Lord Rawdon in America

Always to the front in a fight,

And the last in a retreat,

Lord Rawdon proved himself

A brilliant and successful partisan leader.

                                                                                                    Sir George Otto Trevelyan

Francis Lord Rawdon

Francis, Lord Rawdon[1] epitomized the perfect British officer in the eyes of those fine gentlemen who sat smugly in their distinguished seats in the House of Lords.  He was educated at Harrow where, on August 7, 1771, he became an ensign in the 15th Foot.  Later on he enrolled at University College in Oxford.  Rawdon was young, energetic, quick of decision, and decisive in its execution.  He knew the entitlements his birthright granted him and he made sure others knew it also.  His intelligence and social graces made him acceptable among his young peers (but not so much among the ladies having been described as one not too handsome).  His elders also thought highly of him labeling him a “fine young man.”  He was considered light-hearted and gained the approval of his superiors by readily accepting their advice.  Yet there was one quality that rose above all others once the young aristocrat faced his first test of battle.   from his superiors.   As any fellow officer would agree – Lord Rawdon was fearless.

Francis was born into a privileged family on December 9, 1754.  His father was John Rawdon, the first Earl of Moira which was an Irish Peerage,[2] His grandparents on his father’s side was Sir John Rawdon, Third Baronet and Dorothea Levinge.  His mother was Lady Elizabeth Hastings, daughter of Theophilus Hastings, ninth Earl of Huntington and Lady Selina Shirley.  The combined nobility guaranteed an estate of extreme wealth and social prestige.

Duty bound, but more important to the strong headed son of nobility – a chance for personal prestige, he left Oxford early[3] to purchase a lieutenancy.  He was commissioned on October 20, 1773.[4]  In May of 1774, he left for America and two months later sailed into Boston Harbor in time for the turmoil that had erupted between the colonists and England.

Battle of Bunker Hill (Battle of Charlestown)

Eager for action, he, along with the other young officers, longed for the opportunity to thrash the incorrigible rabble and backwards farmers who had the audacity to threaten His Majesty’s authority.  Rawdon and his peers had their chance on June 17th 1775 in a battle that shocked Englishmen throughout the world.[5]  The Battle of Charlestown, otherwise known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, was fought by both regulars[6] and rebels[7] with a tenacity that by day’s end, astonished both sides.  It proved, over time, to have a lasting effect on both the Ministerial Army[8] commanders as well as the Americans.

Lieutenant Rawdon’s company was commanded by Captain George Harris.  Harris had lost his lieutenant in the Concord/Lexington skirmish and as a replacement, had received Francis Rawdon, a man who was in many ways the diametric opposite of the kindly, thoughtful Captain Harris.  Lord Rawdon was every inch the young British officer and knew it.  Tall and athletic, the now twenty six your old Irish nobleman was a martinet[9] with his men and an ambitious soldier.  Bunker Hill was to be his first action.  After a year of garrison duty cooped up in Boston, he was unashamedly eager for a chance to distinguish himself.  He had little interest in the politics of the day and no sympathy for the American cause.  The prospect of a good fight was all the crude fort on Breed’s Hill meant to him.[10]

Rawdon and the Fifth Regiment, under Colonel Earl Percy Hugh, were among the First Brigade under the direct command of General Howe.   While the Second Brigade was deployed against the American redoubt and breastworks, the first was to move against those troops strewn out along the rail fences to the water.

Assaulting the redoubt on Breeds Hill (Battle of Bunker HIll)

After two devastating attempts to dislodge the Americans from their entrenchments, the British position became desperate.  General Howe knew his men had but one more charge left in them. He ordered his men to strip off the ungainly near hundred pounds of equipment and woolen coats.  He would advance as before on all fronts, but at the last moment, swing his right wing to the left and concentrate all his forces on the fort.  His men were not to fire but to push up Breed’s Hill as fast as their legs could carry them.  The third and final charge by the British proved too much for the Americans who had ran low on ammunition.

