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First Name: William

Last Name: Washington

Birthplace: Stafford County, VA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 28 February 1752

Date of Death: 06 March 1810

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
William Washington

•  Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)


William Washington
Brigadier General, U.S. Army

William Washington was born on 28 February 1752 in Stafford County, VA, he was the second son of Bailey Washington and Catherine Storke Washington (primary source evidence, including correspondence between George Washington and William, establishes the fact that they were second cousins). William and his older brother, Henry, are said to have drawn straws to see who would get to join the Continental Army and who would stay home and manage the family plantations. William won. William Washington (not to be confused with William Augustine Washington of Westmoreland County, VA) was raised with a Southern planter upbringing and believed in the values of being a gentleman. He was tutored by Reverend Mr. Stuart who was a clergy from Virginia. William Washington learned the Greek language and studied several areas of theology for a potential career in the church. Instead of a career in the ministry, he laid aside the Bible and took up arms against the British Government during the Revolutionary War.

The Revolutionary War

Washington was elected a Captain of Stafford County Minutemen on 12 September 1775, and became part of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, Continental Line on 25 February 1776, commanding its 7th Company. His Lieutenant and second-in-command was future President of the U.S., James Monroe. Their first combat was the Battle of Harlem Heights on 14 September 1776, during which he may have been wounded by enemy musket fire. At the Battle of Trenton, under command of Nathanael Greene and after a night of scouting the countryside with Monroe to prevent detection, Washington led a successful assault into the town. His company drove in Hessian pickets, and seized two cannon on King Street, personally capturing their crews. Washington received wounds to both hands during the action and received thanks from Continental Army Commander-in-Chief George Washington.

On 27 January 1777, Washington was promoted to the rank of Major and assigned to the newly-created 4th Continental Light Dragoons. In the fall of 1778, he was assigned to the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, severely mauled in a surprise attack on the night of 27 September at Old Tappan, NJ, by a force of British light infantry. Only 55 of the lightly armed dragoons escaped the attack and their commander, Lt. Col. George Baylor, was wounded and captured. Washington was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and placed in command of the 3rd Light Dragoons on 20 November 1778. Washington's unit spent the summer of 1779 recruiting and remounting and on 19 November 1779, was transferred to the Southern theatre of war, and marched to join the army of Major General Benjamin Lincoln in Charleston, SC.

On 10 March 1780, Washington's regiment joined forces with the remnants of the 1st Continental Light Dragoons at Bacon's Bridge, SC, to reconnoiter and screen against the advancing British. On 26 March, his first encounter with the British Legion under command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton resulted in a minor victory near Rantowle's Bridge on the Stono River in South Carolina. Afterward on the Ashley River during the fight at Rutledge's Plantation on 26 March 1780, Lt. Col. Washington again bested a detachment of Tarleton's dragoons and infantry. Tarleton, however, attacked the encampment of General Isaac Huger at Monck's Corner on the night of 14 April 1780, and routed the Continentals, including the 3rd Light Dragoons, which lost 15 dead, 17 wounded, and 100 dragoons captured, along with 83 horses. Washington and his remaining troops fled across the Santee River to escape capture. The severe attrition of Washington's command forced its amalgamation with the 1st Continental Light Dragoons under Lt. Col. Anthony Walton White. This force was again defeated at Lenud's Ferry, waiting to cross the flooded Santee, on 5 May 1780. White was captured and Washington assumed command of the 1st and 3rd Dragoons. The force withdrew to North Carolina when Lincoln surrendered the southern army and Charleston on 12 May.

