You Gotta Know These Revolutionary War Generals
- Benedict Arnold: Volunteering for service following the Battle of Lexington, he joined Ethan Allen in the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Appointed by Washington to capture Quebec, he was severely wounded in the failed December 1775 assault that also saw the death of General Richard Montgomery. Arming a flotilla on Lake Champlain, he attacked the British forces at Valcour Island, earning accolades — perhaps at the cost of the support of other officers. Passed over for promotion, Washington personally persuaded him not to resign. Promoted following his defense of Danbury, he again considered resignation, but won victory at Ft. Stanwix, and commanded advance battalions at Saratoga, where he was wounded in the fight. Sent to command Philadelphia, he lived extravagantly among Loyalists, and skirted several regulations to raise money, prompting investigations. After marrying Peggy Shippen, he made overtures to the British, alerting them to a plan to invade Canada, and planning to betray his expected command of West Point. When his contact, Major John Andre was captured, he escaped. Later, as part of the British army he raided New London, Connecticut, and led several raids on Virginia.
- John Burgoyne: “Gentleman Johnny,” as he was known due to his cultural tastes (Burgoyne was also a playwright), he began his Revolutionary War career under Gage, returning to England after ineffectiveness in 1774–1775. Sent to reinforce Canada, he formulated a plan to isolate New England with the help of Barry St. Leger and William Howe. The plan worked as far as capturing Fort Ticonderoga, but met resistance when he sent his Hessians to attack Bennington. Exhausted, his troops met trouble at Saratoga, being repulsed at Freedman’s Farm, and being forced to surrender after Bemis Heights. Paroled on condition he returned to England, Burgoyne was later appointed commander-in-chief of Ireland.
- Charles Cornwallis, First Marquess of Cornwallis: An aristocrat and ensign in 1756, he fought in the battle of Minden, and by the end of the Seven Years’ War he was a captain. Made aide-de-camp to George III, he made colonel, and was promoted to major general before being sent to America. After a failed assault on Charleston, he served under Sir Henry Clinton in the battle of Long Island, but made his mark in fighting at Manhattan and pursued Washington across the Hudson, being outmaneuvered by Washington at Princeton (January 3, 1777). Following this defeat he directed the main attack on Brandywine Creek, and reinforced Germantown as part of the plan to capture Philadelphia. Promoted to second-in-command under Clinton after the Philadelphia campaign, he led the Battle of Monmouth before returning home to attend his sick wife. Sent south in 1780 to capture Charleston, he bested Horatio Gates at Camden (North Carolina) and Nathaniel Greene at Guilford Courthouse, the latter a pyrrhic victory that likely led to his defeat in attempts to contain Lafayette in Virginia. Following this, he occupied Yorktown in August 1781, where he was surrounded by American and French forces, and forced to surrender. Following the war, he was appointed governor-general of India, and proved to be a capable administrator.
- Horatio Gates: Wounded in the disastrous French and Indian War attack on Fort Duquesne, it was there he first met George Washington. Recommended by Washington to be adjutant general of the army at the outbreak of revolution, he organized the army around Boston into an effective force. Promoted to major general in 1776, he was assigned to command troops in New York originally intended to invade Canada. Briefly put in charge of Philadelphia, he then directed the defense of New York against Burgoyne’s invasion attempt, leading to victory at Saratoga. Following this he became involved in the Conway cabal, an attempt to replace Washington, which led to coldness between the two. Placed in command of the South over Washington’s objections by Congress, he tried to raise adequate forces, but lost the battle of Camden to Cornwallis, and was replaced by Nathaniel Greene. Washington then accepted Gates back as his deputy, a position he held until the end of the war.
- Sir Guy Carleton: Irish-born, he led grenadiers across the Plains of Abraham in the 1759 siege of Quebec under his close friend General Wolfe. He entered the war as second-in-command to Thomas Gage before taking command after Gage’s 1775 recall. Carleton then directed British troops from Canada to Boston after the Battle of Concord, resulting in a revolt. Carleton repulsed efforts by Montgomery and Benedict Arnold to capture Montréal and Quebec, routing a second attempt by Arnold, by defeating an American naval buildup on Lake Champlain. Following this, he attempted to support Burgoyne’s failed plan to isolate New England. Brought back to Britain to govern Armagh in Ireland in 1777, he sat out all but the end of the war, returning in 1782 as commander-in-chief after Cornwallis’ surrender.
- Nathanael Greene: A prominent Rhode Island politician prior to the revolution, he raised a militia company but was not elected their captain due to his partial lameness. Following his work in the siege of Boston, he marched his army to Long Island, where they aided in the battles around New York. Following the loss of Fort Washington, Greene led forces into victory at the Battle of Trenton, and then again distinguished himself by protecting Washington’s force at the Battle of Brandywine. Greene then led the main force at Germantown, and led the evacuation of positions along the Delaware River in fall 1777. The next year, Greene’s logistical talents led Washington to appoint him quartermaster general, a position he only accepted if he were allowed to retain field troops. He then led those troops as the right wing in the Battle of Monmouth. The quartermaster general position led to conflicts with the Continental Congress, and Greene resigned in 1780. Appointed to command to replace the traitor Benedict Arnold, he was sent south following Gates’ loss at Camden. Joining with Daniel Morgan, he retreated from Cornwallis’ forces for two months until a crippling counterattack at Guilford Courthouse, which gave a costly victory to the British. Until the end of the war, Greene led a spirited offensive against Lord Rawdon’s — and later Duncan Stuart’s — forces, besieging Augusta and Ninety-Six, and establishing headquarters in Charleston following Washington’s victory at Yorktown.
