William Campbell

Commander of the Overmountain Men


Born to Virginia farmers, and a graduate of the academy that became Washington and Lee University, William Campbell inherited a large estate around age 18. He moved his mother and sisters to acreage in southwest Virginia and had a plantation built. He also served as a judge, and first saw military service (though not combat) against Native Americans in 1774. Campbell created a rifle company within the regiment of famed orator Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty, or give me death!”). That led him to meet and marry Henry’s sister, Elizabeth. Campbell spent much of the war protecting Patriots and lead mines in his region, rising to colonel. He was brutal with Loyalists, destroying property and hanging as many as 12 men without trials, gaining him infamy as the “‘bloody tyrant of Washington County.’”[1] He also served in the Virginia House of Delegates, which in 1779 pardoned him “for any actions not ‘strictly warranted by law.'”[2] His militia joined the Overmountain Men, and he ended up in command in the Patriot victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain (S.C.). Campbell won praise for his unit’s service at the Battle of Guilford Court House, though he claimed he was abandoned by fellow Virginian Henry Lee. He was promoted to brigadier general in command of the Virginia militia sent to the Continental Army siege of Yorktown, Va. But he did not live to see Lord Charles Cornwallis surrender in October 1781, having died from illness in August.

More Information

[1] American Battlefield Trust 2017.

[2] Jones 2011.

Mug with an African-American soldier and the words, "Fighting for Freedom."
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