It was during this last charge that Lieutenant Rawdon would take charge of his company and drive over the top of the fort’s embankment.  As Bancroft writes, “The British reached the rampart on the southern side.  Those who first scaled the parapet were shot down as they mounted.  Harris, a captain of the fifth [Rawdon’s company] was mounting the fortification and encouraging his men to follow, when a ball grazed the top of his head, he fell back into the arms of Lord Rawdon, his lieutenant, who rescued him from being trampled on, and saved his life.”[11]

It was romantically reported that Captain Harris, while in the arms of Rawdon, cried out “For God’s sake, let me die in peace.[12]   Rawdon, the future Earl of Moira and Marquis of Hastings, led his company of grenadiers over the parapet, escaping with but two balls of lead passing through his cap.[13]  Afterwards, General Burgoyne, who had witnessed the battle from Boston and Copps Hill, wrote “Lord Rawdon has this day stamped his fame for life.”[14]

Battle of Long Island

In consequence of his role in the action on Breed’s Hill, Rawdon was promoted to Captain on July 12, 1775 and given a company in the 63rd Foot.   General Clinton, who liked to mentor promising young officers appointed Rawdon as a supernumerary aide-de-camp on January 15th 1776.  Rawdon and the 63rd accompanied Clinton on his failed attempt to take Charlestown later that year.   During the battles fought around New York City, August 27th through October, 1776, the 63rd was commanded by Colonel Francis Grant under direct command of Major McKenzie of the Fifth Brigade whose superior was Brigadier General Francis Smith.  Rawdon was in the thick of the fight during the Battle of Long Island.  Nearly a month later, his regiment landed at Kip’s Bay to take part in the invasion of Manhattan Island.  Having captured New York, Howe decided to try and flank Washington’s army who were dug in along Harlem Heights.  He landed a large force north in Westchester County. Rawdon’s regiment took part in the Battle of Pell’s Point against Colonel Glover’s Brigade.  He did not see action in the battle that followed; White Plains.

Lieutenant General Henry Clinton

While under General Clinton’s mentorship, Rawdon proved to be one of his most talented students.  Rawdon wrote home to England that “[Clinton] gives me lessons on the art of war, and I am truly happy at receiving instructions from one whom I regard as a thorough master of his profession.”

After the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, Washington’s army moved to winter’s quarters in Morristown, NY.  Later that winter of 1777, Rawdon left for England in the company of General Clinton.  They returned in late-summer of that year.  Rawdon’s regiment, the 63rd , sailed with General Howe to the Chesapeake and fought the battles around Philadelphia (Brandywine & Germantown).  Rawdon remained in New York with General Clinton.  In early October, he participated in the campaigns that captured Forts Clinton (named for governor of New York, George Clinton) and Montgomery; not far from West Point, NY.  After the forts capture, Clinton dispatched Rawdon to Philadelphia to carry the news to General Howe.  He attended Howe on October 18th, 1777 and stayed for the winter.

Clinton’s action in the Hudson Valley was a feeble answer to General Burgoyne’s pleas.   He requested General Howe to launch an invasion into the interior by driving his forces north up the Hudson Valley where the two would meet at Albany. Howe instead had sailed to Philadelphia.  Clinton used some of the forces stationed in New York to garrison the city, but it proved not enough for him to push past the forts.  Subsequently, General Burgoyne suffered defeat at Saratoga, NY on October 7th, 1777, the same day forts Clinton and Montgomery fell.

Sir Henry Clinton assumed the command of all British and Hessian forces in America following Howe’s resignation.   On May 25th, 1778, Lieutenant General Clinton ordered Rawdon to raise and command the Volunteers of Ireland, promoting him to the provincial command of colonel.[15]

Captain Welbore Ellis Doyle of the 55th Regiment was named his lieutenant-colonel.

Battle of Monmouth

On June 15, 1778, Clinton officially affirmed Rawdon’s appointment as one of his aides-de-camp being appointed Adjutant-General with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  Rawdon commanded his regiment during the retreat from Philadelphia and participated in the battle of Monmouth Court House on June 20, 1778.  Like most of the officers under Lt. General Henry Clinton’s direct command, Rawdon eventually fell out with his superior and former mentor.  Just over a year after accepting the adjunct position, he resigned in anger.

