I miss my sister
Amanda so very much. Until last month, we had not been apart even one week
since our shared birthday thirteen years ago. But last month I enlisted in
General Washington’s Continental Army. Now I might never see her again.

We both knew the
circumstances, though, when I signed my enlistment papers. I finally had an
opportunity to leave the dreary family farm in Virginia and experience more in
life. Amanda understood my ambitions, but I knew Mother and Father would not. I
did not expect them to.

The life of a
farmer suits Father, as it has suited all the men in the Lee lineage for
generations. The farm gives Father’s life meaning, but cows and plows represent
pure drudgery to me. The thrills of riding and shooting please me greatly, but
nothing else about life on the farm does.

From my earliest
memories, Father has taught me about the honor of the farmer’s work. I
certainly know the great importance of farm work in providing our sustenance,
but I am not called to it. Our farm’s fields might as well have been oceans for
the way they separated me from the worlds of adventure and glory such as our
famous relative, Richard Henry Lee, inhabits. I wonder if I will ever get to
explore those worlds. But I surely would never know if I had remained on the

Father often
told me and Amanda stories of distant Uncle Richard–a Lee uncle, Lord knows how
many times removed from us. His accomplishments form an impressive roll call:
named Justice of the Peace at twenty-five, elected to the Virginia House of
Burgesses at twenty-six, the first to urge resistance against England by
authoring the Westmoreland Resolution at thirty-four. Just last year, he
represented Virginia at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

How God has
blessed Uncle Richard with gifts of the mind! He shines brilliantly, even among
other gentlemen statesmen. Even General Washington seeks his company and

We have not his
branch of the Lee family’s wealth and position, so I know I can never be his
equal socially. Many times I’ve longed to write to Uncle Richard to ask if I
may apprentice myself to him, but I fear that I have not even the education for

I need not be
his equal, though. I know that I will fulfill God’s purpose for my life
differently. God did not bless me with a talent for words, but He did bless me
with eyes and hands for shooting. Since I learned to hunt, any turkey within
three hundred yards of my rifle could expect to adorn our dining table that

A congregant at
our church, Sergeant Gabriel Brickwedde of the Virginia Regiment, has been
teaching me to shoot rifles, muskets, and pistols since I was five; he has
taught me so well that no man of any age in any surrounding county can match my

After news
arrived about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Sergeant Brickwedde
arranged a shooting competition to identify the finest riflemen in our county.
With God’s grace, I shot so well that day that he said that, were I but three
years older, he would enlist me immediately in defense of Virginia! I treasured
his words for weeks, as did Amanda, who knows the depth of my yearnings.

At the time, I
wanted badly to be three years older, but now I feel grateful that I was not.
If I had been sixteen then, I would surely have accepted Sergeant Brickwedde’s
invitation. In that case, I would never have found myself in my current

For, just two
months after Sergeant Brickwedde offered his kind words to me, news reached us
that General Washington sought one-year enlistments of able-bodied riflemen for
the new Continental Army. Riflemen! Virginia’s greatest son calls the men of
Virginia to arms! He needs my skills!

When Amanda and
I read the news in the marketplace that day, we needed no words between us. We
both knew immediately what I must do. I would be a rifleman and a member of
General Washington’s light infantry!

I pondered the
best way to tell Mother and Father until Amanda provided the answer. I should
simply tell them without reservation or hesitation that God has called me to
serve General Washington. No dissent could be brooked, not even from parents,
because Lee men serve when they feel called. Yet their ready assent surprised

Not being yet
sixteen years of age, I knew I would not be permitted to enlist. However, I am
large for my age, larger than most men of sixteen or even eighteen. I believed
I could succeed in a scheme of deception. I would require diligent planning and
resolute cunning to succeed. I practiced my falsehood unceasingly for two
weeks, but still felt terrified when the day arrived for my “performance.” My
hands shook and my body quaked as I approached the recruiting office. Mist
formed before my eyes.

Then Amanda
struck the back of my head very roughly and my signing occurred without

Although already
large, I felt I grew another two feet upon signing my name to the papers. I
felt invincible, as if I alone might defeat the Royal Army. General Washington
would surely name me his primary aide-de-camp. He, Virginia’s greatest citizen,
must eventually name me Virginia’s second greatest. My confidence must have
appeared overbearing; Amanda struck my head roughly rather often from that
moment until I departed.

It seemed to me that
Mother cried from the moment I told her of my deceptive enlistment until the
minute I departed. Father and Amanda knew better than to cry for me when I
sought my true destiny. The night before I left the farm, Father handed me his
favorite hunting rifle, the same one that his father had given him. Although
not a man of letters, he knew three letters that would always hold meaning for
me. He carved them into the wooden butt of the rifle, “L-E-E.”

Sister Amanda, in
our small family the most like Uncle Richard in intelligence, knew another
three letters that have particular meaning to both of us. The letters, our
personal code, formed part of the bond we shared as twins. Somehow she managed
to etch the letters into the blade of my hunting knife. Only she and I know
that the letters “D-P-F” stand for what we hold most dear in our hearts: “Deus,
Patria, Familia”–God, Country, Family in Latin.


