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"Nathaniel Greene's Subordinate Commanders" Topic

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Brechtel19809 Jun 2020 3:25 p.m. PST

General Nathaniel Greene in his victorious campaigns in the Carolinas was fortunate in his major subordinates, who taken as a group and individually, are a fascinating selection of officers-infantry, artillery, and cavalry. They were as talented a group of commanders in any army during the period.

Otho Holland Williams

Williams began his service in 1775 in the Frederick City rifle corps. When the Virginia and Maryland rifle companies were formed into a rifle regiment, Williams was promoted to major and later became the unit's commander. He was seriously wounded and captured when Fort Washington was taken in November 1776. He was exchanged in time for the battle of Monmouth. Sent south in April 1780 with de Kalb's command, he distinguished himself at Camden and commanded a brigade of Maryland Continentals at Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk's Hill, and Eutaw Springs and particularly distinguished himself at the latter, leading an attack that shattered the British line along with the Virginia Continental Brigade. His most notable achievement, however, was in command of the rear guard of Greene's army in the retreat to the Dan River. He screened the rear of the army, never allowing the British to overtake either the main body or the rear guard, and never became decisively engaged. His operations were expertly done, and much of the credit for the successful retreat to and crossing into Virginia belongs to Williams and his Continentals.

‘…the Virginians under LtCol Campbell, and the Maryland troops under Col Williams were led onto a brisk charge with trailed arms, through a heavy cannonade, and a shower of musket balls. Nothing could exceed the gallantry and firmness of both officers and soldiers upon this occasion. They preserved their order, and pressed on with such unshaken resolution that they bore down all before them. The enemy were routed in all quarters.'-General Greene's after-action report of the action at Eutaw Springs.

‘I cannot help acknowledging my obligations to Colonel Williams for his great activity on this and many other occasions in forming the army and for his uncommon intrepidity in leading on the Maryland troops to the charge, which exceeded anything I ever saw.'-Nathaniel Greene on Williams successful charge at Eutaw Springs.

Edward Carrington

An artillery officer, he distinguished himself in the northern campaigns of the Continental Army, most notably at Monmouth. He began his service in the 1st Continental Artillery Regiment in 1776. He commanded the three artillery companies assigned to Baron de Kalb's command that included the Maryland Division (which also included the Delaware Regiment), that marched south in order to support the army in Charleston. In the southern department, he was made Greene's quartermaster general and was the officer responsible for securing the crossings of the Dan River for Greene's army to cross into Virginia. He much preferred an artillery command assignment, but his usefulness and skill as quartermaster general greatly benefitted the army. He was an officer that could ‘make bricks without straw' and could accomplish any mission assigned to him. Carrington was involved in the planning for the withdrawal into Virginia and this undoubtedly saved Greene's army. His place during the campaign was generally with Williams and the light force screening the ‘Race to the Dan' and the crossing itself was organized and supervised by him until the entire army, including the rear guard, was safely across the river. He was a logistician of no mean talent and it was he who brought forward both the army's artillery and much-needed provisions just before the battle of Hobkirk's Hill.

John Eager Howard

Howard was made a captain in the 2d Maryland Battalion of the Flying Camp in July 1776 and fought at White Plains. Promoted to major in the 4th Maryland Continental Regiment in February 1777 he fought at Germantown. He was promoted to LtCol in March 1778 in the 5th Maryland and fought at Monmouth. He was transferred to the 2d Maryland in October 1779 and went south with the Maryland Division under de Kalb. He distinguished himself at Camden and was made the second-in-command of the reconstituted 1st Maryland Regiment, made up of survivors of Camden, and commanded the Maryland and Delaware Continentals under Morgan at Cowpens, leading the decisive attach that shattered Tarleton's command. At Guilford Courthouse, he assumed command of the 1st Maryland after his commander, Col Gunby, had his horse shot out from under him and led the regiment against the 2d Battalion of Guards and defeated them in close-quarter fighting, being decisively supported by William Washington's cavalry. He served well and loyally at Hobkirk's Hill and Eutaw Springs and gained a reputation as an outstanding infantry commander.

Robert Kirkwood.

Kirkwood began his service in the Delaware Regiment as a lieutenant in January 1776. He served on Long Island, Trenton, and Princeton and was promoted to captain in December 1776. He served in all of the major northern campaigns with the main army and went south with the Maryland Division under de Kalb. The disaster at Camden reduced the Delaware regiment to two 96-man companies, commanded by Kirkwood and Peter Jacquett. The two companies served separately, Kirkwood's usually being brigaded with Washington's cavalry as it was at Guilford Courthouse and Jacquett's being assigned to the 1st Maryland Regiment. It was rumored that the two officers did not get along. Kirkwood served gallantly and efficiently at Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk's Hill, and Eutaw Springs. He was killed in action in November 1791, still a captain, in St Clair's defeat by the Indians. Along with his sergeant major, Seymour, he kept a valuable journal of the southern campaigns.