In the spring of 1780, Rawdon’s health had declined.  He and his regiment of Volunteers did not take part in the beginning of General Clinton’s invasion in what became known as the southern campaign.  The siege of Charleston was tightening the noose around American General Lincoln’s forces trapped in the city.  Rawdon’s health improved and he arrived Charleston with over 2500 reinforcements.  He led an expedition that captured the works on Haddrell’s Point reassuring the final days of the American resistance were numbered.  On May 12, 1780, Lincoln surrendered all troops within the city including the famed Virginia Line or Virginia First Regiment.

Clinton returned to New York that summer and Rawdon stayed on with Lieutenant General Cornwallis as he moved inland to secure the colonies of Georgia and South Carolina.  The American Congress, over Washington’s objection, insisted that the hero of Saratoga, Major General Horatio Gates, be sent to check Cornwallis’ movements.  Also the famed Delaware Regiment was ordered to undertake the long, tenuous journey south and meet up with the southern forces now under Gate’s command.  Just past dawn  on August 16, 1780, when the mist lingered and brushed the tops of wheat fields, the two armies clashed five miles north of Camden, South Carolina.

Battle of Camden

The militia from North Carolina and Virginia manned the left wing of the American line.  The right was held by a regiment of North Carolina militia and the battle hardened Continental troops of Delaware.   Cornwallis’ troops fired a volley into the militia on the left and immediately followed it with a bayonet charge.  The entire left wing of the American line dissolved within minutes.  The Virginia militia ran for the rear as fast as they could taking some of the North Carolina men with them.  However they were not fast enough to catch their commander, General Gates who had already bolted for safety.  He turned his horse north and didn’t stop until that evening.  His steed had carried him sixty miles to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Delaware troops under General Baron DeKalb and the North Carolina militia beside them held firm.  It was here that Rawdon’s Irish Tories were first tested.  Rawdon commanded the left wing of the British and twice his men charged against the American line that refused to break.  Only after two thousand British infantry, along with Colonel Tarleton’s cavalry, pressed the attack against DeKalb’s eight hundred men, did the Americans break formation.  Those who escaped did so by rushing into the nearby swamps.

Battle of Cowpens by Charles McBarron

This British victory was soon followed up with defeat at Cowpens at the hands of Brigadier General Daniel Morgan.  Rawdon assumed command of the southern forces when General Cornwallis chose to chase the newly appointed southern commander of American forces; General Greene.   This left Rawdon with a small force to defend all of South Carolina and Georgia.   In April 1781, Cornwallis had moved further north into Virginia leaving General Greene to turn back to the far south.  Rawden attacked a superior army under General Greene and defeated them at Hobkirk’s Hill.  Cornwallis, upon hearing of Rawdon’s victory, described it as “by far the most splendid of this war” adding, “his lordship’s great abilities, courage, and firmness of mind, cannot be sufficiently admired and applauded.”

The British could not follow up their victory.  Over the next year, they were gradually driven out of the southern colonies to the shore of Charleston.  The combination of fatigue and recurring malaria had destroyed Rawdon’s health.  In July of 1781 he gave up his command and on the twentieth of that month, set sail for England.  While enroute, his ship was taken by privateers and Rawdon spent a spell in the gracious care of French admiral De Grasse’s fleet.  He was allowed to return to England and wait for his exchange.

Lord Francis as the Marquess of Hastings, Governor of

Upon returning to England, Rawdon had a long and illustrious career. He was created a baron of Rawdon in the County of York in 1783.   Took on the additional surname ‘Hastings’ in 1790 when he became the 1st Marquess of Hastings.[16] He inherited the 2nd Earl of Moria in 1793.  He was to fight again in the French Revolution then spend three decades sitting the House of Lords where he embroiled himself in the vicarious plots and schemes that epitomized London politics.  He later served as Grand Master of the Masons, and as Governor-General of India.

