Biography of Revolutionary War Sergent Ezra Lee Part 2

About the Revolutionary War Sergent Ezra Lee who volunteered for the first military submarine service to fight the British.

SGT. EZRA LEE (U.S., Revolutionary War)

At almost midnight, the intrepid soldier entered his submarine and began his approach. Inside of minutes, he had lost his bearings in relation to the dimly outlined vessels of Howe's fleet, and the strong tide--outgoing, a fact no one had thought of--swept him swiftly past and far beyond the fleet, headed for open water. With frantic operation of his windmill-propulsion system, Lee managed to perspire his way back within range, 2 1/2 hours later. Submerging, he went to work on the chosen ship's bottom. Again, he learned a fact that had been overlooked: The copper cladding over the bottom timber could not be bored by the wooden screw. The Turtle kept bobbing away with each turn of the screw.

By dawn, the "attack" was over. With the coming of the day, he could no longer retreat periodically to the surface to gulp in a fresh 1/2-hour supply of oxygen, since he would instantly be spotted. Lee began the return trip, this time assisted by the tide, which was now running shoreward. He came up to check on his position and found himself a few 100 yards off Governors Island. To his dismay, he found his approach being watched excitedly by hundreds of British soldiers running along the shore. Through his tiny windows he could see a barge being shoved into the surf, manned by a party of British Marines, coming to investigate the strange object.

With his limited speed and caught in shallow water, capture was unavoidable. Determined not to fall into enemy hands, he armed and cut the bomb loose, hoping the explosion would blow them all--including himself and the sub--to pieces. The unexpected happened. Frightened by a new floating object, the barge backed off, allowing Lee to paddle furiously away and escape. The bomb leisurely floated off. Minutes later, it exploded with a loud report that could be heard clearly by observers as far away as the Battery on the tip of Manhattan Island.

Sergeant Lee finally reached the shore, to be greeted warmly by Gen. Israel Putnam and other Colonial officers who had seen the surprising explosion. The incident did little to lessen Lee's raw courage, however. He continued his underwater attacks, but with small success. A year later he finally did succeed in drawing blood, when the curious crew of the British frigate Cerberus discovered and hauled in an object they thought was a wooden keg. It promptly exploded, killing 3 men and blowing a prize schooner, which the Cerberus had in tow, to bits. The incident caused the Cerberus' captain to complain loudly about unsportsmanlike tactics.

For his pioneer exploits, Sergeant Lee received congratulations from Gen. George Washington, who then transferred the aquatic hero into the Secret Service. Later, Sergeant Lee fought in the battles of Trenton, Brandywine, Monmouth. He lived until the age of 72, dying in Lyme in 1821.

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