Sunday, December 2, 2012

Charles Lee: Beyond Assassin's Creed III

The name Charles Lee hasn't meant much to people until recently. The reason for Lee's resurgence is due to the release of the latest version of the Assassin's Creed video game series. The latest version is set during the American Revolution with  the people and events of the era. From George Washington to Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson to Paul Revere and of course, Charles Lee. In the game Lee is the ultimate bad guy and is portrayed as pure evil, but how true is this? And why make Lee the antagonist of the game? There were plenty of other figures that could have been chosen, anyone of the Redcoats would have been fine, or even Benedict Arnold, but it was Lee. So how could it be that the most experienced man in the Revolution fall by the way side of our collective view of the Revolution and become a now infamous video game villain?

So in Assassin's Creed III, Charles Lee is part of a secret group, the Templars (Go figure). They are set on ensuring that the world order is kept and the Templars influence and power are kept intact. Which in their view is to build America as a Templar nation, but that is not really important for this piece. The game goes as far as implicating Lee in orchestrating the Boston Massacre. But aside from the farfetchedness of the Templars and the manipulation of the Boston Massacre, the story of Lee becomes quite on spot. His disdain for George Washington, his poor military practices and the fact he was a drunk. But to understand who and what Lee did, lets first look at were he comes from, because as you may know the past always plays a part in the present, well the then get what I mean.

Lee was born in Cheshire, England in the winter of 1732. Born into a military family, his father was Colonel John Lee in the Royal Majesty's Army, Lee was destined to be a major military figure. He was educated at on of the finest schools in Switzerland and returned to England in 1746 to continue his education. That same year his father placed young Charles in the service, under his command, as an ensign. Lee's history is pretty average, well educated and focused on self advancement, especially through the military. In 1751, Lee purchased a Lieutenant's commission and saw action in the French & Indian War. While in the colonies, Lee married a Mohawk Indian woman and father twins. Lee had a reputation for having a short fuse, and was dubbed Ounewaterika, by the natives which translates to "Boiling Water". He continued to be active in the war until its end, the attack at Louisbourg (1758), he was wounded at the assault on Fort Ticonderoga (1758), participated in the capture of Fort Niagara (1759) and Fort Montreal (1760) and up until the British conquered Canada in the fall of 1760. After his service in the colonies, Lee also fought for the Portuguese and the Polish. He returned to England in 1763 and found himself very sympathetic to the American cause. He was so much interested in it he moved in 1773, to Virginia and built his estate, Prato Rio (which is today in present day West Virginia).  It is in the colonies then, that Lee's selfishness, self entitlement or just plan want for glory would then destroy what was supposed to be a legacy which would be everlasting with the other military leaders of the Continental Army.

Charles Lee reported to the Continental Congress on several occasions, which is partially portrayed in the game. There, Lee awaited to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, but waiting is all he could do. He was very vocal about his feelings towards Washington, but they fell on death ears. Lee was overlooked for a few reasons: first he was English born, second, he was a bit of a drunk and vulgar (despite his educational background, remember you can't teach manners) and finally he wanted to be paid for his service. These combined made Congress pick Washington, who basically was the complete opposite of Lee, American born, not a fall down drunk and willing to work for free. Regardless, Lee was made second in command, Major General. Lee's first major role in the war was protecting Charleston, South Carolina. There he saw the construction of Fort Sullivan on Sullivan;s Island. Here Lee would make his first military blunder. Seeing the advancing British Naval forces he ordered the fort evacuated, leaving the city undefended. Lucky, Governor John Rutledge knew the strength not just of the South Carolinian people but of the palmetto logs which the fort was made from. The fort withstood the assault and forced to retreat and reconsider their strategy in taking Charleston. After this Lee was recalled by Washington to New York to prepare the city's defense. 

Upon arriving in New York in 1776, Washington made an attempt at showing Lee that he was respected and an important part of the Continental Army. He did so by rename Fort Constitution, which is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, Fort Lee. Unfortunately for Washington Lee was not pleased. The renaming of the fort made him despise Washington even more. He began to be even more vocal to Congress about his personal opinions of Washington and more often as well. Lee even went as far as trying to sabotage Washington during his retreat across New Jersey by purposefully taking his time moving his troops west. The disdain for Washington has been quite evident, so evident that the writers of Assassin's Creed felt it fitting to link Lee to Thomas Hickey. Whose Thomas Hickey you ask? He was one of Washington's guards who plotted to assassinate Washington. He was later tried and hung. But in the game it is Lee who is the mastermind behind the plot and then tried to pin the blame on the main character, Conner. But back to the reality of Lee. Because of his lack luster support of Washington, Lee left himself in a compromised position during the winter of '76. While stopping for the night at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge,NJ Lee was found out and arrested by a British patrol. He was given back to the Continental Army in a prisoner exchange due to his high military value. But Lee's biggest act of defiance towards Washington and ultimatelywhat destroyed his career would happen in the summer of 1778.

