Clinton, Sir Henry

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Clinton, Sir Henry

Sir Henry Clinton, 1738?–1795, British general in the American Revolution, b. Newfoundland; son of George Clinton (1686?–1761). He was an officer in the New York militia and then in the Coldstream Guards. He had distinguished himself in America by service in the French and Indian Wars long before he arrived in Boston in 1775 with the reinforcements for Gov. Thomas Gage.

Clinton took part in the battle of Bunker Hill (1775), commanded (1776) an unsuccessful expedition against Charleston, S.C., and served under Sir William Howe in the battle of Long Island, in the occupation of New York, and at White Plains. In 1777 he headed the British occupation of Rhode Island. When Howe moved on Philadelphia, Clinton assumed the command of New York. He did not fulfill the part expected of the New York command in the British strategy that resulted in defeat with the Saratoga campaign; he advanced up the Hudson valley, capturing the patriot strongholds of Fort Clinton (strongly defended by James Clinton) and Fort Montgomery, but after burning Kingston he turned back.

Sir Henry (knighted 1777) succeeded Howe in the supreme command in America in 1778. Acting on orders from London, he evacuated Philadelphia and, after Washington's attempt to halt him failed (see Monmouth, battle of), he reached New York. He complained that Lord George Germain did not answer his requests for supplies and twice tried to resign. In Dec., 1779, he left Baron Knyphausen in command in New York and redeemed his failure of 1776 by capturing Charleston (1780). After placing Cornwallis in command in the Carolinas, he returned to New York. In 1781, expecting Washington to attack, he remained in New York too long and failed to aid Cornwallis in the Yorktown campaign. He resigned and was succeeded by Sir Guy Carleton.

Clinton later served (1794–95) governor of Gibraltar. He recorded his campaigns from 1775 to 1782 (published in 1954 as The American Rebellion, ed. by W. B. Willcox). Cornwallis criticized his account, and the controversy between the two continued until Clinton's death.

See W. B. Willcox, Portrait of a General (1964).

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