May 12 – Anniversary of Clinton Defeating Lincoln

Posted May 12, 2015

When we are talking about American history, and someone says “Lincoln,” everyone flashes on the bearded-and-top-hatted President Abraham Lincoln. But in this case I am talking about Benjamin Lincoln, a Major General in the American army (in the American Revolutionary War).

And “Clinton” doesn't refer to former President Bill Clinton, nor to former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, but instead Sir Henry Clinton, a Lieutenant General in the British army.

We're talking about this date in 1780, when Lincoln gave his unconditional surrender of his 5,000 troops, after a siege that had lasted more than a month. Clinton had used his army of 10,000 soldiers to surround Charleston, South Carolina, and therefore cut the population off from fresh food and other supplies.

This was considered the biggest American surrender of the war. However, the other two surrenders that Lincoln was associated with during the Revolutionary War were British surrenders to American forces:

Earlier in the war, Lincoln had helped ensure a British surrender after the Battles of Saratoga, and it was Lincoln who formally accepted the Big Surrender – the one that decided the war – when the British surrendered at Yorktown.

It turns out that, by the end of the war, Lincoln was second in command under George Washington. And when the defeated British general, Lord Cornwallis, decided to skip the ceremony of surrender—he claimed he was sick—Cornwallis sent his second in command, Brigadier General Charles O'Hara. O'Hara did the traditional thing, presenting “the sword of surrender.” But he didn't offer it to George Washington, he offered it to the Compte de Rochambeau, who was the head of French troops who fought on the Americans' side. Rochambeau shook his head and pointed to Washington. But when O'Hara presented the sword to Washington, he too refused to accept it; he motioned to Benjamin Lincoln, who had been humiliated by the British during the Charleston surrender, to accept it.

I'm thinking that Washington was at least partly motivated by a desire to make Lincoln feel better about the events of today's anniversary?

Anyway, the next time you hear someone casually mention “Washington and Lincoln,” in one breath, take a moment to wonder if that is Abe or Benjamin Lincoln!

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