‘It was the thirty-third time he had risked his life for his country, and he died as he had lived, the brave, meritorious, unrewarded Kirkwood.'-Henry ‘Light Horse Harry' Lee.

William Washington

Washington began his Continental service with the 3d Virginia Continental Infantry Regiment, being commissioned a captain in February 1776. He was seriously wounded at Long Island and was wounded in the hand at Trenton. When promoted to major he was assigned to the 4th Continental Light Dragoons in January 1777 and then became the LtCol of the 3d Continental Light Dragoons in November 1778. He went south with detachments from the 1st, 3d, and 4th Continental Light Dragoon regiments and became Greene's cavalry commander where he distinguished himself at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse. At Guilford Courthouse he was quick to see and strike the decisive point when he charged the 2d Battalion of Guards that were already engaged with the 1st Maryland. He rode over and through them, turned and charged again. Washington and his dragoons were the target of Cornwallis order to employ artillery fire to cut the Guards loose from certain destruction. Washington was wounded and captured at Eutaw Springs in September 1781. Washington was arguably the best battlefield cavalry commander of the war, superior to both Tarleton and Lee. He was a cousin of the American commander-in-chief.

Greylegion09 Jun 2020 5:55 p.m. PST

Very nice read.

OFITGHISTORY09 Jun 2020 7:19 p.m. PST

I wonder what your opinion is on some of Greene's other subordinate commanders, including Continentals such as Brigadier General Isaac Huger or Brigadier General Jethro Sumner.

Brechtel19810 Jun 2020 2:26 a.m. PST

Huger was an excellent officer and served well under Greene at Guilford Courthouse and Hobkirk's Hill. He was the eldest of four brothers and all served at one time or another.

Sumner was also an excellent officer participating in the defense of Charleston in 1776. He commanded the 3d Battalion of North Carolina Continentals and fought at Brandywine and Germantown and was at Valley Forge. He commanded militia units in 1780, but refused to serve under Smallwood when the latter was given command of the North Carolina state troops in September 1780. He served expertly at Eutaw Springs in command of three North Carolina Continental battalions. He commanded North Carolina troops for the remainder of the war and retired in November 1783. Apparently, Greene thought very highly of him.

I also left out Henry Lee who commanded a Legion of cavalry and infantry. He served well and from time to time was in the field with Marion's partisans. He fought well at Guilford Courthouse, though the commander of the rifle unit attached to him there accused him of abandoning him on the field. His memoirs should be used carefully, as, apparently, Lee had the old soldier's habit of 'remembering with advantages.' Still, he and his Legion were a valuable asset to Greene. Washington was the better cavalry commander on the field, though Lee had a talent for partisan warfare as he proved repeatedly. His actions during the rear guard operations in the Dan operation were expert.

Brechtel19810 Jun 2020 2:39 a.m. PST

Another commander in the southern theater, the Baron Johann de Kalb, though he didn't serve under Greene, was an outstanding combat leader and died leading his Maryland and Delaware Continentals at Camden after the militia (with one exception) ran away along with the army commander, Horatio Gates.

De Kalb led his Continentals with skill and devotion and died from 11 wounds inflicted at Camden. He was captured and treated with kindness and courtesy by Cornwallis.

The stand of the Maryland Division under de Kalb at Camden was epic and because of their performance, they actually thought the battle was going in their favor until the rest of the British army returned from pursuing the militia and also attacked. The survivors would form the hard core of Continentals who fought through the southern campaigns.

These volumes may be of interest:

-Otho Holland Williams in The American Revolution.


-De Kalb: One of the Revolutionary War's Bravest Generals


-Cool Deliberate Courage: John Eager Howard in the American Revolution


-Light-Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution


-'Light Horse Harry' Lee In the War for Independence


-A history of the campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the southern provinces of North America


This last is the memoir of Banastre Tarleton which should also be taken with some salt. Still, both Lee's and Tarleton's memoirs are important for the southern campaigns.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2020 9:01 a.m. PST

Another volume is William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution by Stephen E. Haller, a good friend of mine and one of my regular wargaming buddies.



Brechtel19810 Jun 2020 3:14 p.m. PST

Agree-I have that one also. Good choice.

GamesPoet Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 2:10 a.m. PST

Appreciate having the info and links posted, thank you!

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