Saving the Battlefields Where America Was Forged

A Project of the Civil War Trust |  civilwar.org

Key Figures of the American Revolution: The American Patriots

Military Personalities to Know

Ethan Allen (1737-1789) – Colonel

Ethan Allen

(Library of Congress)

After volunteering for service in the French and Indian War, Ethan Allen settled in what is now Vermont, where he organized The Green Mountain Boys militia unit in the late 1760’s.   At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Allen summoned his militia unit, and with the assistance of Connecticut troops led by Benedict Arnold, he captured the British Fort Ticonderoga, in May of 1775, sans firing a shot. Later, as a volunteer in General Philip Schuyler’s Saratoga campaign, Allen conducted a foolhardy attempt to take Montreal, in the course of which he was captured by the British. Allen remained a prisoner until May 6, 1778, enduring rather rough treatment given his officer status. Congress gave Allen the brevet rank of colonel with back pay, but he did not serve in the war after his release. Instead, he devoted his time to local affairs in Vermont, especially working for separate statehood from New York throughout the remaining years of the Revolutionary War.

George Armistead (April 10th, 1780- April 25th, 1818) – Major

George Armistead

(National Park Service)

George Armistead was born April 10, 1780, in Newmarket, Virginia. He began his military career during the Quasi War with France in 1799 as an Ensign in the Seventh Infantry Regiment, rising quickly to Second and then First Lieutenant by May 1800. Following the Quasi War, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the artillery, rising to Captain in 1806. During the War of 1812, he and four of his brothers served in either the regular army or militia. Armistead was promoted to Major of the Third Artillery Regiment in March of 1813 and distinguished himself at the capture of Fort George in Canada. He was given the honor of carrying the captured battle flags to President Madison in Washington. Upon his arrival, he was ordered to take command of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. As commander of the fort, he ordered a large garrison flag from Mary Pickersgill, the same flag that would inspire Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Armistead successfully defended the fort against a prolonged British bombardment, earning a Brevet promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. He would remain in command of the fort until his death three years later on April 25, 1818. He was the uncle of Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who was mortally wounded at Gettysburg; they are buried side-by-side in Baltimore.

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) – General

Benedict Arnold

(National Archives)

The name Benedict Arnold is synonymous in American history with the word traitor. His name is almost a synonym for treasonous behavior so despicable, his many contributions to American Independence before becoming a turncoat are largely forgotten.

Arnold actually built a very impressive military career before his defection to the British army. Born in the British colony of Connecticut in 1741, he was the only child out of eleven to survive into adulthood. He spent his young adulthood engaged as an apothecary and merchant but served in the militia as well.

During the American Revolution, Arnold quickly established himself as one of George Washington’s best generals. Realizing the strategic importance of securing New York, Arnold mustered a group of men and headed toward Fort Ticonderoga. Coordinating with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, Arnold helped capture the fort for the Patriots. Arnold suffered two battle wounds for the American cause in 1776; the first in a failed attack on Quebec and the second at the Battle of Saratoga.

Arnold believed the Continental Congress insufficiently rewarded his efforts, especially considering his sacrifices. After being appointed to brigadier general, Arnold watched as Congress passed him over for promotion to the post of major general five times in favor of his subordinates. Arnold had every intention of resigning from military service following these outrages but for n Washington’s insistence that he stay. He was rewarded in 1777 with a promotion to major general and a post as military commander of Philadelphia.

Arnold’s behavior eventually came to frustrate his relationships with other Continental officials. He feuded with several officers in the Continental Army, including Moses Hazen, John Brown, and James Easton. Arnold lived extravagantly in Philadelphia and also engineered a variety of business deals that earned him a reputation for questionable practices in his desperate desire to impress Edward Shippen, a wealthy Philadelphia Loyalist, so that he could marry his 18-year-old daughter, Peggy. Arnold’s behavior became so questionable that some began to suspect he was covertly dealing with the British to make his money. Although he successfully secured Peggy’s hand, Arnold’s extravagance and imprudence, ultimately, drove him deep into debt.

Continental officials could not confirm Arnold’s suspected betrayal until 1780 when hard evidence of his treason was uncovered. The Americans captured Major John Andre, Arnold’s British contact, who was in possession of paperwork revealing Arnold’s treason. After receiving command of West Point in 1779, Arnold willingly provided the British with vital information for taking control of West Point. Andre was executed for his crimes while Arnold managed to escape to England.

Arnold would continue to serve in the military, only now he served the British against his former countrymen. In December, he led a force of British troops into Virginia, capturing Richmond and laying waste to the countryside. Arnold would die in 1801, leaving behind him a legacy as America’s most notorious traitor.

Jacob Brown (1775-1828) – Major General

Jacob Brown

(Library of Congress)

Jacob Brown was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to the New York frontier as a settler in 1798.  He served as an officer in the New York militia, gradually rising through the ranks until he was appointed brigadier general just before the War of 1812.  Brown served in the Northern theater, and was commissioned as a brigadier general in the regular army after successfully defending the navy yard at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario.  He went on to help lead Americans in victories at Fort Erie and Chippawa, and a tactical draw at the battle of Lundy’s Lane.  As a leader, Brown had a reputation for bold but judicious decision-making that made him one of the most successful American generals of the conflict.  Due to his seniority after the war, he became commanding general of the US Army, where he worked to implement reforms in the service until his death.

Abraham Buford (1747-1833) – Colonel

Abraham Buford (Sometimes spelled Beauford) was born to a well to do family in Culpeper County, Virginia, in 1749. By the time of the American Revolution, he was in his mid-twenties and had yet to solidify himself in one particular calling. At the outbreak of hostilities he formed a militia company in Culpeper and saw action along the Virginia coast before obtaining a position in the Virginia Line of the Continental Army. With Washington’s Army he served in the 14th, 5th, and 11th Virginia Regiments during the battles around Philadelphia and in New Jersey. In 1779, Buford, now a Colonel, was placed in command of the 3rd Virginia Detachment, part of the 2nd Virginia Brigade. In 1780 he took his detachments south in order to reinforce Charleston, South Carolina, then under siege by the British. The column failed to arrive in time and turned back north. They were attacked by a column of British and Loyalist Forces in an area called the Waxhaws on May 29th. There Buford’s force was decisively defeated and suffered heavy casualties. Buford managed to get away on horseback. For the rest of the war, Buford was used by the Americans as a propaganda tool to show the cruelty of the British and Loyalists who were reported as having cut down Buford’s men as they tried to surrender. Buford did not again obtain a field command. After the war, Buford started a family and moved to Kentucky to survey. His descendants include at least three Civil War generals, including John Buford of Gettysburg fame.

George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) – Brigadier General

George Rogers Clark

(New York Public Library)

George Rogers Clark grew up on the fringes of the American frontier and his life and aspirations were intimately tied to the frontier and westward expansion. Through his military ventures, Clark would do much to expand the territorial boundaries of the United States.

Born in Albemarle County, Virginia, on Nov. 19, 1752, Clark was a surveyor in the Kentucky territory during the American Revolution. Clark became embroiled in the conflicts between Indians and European-American settlers over land disputes, resulting from the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768. Unrest finally culminated in Lord Dunmore’s War in the summer of 1774, in which Clark served as a private in the Virginia militia.

Defense of the frontier mostly fell to local men since the Continental army could not be spared from conflicts in the east. Clark took it upon himself to raise troops and organize offensive campaigns against British forts and Native villages in the Northwest Territory: a region that encompassed the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota. After being commissioned a lieutenant colonel by Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, Clark set his sights on British outposts north of the Ohio River, believing control of these forts would end British influence with Indians and, ultimately, end Indian raids on American settlers.

