You may have heard Wayne’s nickname, “Mad Anthony.”
Why was he called that? Unfortunately, a misconception arose that it meant he was wild, reckless and careless. This was inaccurate. But it was popularized by the famed novelist Washington Irving years after the Revolutionary War ended. Others have thought that the nickname was given to Wayne because he always seemed to lead his men into the hottest spots during battles.
But the real reason was that Anthony Wayne had a legendary and fiery temperament. He bristled at any hint of incompetence or challenge to his honor. In fact, at the Battle of Paoli, a reason some of his officers complained about Wayne’s conduct was due to his angry treatment of an officer. The hapless subordinate had incorrectly reported that some pickets had disappeared from their post. While Wayne was “hot-blooded” about some matters; he was equally “cold-blooded” when in actual battle. He shunned danger and consistently led from the front lines.
The nickname “Mad Anthony” came about several years after the Paoli Massacre. Wayne, like George Washington, was a strict disciplinarian and demanded obedience and loyalty from his men. But he also was very loyal to them, struggling constantly to improve their circumstances. Muster rolls of the Pennsylvania Line show that many of his soldiers repeatedly returned to fight under him. Many of his friends, neighbors and fellow Chester Countians served with him.
One of these was an eccentric who had his own nicknames. He was known as “Jemmy the Rover” to some and “the Commodore” by others. Wayne occasionally used him as a spy. But his wandering tendencies made him a chronic deserter, despite punishment by lashings and stints in the blockhouse.
In 1781, local constables jailed Jemmy for disorderly conduct. He told his jailers that he was Wayne’s good friend and demanded to be set free. When the constables refused, Jemmy asked that a messenger be sent to General Wayne to order his release from jail. But when Wayne heard, hid anger flared. He refused to intervene and added that if it happened again, he would order, “29 lashes well laid on”.
Jemmy could not believe his ears when he heard Wayne’s reply. Jemmy muttered, “Anthony is mad. He must be mad or he would help me. Mad Anthony, that’s what he is. Mad Anthony Wayne”.
This humorous tale spread around the Continental Army campfires and was repeated by soldiers in the ranks. “Mad Anthony Wayne” had a rhythm and cadence that caught on and stuck. Mad Anthony’s nickname became a nom de guerre.