Commander of the Continental Light Corps
Both parents of Marylander Otho Williams died when he was 13, leaving him in charge of his seven younger siblings with only a small estate. To get by, he apprenticed with his aunt’s husband as a clerk for Frederick County. Five years later in 1767, he became a clerk in Baltimore County. A year after entering business in 1774, Williams joined a militia rifle company as a lieutenant. It was ordered almost immediately to the Siege of Boston. During battles for New York City under Gen. George Washington, Williams was wounded and captured while valiantly defending Fort Washington in Manhattan. He was held two years, at first with considerable freedom, and then in a tiny prison cell. He was released as part of a prisoner exchange and returned to service as a lieutenant colonel. In 1780 he was in a detachment sent to relieve Charleston, however it started too late and was diverted to Cox’s Mill near today’s Ramseur. He recommended against Brig. Gen. Horatio Gates taking the army directly south to challenge the British, but fought dutifully in the terrible defeat at the Battle of Camden (S.C.) after Gates ignored him. Williams helped rebuild the army in N.C. as Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene took command. During the Race to the Dan, Greene placed Williams in command of a fast-moving “light corps” meant to screen his army, harass the British, and prevent Loyalists from joining them. The corps was highly successful, allowing Greene to get across the Dan River safely, and giving him time to prepare after he returned to confront the British. Williams’ leadership helped prevent a Continental collapse at the Battle of Guilford Court House. He received praise from Greene for his charge at the Battle of Eutaw Springs (S.C.). In March of 1782, Williams took leave back to Maryland. He did not return to active service, even after promotion to brigadier general. He invested in land and ships and was named naval commander of the Port of Baltimore. Alexander Hamilton was the recipient of Williams’ last letter, sent a week before Williams died at 45 of tuberculosis, probably contracted while a prisoner.
- Greenwalt, Phill, ‘Author Interview & Review: Otho Holland Williams in the American Revolution by John Beakes’, Emerging Revolutionary War Era, 2016 <https://emergingrevolutionarywar.org/2016/02/19/author-interview-review-otho-holland-williams-in-the-american-revolution-by-john-beakes/> [accessed 13 May 2020]
- Kalmanson, Arnold W., ‘Otho Holland Williams and the Southern Campaign of 1780-1782’ (Salisbury University, 1990) <http://mdsoar.org/handle/11603/11437> [accessed 13 May 2020]
- ‘Otho Holland William’s Tiny Cell – The Punishment of Continued Correspondence’, Founder of the Day <https://www.founderoftheday.com/founder-of-the-day/otho-holland-williams> [accessed 14 May 2020]
- Sherman, Wm. Thomas, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781, Tenth Edition (Seattle, WA: Gun Jones Publishing, 2007) <https://www.americanrevolution.org/calendar_south_10_ed_update_2017.pdf>
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