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American Revolution: Major General Anthony Wayne


American Revolution: Major General Anthony Wayne

Brigadier General Anthony Wayne at Valley Forge

Photograph © 2008 Patricia A. Hickman

Anthony Wayne - Early Life:

Born January 1, 1745, at the family home in Waynesborough, PA, Anthony Wayne was the son of Isaac Wayne. At a young age, he was sent to nearby Philadelphia to be educated at a school run by his uncle, Gabriel Wayne. During the course of the schooling, the young Anthony proved unruly and interested in a military career. After his father interceded, he began to apply himself intellectually and ultimately studied to become a surveyor. In 1765, he was dispatched to Nova Scotia in this role on behalf of a Pennsylvania land company. Remaining in Canada for a year, the venture failed and he returned to Pennsylvania.

Arriving home, he joined his father in operating a successful tannery. When his father died in 1774, Wayne inherited the company. Actively involved in local politics, he encouraged revolutionary feelings among his neighbors and served in the Pennsylvania legislature in 1775. With the outbreak of the American Revolution, Wayne aided in the raising of regiments from Pennsylvania. Still retaining an interest in military matters, he successfully obtained a commission as the colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment in early 1776.

Anthony Wayne - The American Revolution Begins:

Dispatched north to aid in the American campaign in Canada, Wayne took part in the American defeat at the Battle of Trois-Rivières on June 8. In the fighting, he distinguished himself by fighting a successful rearguard action as the American forces fell back. Joining the retreat up (south) Lake Champlain, Wayne was given command of the area around Fort Ticonderoga later that year. Promoted to brigadier general on February 21, 1777, he later traveled south of join General George Washington's army and to take command of the Pennsylvania Line (the colony's Continental troops).

In this role, Wayne first saw action at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11 where American forces were beaten by General Sir William Howe. Retreating from Brandywine, Wayne's command was the victim of a surprise attack on the night of September 21 by British forces under Major General Charles Grey. Dubbed the "Paoli Massacre," the engagement saw Wayne's division driven from the field. Recovering and reorganizing, Wayne's command played a key role at the Battle of Germantown on October 4 before being driven back by friendly fire.

Defeated again, the Americans withdrew into winter quarters at nearby Valley Forge. During the long winter, Wayne was dispatched to New Jersey on a mission to gather cattle and other foodstuffs for the army. This mission was largely successful and he returned in February 1778. Departing Valley Forge, the American army moved in pursuit of the British who were withdrawing to New York. At the resulting Battle of Monmouth, Wayne fought with distinction as the Americans stood up to the attacks of British regulars. Advancing behind the British, Washington assumed positions in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.

Anthony Wayne - Leading the Light Infantry:

As the 1779 campaigning season began, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton sought to lure Washington out of the mountains and into a general engagement. To accomplish this, he dispatched around 8,000 men up the Hudson. As part of this movement, the British seized Stony Point on the eastern bank of the river as well as Verplanck's Point on the opposite shore. Assessing the situation, Washington instructed Wayne to take command of the army's Corps of Light Infantry and recapture Stony Point. Developing a daring attack plan, Wayne moved forward on the night of July 16, 1779.

In the resulting Battle of Stony Point, Wayne was wounded but his men succeeded in capturing the position from the British. For his exploits, Wayne was awarded a gold medal from Congress. Remaining outside of New York in 1780, he aided in foiling Major General Benedict Arnold's plans to turn over West Point to the British by shifting troops to the fort after his treason was uncovered. At the end of the year, Wayne was forced to deal with a mutiny in the Pennsylvania Line caused by pay issues. Going before Congress, he advocated for his troops and was able to resolve the situation though many men left the ranks.

Anthony Wayne - "Mad Anthony":

During the winter of 1781, Wayne is said to have earned his nickname "Mad Anthony" after an incident involving one of his spies known as "Jemmy the Rover." Thrown in jail for disorderly conduct by local authorities, Jemmy sought aid from Wayne. Refusing, Wayne instructed that Jemmy be given 29 lashes for his behavior leading the spy to say that the general was mad. Having rebuilt his command, Wayne moved south to Virginia to join a force led by the Marquis de Lafayette. On July 6, Lafayette attempted an attack on Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis's rearguard at Green Spring.

Leading the assault, Wayne's command advanced into a British trap. Nearly overwhelmed, he held off the British with a daring bayonet charge until Lafayette could arrive to aid in extricating his men. Later in the campaign season, Washington moved south along with French troops under the Comte de Rochambeau. Uniting with Lafayette, this force besieged and captured Cornwallis' army at the Battle of Yorktown. After this victory, Wayne was sent to Georgia to combat Native American forces which were threatening the frontier. Successful, he was awarded a large plantation by the Georgia legislature.

Anthony Wayne - Later Life:

With the end of the war, Wayne was promoted to major general on October 10, 1783, before returning to civilian life. Living in Pennsylvania, he operated his plantation from afar and served in the state legislature from 1784-1785. A strong supporter of the new US Constitution, he was elected to Congress to represent Georgia in 1791. His time in the House of Representatives proved short-lived as he failed to meet the Georgia residency requirements and was forced to step down the following year. His entanglements in the South soon ended when his lenders foreclosed on the plantation.

In 1792, with the Northwest Indian War ongoing, President Washington sought to end a string of defeats by appointing Wayne to take over operations in the region. Realizing that previous forces had lacked training and discipline, Wayne spent much of 1793, drilling and instructing his men. Titling his army the Legion of the United States, Wayne's force included light and heavy infantry, as well as cavalry and artillery. Marching north from present-day Cincinnati in 1793, Wayne built a series of forts to protect his supply lines and the settlers in his rear. Advancing north, Wayne engaged and crushed a Native American army under Blue Jacket at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794. The victory at ultimately led to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ended the conflict and removed Native American claims to Ohio and the surrounding lands.

In 1796, Wayne made a tour of the forts on the frontier before beginning the journey home. Suffering from gout, Wayne died on December 15, 1796, while at Fort Presque Isle (Erie, PA). Initially buried there, he body was disinterred in 1809 by his son and his bones returned to the family plot at St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne, PA.

Selected Sources

  • American Revolution: Anthony Wayne
  • Ohio History Central: Anthony Wayne
  • NNDB: Anthony Wayne
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