Major Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee
is honored on the fifth in the U.S. Mint's ten-piece series of pewter reproductions of America's First Medals, voted by the Continental Congress to commemorate the decisive military actions of the Revolutionary War. This medal was awarded to Major Lee for his daring pre-dawn assault at Paulus Hook in 1779. It features on the obverse the bust of Major Lee, facing right, and the inscription, in Latin, "The American Congress to Henry Lee, major of cavalry." On the reverse is inscribed in Latin within a laurel wreath, "Notwith-standing rivers and ramparts, he conquered, with a handful of men, the enemy by skill and valor, and attached by his humanity those vanquished by his arms. In commemoration of the Battle of Paulus Hook, August 19, 1779."
This medal was originally struck in gold and was the only one of the ten to be designed by an American Joseph Wright, the first engraver of the United States Mint created in 1792. Wright was born in Bordentown, New Jersey, in 1756. He was a portrait painter who worked at the Mint first as a draftsman and then as a designer and diesinker. He made the Lee medal under the personal supervision of Thomas Jefferson. Wright died in the fall of 1793 during a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia.
The Battle of Paulus Hook
Major Lee had taken part in the storming of Stony Point and wanted to lead a similar action on his own at Paulus Hook, a British occupied fort in what is now Jersey City, New Jersey. General Washington agreed but limited him to a force of 200 men and directed that the main purpose was to surprise the garrison and take prisoners and that no attempt should be made to keep the fort. So just before daybreak on August 19, 1779, Lee's forces rushed forward without firing a shot, cleared the abatis, crossed the ditch around the fort, and entered the works. Capturing 158 prisoners, Lee immediately began his retreat and arrived safely back at the Hackensack Bridge after 27 hours of continuous marching and much fighting.
A Vote of Thanks and a Gold Medal
By act of September 24, 1779, Congress granted Lee a gold medal and gave him their thanks "for remarkable prudence, address and bravery displayed in the attack on the enemy's fort and works at Paulus Hook" and their approval of his humanity. By act of October 21, 1780, his battalion was designated "Lee's partisan corps."