“Rev War Revelry” Light Horse Harry Lee Discussion

On January 29, 1756, Henry Lee III is born at Leesylvania Plantation in Prince William County, Virginia. Part of the prestigious Lee family of Virginia, his father was a cousin of Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, two brothers who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Henry Lee would blossom into one of the better cavalry commanders in the American Revolution, earning the nickname, “Light Horse Harry” Lee because of his accomplishments. With January being his birth month, Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes historian and author Mike Cecere, who will discuss his book, “Wedded to my Sword, The Revolutionary War Service of Light Horse Harry Lee.”

Cecere, former high school and community college history teacher is the author of thirteen books on the American Revolution, most focused on aspects of the colony of Virginia and/or her native sons.

This Sunday we hope you spend some time joining us on the next installment of “Rev War Revelry’ as we discuss the Lee that was born in January and became a military hero of the American Revolution. This historian happy hour will be live on our Facebook page at 7 pm EST.

(Yes, we do know there is another Lee that is born in January and plays a prominent role in history).

Using the King’s Highway to Trap a King’s Army

A few weeks ago, heading to the airport after the first Emerging Revolutionary War symposium, fellow ERW historian Rob Orrison made a pit stop in a residential neighborhood in Prince William County, Virginia.

To the average traveler to the Ronald Reagan International Washington National Airport this slight detour would not be normal. Yet, for two historians of early American history, these detours are rarely common.

This particular detour took us to a portion of the King’s Highway that has been preserved by the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division. Along this stretch soldiers in the French Army under Comte de Rocambeau and Continentals under General George Washington traversed on their way to Yorktown to entrap the British under General Lord Charles Cornwallis.

Thus, one king’s soldiers, King Louis XVI took a route named for monarch to assist rebels in trapping the ground forces of another king, that of Great Britain by using a road named for the British monarch. Interesting to think about the naming of the road in those terms.

Portions of this route are still preserved today, other sections have been modernized and blacktopped to be Route 1.

Below are a few photos I snapped, including the size 14 Nike shoe belonging to yours truly, re-enacting marching down the thoroughfare like the patriots of 1781.

“He Stood the Field with Great Bravery”; The Story of Major Andrew Leitch, Part 2

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19th century print of the Battle of Harlem Heights. The image shows the Americans attacking the British right flank.

After the Battle of Long Island, American forces evacuated to Manhattan Island. But with the British in command of the waters around New York, they easily could land their forces anywhere along Manhattan Island. On September 15th, the British crossed the East River north of New York City and landed at Kip’s Bay, easily pushing aside the American forces there. American forces in New York City were nearly cut off, but quickly retreated up Manhattan Island to Harlem Heights and began to dig in. On the morning of the next day, British troops arrived in front of the American lines at Harlem Heights. Washington expected an attack and decided to take the initiative.

Washington ordered a small party of 150 men called “The Knowlton Rangers” under the command of Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton to move out and reconnoiter the British position.  Knowlton quickly recognized the British were not planning a major assault but his force had brought about the attention of the British light infantry, soon the Knowlton Rangers were outnumbered and quickly retreated back to the American lines.  When Knowlton reached safety, the British light infantry paused, placing them out in front of their main lines. Washington seized the opportunity and ordered an assault on their rear by Knowlton’s men and a reinforcement of 200 Virginia riflemen from the Third Virginia under Major Leitch.

Though the American attack was supposed to be in the rear of the British light infantry, but because of  confusing terrain and attacking too soon, the flanking column instead hit the British in their flank. The effect still had an adverse effect on the British light infantry as they began to fall back. The Americans fought with determination and bravery. Knowlton went down mortally wounded.  Colonel Griffith wrote of Leitch “He conducted himself on this occasion in a manner that does him the greatest honor, and so did all of his party.” Washington wrote the next day that “The General most heartily thanks the troop commanded yesterday by Major Leitch, who first advanced upon the enemy, and the officer who so resolutely supported them.”

At the head of the attacking column both Knowlton and Leitch led their men forward to attach the British flank. Early in the attack both men went down  wounded. Knowlton died on the battlefield, Leitch took three musket balls to the abdomen and was carried off the field. At first most reported his condition as improving and he was thought to survive his ordeal.  Washington wrote “Majr Leitch of Weedons Regiment (Third Virginia) had three balls through his side, and behaved exceedingly well – he is in fair way of recovery.”

Soon the British began to retreat back to their main line. Washington then ordered an attack along his line and the British light infantry fell back to the main line in confusion. Soon the entire British line began to give way. After about a 90 minute fight, Washington learned that more British forces were arriving on the field and ordered his men back to the main line. Though not a major victory, the American army had finally stood up to the British and even for a moment, pushed them off the field in combat. The British suffered 14 killed and an estimated 154 wounded, with the Americans suffering 30 killed and 100 wounded.

Though most believed that Leitch was recovering from his wounds, by September 20th Gen. Horatio Gates wrote “Major Leitch of Maryland was wounded and despaired of.” As his condition worsened, there was little for regimental surgeon David Griffith could do but to try to ease Leitch’s pain. Griffith wrote to Leitch family friend Richard Henderson on October 3rd that “[I] disagreeable duty of informing Mrs. Leitch through you, of the death of her husband is imposed upon me. He expired yesterday morning at Hackinsack Bridge where he had been removed for his better accommodation…But on the 28th Sept he was seized by lock’d jaw – with spasms about his neck and throat so violent as to baffle every effort to minister to him by medicine.”  It seems the death of Leitch was a tough and unexpected blow to his fellow officers in the Third Virginia Regiment.