Clark and his men enjoyed immense success, taking Fort Massac, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Vincennes and several other forts and villages in British territory. Often they were met by French and Indian inhabitants averse to taking up arms in defense of British possessions, and many locations were captured without a shot. The siege and surrender of Fort Sackville at Vincennes, Indiana on February 25, 1779, earned Clark a reputation as an early American military hero. On February 6, Clark launched his attack from Kaskaskia, marching his men 180 miles over rough, wet terrain. Once at Vincennes, Clark entrenched his men and ordered them to shower the fort with a barrage of gunfire. Although the British commander, Henry Hamilton, refused unconditional surrender, he eventually met Clark to negotiate terms. Clark had won Vincennes.

Afterward, Clark continued his military career but never enjoyed another equally successful venture. Thomas Jefferson promoted Clark to the position of brigadier general in 1781, at which point he decided to launch an attack on Detroit; the attack ended in utter failure and all hope of taking the fort was lost.

The American Revolution only intensified bad relations between American settlers and Native Americans, and Clark continued to negotiate frontier conflicts after the war. He served as Indian commissioner and helped to negotiate the Treaty of Fort McIntosh and Fort Finney, and when these treaties failed to end the violence in 1786, he once again led raids on Indian towns on the Wabash River.

Clark left behind a lasting legacy as “Conqueror of the Old Northwest,” as his efforts helped to secure more territory for the fledgling American nation. Clark’s accomplishments did not come with monetary benefits, however, and Virginia failed to reimburse him for expenditures incurred during the war. Sadly, he spent the last days of his life deeply in debt and actively evading creditors.

Elijah Clarke (c. 1742 -1799) – Colonel

Elijah Clarke

(The Athenaeum)

Information about Elijah Clarke’s life is sparse and at times contradictory. It seems that Clarke was born sometime between 1733 and 1742 in North Carolina. In 1763 he was married to Hannah Harrington and in or around 1773 he migrated to the frontier of Georgia. While Clarke apparently signed a petition backing the British government in 1774, with the outbreak of war he became a supporter of the rebellion. During the Revolutionary War era he commanded Georgian partisan force, fighting against not only the British, but Creek and Cherokee Indians on whose land white settlers were encroaching. On February 14, 1779, Clarke led a part of the American force that surprised and defeated a loyalist militia at the Battle of Kettle Creek. After the British capture of Charleston in 1780, Clarke and his Georgians participated in the guerilla campaign against the British and their supporters in the South Carolina backcountry. He was one of three American commanders at the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill, during which he was wounded. Clarke would go on to serve in Georgia’s legislature from 1781 to 1790 and in the 1789 state constitutional convention. He also continued to lead militia forces against Native Americans. In early 1794, Clarke accepted a French commission as a major general and planned to mount an attack on the Spanish colony of Florida. The invasion never materialized and Clarke turned his attention to a different scheme, attempting to create an independent republic west of the Oconee River on land promised to the Creek Indians. Under pressure from President George Washington, the state of Georgia sent 1,200 militiamen to expel Clarke and his supporters. Clarke surrendered without a fight after receiving a promise of amnesty. He died on December 5, 1799. His son John would go on to serve as Georgia’s governor from 1819 to 1823.

William Richardson Davie (1756-1820) – Colonel

William Richardson Davie

William Richardson Davie was born in northern England in 1756. In 1763, Davie’s family moved to the Waxhaw region of South Carolina. In 1776, he graduated with honors from the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University). He then moved to Salisbury, North Carolina to study law under Spruce Macay, who later provide legal training to Andrew Jackson. His legal training, however, was disrupted by the war with England. From 1777 to 1778, Davie served in the militia and in early 1779 he organized his own cavalry unit. He was severely wounded in June, 1779, at the Battle of Stono Ferry in South Carolina. After recuperating, he organized a new unit to harass the British forces that had invaded and occupied South Carolina. In early 1781, General Nathaniel Greene asked Davie to serve as his commissary-general. After the war, Davie entered politics as a Federalist. He was one of the few foreign born delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he helped break the deadlock between small and large states over legislative representation. As a member of the North Carolina legislature he sponsored the bill that created the University of North Carolina. Davie was elected Governor of North Carolina in 1798 but resigned a year later when President John Adams asked him to help negotiate the treaty that ended the Quasi War between France and the United States. After an unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives in 1804, Davie retired from public life. He spent the remainder of his years at his estate, Tivoli, in South Carolina, where he died in 1820. 

Horatio Gates (1727-1806) – General

Horatio Gates

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York)

Serving first as a junior officer in British Army, Gates first saw action during the French and Indian War alongside many future American patriots. At the onset of the War of Independence, Gates offered his service to Washington, and was commissioned as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. After initial successes – most notably his role in defeating General Burgoyne at Saratoga – Gates suffered several setbacks.  He was reprimanded for being involved in a plot to replace George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and later, his army was crushed in Camden, South Carolina, resulting in more than 1,000 troops being taken prisoner. The devastating defeat at Camden not only evaporated Gates’ army, but it shattered his military reputation as well, resulting in his removal from field command.

Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) – General


(Charles W. Peale)

Nathanael Greene’s rise to prominence as one of the most skilled and celebrated generals of the American Revolution appears unlikely based upon his early life. Greene was born to a devout Quaker family in Rhode Island in August of 1742. Known for their strict pacifism, Quakers, including Greene’s family and congregation, disagreed with military endeavors, and Greene struggled throughout his early life to reconcile this Quaker pacifism with his devout interest in military science.

Ultimately, Greene chose the military over Quakerism, separating himself from the faith and his community in 1773 just as revolutionary unrest began to flare in the American colonies. His military career started with a rather modest post, as a private in the Kentish Guards, a Rhode Island militia unit he helped to organize. A visible limp did not prevent Greene from realizing his full martial potential; in fact, he rose to the rank of brigadier general within a year, and, at age 34, became the youngest man with the position.

Greene’s early military career insured that the Continental Congress never regretted its decision to promote him. After the Siege of Boston in 1776, Greene proved to be an able commander when he took command of the city upon the British retreat. However, the young general’s career was not without blemish: during the New York campaign, he lost Forts Washington and Lee. Although racked by guilt for these loses, Greene subsequently led a column of troops to victory at the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton. Following the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Germantown in the Pennsylvania campaign in 1778, the Continental Congress appointed him Quartermaster General under the condition that he retain the right to command troops in the field. He performed his duties as Quartermaster brilliantly, skillfully supplying Continental troops while dealing with logistical and bureaucratic challenges.

Greene’s most notable promotion came in October 1778 when the Continental Congress granted Washington with the power to appoint a new southern commander. Washington selected Greene. Continental troops from Delaware to Georgia fell under Greene’s command. Up to this point, Congress struggled to select the right commanders in the South: Robert Howe lost Savannah, Benjamin Lincoln lost Charleston, and Horatio Gates was defeated at Camden, South Carolina. Greene stepped in just as the British moved to re-annex Georgia and the Carolinas.

Greene’s martial skills shone brightest as commander of the southern theater. Soon after he took command, the tide of war began to turn in favor of the Patriots. Greene decided to divide his troops in the hopes that the British would be forced to follow suit. Two consecutive victories at the Battle of Kings Mountain and another at Cowpens early in 1781 helped to realize the value of Greene’s new strategy. After the British victory at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the much depleted British force under George Cornwallis withdrew to Wilmington while Greene and his men turned south to reconquer the South Carolina backcountry, a crucial move that helped to isolate the British on the coast and, eventually, to force them out of the south completely.

George Washington trusted Greene immensely, and that trust only grew over the course of the war. Greene’s legacy endures. He is one of the most celebrated generals of the Revolution for his crucial role in wrestling the southern theater from the British and securing a revolutionary Patriot victory.

