The American Soldier and Statesman, Father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Prepares for War against Britain

Signed by Henry Lee

$6500
Item: 11680
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LEE, HENRY “LIGHT HORSE HARRY.” (1756-1818). American soldier and statesman; father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. ALS. (“Henry Lee”). 2pp. Small folio. Richmond, August 15, 1807. To wealthy landowner, Virginia Governor’s Council member and Colonel JOHN TAYLOE III, (1771-1828).

Lt. Ball presented me with the dispatch entrusted to him this morning soon after I had a conference with the Governor & have the pleasure to transmit herewith commissions for yourself & officers. I have placed y[ou]r troops under the law of Congress requiring 30,000 volunteers for one year. It is very probable that the troops under y[ou]r command will be first from the State in that line. You ought to procure a beugle [sic] horn & beugler [sic] instead of a French horn. Both are to be met with in Philada. I am compelled to proceed to York town tomorrow in prosecution of my plan for giving volunteers only out of my division, where in case further instructions from me should be necessary y[ou]r letter will find me for a few more days. Thence I go to the lower county of the northern neck if requisite. Lt. Ball has my orders to call on Lt. Col. Smith to notify him of my acceptance of y[ou]r troops in part of the Calvary to be furnished by the 14th brigade. You must lose no time in sending a formal report of y[ou]r troops to the Lt. Col. Whether I shall be employed in the war is unknown to me I anxiously hope that the rupture may be closed by a mutual & just explanation of all difficulties. If however a resort to arms be unavoidable & myself called to the field I shall be happy in manifesting my respect to y[ou]r principles & Zeal. I thank you for y[ou]r offer of service & beg you to present me to Mrs. Tayloe…

Born in Virginia and a graduate of Princeton, Henry Lee was commissioned into the Continental Army where he used his skills as a horseman to lead raids on enemy stores. His success drew the attention of General George Washington, earning him rapid promotion and the nickname “Light Horse.” Among his victories is the 1779 battle at Paulus Hook, New Jersey, where he captured 400 British soldiers with the loss of only one man. After Washington sent him to fight in the south and following the British surrender, Lee retired from the Army to begin a political career. He served three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia from 1791-1794. In 1794, while governor, Washington ordered Lee to command a militia to quell the Whisky Rebellion, which he did without losing a single soldier.

During his tenure in Congress, which lasted from 1799-1801, Lee famously memorialized Washington in an eloquent speech in which he described Washington as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” After retiring from politics and the military, President Jefferson recommissioned Lee as a major-general when the ChesapeakeLeopard affair made war with Great Britain seem imminent. The June 1807 seizure of an American frigate put the two countries once again on the precipice of war and raised concern over the lack of military preparedness. Jefferson said of the atmosphere: “Never since the Battle of Lexington have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present, and even that did not produce such unanimity,” (quoted in The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, ed. Foley). Jefferson instead sought to use diplomacy and economic pressures to rectify the situation, namely through the Embargo Act of 1807, passed in December 1807. Although an immediate war was averted, the ChesapeakeLeopard affair was one of the events that contributed to the War of 1812.

Whether I shall be employed in the war is unknown to me… If however a resort to arms be unavoidable & myself called to the field I shall be happy in manifesting my respect to y[ou]r principles & Zeal

Our letter was written eight months after the January 1807 birth of Lee’s son Robert E. Lee, the future commander of the Confederate Army and refers to Virginia Governor William H. Cabell (1772-1853), in office from 1805 to December 1808, and whose orders Lee is obeying.

Normal folds with some age toning and a small vertical tear that affects three words. Remnants of mounting along right edge of the recto; darkly written and signed and in fine condition.  Rare from this date and with this content.

The American Soldier and Statesman, Father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Prepares for War against Britain

Signed by Henry Lee

$6500 • item #11680


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