- Sir William Howe: A veteran of the siege of Louisbourg, and the leader of the ascent to the Plains of Abraham (Quebec, 1759), he was dispatched in 1775 as second-in-command to Gage. After directing the attack on Bunker Hill, he succeeded Gage as commander, and coordinated a strategic retreat from Boston to Halifax. In Halifax, he coordinated a joint army-navy attack with his brother, Richard, an admiral, resulting in a campaign which allowed the British to control New York City. After his attempts to secure a peace in 1777 failed, he led the attack on Philadelphia, defeating Washington at Brandywine. After this, he wintered in Philadelphia, waiting for acceptance of his resignation, due to the failed peace negotiations. On May 25, 1778, he relinquished command to Sir Henry Clinton and returned home.
- Tadeusz Kosciusko: After receiving military training in his native Poland and France, he resigned his commission due to poor advancement prospect. Offering his assistance to the Americans, he helped fortify the Delaware River in 1776, earning himself the rank of colonel. That winter, he planned the building of Fort Mercer, and the next spring headed north with General Gates, becoming commander of the northern army and building fortifications that helped win the battle of Saratoga. In 1780, he worked on building defenses for West Point, then headed south when Gates was appointed command of the Southern Department. Serving under Nathaniel Greene, he distinguished himself in the Race to the Dan River, and at Charleston, but mishandled the siege of Ninety-Six. Following the war, he was granted American citizenship but returned home to Poland. Back home he resisted partition, and attempted to liberate the nation afterward.
- Marquis de Lafayette: Approached by the U.S. Minister to France, Silas Deane, he arrived in April 1777 with Baron de Kalb. First seeing action at Brandywine, his primary early action was in supporting Washington during the winter at Valley Forge. After participating at the battles of Barren Hill, Monmouth, and Newport, he returned to France, raising support for an expeditionary force. Returning to America a colonel, he served on the board that sentenced Major Andre to death, and then faced Andre’s confederate Benedict Arnold in battle in 1781. Working in Virginia, he evaded Cornwallis’ forces, until reinforcements arrived in June. Coordinating with Anthony Wayne, the two combined forces against Cornwallis in the battle of Green Spring. Pursuing Cornwallis to Yorktown, Lafayette helped the siege there until Cornwallis’ surrender.
- Francis Marion: Previously an Indian fighter, Marion was given command of Fort Sullivan in 1776. Commanding the 2nd South Carolina, he fought at Savannah, and escaped capture when the British retook Charleston. From there, Marion fought a successful guerilla campaign against British troops, forcing Cornwallis to appoint Colonel Banastre Tarleton to eliminate Marion. Tarleton’s frustration at the task led to the remark “But as for this damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him,” creating Marion’s nickname, “Swamp Fox.” Promoted to brigadier general in 1781, and later given command of the North and South Carolina militias, Marion fought the British at Eutaw Springs.
- John Paul Jones: A Scotsman who had fled Britain after killing two people, he added the last name Jones to his given name, John Paul, to hide from law enforcement. At the outbreak of conflict, he was commissioned to outfit the Alfred, which he then used to help capture New Providence in the Bahamas. The next month, April 1776, he led the Alfred against the HMS Glasgow, leading him to promotion and command of the Providence. Ordered to raid until his provisions were expended, he sank and captured ships in operations along the Atlantic coast. Commissioned captain of the Ranger, he sailed to France to acquire new ships, and captured the HMS Drake. Leaving Europe in August 1779, he met the British ship Serapis in battle on September 23, 1779.
- Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben: Formerly part of Frederick the Great’s staff, the Prussian Steuben was recommended by Ben Franklin to George Washington. Accepted by the Continental Congress, Steuben joined Washington at Valley Forge, and began training the army. Appointed major general and inspector general in May 1777, he aided in the Battle of Monmouth, then spent two years writing the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, an army training manual. Sent to Virginia in 1780 to oppose Benedict Arnold’s actions, illness caused him to turn over his troops to Lafayette, but Steuben recovered in time to aid in the siege of Yorktown.
- George Washington: Selected by the Continental Congress to serve as general-in-chief, his first actions were to blockade Boston. Key to the success in Boston was the capture of Dorchester Heights, allowing cannon fire against the British and forcing the withdrawal of Howe. After failing to defend New York, Washington retreated toward Pennsylvania, extending British supply lines and allowing a successful counterattack on Hessian mercenaries at Trenton. Following victory at Princeton, Washington retired to winter quarters at Morristown. Sending his best forces north to deal with Burgoyne’s attack in spring 1777, he kept Howe engaged in the mid-Atlantic. Autumn setbacks at Brandywine and Germantown led to a demoralized winter camp at Valley Forge, countered by the work of Lafayette, Steuben, and others. After a costly draw with Sir Henry Clinton’s forces at Monmouth, Washington sent Greene south to replace Gates, and worked with the French general Jean Baptiste Rochambeau to plan the Yorktown campaign. The success of this campaign led to Cornwallis’ surrender on October 19, 1781.
This article was contributed by former NAQT writer Saul Hankin.