Nathan Hale (1755-1776) – Captain

Nathan Hale 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Captain Nathan Hale of the 19th Regiment of the Continental Army was one of the first known American spies of the Revolutionary War. In September 1776, he was captured while gathering intelligence behind enemy lines before the Battle of Harlem Heights. When it was discovered that he was carrying incriminating documents, British General William Howe had him executed. Legend holds that when 21-year-old Hale was asked if he had any last words, he replied with the now-famous words, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) – Brigadier General

William Henry Harrison 400 x 400

(Wikimedia Commons)

The last American president to be born a British subject, William Henry Harrison grew up in the backdrop of Berkeley Plantation, one of Virginia’s oldest estates. His father, Benjamin Harrison, was a prominent political figure and signer of the Declaration of Independence. After his father’s death in 1791, the 18 year old Harrison enlisted in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Regiment. Harrison, who had previously studied medicine, found military life to be far more satisfactory. He served in what was then the Northwest frontier, present-day Great Lakes region. Harrison excelled while in the Army because of his sharp nature and attention to detail.  He saw action at the battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, defeating the Shawnee, Lenape and Miami tribes. By age 28, in 1801 Harrison was the governor of Indiana. His administration focused on populating the recently vacated lands with American settlers. Harrison gained national fame following his defeat of Tenskwatawa and a Native American confederation at the Battle of Tippecanoe on November, 7 1811. He continued to improve his public image during the War of 1812 by leading successful campaigns against British and Native American forces in the northwest. Harrison re-entered the public spotlight by serving in the House of Representatives from 1816 through 1819 as well as in the Senate from 1825 through 1828. In 1840, Harrison began his second attempt at a presidential campaign as a Whig poised to defeat the incumbent Martin Van Buren. Although born from Virginia aristocracy, the Whigs painted Harrison as a rugged frontiersman and Indian fighter--the image of a log cabin became synonymous with his presidential campaign. This was juxtaposed with President Martin Van Buren, who was chastised as eccentric and out of touch with the common man. Harrison won the election of 1840 but had little time to impact the nation because upon his inauguration he contracted a cold and died of pneumonia a month later on April 4, 1841, the first commander in chief to die in office.

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) – General

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was born on the border of North and South Carolina in 1767.  Though a young boy during the Revolution, he acted as a courier and witnessed the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill as a British prisoner of war. While in captivity Jackson suffered greatly, nearly starving, contracting smallpox, and being slashed by a British officer for refusing to clean his boots. His older brother died of heatstroke at the Battle of Stono Ferry, his younger brother died in British captivity with Jackson, and his mother died of cholera after nursing American prisoners in Charleston Harbor. By age 14, Jackson was an orphan, with a thorough hatred for the British. After the Revolution, he began a legal and political career in Tennessee, serving in the House once Tennessee became a state. He returned to military service as a Colonel of the Tennessee Militia during the Creek War, part of the War of 1812, commanding at the Battles of Talladega, Emuckfaw (Enotachopo Creek), and Horseshoe Bend, accepting the Creek surrender in August of 1814. Following this, he assumed command of New Orleans with the rank of General. At the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815, he soundly defeated the British, earning the nickname “Old Hickory.” After the War of 1812, Jackson served in the First Seminole War, invading Spanish Florida and forcing a peace treaty. Because of his national recognition and military record, he was nominated for the Presidency in 1822 and elected Senator again in 1824. Jackson won the hotly contested election of 1828, defeating John Quincy Adams, to become the 7th President of the United States, serving two terms until 1837. After his Presidency, Jackson returned to his plantation, Hermitage, dying in 1845. 

John Paul Jones (1747-1792) – Captain

John Paul Jones 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

As an officer of the Continental Navy of the American Revolution, John Paul Jones helped establish the traditions of courage and professionalism of the United States Navy. John Paul was born in a gardener's cottage in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, went to sea as a youth, and was a merchant shipmaster by the age of twenty-one. Having taken up residence in Virginia, he volunteered early in the War of Independence to serve in his adopted country's infant navy and raised with his own hands the Continental ensign on board the flagship of the Navy's first fleet. He took the war to the enemy's homeland with daring raids along the British coast and the famous victory of the Bonhomme Richard over HMS Serapis. As such he is sometimes referred to as the "Father of the United States Navy". After the Bonhomme Richard began taking on water and fires broke out on board, the British commander asked Jones if he had struck his flag. Jones replied, "I have not yet begun to fight!" In the end, it was the British commander who surrendered. He later served in the Imperial Russian Navy, died in Paris, and his body was eventually repatriated to the United States Naval Academy in the early 20th century. Jones is remembered for his indomitable will, his unwillingness to consider surrender when the slightest hope of victory still burned.

Henry Knox (1750-1806) – General, First Secretary of War

Henry Knox

(Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to the beginning of the American Revolution, Knox, a native Bostonian, served in a local artillery unit before returning to his career as a bookseller. At the outbreak of war, however, he enlisted in the Continental Army and quickly befriended General Washington. Observing Knox’s potential as an artillerist, Washington commissioned Knox as Colonel of the Continental Regiment of Artillery.  Knox quickly rose to the rank of Major General and Chief of Artillery for the duration of the war. He accompanied Washington on virtually every major campaign and participated in some of the most significant battles of the war. After defeating the British in 1783, Knox superseded his beloved friend and mentor George Washington as Commanding General of the Army, before later serving as the first Secretary of War. 

Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817) – Brigadier General

Tadeusz Kosciuszko 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Tadeusz Kościuszko was a skilled engineer with a military education by the time he arrived in the American colonies from Poland in 1776. Offering his services to the revolutionary cause, he masterminded a key British defeat at Saratoga and oversaw the building of military fortifications at West Point. At war's end, he returned to Poland and led a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful uprising against the nation's partition by Russia and other foreign powers. After several years of imprisonment in Russia, Kościuszko returned to the United States, where he was welcomed as a hero and counted Thomas Jefferson among his close friends. With Poland still under foreign control throughout the rest of his life, Kościuszko never returned to his native land, and died in exile in Switzerland in 1817.

Gilbert du Motier, "Marquis de Lafayette" (1757-1834) – French Aristocrat, General

Marquis de Lafayette

(Wikimedia Commons)

Believing the American revolutionary cause was noble and just, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, journeyed to the fledgling American colonies, and offered his military service to the Continental Army at the age of 19. With the approval of Congress, Lafayette was commissioned to the rank of Major General. As a member of his staff, Lafayette was practically inseparable from Washington, and the pair developed a father-son like relationship lasting the duration of their lives. Lafayette was skilled, heroic, and was paramount in successfully lobbying King Louis XVI for increased financial and military support. He is also credited for conducting a brilliant campaign throughout Virginia in 1781 which pinned General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, eventually resulting in the British defeat there. Lafayette later became a member of the National Assembly in France, drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and was hailed as a hero on both sides of the Atlantic.  He officially renounced the title "Marquis" during the French Revolution.  

Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) – Major General

Marquis de Lafayette

(New York Public Library)

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, better known simply as the Marquis de Lafayette, was born into an extremely noble family in Chavaniac, France in 1757. By 1770, he had amassed a large inheritance after the deaths of his mother, father, and grandfather. His wealth and prestige afforded him many opportunities in life, including a commission to the rank of sous-lieutenant in the Musketeers at age 14 and a captaincy in the Dragoons at age 18; the latter he received as a wedding present.

In his youth, Lafayette developed a fascination with the colonial conflict brewing in the Americas. In April of 1777, Lafayette embarked on the Victoire—a ship paid for with his personal funds—for North America desperate to serve as a military leader in the Revolution, despite a royal decree prohibiting French officers from serving in America. Shortly after arriving, the Continental Congress commissioned him a major general and he became a member of George Washington’s staff.

Lafayette participated in his first military engagement at the Battle of Brandywine in September of 1777. He suffered a wound in one of his legs early in the battle but managed to calmly lead a Patriot retreat. Because of his composure and courage at this moment, Washington commended him for “bravery and military ardour” in the battle and recommended him to Congress for the command of a division.

