For the Whig Congressman from North Carolina, see William Henry Washington.
For the painter and VMI instructor, see William D. Washington.

William Washington (February 28 1752 to March 6 1810), was a patriotic Southern cavalry officer during the American Revolutionary War, who held a final rank of Brigadier General in the newly created United States after the war.

Before The War Edit

Born in Stafford County, Virginia, he was the eldest son of Bailey Washington and Catherine (nee Storke) Washington (primary source evidence, including correspondence between George Washington and William, establishes the fact that they were second cousins). William Washington (not to be confused with William Augustine Washington of Westmoreland County) 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 WarEdit

William Washington was elected a Captain of Stafford County Minutemen on September 12 1775 and, with his company, was integrated into the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line on February 25 1776. His first combat was the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 14, 1776, during which he may have been wounded by enemy musket fire. After marching north with his unit later in the year, at the Battle of Trenton Captain Washington led a successful assault under command of Nathanael Greene into the town. Captain Washington assaulted the Hessian pickets, and with Lieutenant James Monroe (the future President of the United States) of William Washington’s same company, Washington captured two enemy cannon on King Street. Captain Washington also received another wound in the hand during the Battle of Trenton, and received thanks from Commander-in-Chief General George Washington. Captain Washington saw some more combat action, but these were his last infantry actions.

File:William Washington at Battle of Cowpens.jpg

After his infantry assignments Captain William Washington found himself in command with horse troops. On January 27 1777 Captain Washington was promoted to the rank of Major and assigned to the 4th Continental Light Dragoons. Soon afterwards he was assigned to Colonel George Baylor’s 3rd Continental Light Dragoons as the second-in-command. The 3rd Light Dragoons was mauled by the British in a combat called Baylor’s Massacre at River Vale and Old Tappan, New Jersey, on September 27 - September 28, 1778. Only 55 men survived the massacre who were not killed or captured. After attempting to restore morale Major William Washington was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and he was placed in command of the 3rd Light Dragoon Regiment on November 20 1778. Afterward, Washington’s unit was transferred to the Southern theatre of war, and was ordered to join the patriot forces of Major General Benjamin Lincoln in Charleston. By March 1780, Washington’s regiment was detached with the light forces near Monck’s Corner to reconnoiter and screen against the advancing enemy. On March 26 1780 he had his first encounter with the fearsome British Legion under command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, and stalemated him near Rantowle's Bridge on the Stono River in South Carolina. Afterward at Ashley River during the fight at Rutledge’s Plantation on March 26 1780 Lt. Col Washington bested Tarleton’s dragoons and infantry. Tarleton routed the American rebel force on April 14 1780 that was under command of General Huger at Monck’s Corner and Washington and his remaining troops were forced to flee across the Santee River to escape capture. Washington’s forces were again defeated at Lenud’s Ferry on May 5 1780.

The main American Southern army was defeated at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, on August 16 1780 and opened up the South to British control. William 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 of the raids by Washington was the capture of Rugeley's Mill near Camden on December 4 1780, and the defeat of a marauding band of Tories at Hammond's Old Store in the Little River District on December 27-31, 1780. At Rugeley’s Mill Washington with 60 troops bluffed the Tories into surrendering the defended fortified homestead defended by over 100 men without firing a shot. Lt. Col. Washington’s men rolled up a tree trunk made to look like an artillery piece to the front gates and demanded a surrender, and the Tories surrendered. At Hammond’s Store Washington routed 250 Georgia Loyalists, killing or wounding 150 of them, and taking prisoner 40 enemy troops. After the British defeat at Hammond’s Mill Tarleton and his notorious Green Dragoons were ordered to chase down Washington and General Morgan leading to the Battle of Cowpens.

On January 17 1781, the Battle of Cowpens took place. Lt. Col. William Washington’s 80 dragoons in conjunction with 45 Georgia mounted infantry attacked the enemy’s rear and right when the battle seemed to have faulted for the British. The attack by Washington was a decisive blow bringing a rebel patriot victory. Tarleton retreated with Lt. Col. Washington’s force in close pursuit. The British and Rebel colonels faced each other in combat. In a saber combat between the colonels Washington managed to wound Tarleton’s right hand, and Tarleton managed to crease Washington’s knee with a pistol shot and wounded his horse. The British retreated as more Rebel soldiers showed up to the lost British victory, and the Battle of Cowpens was completed as an American rebel victory. For his valor and victory 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 medallic artists Du Pre and De Vivier. (A British version of this Duel can be found under Chapter 33 Year 1781 [1].)

After the Battle of Cowpens William Washington’s cavalry assisted the retreat of General Greene to Dan River in Virginia by keeping Lord Cornwallis and his British forces at bay. Afterward, Washington and Greene returned to North Carolina and became the vanguard of the American Southern Army.

On March 15, 1781, the Battle of Guilford Court House took place. The sanguinary conflict was between General Greene and Lord Cornwallis. Through an error in communications on the battlefield the American forces retreated without orders due in part that Washington dismounted to retrieve his hat during an assault causing his troops to lose sight of him, and an opportunity to capture Lord Cornwallis with a cavalry charge by William Washington is said to have been lost.

On April 25 1781, the Battle of Hobkirk Hill took place. General Greene was attacked by the British General Rawdon. William Washington was ordered to attack General Rawdon’s flank. Washington was unable to flank General Rawdon’s forces and join the main fight due to collecting prisoners. Unable to flank General Rawdon, then General Greene retreated and the American victory was lost.

On September 8 1781, the Battle of Eutaw Springs took place. This was the last major battle in the lower South and the last battle for William Washington. Midway through the battle General Greene ordered William Washington to charge a portion of the British line situated in a thicket alongside Eutaw Creek. During the attack the thickets proved difficult and the British small arms fire proved deadly. During the last charge Washington’s horse was shot out from under him, and while he was trapped underneath his horse he was bayoneted by a British soldier. Washington was taken prisoner by the British and remained a prisoner for the remainder of the American Revolution. Washington was held prisoner-of-war in the Charleston area.

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 Edit

On April 21 1782 William Washington married Jane Elliott of Sandy Hill, South Carolina. Miss Jane Elliott and William Washington had 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, South Carolina, 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. William 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.” William 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 United States Army as a general from 1798 to June 15 1800 and concerned himself with the defenses of South Carolina and Georgia.

After a lingering illness, William Washington died on March 6 1810 at the age of fifty eight. He was buried at Live Oak, a plantation near Sandy Hill. 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.

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.

Further reading Edit

  • Haller, Stephen. William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution. Heritage Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7884-1803-3.
  • Lumpkin, Henry. From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.
  • Warley, Felix B. An Oration, Delivered in Saint Michael's Church, in the City of Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday, the 19 June 1810, on the Death of the Late Gen. William Washington. Charleston: W. P. Young, 1810.
  • Military Heritage did a feature on William Augustine Washington (Arnold Blumberg, Military Heritage, April 2002, Volume 3, No. 5, p.12, p.14, and p.16). Cavalry Commander William (NMN) Washington of Stafford County has sometimes been confused in name with William Augustine Washington of Westmoreland County.