Major Generals, Part 1

Who were the major players in the American Revolution?  

We usually devote a significant amount of time on the Founding Fathers – men of ideals who met and wrote down what would become the document our country would follow.  We do not usually spend much time on the men who fought the battles. Yes, we all know about George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief, but we know little about the other generals and men who led the ragtag group of colonists into battle against the best trained army in the world – the British.
Yorktown battlefield

Let’s outline the major players and then we will work on digging deeper into their backgrounds so we know more about these men.

George Washington – Commander-in-Chief
Major Generals:
Benedict Arnold – until he turned traitor and joined the British
James Clinton
Horatio Gates
Nathanael Greene
Henry Knox (does this name sound familiar – Fort Knox)
Charles Lee
Friedrich von Steuben
Marquis de Lafayette
The list goes on, but these are the ones we have heard about the most, or who were the major players in the most significant battles.

1763-1775 – Thomas Gage
1776-1777 – William Howe
1778-1782 – Sir Henry Clinton
Other generals:
John Burgoyne
Charles Cornwallis
 Their list of generals is also long, but we shall just focus on a few.

Let’s look at our Commander-in-Chief – George Washington and the first British Commander-in-Chief – Thomas Gage.
George Washington

George Washington – was born into a planter’s family and started his career as a surveyor.  When he joined the military, he was sent to fight against the French and Indians during that war.  It was here that he met Thomas Gage.  

The two men fought side-by-side and even developed a friendship that over the years cooled as they grew apart.  He became a member of the Continental Congress representing Virginia with men like Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.  

Because of his skills as a soldier, he was asked to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.  While his troops suffered losses against the British in Boston, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, they always fought well. After a horrible winter at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, they fought back strongly and began to win more battles.  

Many believe the most significant battle came in December of 1776 when the British had beaten the patriots at For Washington.  It seemed the patriots were about finished.  The British commander sent his men to Trenton for their winter quarters.  Washington decided to take his men across the Delaware to attack the British on Christmas day.  The British were protected by the German Hessians, but the patriots were able to take almost 1000 prisoners and killed 100 Hessians.  Only 4 patriots were killed or wounded that day. From there, the men were invigorated and prepared to win even more battles.

Finally, his troops defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. 

Because we have covered George Washington before, if you wish to read more, just click here.
Thomas Gage

Thomas Gage –was born in 1720 into an aristocratic English family.  Unfortunately, as a second son, he could not inherit the title and he joined the British army in 1736 when he was only 16 years old. 

In 1741, he purchased a lieutenant’s commission (a popular action on the part of a wealthy family, to make sure their sons became officers)

In 1743, he became a captain and participated in the War of Austrian Succession.

In 1746, he fought at the Battle of Culloden.

In 1748, he purchased a major’s commission.

In 1751, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

In 1755, he was sent to the Americas to fight in the French and Indian War.  This is where he met George Washington, fighting beside him.

In 1759, he became a full general and helped create the light infantry – a force he felt was better for fighting in the American wilderness.

In 1761, he became a major general.

In 1763, he was named the Commander-in-Chief of North America by King George. 
When tensions started to escalate in the colonies, he moved many of his troops to the major cities of New York and Boston.  This caused a problem for where the troops would live.  The Quartering Act solved that problem for him, forcing the colonists to house the troops in their homes, inns, taverns, and other buildings against their will.  He felt that occupying Boston was a mistake.  He felt the true causes of the rebellion were a few discontented wealthy men, not the rest of the community.  

Unfortunately, he moved the 29th Regiment of Foot into Boston.  This regiment had a reputation for bad behavior.  By the time he realized it was not a few malcontents, but a major discontent among all the colonists, it was too late.

He was appointed military Royal Governor of Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, the people despised him.  Instead of relieving the problems of the previous governor, he enforced the Coercive Acts, called Intolerable by the colonists.  He even made the mistake of trying to buy off a few of the major political leaders of Boston.  This backfired on him.  When he tried to seize the weapons in Boston, his actions resulted in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  

He sent word to the king about the defeat at Bunker Hill.  Within three days of receiving the message, King George relieved him of his commission and ordered him to return to England.  He was replaced by General Howe.

Just as the American Revolution was truly heating up, he was replaced.  In 1776, General Howe reached the shores of North America to find a powder keg of a situation.

Stay tuned to learn about General Howe in my next post.  Until then, Happy Memorial Day!  Huzzah!  Huzzah!  Huzzah! To all our troops who have served and continue to serve this great nation!  Thank you for your sacrifice.

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