Where Major Leitch’s remains are today is a mystery. Captain John Chilton wrote on

Battle of Harlem Heights Marker
Commemorative Plaque showing the wounding of Knowlton and Leitch

October 4, 1776 that “the brave Major Leitch who died of his wounds received the 16th was interred yesterday by the side of Major Henly.” We know the general area of the American camps in the fall of 1776, but this burial location is long lost to history. In 1897, historian Henry Johnston wrote in his account of the Battle of Harlem Heights that Knowlton and Leitch are probably buried somewhere “on St. Nicholas Avenue, between 135th St and 145th St.” in New York City. Of course the land has changed a lot since then and whatever remains were left were destroyed by modern development.

 

Today the area of the Harlem Heights battlefield is now under the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Today there is a simple plaque on the wall on the eastside of Broadway north of 117th Street. This plaque commemorates the Battle of Harlem Heights and depicts Major Andrew Leitch as well as Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton (who was mortally wounded in the same attack as Leitch). Near here is where Leitch was mortally wounded turning the flank of the British line.

The search for Andrew Leitch continues. His contribution to the American Revolution is well documented through the letters of George Washington and others. When he moved to Dumfries, VA and where he lived is still unknown. We do know that he was influential enough to be elected to Prince William County’s Committee of Correspondence in 1774 and involved in the efforts to raise men and funds for local companies of troops. Continued research in his widow’s pension cases as well as researching contemporary archives may turn up new information. For now, he is honored with a plaque in New York City and a small park here in Virginia. My hope is that this story will end with an appropriate understanding and remembrance of a man who gave his life for our nation’s independence.

LeitchwithGW
Entry in George Washington’s Papers for March 16, 1775: “Went to Dumfries to review the Independent Company there, Dined and Lodged with Mr. Leitch…”

 

For Further Reading:

Johnson, Henry. The Battle of Harlem Heights. New York: Macmillan Company, 1897.

Peters, Joan. The Third Virginia Regiment of Foot, 1776-1778, Volumes 1-2. Westminster (MD): Heritage Books, 2008.

Thomas Blackburn: Forgotten Patriot

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to share the post below by guest historian Kerry Mitchell

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, Patrick Henry…when thinking about the period before and during the American Revolution these names come up as some of the great Virginians who were involved in the founding of our nation. While these men were great on their own accounts, there were other Virginian men who helped shaped our nation. Thomas Blackburn of Prince William County is one of these who history tends to glance over even though during the 1760s and 1770s, he was an important figure in American history.

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Rippon Lodge in Prince William County, Virginia, home of Colonel Thomas Blackburn

Thomas was born in Prince William County around 1742 to Richard and Mary (nee Watts) Blackburn. Richard Blackburn was a native from Ripon, England who came over in the early 1700s and settled in Gloucester County, Virginia before moving to Prince William County in 1733. In addition to being a carpenter and farmer, Richard was involved in Prince William County politics and served as a Justice of the Peace. Not much is known about Thomas’s early childhood. He inherits his family home and farm, Rippon Lodge in 1760. That same year he marries Christian Scott with whom he has six children with.  By 1762, Thomas receives a captain’s commission from the governor. With the French and Indian War ending it is unclear to what extent he served. We do know that in September 1766 he was serving as a Justice of the Peace for Prince William County. In 1772, Thomas was elected to be one of the Prince William representatives to the House of Burgesses.

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A photo of the interior of one of the rooms of Rippon Lodge

Thomas’s election to the House coincided with the brewing unrest brewing between the colonists and Great Britain. After the Boston Tea Party and Britain’s passage of the intolerable Acts, Thomas was amongst the group of members who drafted the resolution that would call for a day of prayer and fasting for the people of Boston.  Lord Dunmore believed the resolution was an insult to King George III and he dissolved the House on My 26th. Thomas was among the 22 ex-members who met at Raleigh Tavern and decided they would support a continental boycott of British goods. He went back to Prince William County to have the resolution passed by county leaders (which they did on June 6th). From 1774-1776, Thomas served in the first four Virginia conventions and involved himself in many committees dealing with the unrest. He was part of the committee offering George Washington the command of Virginia’s militia and as well as the committee with George Mason and Henry Lee II raising troops to defend Virginia. In the spring of 1776, Thomas lost his seat to attend the 5th Virginia Convention to Cuthbert Bullitt.

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Gravestone and D.A.R. marker for Colonel Thomas Blackburn

After losing his seat to Bullitt, Thomas was appointed as a Lt. Colonel of the 2nd Virginia State Regiment. After being passed over for a promotion, Thomas gave in his resignation on June 10, 1777. While he was out of the army officially, Thomas did not stay out of the fight for long. He rejoined the Virginia Militia as a volunteer. He fought at the battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania in October 1777. During this battle, he was wounded in the leg which ended his military career. He returned to Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge, Virginia to continue farming and entertaining his many friends. This included George Washington whom Thomas became related to through marriage when his daughter, Julia Ann, married George’s nephew, Bushrod Washington.  On July 7, 1807, Thomas passed away at Rippon Lodge where he is buried in the family cemetery.

Thomas Blackburb Obituary Virginia Gazette Aug 29th 1807
Thomas Blackburn Obituary, Virginia Gazette, August 29, 1807

*Originally from New York, Kerry Mitchell is currently the Historic Interpreter at Rippon Lodge Historic Site, part of Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division. She has a B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington, a M.A. in American History from George Mason University and a graduate certificate in Museum Collection Care and Management from The George Washington University. She has previously worked at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Reston Historic Trust, and the Fire Island National Seashore.*