Sir Henry Clinton – a brief summary

General Sir Henry Clinton, 1730 – 1795, was a key commander of British forces during the American Revolution, and British commander-in-chief from 1778 to 1782.

Sir Henry Clinton Little is known of the earliest years of Henry Clinton’s life. Even his date of birth, 16 April 1730, is in doubt. In 1739 his father, a high-ranking military naval officer, applied for the governorship of the Province of New York.  He won the post in 1741 with the assistance of the Duke of Newcastle (who was his brother’s brother-in-law), but did not actually go to New York until 1743, taking young Henry with him.

Henry Clinton was educated in the New York and began his military career by joining the local militia in 1748. Three years later, he returned to England to enter the British Army. Purchasing a commission as a captain in the Coldstream Guards, Clinton proved a gifted officer.

American War of Independence

Clinton took part in the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, Massachusetts, and went on to command an unsuccessful expedition against Charleston, South Carolina in 1776.  In 1777, he headed the British occupation of Rhode Island. When the British Commander, Sir William Howe moved on Philadelphia, Clinton assumed the command of New York, but took no part in the British defeat at Saratoga, New York.

Sir Henry, knighted 1777, succeeded Howe as the supreme command in America in 1778 after Howe failed to crush Washington’s army at Valley Forge. Acting on orders from London, he evacuated the British troops in Philadelphia and returned to New York.

Safely reaching New York, Clinton planned to shift the focus of the war to the South where he believed Loyalist support would be greater.  After learning of a French fleet approaching New York, Clinton was forced to turn over command to Charles Cornwallis.  When Cornwallis was trapped by Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, Clinton attempted to organize a relief force. Unfortunately, by the time he departed, Cornwallis had already surrendered to Washington. As a result of Cornwallis’ defeat, Clinton was replaced by Sir Guy Carleton in March 1782.

Henry Clinton died 23 December 1795, aged 65.

George WashingtonDavid B McCoy

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