Charles O’Hara

Hero of Two British Victories


Drawing of Charles O'HaraSurely the only person who surrendered personally to both George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles O’Hara had a long and varied career in service to Britain. He was the bastard child of an English baron and Portuguese mistress, born in Lisbon. By age 11 he was in the army, and he fought in Germany and Portugal (under his father) during the Seven Years’ War. He spent 11 years as governor of Senegal, where he failed as an administrator before being recalled. O’Hara was transferred in 1777 to help put down the American rebellion. He initially commanded the garrison at Sandy Hook, N.J., but again was mostly an administrator in various roles over two years. He also earned a reputation as a gambler and womanizer. After a brief return to England, he was given command of a brigade here despite his lack of battlefield experience. As a brigadier general he was Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis’s second-in-command for most of the Southern Campaign. O’Hara led the victory at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford and a counter-charge that helped win the Battle of Guilford Court House. He was badly wounded there (and his nephew killed). At Yorktown, Va., Cornwallis feigned illness on the day the British surrendered, so it was O’Hara who offered his sword to Washington, the custom of the day. His strict military discipline belied a lack of the personal variety: Though well liked as a social companion, he had to flee England shortly after the war due to gambling debts, and could not return until Cornwallis helped clear them. He was known also to have many romantic affairs. In 1793 he led an attack in Toulon, France, as a lieutenant general, and was captured personally by the up-and-coming Bonaparte. He spent two years imprisoned until exchanged for a French general, and was Governor of Gibraltar when he died around age 62 from old war wounds.

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