still stronger one such as it was before it was soften'd - that Gentleman has now run his race of glory. I am afraid your intended Philippic will not pass I call'd him damn him, let us leave him alone to the hell of his own conscience and the infamy which must [certainly?] attend him! You see I have not left off swearing, but am in hopes that your reproofs and time will bring about reformation. I am sorry that we have reason to apprehend bad consequences from the publication of Adams's [sic] letter - Surely Dickinson can not be so ill arm'd in zeal for liberty as to suffer private pique to slacken him in the public cause - if it has this effect, H must forfeit all title to the reputation of a truly virtuous citizen. What in the Devil's name possesses the Congress in not giving orders to seize that scoundrel Tryon [?]. Scoundrel is not too harsh an epithet for the man, who will accept of any office under the present hellish Administration, as They can only hold their office by a scoundrel Tenure any delicacy of this kind at present is not only ridiculous but must be pernicious - it confirms me in an opinion that I have long held - viz that in public contests Rogues, with inferior capacities, are an overmatch for the honest. With suspicion the latter are always hesitating lest they shou'd not act consonantly to the rule of rectitude - whereas the former finds no stumbling blocks - cato's aprts were perhaps equal to Caesars, but Cato would never have forc'd the doors of the Temple of Ops where the public Soul has lodg'd. Brutus (cou'd He have relax'd at certain junctures from his inflexible divine notions of honor and virtue), would have baffled and crush'd that reprobate Antony - indeed a thousand instances might be produc'd from ancient History in support of my Hypothesis -- I suppose the Tories are in high Spirits with the news of the Hanoverians Hessian Ships of war and for my own part I maintain the same opinion the more They send, the better - the sooner they will be exhausted, and I am sure if we continue firm they cannot subdue us & then Congress must give better pay to their officers; for the present miserable pittance will not tempt men of a fortune to the low wretches who live like the Common soldiers and with the Common soldiers, but men who chuse [sic] to preserve the decent distance of Officers, must have a decent subsistence and without this difference no authority or respect can be expected. I was of opinion, that some Battalions from the Southward cou'd be necessary, but I have alter'd my opinion I am now persuaded you have not to the Southward so good materials for common Soldiers - Your [Pennsylvania] Riflemen have a good deal opened our eyes upon this subject tho[ugh] to do justice to their Officers, they are more acceptionable [sic]. Their Privates are in general degraded yet soft, dirty mutinous and disaffected, We grow very impatient for Powder..." Before Lee closed the letter he began another thought but crossed out the text which reads: "You ought my Friend to be a little more upon your guard in declaring your Republican sentiments to the Southern People - Virginia and Carolinas are not yet prepared for such doctrine..." A revealing letter on several levels illustrating the social distance between officers and soldiers (or a severe lack thereof) and conflicting political battles within the revolutionary movement. John Adams' confrontations with John Dickinson over the latter's propensity toward reconciliation boiled over in early months of open hostilities. In a letter to James Warren that was captured and famously published by the British, he characterized Dickinson as a "A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius whose Fame has been trumpeted so loudly, has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings. We are between Hawk and Buzzard. We ought to have had in our Hands a Month ago, the whole Legislative, Executive and Judicial of the whole Continent, and have compleatly [sic] moddelled [sic] a Constitution, to have raised a Naval Power and opened all our Ports wide, to have arrested every Friend to Government on the Continent and held them as Hostages for the poor Victims in Boston--And then opened the Door as wide as possible for Peace and Reconcilliation [sic]: After this they might have petitioned and negotiated and addressed, etc. if they would. Is all this extravagant? Is it wild? Is it not the soundest Policy?" Ironically in the same letter Adams says of Charles Lee "You observe in your Letter the Oddity of a great Man. He is a queer Creature. But you must love his Dogs if you love him, and forgive a Thousand Whims for the Sake of the Soldier and the Scholar." Lee very tactfully responded to Adams five days prior to his comments to Rush. These intramural rivalries were not limited to Congress: the elite Virginia riflemen that arrived in August under the leadership of Daniel Morgan, though fearsome to the British for their ability to pick off sentries from long distances, were a vastly undisciplined lot. Unwilling to submit to military discipline, the riflemen did not adapt well to the tedious boredom of camp life and were prone to fights amongst themselves and others. In one instance, a group of mutinous riflemen attempted to free one of their own from a military jail in Cambridge, and were faced down by 500 troops with Washington, Lee and Greene at their head.

    Charles Lee was one of Washington's most experienced officers, a former member of the British Army who claimed to hold a general's commission from the King of Poland. Lee was also one of Washington's most arrogant and troublesome generals. Most famously, at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, Lee directly disobeyed Washington's orders to advance against the British that turned what could have been a decisive victory into a stalemate. After the war, it was discovered that Lee was a traitor, offering a plan to the British high command on how to defeat Washington- while he was a prisoner of war in 1776-77. A spectacular letter written by one of the Continental Army's most colorful generals. Silked, moderate toning and soiling, otherwise very good condition. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.


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    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
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