Henry Lee

Commander of Continental Cavalry


Painting of Henry LeeHenry Lee was born into a leading Virginia family and educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He became a captain in Virginia’s light dragoons[1] at an early age. Lee was promoted to command of a combined cavalry and infantry force known as Lee’s Legion soon after graduation. The Legion was active in the war and became feared for its guerilla tactics, surprise raids, and attacks on Loyalists (“Tories”). A 1779 nighttime raid that captured a British garrison at Paulus Hook, N.J., won him both praise from Gen. George Washington and a court martial from his immediate superiors for overstepping his authority. He was cleared. “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s cunning was displayed in his 1781 movements to shield Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene’s Continental Army until it was ready to confront the British during the Race to the Dan and before and during the Battle of Guilford Court House. This included a remarkable N.C. victory over a Tory regiment known as Pyle’s Defeat (or Massacre). After the war he was elected to the Continental Congress and to three terms as governor of Virginia. However, Lee made a series of poor business investments that left him in deep debt. He resorted to fraud, eventually landed in jail, and was disfigured in a riot. After years of wandering, he died at Greene’s estate in Georgia. One son, who barely knew him, followed him into military service and became Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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[1] In the past there had been a difference between light horse, cavalry, and dragoon mounted units, but the lines had blurred by the American Revolution.

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