30th June 1778
George Washington crumpled the letter in his hand and threw it onto the table. His normally ordered and calm temperament was in disarray – and it was all due to one man: Major General Charles Lee.
The name itself was enough to inspire anger and betrayal. Rising from the table that served as his temporary desk, George strode to the fireplace and struggled to compose himself.
One arm outstretched on the mantel, George poked at the fire, watching as the flames crackled and spat, the logs smouldering a bright orange. There was no real need for a fire, it was June and the air was hot and muggy. Yet George had built the fire with his own hands in an attempt to distract his mind from the events of only two days ago.
Discarding the poker George pinched his nose.
The Battle of Monmouth had ended in confusion as the army under Lafayette retreated due to supposed orders by Charles. Apparently, as far as George could learn initially this wasn’t true, but then confirmed by Lee once asked by another solider. Upon hearing of the retreat George had ridden to catch up and most sternly rebuked Charles in front of many officers. That in of itself was unlike him and George felt a pang of guilt. Yet his anger was still too hot for him to admit to this feeling and with a shake of his head George paced away from the fire and stared bleakly out of the house they had commandeered.
The sun was high in the sky, noon had arrived and so had lunch for his troops. Watching the men file in ordered queues to the mess tents George ran a finger over the simple wood frame of the window.
That awful scene was driven not simply by news of Charles’ retreat, but for the fact that Charles had done it; for George it had been far more personal, a dereliction of duty that he felt in his gut. Afterwards George had raced to the battle.
Charles had followed in furious temper and found George waiting, as he had realised that General Clinton’s forces were indeed stronger than the Commander in Chief had given credit for. Naturally, this had been embarrassing for George so he had handed command over to Charles while he went to the rear to bolster troops there; predictably Charles had not been happy at his order and tartly replied he already had command. His own pride and vanity injured George abandoned Charles to the fight. The battle proceeded until Charles again retreated.
His fingers pressed hard on the wood then dragged to the window tracing the tree that stood outside.
It had been a mess and George was still convinced that General Clinton did not have sufficient resources to check his American troops. Charles of course vehemently disagreed. Now they were in this position. George was well aware of how angry he was for Charles retreating when he considered that the battle could have been an American victory (a view Charles did not comply with) and it cut a wound into his soul.
Their harsh exchanges upon the field and…George’s heart clenched, Charles’ surprise at his first outburst …Charles’ furious letters, defending himself and accusing George’s aides of misinforming him on the status of General Clinton’s armies…
Yes, it was unfortunate. If Charles was a prudent man, a cool-headed sensible man then he would have remained quiet. George had enough common sense even through his hurt pride to understand that Charles wasn’t wholly in the wrong and given time for his own temper to cool, then he would have been able to admit publicly his regret for speaking harshly to Charles.
Yet Charles was not a cool-headed man, the Omega was like the tempestuous sea, mood ever changing and prudence was unfortunately not a virtue possessed by the intelligent and admittedly superb military veteran.
So now George had to contend with Charles’ public fury at a rebuke he deemed unfair, over circumstances he valued unforgiving to the American cause.
Even so George may have been able to ignore this, perhaps assign it to Charles’ budding Heat. He might have consigned it to an unfortunate fit of ire. However, his aides were not impressed by Charles antics and spoke long and loudly against Charles’ actions both at Monmouth and afterwards. Their view on the matter had coloured George’s reply and he had hoped to silence Charles for the moment.
George he knew he had not been generous in his words and indeed vindictive. Now that some of his anger had drained away George wished he hadn’t been so hasty. George retreated from the window, sick of the beautiful sun. But that wasn’t the worst: there were the accusations of treachery from Connor and Lafayette. He swallowed, the sensation was as if he was drinking whiskey.
George sat at his desk fatigued with fear. He sincerely did not wish to believe that this was so. Why would Charles betray them? He was an avid supporter for Independence and had risked much by siding with the Americans against his country – former country.
George reached for the tea, now cold, evaporating in a lovely gilded tea cup. Sipping the liquid he grimaced, he knew his real question was: Surely he did not hate George that much nor covet the title of Commander in Chief so dearly that he would betray them to the British?
George refused to believe it even as the facts seemed to align.
So he stood, embittered from all sides – his aides and Lafayette with Connor – and Charles’ latest letter damn him was, considering the vindictive set of Washington’s reply, unsurprisingly bitter in tone.
In fact it was less than respectful and goaded George to dare air his doubts publicly. George found it too much for his already strained nerves and he knew that the missive forced him to act. Drinking more tea in an attempt to steel his nerves George discovered only a mockery in it’s coolness of the chill that now cloaked him. The only action viable in the situation was a military investigation in a court martial. To have Charles arrested and stand in a military jury and justify himself. The mere thought caused sweat to break out over George.
Setting down his tea cup George put his face in his hands, as despair swept through him acute and painful.
“Oh why did you have to disobey me Charles? Why?”
George had always loved Charles, admiring the Omega from afar. His devotion to duty, his cleverness and quickness to think on his feet, coupled with his military experience outstripping George’s own initially, had drawn George to the wonderful Omega. Further acquaintance had George pleased at how Charles seemed determined to support American Independence, even casting aside his British lords to do so. Such valour and morality was admirable and George recalled fondly nights spent discussing tactics shadowed with a little personal information – that which Charles was willing to share, mysterious Omega that he was.
The odd secret taint to Charles’ nature had also been an attraction to George whose inquiring mind was eager to delve into the unknown. It helped that the man was handsome of course, though fairness of face wasn’t a weakness George suffered from.
Yet his true problem was that he still loved Charles and to subject the Omega he loved and desired to court martial was abhorrent.
But what if the charges were true? Assailed by the doubts planted by Lafayette and Connor, George rubbed his face and knew he had to think fast ere he had no choice but to condemn Charles.
The people who accused Charles were not fans of the General, particularly Connor for reasons George did not understand. In fact, that entire aspect spoke to George of some unfavourable conspiracy.
So, George had to determine two things: First, were General Clinton’s forces substantial enough to be victorious if Charles hadn’t retreated?
Secondly, even if the former was yes, was Charles’ retreat in response to this correctly gauged threat or due to prior correspondence with the British and he was a traitor?
George prayed it was the first. Yet…if it wasn’t, would he still try and save Charles?
George donned his cloak and knew that the answer was yes. What remained therefore was how he would achieve this and what price would he demand from Charles?