Washington and Lafayette shared a close companionship over the course of the entire war. In fact, Lafayette spent the harsh winter of 1777-78 with Washington and his men at Valley Forge, suffering along with the other Continental soldiers in the frigid, disease-ridden encampment. He helped Washington at his darkest hour when he faced an internal threat from the Conway Cabal, a plot to drive Washington from his command.

Over the course of the next year, Lafayette more intensely pursued the glory he so desperately wanted. The Continental Congress charged him with leading an invasion of Canada. However, Lafayette met with much disappointment upon reaching the launch point at Albany, New York. Continental forces there amounted to less than half the number Congress promised. Disappointed, he returned south, nearly escaping capture by the British that summer at Barren Hill, Pennsylvania and Delaware Bay.

For his skillful retreat from Newport, Rhode Island, Lafayette earned another commendation but this time for “gallantry, skill, and prudence” from the Continental Congress. Lafayette managed to secure leave and returned home to France at the beginning of 1779. Despite receiving a hero’s welcome from the people, King Louis XVI tried and failed to secure his arrest, charging him with disobeying his orders prohibiting French soldiers in America. During Lafayette’s time in France, he played an extremely crucial role in securing 6,000 French troops for the American cause.

Returning to the colonies in 1780, Lafayette’s news of French aid greatly improved American moral. Since his departure, the crucial field of battle had moved to the south. Former Patriot and infamous turncoat, Benedict Arnold, had committed treason and now wreaked havoc on the Virginia countryside as a British commander. Lafayette, in coordination with Baron von Stueben, hunted Arnold, who Washington had condemned to death if captured. By the fall of 1781, the Frenchman found himself at the center of the action and the culmination of a successful war of independence. From the heights of Malvern Hill, Lafayette and his men surrounded the British force at Yorktown, holding them until reinforced by Washington. Together, they initiated the siege that eventually led to the British surrender and an end to the conflict.

For his involvement in both America and Europe, Lafayette has been remembered as “The Hero of the Two Worlds.” After the Revolution, Lafayette returned home to France where he continued to fight for liberty and equality for all mankind, playing a role in the French Revolution. In 1824, he returned to the U.S. for a grand tour in which the people of every city he visited greeted him with cheers and exuberant celebrations.

Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810) – General

Benjamin Lincoln

(Library of Congress)

A staunch American patriot, Lincoln received a commission as a major general of the Massachusetts militia before turning south to assist Washington in his ill-fated invasion of Long Island.  Though lacking experience, Lincoln performed well throughout the campaign and was commissioned into the Continental Army as a major general.  Lincoln participated in the stunning victory over John Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga, before turning south where he met a far less favorable fate.  Lincoln was forced to surrender his 5,000 man force in Charleston, South Carolina after being trapped by Sir Henry Clinton in 1780.  Lincoln was later paroled, but would never forget how he was slighted by Clinton who had denied his army an honorable surrender.  Lincoln then rejoined Washington as his second-in-command, and leading the left wing of the army as it moved into Virginia, he played a pivotal role in the American victory at Yorktown, where he accepted the sword of Charles Cornwallis via his second-in-command, Charles O’Hara.  Washington directed O’Hara to present the sword to Lincoln, vindicating him for his embarrassment in Charleston.

Pierse Long (1739-1789) – Brigadier General

Pierse Long, Jr. was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1739. With the outbreak of the American Revolution, Long quickly became an active Patriot, serving initially as a delegate to the first Provincial Congress at Exeter and serving subsequently as a commander of the First New Hampshire Regiment. By 1776, his regiment had relocated to Lake Champlain where they served under General Arthur St. Clair. There he took command of Fort Independence and rose to the rank of brigadier-general. After the retreat of the Continental forces from Fort Ticonderoga, Long and his men faced a British regiment under Brigadier General John Hill at Fort Ann on July 8, 1777. Forced to retreat from Fort Ann, Colonel Long proceeded to Saratoga where he assisted in the capture of General John Burgoyne. However, soon after this victory, Long became seriously ill and retired, returning to Portsmouth to resume his mercantile business.

Francis Marion (1732-1795) – Brigadier General

Francis Marion 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Marion gained his first military experience fighting against the Cherokee Indians in 1759. Then, serving as a member of the South Carolina Provincial Congress (1775), he was commissioned a captain. It was after the surrender of General Benjamin Lincoln to the British at Charleston, South Carolina (1780), that he slipped away to the swamps, gathered together his band of guerrillas, and began leading his bold raids. Marion and his irregulars often defeated larger bodies of British troops by the surprise and rapidity of their movement over swampy terrain, earning him the moniker “Swamp Fox” for his elusive tactics. For a daring rescue of Americans surrounded by the British at Parkers Ferry, South Carolina (August 1781), Marion received the thanks of Congress. He was then appointed a brigadier general, and after the war he served in the senate of South Carolina (1782–90).

Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) – Brigadier General

Hugh Mercer

(New York Public Library )

Hugh Mercer was born in 1726 to Ann Monro and William Mercer, a Presbyterian Minister, near Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He earned his doctorate in medicine at the University of Aberdeen and, later, served as a surgeon in the army of Charles Edward Stuart, a spurned “pretender” to the British throne who led a Jacobite uprising to restore the Stuarts to power. When British forces crushed the Jacobite resistance at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, however, Mercer became a fugitive in his own country. He managed to flee Scotland for the American colonies, where he settled in Pennsylvania and established a medical practice.

By 1756, Mercer was serving the same army that had been his enemy only a decade earlier. During the Seven Years’ War, he received a commission as captain of a Pennsylvania regiment that accompanied Lt. Col. John Armstrong’s raid on the Indian village of Kittanning. Mercer was wounded during the raid but managed to escape through the woods, wandering injured, alone, and hungry for days until he reached Fort Shirley. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of colonel and, as a result, became close friends with fellow colonel George Washington.

In the early days of the Revolution, Mercer took command of a small force of Virginia Minute Men from Spotsylvania, King George, Stafford, and Caroline Counties. Eventually, he rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Continental Army, and in the winter of 1776 accompanying his old acquaintance, George Washington, in the New York City Campaign, and subsequent retreat to New Jersey.

Following the Patriot victory at Trenton, New Jersey, Mercer led a vanguard of 350 soldiers toward Princeton, New Jersey with orders from Washington to destroy the Stony Brook Bridge. On January 3, 1777, Mercer met a larger British force under the command of Colonel Charles Mawhood at Clark’s Orchard. The struggle between these two forces quickly turned into a race to secure the strategic position on the heights of a nearby hill. During the struggle, musket and rifle fire turned to hand-to-hand combat with bayonets. Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of Mercer’s men had no mounted bayonets on their muskets. As his men began to fall back, Mercer stepped forward and desperately rallied his men with the words “Forward! Forward!” His command was met by the forceful thrust of British bayonets to his chest, and he fell to the ground.

Finding Mercer still alive, Continental soldiers removed him to a nearby oak tree, which would later bear his name, and finally to the field hospital in the Thomas Clarke House, where he died of his wounds on January 12, 1777. The Patriots ultimately succeeded in driving the British from Princeton, and the legacy of General Mercer’s courageous efforts became a rallying cry for American troops.

Daniel Morgan (1736-1802) – Brigadier General

Daniel Morgan

(Wikimedia Commons)

Daniel Morgan, notorious guerrilla fighter and American hero of the southern theater during the American Revolution, grew up with a rebellious streak and as a young man left his native New Jersey, where he was born in 1736, He settled on the Virginia frontier, working hard to build his own wagon team, an occupation that earned him the nickname “The Old Wagoner” despite his youth.

His teamster career drew him into the French and Indian War, during which he helped to supply the British Army. At one point, Morgan annoyed a superior officer who struck him with the flat of his sword. Morgan knocked the man out. For his impertinence, Morgan was punished with 500 lashes—a typically fatal number.. He survived the ordeal, carrying his scars and his disdain the rest of his life. Afterward, when Morgan retold the story, he commonly boasted that the British had miscounted, only giving him 499.