I carried only
those treasures, my rifle and knife, along with my Bible, on the journey to
Boston. Deeply honored, I joined Captain Daniel Morgan and ninety-five others
in one of two rifle companies from Virginia that would march to General
Washington. Captain Morgan’s own renowned marksmanship attracted the very
finest marksmen to his company, men, who, like me, considered it a great honor
to fight alongside this hero of the French and Indian War. I hoped to learn
anything more about marksmanship that he could teach me as well as his brilliant
skills at rifle making.

On the journey,
I became fast friends with another young rifleman named Graham Walken. Yet even
with the company of a fine new friend, I constantly thought with longing of
Amanda, Mother, and Father. At times, I wondered if I had been mistaken in
thinking that I had the character to serve in the Continental Army if I felt
loneliness before the first combat had begun.

Regrettably, the
soldiers already at the camp met the arrival of our company of Virginia
riflemen with curious indifference, which did not help my spirits. I expected
some form of brotherly greeting, if not fanfare, from the other companies of
riflemen from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. If we, the
brotherhood of armed patriots, did not welcome each other, I wondered to myself
how we would fare together in battle. We all shared the same principles and
motivation, did we not?

In April, the
news about the Battles at Lexington and Concord had infected me and Amanda with
an excitement we’d never known before. Then, when we learned of the enemy’s
losses at the Battle of Bunker Hill two months later, it had seemed that God
would grant the patriots a quick victory. And now that Virginia’s great George
Washington serves as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, surely glory
awaits us. It truly baffles me that so few share my enthusiasm.

It puzzles me
even more that the gathered companies do not appear to be an army at all. We
Virginians expected to be outfitted with the uniforms of army privates
immediately and then drilled regularly in military maneuvers. I expected training
for battle to be severe, strenuous, and grueling. In fact, I rather hoped it
would be so.

But we received
no uniforms, no drilling, and little food. On the whole, the encampment seemed
less organized than a barn dance. No one gave orders–in fact, without uniforms
on every man, I could not even identify the officers.

With this much
unoccupied time, I devoted myself to my Bible study. Fortunately, others joined
me. Nearly every man from Virginia had brought his own Bible and we convened
daily to study among ourselves. We invited the other companies of riflemen to
join our studies, though, to our sorrow, none chose to.

The Papists and
the Israelites in the ranks, though few in number, joined in our studies quite
hardily. I had never before met any Papists or Israelites and feared the worst
about them. After a time, I considered my fears quite unnecessary; they clearly
knew their scriptures well.

In the reverie
of my quietest moments, I even hoped to invite our officers and General
Washington himself to our studies. But I dismissed that as foolish thinking.
The general surely would be greatly occupied with matters of strategy and I
wouldn’t want to distract him.

My first glimpse
of him though will forever rank as one of the most extraordinary moments of my
time on this earth. Never having seen him or even a portrait of him, I wondered
how I would know him. Although I had often heard that he stands among the
largest of men, I knew that there would be many large men in the army. I
expected that, as Commander in Chief, he would appear in the most resplendent
of uniforms, but how would I know the resplendence of one officer’s uniform
from that of another?

I also worried
about how to address him. I had received only the briefest of instructions on
military protocol before I left Virginia and forgot most of it immediately.
Surely “Sir Commander in Chief” could not be correct. “Mister General”? “Your
Excellency”? My mind boggled to think of all the possible missteps I might

In the afternoon
of my first day in camp, a brawl arose between soldiers from the northern
states and those from the south. I did not know the cause, but within minutes
the melee had spread from two to ten to a hundred men to almost a thousand men.
I could not believe my eyes. A full riot had broken out within our ranks on the
eve of war with Britain!

Suddenly, a man
rode into their midst; I knew immediately that he could only be General
Washington. He did wear the most resplendent of uniforms and he rode the only
white horse I’d seen in the camp. Ten yards away from the fracas, the general
jumped off his saddle and leapt forth with the agility of a gazelle. He seized
the two largest combatants by the collar, one with each hand, keeping both at
arm’s length. Though themselves large, each seized man seemed like a doll in
Washington’s grasp. He shook them with such force that it appeared their heads
might rattle off their shoulders. I could not discern the general’s exact
words, but his intent could not have been clearer: Do not dare brawl on my watch!

I stood
mesmerized by the spectacle of this giant of a man subduing the melee with just
his hands. Now I understood how this man could have thundered at the Virginia
Convention, “I will raise one thousand men, subsist them at my own expense and
march myself at their head to the relief of Boston!”

Goliath himself
would flee in fear from him. Seeing the general act so decisively, every other
rioter turned and bolted from the fight at top speed.

I could only
shake my head in wonderment. What chance could the Royal Army have against us
Continentals led by a Caesar like General Washington?

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