Continental Cavalry Regiment Commander
Distantly related to Continental commander-in-chief Gen. George Washington, William earned respect on his own accord. Born and raised on a Virginia plantation like George, William was educated to be a minister. But his path changed at 23 when the war broke out, and he joined his county’s militia. His unit was transferred to the regular Continental Army in 1776, and fought in the Battle of Harlem Heights (N.Y.) that August. Washington was part of the crossing of the Delaware River under George. He led a key cavalry charge in the related victory at the Battle of Trenton (N.J.), where he was wounded. He was rewarded with a promotion to major. By 1779 Washington was a lieutenant colonel in command of a cavalry regiment. It was sent to counter the British invasion of the southern colonies, with mixed results. However, for a brilliant charge that helped win the major Patriot victory at the Battle of Cowpens (S.C.), in early 1781, he received only one of 11 silver medals awarded by the Continental Congress. There he may have briefly engaged the British commander, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, in sabre-to-sabre combat. His regiment participated in the Race to the Dan resulting from that battle. It also helped screen the Continental Army from the British prior to the Battle of Guilford Court House, where it fought with distinction. After that it returned to South Carolina with the rest of the army. There Washington was wounded again and captured at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. He was a prisoner the rest of the war—though only loosely held, apparently, given that he got married and bought Sandy Hill Plantation during that time. He spent the rest of his life operating it, where he hosted George on the president’s southern states tour in 1791. Washington also was elected to both houses of the S.C. state assembly. A long, unspecified illness brought him to his end at age 58, and he was buried in Charleston.
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