The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Continental Colonel William Washington
William Washington Born: February 28, 1752; Stafford County, Virginia
Died: March 6, 1810; Sandy Hill, South Carolina

Battles: Trenton, Monck's Corner, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse

This bio was graciously contributed by Stephen E. Haller, Senior Director of Collections for the Indiana Historical Society and author of William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution.

Revolutionary War: 1780-1781
Lt. Colonel William Washington joined Brig. General Daniel Morgan's "light corps" in the western Carolinas in October and November 1780. Learning that Tory Colonel Henry Rugeley had 200 Tories at his fortified farm a few miles north of Camden, South Carolina, Morgan detached Washington and his 100 dragoons to take them by surprise. Gambling on the inexperience of his opponent, Washington resorted to a ruse. While most of his dragoons dismounted and surrounded the barn on December 4, 1780, he directed some men in fashioning a mock cannon from a pine log and mounting it on a carriage out of view of the enemy. He brought it into sight of the barn with great fanfare as if to fire this "Quaker gun" and summoned the defenders to surrender or risk being blown to pieces. The deception worked, and according to a participant, the fake cannon "had the same effect as if it was the best piece in Christendom," convincing the Tories to give up without firing a shot.

In mid-December, 250 Georgia Loyalists under Colonel Waters crossed the Savannah River and were burning Patriot homes between Ninety Six and Winnsboro, and in Brig. General Morgan's words "were insulting and Plundering the good people [there]." While following the destructive path wrought by this "Party of Plunderers," William Washington wrote Maj. General Nathanael Greene that "The Distress of the Women and Children stripp'd of every thing by plundering Villains cries aloud for Redress." On December 27, Morgan reinforced Washington with 200 Georgia and South Carolina mounted militia and sent him after Waters.

After a forty-mile ride through farmland devastated by the Tories, the Patriots caught their prey at Hammond Stores, twenty-six miles east of the strategic British post at Ninety Six. The Tories were dismounted and preparing a noon meal, so the Patriots briefly held the advantage of surprise. While Colonel Waters hurriedly formed his men in line on the crest of a hill, William quickly formed into line on another hill facing their enemy, with his regular dragoons in the center and the mounted militia, many armed with rifles, on the flanks. He called for the militia to fire a volley and charged with his Continental Dragoons and the militia. Washington's force took 40 prisoners and 50 horses, but 150 Tories were killed or sabered beyond recovery. Morgan noted that "What makes this success more was attained without the loss of a man."

At the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, Washington was able to bring superior numbers to bear at critical points on the narrow battlefield where he could outnumber the British. Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton's total cavalry force outnumbered Washington's by more than two to one. Washington's cavalry first defeated the British 17th Light Dragoons on the British right and then a Legion Dragoon squadron on their left. He followed with an assault on the British infantry and pursuit. A running encounter between Washington and Tarleton, which was described by Colonel John Eager Howard and later by Justice John Marshall and a few pensioners, would eventually be dramatized in four nineteenth century paintings (1845-1898).

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