Hamil-Burrn: Hamilton on Gen. Charles Lee and the Battle of Monmouth

Hamilton was not one to mince words, and his vitriol was especially sharp when it was directed to the forces undermining General Washington and the American forces during the Revolution.  One target with whom Hamilton had significant history and distrust was General Charles Lee.

In a July 5, 1778 letter to Elias Boudinot describing the Battle of Monmouth, Hamilton described Washington’s distinguished war council as a group of babies because of their desire to avoid direct confrontation with the British forces and wrote:

“When we came to Hopewell Township, The General unluckily called a council of war, the results of which would have done honor to the most honorable society of midwives, and to them only”

In a 1789 eulogy of Major General Nathanael Greene, Hamilton again exorciated the failed leadership of the war council before the Battle of Monmouth, describing it as “impotent” for allowing the British to retreat without pursuit.

It would be an unpleasing task and therefore I forbear to lift the veil from off those impotent Councils, which by a formal vote had decreed an undisturbed passage to an enemy retiring from the fairest fruits of his victories to seek an asylum from impending danger, disheartened by retreat, dispirited by desertion, broken by fatigue, retiring through woods defiles and morasses in which his discipline was useless, in the face of an army superior in numbers, elated by pursuit and ardent to signalise their courage.

Speaking directly about General Lee in his July 1778 letter to Boudinot, Hamilton wrote:

“Indeed, I can hardly persuade myself to be in good humour with success so far inferior to what we, in all probability should have had, had not the finest opportunity America ever possessed been fooled away by a man, in whom she has placed a large share of the most ill judged confidence.  You will have heard enough to know, that I mean General Lee.  This man is either a driveler in the business of soldiership or something much worse.”

Hamilton went on to describe General Lee’s cowardly performance at the Battle of Monmouth, noting that his leadership had led to troops retreating from the British forces, and that General Washington single-handedly brought order to the troops and rallied them to victory.

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