General “Light-Horse Harry” Lee at the Baltimore Riots:
General Henry Lee, or “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, was the first of the Lee family to be directly involved with the War of 1812, but not for any reason one might expect from the Revolutionary War hero. His personal politics led him into a multitude of rather unfortunate events. A “die-hard Federalist,”i “Light-Horse Harry” was among the group of men who spoke up against the war and President Madison. Harry had been given a commission as major-general for the war and planned on fightingii, but his plans to leave for the frontier fell through after the dreadful events of the Baltimore riots.
The Baltimore Riots of 1812 were a particularly gruesome example of the opposition to the war and of the conflicts of interest among the American people. The growing injustices enforced upon the United States by Britain enflamed men’s hearts to once more assert their independence, but not every man favored the idea of waging war against Britain so soon after the Revolution. In particular, many New England states didn’t approve of “Mr. Madison’s War,” as it was often referred to, but the South largely backed the war sentiment. This opposition paralleled the political division between the Federalist and the Democratic-Republican parties. The tension between the two parties had only grew in the wake of the war declaration and the upcoming election.
This division of interest among the American people when it came to the war quickly manifested into a physical squabble. Ethel Armes, in her book Stratford Hall: The Great House of the Lees, summarizes the growing unease in states like Maryland:
“Maryland was sharply divided – Annapolis was in a furore: the State Senate passed resolutions approving the war; the House disapproved them. Yet at the same time the representatives passed resolutions pledging their lives and fortunes in the country’s defence. In Baltimore, war hysteria was rampant, and opposition against Hanson and The Federal Republican took on dangerous aspects.”iii
The attack in June 1812 on the offices of The Federal Republican, a Baltimore newspaper with anti-war sentiments, escalated quickly into what was considered to be “unhappy occurrences by which the peace and harmony of [Baltimore] city have been destroyed,”iv according to Mayor Edward Johnson. No one had expected this level of violence to break out among the people, and the authorities were ill prepared to deal with the outbursts.
Federalists who opposed the war, like editor Alexander C. Hanson, were seen by the mob as unpatriotic towards the new government, already experiencing the tension of the upcoming presidential election. When Madison officially declared war on England on June 18, 1812, Hanson used “all the eloquence at his command”v and published in the paper the following statement on June 20: “Thou has done a deed whereat valour will weep.”vi The statement enraged war supporters in Baltimore, those Democratic-Republicans in favor of Madison. A mere two days later “the printing office occupied by the editors of that paper was pulled down, and their press destroyed”vii by a violent mob of protestors.
Mr. Hanson refused to back down and bend to the will of the mob, so he elevated his efforts to continue publishing and printing. He took refuge in a house on Charles Street, loaned to him by a co-worker, and operated a press there. He continued in relative peace for about a month, but soon the mob rallied against Hanson again. This time, however, Hanson tried to prepare for an encounter. Expecting some retaliation, he wrote to a number of Federalist friends, seeking aid. A number of them, including “General James M. Lingan … General Harry Lee, Captain Richard I. Crabb, Dr. P Warfield, Charles J Kilgour, Otho Sprig, Ephraim Gaither, & John Howard Payne,”viii came to Baltimore and took up residence with Hanson. These men were present on Monday night, July 27, when the mob struck once again.
General Henry Lee was pulled into the unfortunate circumstances of the Baltimore Riots through his friendship with Mr. Hanson. In a deposition, John Howard Wayne, another one of Hanson’s friends present in the Charles Street house during the riots, stated that General Lee’s presence had been much desired by Hanson, for he came with previous military experience of protecting a house: “He [Hanson] adduced the case of Gen. Lee, who, during the revolutionary war, took possession of a house in which he repelled with only ten men a large body of British Regulars.”ix However Hanson may have convinced Gen. Lee to attend him in Baltimore, Lee’s replying letter makes it apparent that Hanson was seeking out military advice for protection. Lee wrote that he fully supported Hanson’s cause of protecting the freedom of the press and offered many specific tips as to help fortify the house on Charles Street:
“Put in the most retired room in the upper story cartridge made of the best powder, with ball and swan shot – these with a number of spare flints chosen with care, reserve for the hour of trial, if that hour should come. Prepare also cartridges with small shot to apply wherever it can be done without encouraging the mob by their experience of their innocence–collect a ton or two of large stones in your cellar, placing some of them close to the windows over the outer doors of the house, to be rolled down on the assailants when forced forward through the pressure of those behind–water and biscuit be sure to have in abundance.”x
After the arrival of “Light-Horse Harry” Lee at the house, the gentlemen make good use of Lee’s suggestions, for in Wayne’s deposition, he mentioned that Gen. Lee had written a list of names of those responsible for defending each of the different rooms in the house.xi
The General’s military fortitude did not end up saving Hanson and his friends from their situation. When the newspaper was distributed on Monday, July 27, 1812, that evening the mob formed outside the Charles Street house and grew increasingly dangerous. Hanson and his house guests prepared to defend their stations within the house, but held off in hopes that the police force would arrive on the scene.
“They thought rather of their rights than of the prudence of a further effort to assert them, and resolved still to defend the house, indulging the hope too that no further violence would be attempted after this experience.”xii
This assumption was wrong, and, eventually, Hanson, Lee, and the other men in the house agreed to be escorted out by Mayor Johnson and General Stricker. They were assured that they would be kept in the public jail as a safe house, away from the mob should it return for revenge.
