Light Horse Harry Lee

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Henry Lee III (January 29, 1756 - March 25, 1818), American general, called Light Horse Harry, was born near Dumfries, Virginia. His father was first cousin to Richard Henry Lee, sixth President of the Continental Congress. With a view to a legal career he graduated (1773) at Princeton, but soon afterwards, on the outbreak of the War of Independence, he became an officer in the patriot forces.

Henry Lee (portrait by William Edward West)
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Henry Lee (portrait by William Edward West)

He served with great distinction under Washington, and in 1778 was promoted major and given the command of a small irregular corps, with which he won a great reputation as a leader of light troops. His services on the outpost line of the army earned for him the soubriquet of "Light Horse Harry." His greatest exploit was the brilliant surprise at the Battle of Paulus Hook in New Jersey, on August 19, 1779; for this feat he received a gold medal, a reward given to no other officer below general's rank in the whole war.

He was promoted lieutenant-colonel 1780, and sent with a picked corps of dragoons to the southern theatre of war. Here he rendered invaluable services in victory and defeat, notably at Guilford Court House, Camden and Eutaw Springs. He was present at Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, and afterwards left the army owing to ill-health.

From 1786 to 1788 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in the last-named year in the Virginia convention he favoured the adoption of the Federal constitution. From 1789 to 1791 he served in the General Assembly, and from 1791 to 1794 was Governor of Virginia.

In 1794 Washington sent him to help in the suppression of the "Whiskey Rebellion" in western Pennsylvania. A new county of Virginia was named after him during his governorship. He was a major-general in 1798-1800. From 1799 to 1801 he served in Congress. He delivered the address on the death of Washington which contained the famous phrase, "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Soon after the War of 1812 broke out, Lee, while helping to resist the attack of a mob on his friend, A. C. Hanson, editor of the Baltimore Federal Republican, which had opposed the war, received grave injuries, from which he never recovered. He died at the house of General Nathanael Greene on Cumberland Island, Georgia, on March 25, 1818.

Lee wrote valuable Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department (1812; 3rd ed., with memoir by his son Robert E. Lee, 1869).

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