Continental Colonel William Washington
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: 1781-1782
At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina on March 15, 1781, Lt. Colonel William Washington charged the British Guards after earlier covering the Patriot right wing throughout the battle. Lt. General Charles Cornwallis described Guards' fate as "thrown into confusion by a heavy fire, and immediately charged and driven back into the field by Colonel Washington's dragoons, with the loss of the six pounders they [the Guards] had taken."
At the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill on April 25, 1781, Washington made too wide of a circuit to help Maj. General Nathanael Greene replicate Cowpens. He got bogged down in the rear of Lord Rawdon's army, taking as many prisoners as his men could manage by pulling them up on the horses behind them. Thus burdened, the dragoons advanced on the main battle. When he saw that his comrades were losing, Washington paroled the prisoners. He rushed to help cover the American retreat and immediately charged Coffin's Tory cavalry, routing them and rescuing the precious American artillery pieces by dragging them away behind some of the dragoon's own horses. This action enabled Greene to rally most of his men a few miles away and once again keep his army intact.
At the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina on September 8, 1781, Washington galloped through the woods around the American left late in the battle and led his troopers in an unsupported frontal charge against an excellent British defensive position. As the dragoons approached unsupported by infantry, he realized that his men would not be able to penetrate a thicket, and he ordered a wheel by sections to the right in hopes of riding for an open space to gain the enemy's rear.
Performed within killing distance of the elite British flank companies, this maneuver was disastrous. The British, firing enfilade with deadly efficiency, turned this gallant unit into a disordered mass of men and horses. The British then charged with the bayonet - killing, wounding, or capturing over half of the cavalrymen. Washington's horse was shot and it fell and pinned him to the ground. A participant recalled: "Washington jumped his horse into the midst of the enemy and was suddenly taken prisoner. A British soldier appearing to be in the posture of attempting to stab Colonel Washington, one of his men rushed forward and cut him down at one blow. Washington being a prisoner, and his men mingled in confusion with the enemy..."
While a prisoner in Charleston, South Caroina, William Washington became reacquainted with rice heiress Jane Elliott whose father died at Sandy Hill on the same day as the Battle of Cowpens. The couple found the wherewithal in the enemy-occupied city to get married on April 21, 1782. The British left Charleston the following December and Washington soon sat for his Charles Wilson Peale portrait.
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