Morgan’s early military career was calamitous. He served as an ensign throughout the conflict, even though he had been recommended for a captaincy in 1757. The following year, he was present at Fort Duquesne when the French crushed a British force under the command of Major James Grant. When Indians supporting the British overtook his party at Hanging Rock, Morgan took a a bullet through the back of his neck that crushed his left jaw and exited his cheek, leaving him with new permanent scars.

Morgan survived the wound, and with the outbreak of the American Revolution, was captain of a militia unit. He quickly responded to the demand for troops on the frontier upon the outbreak of Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. By the following winter, Morgan joined the American expedition to invade Canada organized by Gen. Benedict Arnold. During the Battle of Quebec, Arnold suffered a wound to the leg, forcing command of the American forces on Morgan. The conbat, however, resulted in his capture along with 400 other Americans. His release several months later was followed by his promotion to colonel.

One of Morgan’s most valuable qualities as a commander was his ability to think beyond the confines of the accepted standards of warfare. Not long after becoming colonel of a corps of light infantry, commonly called “Morgan’s riflemen,” he began to employ tactics designed to disturb the disciplined Royal troops. He and his men wore Indian disguises and used hit-and-run maneuvers against the British in New York and New Jersey throughout 1777.

Morgan was indispensable to the Continental Army during the New York Campaign, but he grew irritated when he repeatedly failed to receive promotions. The commander-in-chief appointed Morgan colonel of Virginia infantry regiment, but he was continually passed over for promotion to a more elevated rank. Because of this, rather than resign, Morgan accepted an “honorable furlough.”

By 1780, Patriot forces in the South were desperate for Morgan’s services; Horatio Gates plied him with a brigadier generalship in exchange for resuming his military endeavors in the Carolinas. Once Nathanael Greene assumed command of southern American troops, he granted Morgan command over one arm of the southern forces and tasked him with harassing Tories in the South Carolina back country.

Morgan’s main adversary was British Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his legion of dragoons. The two men faced off at Cowpens in South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Morgan emerged victorious and secured his reputation as a skilled military tactician. Utilizing knowledge of his enemy’s aggressive and impulsive behavior, Morgan lured Tarleton into a trap with a fake retreat. Tarleton charged, only to be surprised when Morgan’s infantry turned to fire and a hidden cavalry force joined the conflict.

In 1790, Congress granted Morgan a gold medal for his victory at Cowpens. Morgan continued to serve in the militia, leading a force against the Whiskey Rebellion agitators. He also went on to serve one term in the House of Representatives as a Federalist near the end of his life.

William Moultrie (1730-1805) – Major General

William Moultrie

William Moultrie was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 23, 1730.  As he matured, he became one of the region's wealthiest planters and he became active in the local militia, serving in the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1761.  In 1776, having been commissioned a colonel of militia, he successfully repulsed a British attack on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, and was promoted to brigadier general in the Continental Army.  After the fall of Savannah, Moultrie was instrumental in patriot operations intended to keep the British bottled up on the coast.  Eventually, however, he was captured with thousands of others when the patriots surrendered Charleston in 1780.  After the war, he was elected governor of South Carolina.  He later returned to his plantation and wrote Memoirs of the Revolution as far as it Related to the States of North and South Carolina, which was published in 1802.  Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, was named in his honor, and his personal battle flag, which featured a white crescent on a blue field, was incorporated into the South Carolina state flag.  He died on September 27, 1805, at the age of 74.

John Parker (1729-1775) – Captain

John Parker 400x490

John Parker was a Lexington, Massachusetts, native, born July 13 1729. A farmer by trade, Parker saw action during the French and Indian (Seven Years) War, at the Siege of Louisburg, in 1758, and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in 1759; famous for the death of British General James Wolfe, and in the subsequent conquest of Quebec. His experiences contributed to his election as militia Captain for the town of Lexington. On the night of April 18, 1775, Parker was informed that a British column was moving from Boston to Concord bent on destroying the stockpile of military supplies there. The next morning, April 19, Parker arrayed his company of militia on Lexington Green and awaited the British. Wishing to avoid a confrontation, Parker ordered his men to disperse, but the order went either unheard or ignored. When a shot rang out, from unknown origins, both sides began firing. The result was eight of Parker’s men killed and another ten wounded, with one British soldier slightly wounded, and the militiamen fleeing from Lexington. While Parker rallied his men, the British continued their march towards Concord. Despite wishing to avoid a conflict initially, the fight on Lexington Green had changed Parker’s mind. After rallying his men, he chose a position along the road to Boston and awaited the British return. His ambush, Parker’s Revenge, was part of the long string of attacks by American militia and minutemen that harried the British on their way back to Boston and inflicted heavy casualties. Parker, suffering from tuberculosis, would not live to see the culmination of the revolution he helped start at Lexington and Concord; he died five months later, on September 17, 1775, at age forty-six.

Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) – Commodore

Oliver Hazard Perry

(New York Public Library)

Born into an accomplished naval family in South Kingston, Rhode Island on August 23, 1785, Oliver Hazard Perry’s life would be dominated by maritime pursuits. Perry’s father, Christopher Raymond Perry, served as a privateer during the American Revolution and as a captain in the U.S. Navy during the Quasi War with France. Matthew Perry, his brother, played a crucial role in sailing to Japan and opening it to trade with the West. Perry, himself, spent his youth sailing with his father and became a midshipman at the early age of 13.

Perry continued his naval career, serving in many of the main wars of the early nineteenth century. He first saw combat off the coast of Haiti during the height of the Haitian Revolution. He subsequently participated in the Quasi War, the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812, in which he earned renown for his naval victories in the Great Lakes region.

On September 10, 1813, Perry solidified his reputation as a brilliant naval commander and American hero at the Battle of Lake Erie, also known as the Battle of Put-in-Bay. In the early morning hours of the 10th, Perry caught sight of a squadron of British Royal Navy vessels off of Lake Erie’s Rattlesnake Island. The commodore brazenly ordered his men to set sail and engage the British immediately. Edged on by a favorable wind, Perry, stationed on the flagship Lawrence, attacked the British line head on. The British ship Detroit crippled the flagship, forcing Perry to transfer his men to the Niagara. Before leaving, Perry made sure to bring his battle flag emblazoned with the words: “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” the famous last words of fellow captain and friend James Lawrence. Despite losing his flagship, Perry managed to disable and scatter most of the Royal vessels. He received the British back onboard the tattered Lawrence to discuss terms of surrender; a deliberate move to force the British to confront the damage they had caused. After the battle, Perry dispatched a letter to William Henry Harrison, saying, “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

For securing one of the most important triumphs of the war, Perry became known as the “Hero of Lake Erie.” The victory at Lake Erie confirmed U.S. control of the lake and possession of Fort Malden, and led directly to the U.S. victory at the Battle of Thames, which established U.S. sovereignty over the Ohio and Michigan territories. Perry’s accomplishments did not go unrecognized: he was promoted to the rank of captain and bestowed with a Congressional Gold Medal and the Thanks of Congress.

Andrew Pickens (1739 -1817) – Brigadier General

Andrew Pickens

(Florida State Archives)

The son of Scots-Irish immigrants, Andrew Pickens was born on September 13, 1739 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. When Pickens was only a teenager, his family moved to the Waxhaws region of South Carolina. In 1760-61, Pickens took part in the Anglo-Cherokee War, serving as an officer in a provincial regiment. In 1764 he moved to Abbeville County, South Carolina, where, a year later, he married Rebecca Calhoun, the aunt of future pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun. When rebellion against the British broke out in 1775, Pickens was a made captain of militia. That winter he took part in a campaign against loyalists in the South Carolina backcountry. In the autumn of 1776, Pickens served as a major in an expedition that destroyed dozens of Cherokee towns. In the spring of 1778, Pickens became a colonel of a regiment of South Carolina militia which he later led to victory at Kettle Creek. In 1780, Pickens was captured and paroled when the British occupied Charleston, South Carolina. Later that year, he returned to battle after loyalists burned his home. On January 17, 1781, he commanded a brigade of South Carolina militia at the Battle of Cowpens, a decisive victory for the Patriots. After Cowpens, Pickens was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Later that year, at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, Pickens was wounded and shot off his horse. In 1782, Pickens was elected to South Carolina’s General Assembly, in which he would serve for a decade. After the war, Pickens purchased land on the Seneca River and constructed Hopewell Plantation, which would become a frequent site of negotiations with Native American tribes. From 1793 to 1795, Pickens represented South Carolina in the United States House of Representatives. On August 17, 1817, at the age of 77, Pickens passed away, several months after his son Andrew Pickens Jr. was sworn in as the Governor of South Carolina. Andrew Pickens is buried in Clemson, South Carolina.

