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General Anthony Wayne

General Wayne beside his horse in camp. A woodcut after painting by Chappel.

General Anthony Wayne knew the Philadelphia area well. His grandfather, a British Officer of distinction, purchased a large land grant in the farmlands west of the largest city in the Colonies. Anthony was born in the ancestral home, Waynesborough, in 1745. It is just three miles east of the Paoli Massacre site.

Wayne had many similarities to his commander-in-chief, George Washington. Both were large men. Both were from wealthy families but not educated at a college. Both preferred more active lives and became proficient surveyors. Both were keen students of military skills. Both were known for their personal bravery and strong sense of discipline. Both were extremely loyal to their subordinates and soldiers. Both cared far more for the ideals of liberty and civilian control than for personal gain or glory. Both had fiery tempers, although the older Washington had learned more composure. And both would rather attack the enemy than avoid them.

Wayne commanded the Pennsylvania Continental line, or military forces assigned to Washington. He commanded Fort Ticonderoga during the harsh winter after the failed Canadian campaign. His valor, astute leadership and the respect of many of the founding fathers caused him to rise rapidly to a brigadier general (one star) rank by 1777. However, throughout the rest of the war, Wayne stayed at that rank while commanding a force of men that called for at least a major general (2 star). While irksome, Wayne used his connections to ensure the proper recognition of his officers and troops. Many of his letters to the Pennsylvania state assembly was for pay and supplies, which he rarely got. It is sad to say, but the early state structure consistently short-changed its citizen-soldiers.

The British surprise attack at Paoli was a dark moment for Wayne. He was accused by some of his officers of poorly handling the matter. Wayne’s now legendary temper took hold and he demanded first an official inquiry and then a full Court Martial. The Court Martial unanimously exonerated his actions and Wayne still had the trust and support of George Washington.

Washington relied heavily on Wayne throughout the war. Before making strategic decisions, it was Washington’s habit to have his top generals write out their suggestions. He could always count on Wayne to propose aggressive and well-organized plans. Wayne, like Washington, led from the front. His aggressive leadership was demonstrated at Brandywine, where his troops were opposite what Washington thought was the main British front. Later, at Monmouth, Wayne’s rallying and counter-charge was pivotal in Washington’s first major victory.

Congressional Medal Awarded to Wayne. The reverse side of medal depicts his victory at Stony Point.
Congressional Medal Awarded to Wayne. The reverse side of medal depicts his victory at Stony Point.[/caption]

A year later, Washington and Wayne devised a daring raid that captured the supposedly impregnable British stronghold at Stony Point, NY. Washington had asked Wayne to form and command an elite “American Light Corps”, the equivalent of today’s Special Forces. Wayne used all his painfully learned lessons from Paoli, Germantown and Monmouth. Mirroring “No Flint” Grey’s attack at Paoli, Wayne led his troops in a nighttime, surprise attack starting with a silent, bayonets only, assault. Wayne’s attack was much more audacious since Stony Point was a heavily fortified stronghold on the top of steep Hudson River palisades, protected by artillery in the fort and across the Hudson. Despite the many physical obstacles, Wayne’s assault was successful and in just a few hours had captured the fort and its occupants. It was widely recognized as one of the most brilliant maneuvers of the Revolutionary War.

Just before the battle of Yorktown, Wayne saved Lafayette from a trap set by Cornwallis near Williamsburg; Wayne’s small contingent of 800 Pennsylvanians was the vanguard of the continental forces. After passing over a swamp by a narrow causeway he was ambushed by over 4,000 British. Instead of retreating Wayne charged. This unexpected maneuver so surprised the enemy that they fell back confused, allowing the rest of Lafayette’s command to avoid the trap.

After Yorktown, Wayne and his men conducted successful campaigns to dislodge large English and hostile Indian forces in Georgia and South Carolina. He remained in the South until the war officially ended with the treaty of Paris in 1783. Throughout the war, because of the way Congress set up promotions, Anthony Wayne had the duties and responsibilities of a major general but not the rank. Finally, he was awarded the rank of Brevet-Major General as the war closed.

When George Washington became our first president, his high regard for Wayne’s military skills and judgment was demonstrated. In 1792, Washington appointed Wayne as the commander-in-chief of the American armies. Indian wars in the Northwest Territory had decimated frontier settlements and defeated two military campaigns. Wayne had to recruit, train and lead a new army to restore order and defeat the Indian confederacy that was secretly supported by the British Empire. In three years, Wayne had created a disciplined army, defeated the Indians at Fallen Timber, and negotiated a treaty that gained all the lands from the Ohio River to the Mississippi for the United States.

In 1796, Wayne visited an outpost on great lakes, Presqu’Isle, later to be Erie, PA. Wayne had suffered through the past years with a serious case of gout and he had a severe attack at the fort. He succumbed to complications from the disease and was initially buried at the fort. Later his son had his remains moved to St. David’s church in Radnor.

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