What occurred that night at the jail would become an infamous example of the horrors caused by the Baltimore riots. Hanson came up with the plan to put out the lights and rush the mob in the hope that the confusion would allow them enough time to escape.xiii The result was total chaos as the mob beat the group of Federalists senseless and murdered General Lingan. The mob tortured the men, “sticking penknives into their faces and hands, and opening their eyes and dropping hot candle grease into them.”xiv There was no mistaking the mob’s intentions – they left the men for dead, piled up the unconscious bodies and planned to return the next morning to hang them as public examples of Federalist aggression.
General Lee suffered from a long list of injuries after the mob attack:
“While Gen. Lee’s mangled body lay exposed upon the bare earth, one of the [attackers] attempted to cut off his nose but missed his aim, though he thereby gave him a bad wound in the nose. Either the same person or another attempted to thrust a knife into the eye of Gen. Lee, who had again raised himself up. The knife glanced on the cheek bone.”xv
Harry Lee never fully recovered from his wounds after the riot. He quelled the rampant rumors of his supposed death by the mob and re-asserted his political stance as a Federalist by writing up his own Correct Account of the Conduct of the Baltimore Mob once he had recovered enough. In the account, Harry Lee proclaimed his intentions were to
“call to the knowledge of our citizens generally, as much accurate information respecting the hideous and diabolical struggle of the leaders of the dominant party, as will contribute to guard well the public mind, against any and every future attempt, to trample upon the rights of private citizens.”xvi
With politics still in mind, he presented the Baltimore riots as ploys by the Democratic-Republicans to quell the Federalists, even going so far as to say that “the mob was of governmental origin, or that it had its foundation in executive authority.”xvii His words painted a picture of the Federalists as the true patriots, wronged in this incident and singled out as victims by the leading political party. General Lee also reaffirmed his belief that Hanson and company were “conscious of their legal right to kill all who assaulted the house,”xviii emphasizing their actions as defensive and fully acceptable within the law. His words revealed the underlying frustration of a man who has lost his reputation, good name, and health – a man incapable of receiving the former glory, respect and offices he once held.
The plight to recover from his injuries led “Light-Horse Harry” Lee finally to sail for the West Indies. The letters sent from Harry Lee to his son Charles Carter Lee and his wife Ann Hill Carter Lee during this period mentioned many frustrations at his slow recovery and the various doctors he visited during his travels. He made attempts to return home, but was prevented by his health and inability to endure the harsher winter climates of America.
In a letter dated August 13, 1813, General Lee wrote to Ann about his fears for the future. A tender moment of love and affection for his family came through his writing when he stated “I more and more am convinced [the children] will soon lose their father. I pray always for you & them.”xix
“Light-Horse Harry” Lee only lived five more years after the start of the war and the Baltimore incident, still suffering from health issues until his death in 1818.
Major Henry Lee on the Canadian Frontier:
Not as much information is recorded about the younger Henry Lee’s experience in the War of 1812, but he followed his father’s example and pursued a military career. At the time, no other close Lee male relative of his generation was old enough to fight in the war. Instead of joining the local Westmoreland militia, Henry Lee received a commission as major in the infantry on April 8, 1813, by President Madison, and was assigned to the 36th regiment. xx
His sister, Lucy Grymes Lee, mentioned Henry in her letters to Alice Lee Shippen, keeping her aunt informed of Henry’s whereabouts during the war. In a letter dated June 8, 1813, Lucy wrote that her “Dear Brother, has obtained a commission in the Army, he is now Major Lee and is present stationed in Washington. How long he will remain there heaven only knows when he may be ordered to March to Canada.” xxi Lucy’s foresight was accurate, and Henry Lee marched to Canada under the authority of General James Wilkinson. In another letter to Alice Shippen, dated November 21, 1813, Lucy informed her aunt of the change of her brother’s location:
“From your enquires about my dear Brother, I find you are ignorant that he has been in Canada for some time past. I informed you some time ago of his being a Major in the regular Army of the United States. When General Wilkinson was appointed Commander in chief of the Northern Army, [Henry] was made one of his (aides) and has been and is still in that capacity. I parted with him the 18th of August and the evening before I wrote you informing you of my regret at parting with him.”xxii
Major Henry Lee later transferred and served as a military aide under General George Izard, a position probably obtained through family connections. General Izard was in charge of protecting the Lake Champlain in Canada, leading the Northern Army in 1814 until he was ordered to reinforce the Army of Niagara. The Battle at Lake Champlain was one of the last battles of the War of 1812, just before the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.
After the war, Henry Lee bore the burden of more domestic challenges, including his new role as master of Stratford Hall. Later, Henry drafted a biography of Andrew Jackson and his accomplishments during the war.
Other Lee Involvement in the War:
General Harry Lee and his son Major Henry Lee may have been the only two Lees to be actively involved in the War of 1812, but the aftereffects of the war created other opportunities in government positions, and the Lees had a long history of political and public service. The influence of the Lee family name was utilized heavily by the Lees and they were not timid about calling in favors with the government if necessary.
Debt was a growing problem with many of the Lees during the time of the war. In addition to Light-Horse Harry Lee’s own financial problems, his brother Richard Bland Lee struggled after the war with burgeoning debts. In 1815, Richard Bland wrote to President James Madison, a long time friend, to see if he could procure “some appointment from my country, which while faithfully performed my duty will aid me in the comfortable support of my family.” This was granted to him, and in spring 1815, Richard Bland Lee was named one of three commissioners, assigned by Madison, to assess the wartime property damage and aid in the reconstruction of the burned buildings of Washington D.C.xxiii
In addition, his nephew Philip Richard Fendall II, son of Mary Lee Fendall, was an aide to Richard Bland Lee in his law firm after graduation from the College of New Jersey [now Princeton] in 1815. Presumably Fendall helped Richard Bland Lee during his commission to reconstruct the public buildings in Washington.