Zebulon Pike (1779-1813) – General

Zebulon Pike

(Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to the War of 1812, Pike was a well-traveled explorer of the American West as an army captain commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the southern portions of the Louisiana territory. Pike climbed in rank steadily until being promoted to brigadier general after fighting at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 during Tecumseh’s War. Then, with the War of 1812 underway, Pike was assigned to lead a campaign north from Sackets Harbor, New York north into Canada. The goal of the expedition was to capture the British capital city of York on Lake Ontario in Upper Canada. Though slowed by the frigid Canadian winter, Pike led the easy capture of York after landing his 1,600 regulars across the Lake Ontario against a much smaller combined British force. Though the garrison was easily captured, retreating British soldiers set fire to its buildings, resulting in a terrific explosion as the flames reached the powder magazine. The explosion wounded 222 soldiers, and killed an additional 38, with Pike among one of the dead.

William Prescott (1726-1795) – Colonel

William Prescott 400x490

(F.C. Yohn)

In 1774, when Massachusetts towns began forming militia companies, Prescott was commissioned to command a company and laid siege to Boston after the Battle of Concord. Prescott was then chosen to lead 1,200 men onto the Charlestown peninsula and erect defenses on Bunker Hill on the night of June 16, 1775. Prescott is credited with uttering, "Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes", so that the colonial troops could shoot more accurately and so conserve their limited stocks of ammunition. Prescott's men twice threw back British assaults on the redoubt but when the British made a third attempt on the ammunition-less forces, he ordered a retreat while parrying bayonet thrusts with his ceremonial saber. While the British successfully captured Bunker Hill, the poorly organized and untrained colonial forces inflicted significant casualties (50% casualties under General Howe), and the British were unable to capitalize their victory. Prescott received a colonel's commission, and his unit became the 7th Continental Regiment. The regiment saw service in the 1776 defense of New York.

Casimir Pulaski (1745-1779) – Brigadier General

Casimir Pulaski 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Was a Polish nobleman, soldier and military commander who has been called "the father of the American cavalry". Born in Warsaw and following in his father's footsteps he became interested in politics at an early age and soon became involved in the military and the revolutionary affairs in Poland (the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth). Pulaski was one of the leading military commanders for the Bar Confederation and fought against Russian domination of the Commonwealth. When this uprising failed, he was driven into exile. Following a recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, Pulaski emigrated to North America to help in the cause of the American Revolutionary War. He distinguished himself throughout the revolution, most notably when he saved the life of George Washington. Pulaski became a general in the Continental Army, created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion and reformed the American cavalry as a whole. At the Battle of Savannah, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was gravely wounded, and died shortly thereafter. Pulaski is one of only seven people to be awarded honorary United States citizenship.

Israel Putnam (1718-1790) – Major General

Israel Putnam

(Wikimedia Commons)

Serving in the French and Indian War, Putnam was already a seasoned officer when war broke out with Great Britain in 1775. Setting aside his prosperous life as a farmer and tavern keeper, Putnam raced to Cambridge, Massachusetts following the battles of Lexington and Concord, and offered up his services to what would later become the Continental Army. As a major general commanding the New England militia forces in Massachusetts, Putnam was paramount at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. It was Putnam who organized and commanded the stout colonial defense at Breed’s Hill, and who also may have given the famous order of “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” Though the British ultimately drove Putnam’s force from the field, it was a gravely pyrrhic victory for the British, as the assaulting redcoats incurred over 1,000 casualties. The Battle of Bunker Hill was the zenith of Putnam’s military career. Though he continued to serve in the Continental Army following the battle, he suffered several embarrassing losses before being forced to resign his command due to a debilitating stroke.

Paul Revere (1735-1818) – Lieutenant Colonel

Paul Revere 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Revere was a prosperous and prominent Boston silversmith, who helped organize an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military and is most famous for alerting the Colonial militia to the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord. Revere later served as a Massachusetts militia officer. Following the war, Revere returned to his silversmith trade and in 1800 he became the first American to successfully roll copper into sheets for use as sheathing on naval vessels.

Winfield Scott (1786-1866) – Brigadier General

Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott’s illustrious life began on June 13, 1786 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. His military career began in May 1808, shortly before his 22nd birthday, when he was appointed a Captain in the U.S. Light Artillery. Early in his career, Scott openly criticized the Commanding General of the Army, James Wilkinson, earning him a court martial for insubordination in 1810 and a suspension of his commission for one year. From 1811 to 1812, he served on the staff of Wade Hampton in New Orleans. When the War of 1812 began, Scott was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Second Artillery Regiment and transferred to the Niagara region. His first action was at the Battle of Queenston Heights, where he commanded the American landing party. Because of friction with the New York Militia, the attack went badly for the Americans who were forced to surrender. Held by the British until 1813, Scott was exchanged and paroled; he returned to duty and was promoted to Colonel. He led the attack that captured Fort George, suffering a wound in the process. He was promoted to Brigadier General, at age twenty-seven, in March of 1814. At this time Scott earned his nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his insistence on military discipline and appearance, which, even though it rankled his mostly volunteer soldiers, helped turn them into a crack fighting force. Scott commanded a Brigade at the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane; at the latter, he suffered a serious wound that took him out of the rest of the war. For his actions at Lundy’s Lane, he received a brevet promotion to Major General. Following the War of 1812, Scott helped standardize the drill regulations for the army. He was passed over for command in 1828 prompting his resignation, which was denied by the army. In the 1830s, he was in command during the Indian Wars in the west. In 1838, he oversaw the infamous Cherokee Removal, better known as the Trail of Tears. On July 5, 1841, Scott assumed office as Commanding General of the United States Army, its most senior position, and was promoted to Major General. In this role, he led American forces in Mexico during the Mexican-American War, earning him even more national recognition and prestige. Twenty years after his appointment as Commanding General, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Scott still retained his command even though he was 74 and in poor health. Feeling the pressure from the government and other members of the military, Scott resigned in November of 1861. He lived to see the Union win the war, dying at West Point on May 29, 1866 at age 79. His military career spanned fifty-three years, forty-seven of which were as a general, and three major wars.

Isaac Shelby (1750 -1826) – Colonel

Isaac Shelby


Isaac Shelby was born on December 11, 1750 in Hagerstown, Maryland. After Pontiac’s War destroyed his father’s fur business, Shelby’s family moved to the vicinity of present-day Bristol, Tennessee in 1770. Several years later, Shelby was commissioned as a lieutenant in Virginia’s militia and served in a 1774 campaign against the Shawnee and Mingo Indians initiated by Virginia’s Royal Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. After completing his military service, Shelby began work as a land surveyor. His time as a civilian, however, would be short lived. In 1776 Shelby was appointed as a captain in the Virginian forces defending the new state against the British. Shelby’s experience living and waging war on the frontier would prove useful. From 1777 to 1779 he led several expeditions to the west to procure supplies for American forces. In 1779 he also helped guard a commission sent to extend the North Carolina-Virginia border to the west, a project which incidentally placed his home in North Carolina. He was subsequently commissioned as a major in the militia of his new home state. When the British captured Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, Shelby was surveying land in present-day Kentucky. He assembled a force of militia to resist the British occupation of the South and lead his men to victory at the Battles of Thickety Fort, King’s Mountain, and at Musgrove’s Mill. Shelby, who had served in Virginia’s House of Delegates in 1779, was elected to North Carolina’s General Assembly in 1781 and again in 1782. In 1783 he moved west, settling in Boonesborough and marrying Susannah Hart, with whom he would have eleven children. Shelby worked hard to separate Kentucky from Virginia and make it its own state and in 1792 his labors paid off when he was sworn in as Kentucky’s first governor. During Shelby’s term of office from 1792 to 1796, the state was troubled by conflicts with Native Americans. Shelby convinced George Washington to send a military force under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to defend white settlers. In 1812, Shelby was again elected as Kentucky governor and served until 1816. During this time he secured the appointment of William Henry Harrison to lead American forces in the Northwest. Isaac Shelby died on July 18, 1826.

Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818) – Major General

Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben (1730-1794) – Prussian General

Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben

(Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)

Upon arriving in Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78, Steuben found the undisciplined army under General Washington in a precarious state of disorder. Though the American citizen soldiers paled in comparison to the mighty Prussian professionals he was familiar with, Steuben saw potential within the spirited American troops. He encouraged, lambasted and personally trained a model company of 100 men in the art of tactics, drill, and discipline, who in turn trained all other units that winter. The soldiers responded superbly to the “Old German’s” system, and genuinely loved him for his antics, enthusiasm, constant swearing and sincere affection.  For his meritorious role in forging the army into a reputable fighting force, Steuben was promoted as Inspector General of the Army, and was present for the final campaign at Yorktown which ultimately led to American victory. 

John Stricker (February 15th, 1759- June 23rd, 1825 ) – Brigadier General

John Stricker


John Stricker, born February 15, 1759 in Fredrick, Maryland, was the son of Colonel George Stricker. His father commanded the First Maryland Regiment during the Revolution, and John was present at the battles of Princeton, Brandywine, and Monmouth. After the Revolution, he went into finance and banking in Baltimore. When Baltimore was threatened during the War of 1812, Stricker was made a Brigadier General and given command of the Third Brigade of the Maryland Militia, tasked with defending the city. His troops were ordered to North Point, where he successfully slowed the British advance, mortally wounding the British commander, Robert Ross, in the process. His men fell back to the defensive line north of the city and held there until the British withdraw following the failed bombardment of Fort McHenry. After the War of 1812, Stricker returned to civilian life. He died on June 23, 1825 and is buried in Baltimore.

Thomas Sumter (1734-1832) – Brigadier General


Born in Virginia in 1734, Thomas Sumter spent much of his life as a soldier. He served as an officer in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War and in conflicts against the Cherokee on the frontier. In 1762, he accompanied the Cherokee leader Ostenaco to London, where the chief had an audience with King George III. In the years before the American Revolution, Sumter spent time in debtors’ prison, moved to South Carolina, and established a successful plantation. During the Revolutionary War, Sumter became a prominent commander in the South Carolina militia. In 1776, he assisted in the defense of Charleston during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. After Charleston fell to the British in 1780, he returned to his plantation. When Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s raiders burned his home, however, he organized a band of partisans to harass the British and their Tory allies. After defeating the British at the Battle of Blackstock’s Farm, Tarleton complained that Sumter “fought like a gamecock,” inspiring his nickname, the “Carolina Gamecock.” General Charles Cornwallis considered Sumter such an annoyance that he called him one of his “great plagues.” After the war, Sumter was elected to the United States Congress, first serving in the House of Representatives from 1791 to 1801. He then represented South Carolina in the Senate from 1801 to 1810. Fort Sumter, for which construction was begun in 1829, was named in his honor. Thomas Sumter died in 1832 at the age of 97.

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794) – Major-General

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

(Wikimedia Commons)

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben was born on September 17, 1730, in the fortress town of Magdeburg in Prussia. At 17, von Steuben enlisted in the Prussian army as a lance-corporal in 1747. Von Steuben was a second lieutenant in 1756 when The Seven Years War began and he served throughout the war with distinction. Von Steuben was discharged from the Prussian army on April 29, 1763, shortly after the Treaties of Paris and Hubertusburg ended the war.

In 1775, von Steuben began looking for a government appointment to support himself and pay off his many debts. He searched for positions in the British, French, and Austrian armies to no avail. In 1777, he traveled to France where he caught wind of the riches that could be earned in the American Revolution. Von Steuben had connections with the French Minister of War and through him, the Baron met the American ambassadors to France, Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, Deane and Franklin could not promise von Steuben rank or pay. He could only be a volunteer in the Continental Army, which made von Steuben furious enough to decline. Without any luck of finding another job, von Steuben decided to accept and set out to the British colonies.

Von Steuben met with Congress, which made an arrangement for von Steuben to be paid based upon the outcome of the war and his contributions. He reported to General George Washington in Valley Forge and arrived there in February, 1778. The Baron was appointed as the temporary Inspector General to observe the American soldiers, equipment, skills, and living conditions. Von Steuben was extremely discouraged by the state of the Continental Army.

Von Steuben’s first job was to create a standard method of drills for the entire army. He wrote the drills in French since he could not speak English and had his military secretary translate the drills into English. Copies of the drills were given to each company and officer. Von Steuben established a practice army to demonstrate new drills for the rest of the army. He worked with the troops directly and delivered the drills in a quick and simple manner. The American soldiers appreciated von Steuben’s willingness to personally work with them and his use of colorful words in several different languages.

In the winter of 1778-1779, the Baron wrote, “Regulation for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States”. This “Blue Book” of military regulations would be approved by Congress in March 1779 and used by the United States Army until 1814. In April 1779, von Steuben returned to the Continental Army and served throughout the remainder of the war as General Nathanael Greene’s instructor and supply officer. He was present in the final campaign at Yorktown resulted in the American victory of the American Revolution. He died in New York on November 28, 1794.

Joseph Warren (1741-1775) – Major General

Joseph Warren 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Joseph Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Warren enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British were setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Warren participated the following day in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Warren had been commissioned as a Major General in the colony's militia shortly before the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill but Warren chose to serve in the battle as a private soldier and was killed in combat.

George Washington (1732-1799) – Commander-in-Chief of Continental Army, First President of the United States

George Washington

(National Portrait Gallery, Washington)

Upon learning of the outbreak of war with Britain at Lexington and Concord, Washington immediately volunteered to assume command of what would later become the Continental Army. Known for his military intelligence, compassion, and bravery on the field of battle, Washington elicited unquestioned loyalty, courage, and a sense of calm within the ranks. He kept the fragile army together throughout the course of the war, led it on every campaign, and finally defeated the British forces in 1781. A national hero following the war, Washington was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States, serving two consecutive terms. Less than three years after leaving office, Washington, the father of our country, passed away at his beloved estate of Mount Vernon at the age of 67.

Read more about George Washington here.

Anthony Wayne (1745-1796) – Major General

Anthony Wayne 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Anthony Wayne was an American general and U.S. Representative born on January 1, 1745, near Paoli, Pennsylvania. Wayne became a colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment in 1776, and the next year was promoted to brigadier general in the American Revolution. Over the next few years he played key roles in the Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown, Battle of Monmouth and Battle of Stony Point. Wayne entered civilian life to serve in Pennsylvania’s state legislature from 1784-'85. During the Northwest Indian War in 1791, Wayne helped lead the win in the Battle of Fallen Timbers which resulted in the removal of Native American claims to Ohio and the surrounding area. Wayne died on December 15, 1796, in Presque Isle, Pennsylvania. The nickname "Mad Anthony" came about when a disobedient spy used by Wayne was outraged that his commander refused to lift the punishment of 29 lashes for his disorderly conduct and desertion and muttered: "Anthony is mad. He must be mad or he would help me. Mad Anthony, that's what he is. Mad Anthony Wayne!"