His legacy with the Irish Regiment that fought the Americans so fiercely can be found to this day in Canada.  The Tory Irishmen, upon war’s end, lost their homes and could not remain in America.  Great Britain, in an underhanded show of appreciation for their sacrifice, did not desire the return of Irish emigrants to England.  The regiment, along with their families, was resettled in Nova Scotia.  Rawdon Township was established.  It was located near the center of Nova Scotia, including present day South Rawdon, Upper Rawdon, Centre Rawdon, and Rawdon Gold Mines.  Canadian Folk singer legend Stan Rogers made the community famous by writing the song “The Rawdon Hill.”  To this day you can hear the Irish Regiment’s influence in Nova Scotia’s famed and unique fiddle music.

Resources:

Bancroft, George.  History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent vol 9.  First Edition 1866:  Fifth Edition 1875:  Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, MA.

Fleming, Thomas J.  Now We Are Enemies, The Story of Bunker Hill. 1960: St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY.

Ford, Worthington Chaunchy.  British Officers Serving in the American Revolution 1774-1783. 1897:  Historical Printing Club, New York, NY.

Frothingham, Richard.  Centennial, Battle of Bunker Hill. 1875: Little, Brown, & Company,Boston, MA.

Hugh, Franklin Benjamin. The Siege of Charlestown by the British Fleet and Army…  1867:  J.Munsell, Albany, NY.

Internet Article.  Friends, Comrades and Enemies, Francis Lord Rawdon.  Updated Jan. 2, 2011: British History site home.goldon.net.

Johnston, Henry P.  The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn.  1878:  Published by the Long Island Historical Society, S. W. Green Printers, New York, NY.

Nelson, David.  Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Marquess of Hastings.  2005 by Rosemont Publishing, Cranbury, NJ.

Swett, Samuel.  History of Bunker Hill Battle with a Plan, 2nd ed.  1818:  Munroe & Francis, Boston, MA

Trevelyan, Sir George Otto, Bart.  The Revolutionary War Vol. I.  1922:  Longmans, Green & Co., London, UK & New York, NY.


[1]  His correct reference until created Baron later in life was Francis Lord Rawdon, not Lord Francis Rawdon as it appears in some texts.

[2] A peerage is a system of hereditary title in England. among the ranks of nobility.  The holder of a peerage is termed a peer. Though such distinctions in station were enjoyed by Lords who many among them owned vast estates, later the practice has been limited to members of the royal family.

[3]  Like his classmate Banastre Tarleton, both left Oxford early and failed to finish their degrees.

[4]  Ford, pg. 149.

[5] There were over a thousand British Casualties at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June  17th, 1775.  Of that, eighty nine were officers and of those twenty one were killed.  Many others afterwards died from their wounds.

[6]  Title given the British soldiers by Americans.

[7]  Title given the Americans by the British.

[8]  The British army in America was called the Ministerial Army.

[9]  A strict disciplinarian in all matters military.

[10]  Fleming, pg. 146.

[11]  Bancroft, vol. 7, pg. 429.

[12]  Rawdon had his men quickly carry his captain down the hill then took continued on up and over the parapet, demanding his men to follow.  Harris lived to become Major of the Fifth Regiment.  Frothingham, pg. 113

[13]  Later in the war, Rawdon would be recognized for donning a cat skinned cap.[14]  According to Sir George Otto Trevelyan, Vol. 1 pg. 335, Burgoyne’s words spoken after the battle were: “LordRawdon behaved to a charm.  His name is established for life.”

[15]  The Volunteers of Ireland (also known as the 2nd American regiment) was comprised of Irish emigrant Tories, colonists loyal to the crown.  At war’s end, they lost their homes and could not remain in America.  England both desired settlements in Canada and did not desire the return of Irish emigrants to Ireland.  The regiment, along with their families were resettled in Nova Scotia.  Several communities in and around the Municipal District of East Hants Nova Scotia bear Rawdon’s name (Upper Rawdon, Central Rawdon, Rawdon Gold Mines, etc).  Canadian folk-singer legend Stan Rogers made the community famous in his song “The Rawdon Hills.”

[16]  In compliance with the will of his maternal uncle, Francis Hastings, 10th Earl of Huntington.

Read the first installment of A Black Man’s Destiny (Shades of Liberty) here.

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