At the Battle of Monmouth Lee was reluctantly placed as second in command. There Lee deliberately disobeyed Washington's orders to attack by retreating. Too bad for Lee he retreated right into Washington was heading right to the battlefield. Washington was enraged beyond human capability, then to make matters worse, Lee disrespected Washington in front of all those in Washington's force. Washington then publicly stripped Lee of command & rank, had him arrested in the mist of the battle and had him court martialed. Lee tried to have the court martial overturned but it was in vain. After his failure to clear his military name, he then went back on the attack against Washington. Lee was quickly becoming a lesser and lesser like character in America. He was so hated many Americans wanted a piece of him. Colonel John Laurens challenged Lee to a duel, a duel which Lee was wounded in. And that was not the last duel, Lee was challenged to roughly 50 some odd duels after his dishonorable exit from military life. By 1780 Lee had faded from the public spotlight and recent memory of the newly forming American nation. he back ill in January of 1780 and died in his Philadelphia home.

So what did we learn about Charles Lee? He was a selfish bastard who couldn't handle be second in command. The man wanted to be the Commander-in-Chief so badly he found it necessary to sabotage Washington at every chance he could. But what do we learn from Lee? Mainly that being a whinny baby gets you no where for 232 years until someone writes a historical based fictional video game. And to top it off you become the villain of the story. Lee's legacy is this, a man who was driven by anger, by frustration from a choice made by others and that through acts of dishonor he caused his own self destruction. There are many heroes and villains from the founding of America, Lee is neither. He has been a footnote to the Revolution, mainly through the faults of his own. His yearning for being in charge went as far as becoming a traitor. After he was captured in New Jersey, Lee drafted military plans against American forces for General William Howe. They were discovered in 1857 in the Howe family archives and many historians believe this may have been the root of Lee's complete disregard for Washington's orders at the Battle of Monmouth. Yet today Lee is not remembered for his negative actions but as a fictional character. A Templar, who hates freedom and democracy, whose only goal in life is to ensure that the world ends in got to play the game to get that one, sorry. But Charles Lee had his chance to be a true American hero. One who would be as revered as Washington, Greene, Putnam, Lafayette and von Steuben are for their military actions but no, Lee caused his own self implosion and put himself on the express track to becoming a complete loss of historical value.


  1. This is incredible! I am currently playing Assassin's Creed (I love the historical settings of these games, but I know that they lean heavy on fiction- for how many red coats I have killed, I may as well have just won the Revolutionary War single-handedly).

    Anyway, I am determined to understand as much as I can about how this country was founded and this blog post was awesome in explaining in a easy-to-read manner, something I was curious about. Thanks!

  2. My fifth-grader was assigned a project on the Battle of Monmouth and we stumbled on your blog post while looking for an image of General Lee. Loved the extra background info!

  3. Glad I could help, if you have any further question on Lee or any other aspects of History feel free to ask,

    Thanks for reading,

    Mike Maring

  4. Charles Lee on the the game as a fictional character wasn't pure evil or a narcissistic prick who doesn't have any sympathy, empathy and care for others. He was a corrupted and deluded man, a very very corrupted and deluded person who had a very importan personal duty as a member of an organization.
    As a fictional character, he was certainly a very empathetic individual( crying for his ally's and friend's death called Haytham and wanted to take revenge for that for sure) and he had a very humanistic view towards to the world, but it's just not so right and reasonably democratic( As a Templar member he SUPPORTS somewhat in his Templar mindset democracy and freedom, but he doesn't support DIFFERENCES such as cultural, political, ideological, moral and social differences).

    In reality as a biological 3-Dimensional human being, he was a narcissistic hot-headed douche who couldn't handle not receiveing the military success he so much desired and was kind worthy for, because he was very worthy taking as criteria his high intelligence and military education, but his drunkness and his recklessly stupid behaviour kneel him down.

  5. Charles Lee is NOT evil. He is just underrated.

  6. Lee was not the only American general to retreat. Washington retreated way more. Lee retreated only once

  7. He was also a traitor. Unlike Benedict who was a hero then went to Britain because of mistreatment, Charles was a coward. He got captured and turned traitor in exchange for his life.

  8. Here in 2020, I came to this page not through Assassin's Creed, but through the Broadway musical Hamilton.

    In that, Lee is portrayed not as a traitor and a villain, but as a coward and an idiot (though still a whiny baby).

    Looking back, it's fascinating to think of the American Revolution from the perspective of short-sighted opportunists who were only in it for petty self interest. I guess they exist in all eras. Makes me wonder how history will treat a certain current political figure in two hundred years....