James Williams (1740 -1780) – Brigadier General

James Williams was born in Hanover County, Virginia in 1740. At some point in his youth or early adulthood he moved to North Carolina. In 1762 he apparently married a woman named Mary Wallace. In or around 1773 he migrated to South Carolina’s Ninety-Six District, in present-day Laurens County. Williams gained prominence in his new home, where he was elected as an officer in the militia and as a delegate to South Carolina’s First and Second Provincial Congresses. When war with Great Britain broke out, the Ninety-Six militia split between Patriots and Loyalists. Williams became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Patriot faction of the militia. He was promoted to full Colonel in 1779. In 1780, after the fall of Charleston, his planation was occupied by British forces, but not before Williams was able to remove his slaves to the home of a family member in North Carolina. In August of that year he was one of the Patriot commanders at the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill. In part for his role in that victory, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the South Carolina militia. Williams led a detachment at Kings Mountain and was killed leading his men in a charge on the British line. According to some reports his death came before he could be informed of his promotion to Brigadier General. Williams’s brother John was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Articles of Confederation.

James Winchester (1752-1826) – Brigadier General

James Winchester

(Wikimedia Commons)

Despite serving as an officer in the American Revolution and a brigadier general in the War of 1812, James Winchester suffered a rather disappointing military career.

His bad luck began during the American Revolution. In August of 1777, Winchester took part in General John Sullivan’s attack on the British position on Staten Island. The assault ended in disaster when a British counterattack blocked the Patriot retreat. British forces captured a wounded Winchester and several other officers. Winchester remained a prisoner of war, but upon his release, he rejoined the Patriot cause. He subsequently served in the southern theater only to be captured again during the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina. In December of 1780, he was exchanged, and now, with the elevated rank of captain, he served the remainder of the war under Nathanael Greene.

In the interim between the Revolution and the War of 1812, Winchester received a commission as brigadier general. With the outbreak of another war, he took a post as commander of the Army of the Northwest, only to be replaced by General William Henry Harrison after much confusion as to the proper chain of command. Most likely out of some degree of resentment against Harrison, Winchester moved his force to defend Frenchtown against the orders of his commanding general. When British forces under Henry Proctor attacked Frenchtown, Winchester lost a large number of his men and ultimately surrendered. The British promised to care for and transport the American wounded but their Native American allies had another idea. On January 23, Native Americans butchered the American wounded with tomahawks and burned their bodies. Word spread across the nation and Americans reacted in horror, choosing to remember the event as the “River Raisin Massacre.”

William Winder (1775-1824) – General

William Winder

Winder was first commissioned into the United States Army as a colonel with the onset of the War of 1812. He was quickly promoted to brigadier general before being captured in a nighttime attack at the Battle of Stoney Creek, Ontario in July of 1813. Paroled the following year, Winder returned to field command and was tasked with the defense of Washington and Baltimore by President James Madison in 1814. With the approach of 4,500 British troops on the nation's capital, Winder positioned his troops just northeast of the city in Bladensburg, Maryland. He proved to be a less than effective commander at the Battle of Bladensburg fought on August 24, and his force of 6,500 regulars and militia was sent fleeing in every direction. Thanks to Winder’s collapse, the British army entered Washington and burned numerous government buildings, including the Capital and White House. Winder’s military career survived a court-martial following Bladensburg, but he is relegated to a subordinate role under General Samuel Smith in the defense of Baltimore.

Political Personalities to Know

John Adams (1735 - 1826) – American Patriot, 1st Vice President, 2nd President of the United States

John Adams

(Wikimedia Commons)

Adams, a successful lawyer and Harvard graduate, came to view the British imposition of taxes and tariffs as a tool of oppression, and no longer believed that the government in England had the colonists’ interests in mind.  The mounting transgressions of his mother country were too much for Adams, resulting in his assistance in drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  He went on to serve as a member of the Continental Congress, drummed up support for the war effort as a diplomat to France, and even operated as the United States’ first ambassador to Great Britain following the Treaty of Paris.  Adams was elected vice president during the Washington's term, and was elected President himself in 1797.

Sam Adams (1722-1803) – Massachusetts Delegate

Sam Adams 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

Second cousin to John Adams and a political activist. Adams was a failed Bostonian businessman who became an activist in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. He organized the first Committee of Correspondence of Boston, which communicated with other similar organizations across the colonies, and was a delegate to both Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775.

Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) – American Patriot, Inventor, Printer

Benjamin Franklin

(National Portrait Gallery, Washington)

Franklin was one the most accomplished American minds, not only of the 18th century, but possibly of all time.  There was seemingly nothing Franklin couldn’t do or wasn’t interested in.  He was a statesman, an author, a publisher, a scientist, an inventor and a diplomat throughout the course of his long life.  During the American Revolution, he served in the Second Continental Congress and helped draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He was paramount in obtaining support from King Louis XVI of France and was largely responsible for his signing the important military alliance of 1778.  Franklin furthermore negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris which effectively ended the Revolutionary War.  In 1787, in his final significant act of public service, he was a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.

John Hancock (1737-1793) – President of the Continental Congress

John Hancock 400x490

(Wikimedia Commons)

A signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and a governor of Massachusetts. The colonial Massachusetts native was raised by his uncle, a wealthy Boston merchant. When his uncle died, Hancock inherited his lucrative shipping business. In the mid-1760s, as the British government began imposing regulatory measures to assert greater authority over its American colonies, anti-British sentiment and unrest grew among the colonists. Hancock used his wealth and influence to aid the movement for American independence. He was president of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the United States was born. From 1780 to 1785, Hancock was the first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was reelected in 1787 and served until his death in 1793.

Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799) – American Patriot, Attorney

Patrick Henry

(Wikipedia Commons)

A lawyer prior to the revolution, Henry protested the Stamp Act before the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765.  Arguing that it was the colonial assemblies which had the exclusive right to impose taxes upon themselves, Henry presented the House of Burgesses with six potentially radical resolutions in protest of the act.  Five of his Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions were passed and were thus among the most visible anti-British political actions by the colonies to date.  In March of 1775, Henry passionately urged his fellow Virginians to commit troops for the war against Great Britain during his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech.  Henry later served as a member of the First Continental Congress, led the Virginia colonial militia, and in 1776, was elected Governor of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) – American Patriot, 2nd Vice President, 3rd President of the United States

Thomas Jefferson

(White House Historical Association)

As a young professional, Jefferson attended William & Mary College, served in local government as a magistrate/county lieutenant, and was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  On the eve of the American Revolution, Jefferson professed that the American colonists were justified in their attempt to separate from Great Britain, and furthermore, that they possessed an exceptional opportunity to rediscover the “laws of nature” if their attempts at separation proved fruitful.  Jefferson would go on to serve as a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, and was selected to draft the Declaration of Independence.  Later, he served as the first secretary of state under President George Washington, was vice president during the Adams administration, and was elected to the presidency in 1800, serving two consecutive terms. 

Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809) – American Patriot, Philosopher, Writer

Thomas Paine

(National Portrait Gallery Association)

Born into an English family of modest means, Paine received minimal formal education before immigrating to Philadelphia in 1775.  While there, Paine published one of the most influential pamphlets of American history – Common Sense.  The monograph attacked George III while simultaneously championing republican ideals.  Paine’s Common Sense was so popular among patriotic American colonials that over 100,000 copies were sold in the first three months of publication in 1776.  Common Sense served as a touchstone for the common American colonials by sparking debate regarding whether independence was an attainable goal. During the ensuing war, Paine served as volunteer personal assistant to General Nathanael Greene, traveling with the Continental Army. While not a natural soldier, Paine contributed to the patriot cause by inspiring the troops with his 16 "Crisis" papers, which appeared between 1776 and 1783.

Learn More: Key Figures of the American Revolution: The British and Loyalists