The reconstituted Southern army, now under General Horatio Gates, was severely defeated at the Battle of Camden, SC, on 16 August 1780, which opened up the South to British control. Washington was placed under the command of General Daniel Morgan. Under General Morgan, he participated in a series of raids in the western part of South Carolina. Two notable successes were the capture of Rugeley's Mill near Camden on 4 December 1780, and the defeat of a Tory partisan unit at Hammond's Old Store in the Little River District on 27 December 1780. At Rugeley's Mill, Washington with 60 troops bluffed 112 Loyalists into surrendering a strongly fortified homestead without firing a shot by use of a "Quaker Gun" mounting a felled tree trunk on wagon axles to resemble a cannon. At Hammond's Store Washington routed 250 Georgia Loyalists, killing or wounding 150 and capturing the rest. These successes led to Tarleton being ordered to chase down Morgan's "flying corps" leading to the Battle of Cowpens on 17 January 1781.

Washington, with 80 Continental dragoons and 45 mounted Georgia infantry, attacked Tarleton's rear and right flank when the battle seemed to have faulted for the British. The attack proved a decisive blow in inflicting an overwhelming defeat on the British force. During Tarleton's retreat, with Washington in close pursuit, the British commander turned and gave combat. Washington managed to wound Tarleton's right hand with a sabre blow, while Tarleton creased Washington's knee with a pistol shot that wounded his horse. For his valor at Cowpens, Washington received a Silver Medal awarded by the Continental Congress executed under the direction of Thomas Jefferson. The unique Silver Medal was designed by French metallic artists, Du Pre and De Vivier.

After the Battle of Cowpens, Washington's dragoons assisted the retreat of General Nathanael Greene to Dan River in Virginia by rear guard actions against forces commanded by Lord Cornwallis. Afterward, Washington returned to North Carolina to act as vanguard for Greene's army.

On 25 April 1781, at the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill, Greene was attacked by British Colonel Lord Rawdon. Ordered to attack Rawdon's flank, Washington was unable to complete the maneuver while policing prisoners, forcing Greene to retreat.

On 8 September 1781, the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the last major battle in the Carolinas, was Washington's final action. Midway through the battle, Greene ordered Washington to charge a portion of the British line positioned in a blackjack thicket along Eutaw Creek. The thicket proved impenetrable and British fire repulsed the mounted charges. During the last charge, Washington's mount was shot out from under him, and he was pinned beneath his horse. He was bayoneted and taken prisoner, held under house arrest in the Charleston area for the remainder of the war.

The British commander in the South, Lord Cornwallis, would later comment that "there could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge, at the head of his cavalry, than Colonel William Washington."

Post-American Revolution

On 21 April 1782, Washington married Jane Elliott of Sandy Hill, SC. Elliott and Washington met when she made his regiment a battle flag that was carried into combat from Cowpens to Eutaw Springs. After the war, the married couple settled near Charleston, SC, on Sandy Hill plantation-originally owned by Jane Elliott-with ownership of other properties in the St. Paul Parish. The couple took up farming (a low-country planter) and raising thoroughbred horses. Washington was elected to the State legislature from 1787 to 1804 but refused to run for State Governor because he, in his words, "was not born a Carolinian." Washington also accepted a post of Brigadier General commanding the Seventh Brigade of the South Carolina State Militia in 1794.

During the naval war with France in 1798, former President George Washington was appointed by President Adams' Administration as commander of the American Army. George Washington offered a general's commission and staff position to William Washington, and he accepted the rank of Brigadier General and served on George Washington's staff. He served the U.S. Army as a general from 1798 to 15 June 1800, and concerned himself with the defenses of South Carolina and Georgia.

In retrospect, William Washington is viewed as a fine officer and premier cavalry commander. He showed skill, bravery, and daring on the battlefield inspiring victory and confidence in the war of American Independence from the British Crown.

Death and Burial

After a lingering illness, Brigadier General William Washington died on 6 March 1810, in Charleston County, SC, at the age of fifty-eight. He is buried in Elliot Family Cemetery at Live Oak, a plantation near Sandy Hill, Charleston, SC.

He was survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter. His daughter was married to General Alexander Spotswood, a grandson of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood.

Honoree ID: 3202   Created by: MHOH




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