Heroes From History: Anthony Wayne

Anthony Wayne was a famous general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War who was later appointed commander in chief of the United States Army by President George Washington. He was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania on January 1, 1745. Perhaps Wayne’s most notable accomplishments were his victory at the Battle of Stony Point during the Revolutionary War and his negotiation of the Treaty of Greenville, ending the Northwest Indian War.

Early Life and Service

Prior to the American Revolutionary War, Anthony Wayne was a surveyor. He was known for traveling to Nova Scotia, Canada to record a description of the land and natural resources there. Later, he returned home and founded both a tannery and a farm. Wayne supported independence and regularly advocated for separation from the British Empire. He briefly served in the Pennslyvania legislature prior to being commissioned as a colonel in the Continental Army after the war began.

Anthony Wayne’s early military career was defined by several notable defeats. He was first deployed to assist the future traitor, General Benedict Arnold with his army in Canada. Quebec, the fourteenth colony, refused to sign the Declaration of Independence and remained loyal to the British Empire. During the Battle of Trois-Rivières on June 8, 1776, the troops under Wayne’s command successfully skirmished with British troops in the swampland. Nevertheless, the rest of the American forces were routed and began to scatter. Wayne quickly switched to supporting the American troops during their withdrawal to provide a fighting retreat. Despite the loss of the battle and the failure of the invasion of Canada, Wayne was commended for his efforts during the campaign. He was then put in command of Fort Ticonderoga and promoted to Brigadier General in 1777.

Anthony Wayne commanded forces at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. Wayne’s forces were tasked with holding the Brandywine River against Hessian troops, and they were successful for a time. However, the German General Wilhelm von Knyphausen eventually managed to flank the Americans and push them back. Wayne again managed to organize a fighting retreat and support the withdrawal. Later that month, Wayne suffered one more defeat during what became known as the Paoli Massacre.

Paoli Massacre
A painting of the Battle of Paoli was commissioned by a British soldier who participated in the battle.

On September 20, George Washington sent Wayne to circle around the enemy and counterattack them from behind. However, either deserters or captured American couriers informed the British of where Wayne and his men were camped. Wayne lost 158 men when attacked by British General “No Flint” Gray. General Gray earned the name for ordering his men to attack the camp only with bayonets and swords, or by using their firearms as clubs. In so doing, they managed to go through the camp without alerting the whole of Wayne’s force. General Wayne requested that he be court-martialed for the Paoli Massacre. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges and commended once again for his leadership, despite the loss of men.

Wayne would quickly be put back into service and take part in the defeat of Continental forces at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. Wayne’s forces were reportedly putting heavy pressure on the British and pushing them back. However, partway through the battle, Wayne’s troops came under friendly fire. Thinking they were about to be encircled, Wayne ordered a retreat. This cost the Americans their momentum, and ultimately, the battle. Still, Wayne learned much from his early military career. By all accounts, his losses were due to factors outside his control including the overwhelming force of the British Empire’s international coalition and a bit of bad luck.

Learning From Defeat

One of the first major victories of Wayne’s career involved taking over command of General Charles Lee’s troops after he was relieved of command by George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth. Lee was not confident in the Continental Army’s ability to push the British out of New Jersey, and the troops under his command reflected this perspective. When George Washington saw Lee’s troops fleeing from the battle, he removed Lee and split up the general’s forces between the reserve troops under the Marquis de Lafayette and Wayne’s men. Washington then pressed the attack against the British and eventually forced them to retreat to New York. Wayne wished to pursue the British the next morning, but Washington denied that request in favor of giving the troops much-needed rest.

Anthony Wayne
A portrait of Anthony Wayne by Edward Savage.

On July 16, 1779, Wayne was dispatched to recapture the fort at Stony Point which had been taken over by the British. Wayne used the tactic General “No Flint” Gray had used against him during the Paoli Massacre, ordering his troops to advance on the fort using only bayonets. This prevented the whole force from being alerted and putting up a defense. Wayne was shot in the head during the Battle of Stony Point, but he continued to fight and led his troops to victory in spite of the injury. For this, he was awarded a gold medal by Congress. General Wayne’s nickname, “Mad” Anthony, had been catching on for some time now and eventually stuck due to his aggressive reputation. This was due in part to George Washington considering Wayne to be rash and impulsive, yet somehow wildly successful. The name also probably first arose from Wayne ordering one of his spies who was arrested to be lashed as punishment, and rumors spreading that Wayne was “mad” about the arrest.

General Wayne had many more exploits throughout the war. He facilitated more fighting retreats and saved Continental troops which would have been routed without his leadership. Wayne also helped foil Benedict Arnold’s plan to betray the Americans and turn over West Point to the British. Wayne was with George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown where General Cornwallis surrendered and the American Revolutionary War officially came to a close. Wayne achieved the rank of major general before retiring from military service in 1783.

The British Switch to a Proxy War

Legion of the United States
The Legion of the United States at the Battle of Fallen Timbers

After General Cornwallis’s surrender officially ended the conflict with the American rebels, the British Empire continued to mobilize the Native Americans and Canadians against the United States. Intent on toppling the American government from the shadows, they unofficially supplied the Native Americans and Canadians with weapons and supplies using their network of military forts they retained across the American mainland. This led to the formation of the Northwestern Confederacy – an alliance between the Canadians and Native Americans with shadow support from the British Empire. Thus began the Northwest Indian War which saw the Americans lose many battles in the early days.

In 1792, Wayne was brought out of retirement by George Washington and put in command of the U.S. Army. Washington hoped Wayne would turn the conflict around which was going poorly for the Americans, and he would not be disappointed. Wayne spent two years training an army and building forts around the frontier to challenge the British forts. Wayne’s forces came to be known as the “Legion of the United States.” On August 20, 1794, Wayne led the Legion against Native American and Candian troops under the command of Blue Jacket at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Wayne led his troops to a decisive victory, forcing the enemy troops to retreat to Fort Miami.

The Native Americans were not allowed entry to the British fort, and the situation briefly grew tense again when Wayne and his troops arrived. Wayne ordered the British fort to be evacuated, but the British were ready for a fight and refused. Unwilling to push further, Wayne retreated back to Greenville. From there, he began negotiating for a peace treaty with the Northwestern Confederacy. On August 3, 1795, the Native American tribes agreed to surrender and the conflict ended. The Americans took Ohio and parts of the surrounding region. The Northwestern Confederacy was a threat no more.

Pennsylvania Museum of Art
A statue of Anthony Wayne at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art.
Death and Legacy

Anthony Wayne passed away on December 15, 1796. He died from complications with gout. He was originally buried at Fort Presque Isle in Erie, Pennslyvania, but his remains were later moved by his son to his hometown. He was remembered as an impulsive and overly-eager leader, but one whose skill earned him the respect of his peers nonetheless. Mad Anthony Wayne saved numerous American lives throughout his career and played a critical role in ensuring the survival of the young republic he loved so much.


All posts by The Pen and Sword are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Published by Louis

I am a freelance writer from the United States.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: