General Joseph Martin Chapter
Cumberland Gap, TN
Cumberland Gap Patriot
Ezra Lee, the first non commissioned officer to
command a submarine
during the Revolutionary war was born in Lyme CT in August 1749.. In
July, 1776, Lee joined the CT line of the continental army. In August,
1776, Lee was sent to New york where he was placed on Patrol duty up and
down Long Island sound from Throg neck to York Island. In September
1776, Lee was asked by his brother in law, if he would command a new
type of naval warfare vehicle called a submarine.
The new submarine was nicknamed the Turtle because it looked like a
floating turtle. The Turtle had been invented by David Bushnell. its
purpose was to drill a hole in the copper sheeting around the hulls of
the British warships, place a gunpowder keg weighing over 130 lbs into
the hole, and retreat before the keg exploded. On September 7, 1776, Lee
maneuvered the Turtle underneath the Hull of The British Flag ship, HMS
Eagle, the command ship of Admiral Howe. The HMS Eagle was located in a small
vortex where the Hudson River and East River current comes together.
Because of the strong current, Lee was unable to drill a hole in the
copper sheeting and place the gunpowder keg into the hole. If the HMS
Eagle had been anywhere else in New York Harbor, Lee would have been
successful in his mission.
Lee was soon spotted by a British patrol boat, and was forced to give up
his mission. while in pursuit, Lee released the gunpowder keg into the
water hoping to sink the patrol boats. The gunpowder keg floated and
then exploded causing no harm to the British Fleet. The Turtle was sank
off the coast of Fort Lee NJ by a British war ship.
In 1777, Lee was involved in other projects with Bushnell in turning
floating barrels of Gunpowder kegs into floating mines. In early 1777,
at Niantic Bay near Waterford Ct, the HMS Cerberus was sank using one of
these floating mines.
In December, 1777, Bushnell tried to sink the British fleet anchored off
the port of Philadelphia Pa by sending hundreds of barrels of gunpowder
kegs floating down the Delaware river into the harbor. This incident was
nicknamed the battle of the Kegs even though no battle actually took
place. One of the mines floated near the shore, and was spotted by two
young boys playing near the harbor. Being curious to what it was as most
boys are , the boys tried to take the keg out of the water. When they
did it exploded killing both boys. This explosion alerted the British to
the other barrels floating in the harbor. The British began firingtheir
cannons and muskets in order to explode the barrels before they reached
their ships. The British were successful in sinking and exploding all
the barrels before they reached their ships.
In June 1777, Lee was sent to Peerskill, NY to help construct a
fortification on Constitution Island In September 1777, Lee participated
in the battle of Brandywine. On September 11, 1777, British General Howe
attacked Washington at Chadd Ford PA. The fighting was mostly hand to
hand combat. During the battle, Lee had his sword shot in half while
sword fighting with a British Soldier. By the end of the Battle, Lee's
overcoat was almost shot to shreds, but Lee received no wounds from the
bullets that barely missed him.
In November 1777, Lee was at Fort Mifflin where he and 400 other men
defended the fort against 2500 British Troops and 25 British Man of war
ships for almost two weeks before surrendering Lee was at Valley Forge on
December 19, 1777. The CT line suffered greatly there. Some of the men's
legs turned black due to frost bite from the lack of clothing ,and had
to have their legs amputated. Over
35 men from CT would die out of the nearly 2500 other soldiers that
would die their due to disease and frostbite.
After Valley Forge, Lee fought at Monmouth and was placed on the second
line of defense. Here the Americans defeated the British while they were
leaving Philadelphia. This was Lee's last battle.
Lee returned to lyme ct, where he died on October 29, 1821. Lee is
buried in the Duck River Cemetery in Lyme, CT.
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