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OTHO HOLLAND WILLIAMS.
The military operations of the revolution naturally present themselves in review in two series, divided geographically by the Chesapeake bay; so distinctly drawn is this line, that in every connected history of the period, from the evacuation of Boston to the capture of Cornwallis, we find the narrative alternately carries the reader's attention from one to the other side of that estuary.
This has placed the officers of the army in groups, which are inseparable in our mental associations, and renders the repetition of much historical memoranda unnecessary in this work, in which the memoirs of many of the most prominent actors in the same scenes are brought together; we shall, therefore, in the present instance, confine ourselves to as brief a space as is possible, with a due regard to the merits of an accomplished gentleman and gallant soldier.
OTHO HOLLAND WILLIAMS was born in Prince George county, Maryland, in 1748. His ancestors were among the earliest emigrants from Britain, after Lord Baltimore became proprietor of the province. At the age of about twelve years, he was left an orphan, but was protected and educated by his brother-in-law, Mr. Ross. While yet a youth, he was placed in the clerk's office of the county of Frederick, and he afterwards removed to the clerk's office of Baltimore.
He was then about eighteen years of age, nearly six feet high, elegantly formed, his whole appearance and conduct manly beyond his years,
and his manners such as made friends of all who knew him. He returned to Frederick, and early in the revolutionary war (1775) was appointed a lieutenant in a rifle company, commanded by Captain Price. The company marched to Boston, and his captain being promoted, he succeeded to the command of it. When Fort Washington was attacked, he had the rank of major, and as commander of the riflemen, was stationed in a wood in advance of the fort. The Hessians attempted to dislodge him, and were twice driven back with great slaughter. Having been reinforced, they made a third attempt, and succeeded in driving the riflemen from their position. In this last attack, Major Williams received a wound in the groin, and was taken prisoner. He was sent to New York, where he was suffered to go at large on his parole. His fine martial appearance, gentlemanly manners, and polite deportment, procured for him civilities that few others were favored with, until a suspicion arose that, being competent, he would carry on a secret correspondence with General Washington, and on that suspicion alone, he was put in close confinement, with ten or eleven other officers, under the provost guard, in a small room not more than sixteen feet square, without the privilege of egress, or of having the room cleaned more than once or twice a week. Their provisions were of the coarsest kind, and barely sufficient to keep soul and body together. In that miserable situation he was kept, until exchanged for Major Ackland," who had been wounded and taken prisoner at Burgoyne's defeat. The length of time he was confined, and the treatment he received during that period, shattered his fine constitution, and planted the seeds of the complaint which terminated his existence.
During his captivity, Major WILLIAMS was promoted to the command of the sixth regiment of the Maryland line; that division marched to the south, and in all the battles that were fought by that celebrated line, Colonel WILLIAMS distinguished himself.
He acted as deputy adjutant-general of the southern army, under General Gates, and has left a detailed and lucid narrative of the disastrous campaign of 1780, from which we shall occasionally borrow.
* These gallant young men became warm friends before they parted; and General Wilkinson, in his Memoirs, has preserved an anecdote of the period, which we transplant to our pages, for the double purpose of illustrating our subject, and of rendering a tribute to the memory of a generous enemy, who afterwards lost his life in vindicating the military character of Americans. "On an occasion, after dining with Lady Harriet, he (Ackland) proposed to Major WILLIAMS to visit an assembly; they entered, and the attention of the belles and beaux could not but be attracted by two such elegant figures as Ackland and Williams; but the rancour of civil animosity prevailed over the obligations of good breeding, and WILLIAMS was shunned like a pestilence. Ackland made his introduction general, but without effect, and after sauntering across the room several times, 'Come, Williams,' said he, “this society is too illiberal for you and me; let us go home, and sup with Lady Harriet.'
" Ackland, after his return to England, at a dinner of military men, where the courage of the Americans was made a question, took the negative side with his usual decision ; he was opposed, warmth ensued, and he gave the lie direct to a Lieutenant Lloyd, fought him, and was shot through the head. Lady Harriet lost her senses, and continued deranged two years."
After the battle of Camden, all the fragments of the army that could be gathered together were marched off from Charlotte to Salisbury, “constituting,” in the language of the narrative referred to, "a wretched remnant of the late southern army; amongst the rest were six soldiers who left the hospital with other convalescents; they had all suffered in Buford's unfortunate affair, and had but two sound
amongst them; indeed four of them had not one arm among them, and two only an arm apiece.” Such are the shocking spectacles that war exhibits.
After a little breathing time had been allowed at Hillsborough, a board of officers, convened by order of General Gates, determined that all the effective men should be formed into two battalions, constituting one regiment; to be completely officered and provided for in the best possible manner that circumstances would admit, and the command of it given to Colonel WILLIAMS and Lieutenant-Colonel Howard. This nucleus of the southern army was encamped at some distance from the town-if the word “encamped” can be properly applied to men who were sheltered in “wigwams, made of fence rails, poles, and corn tops.” But, notwithstanding this unostentatious mode of dwelling, by the judicious conduct of the officers, a spirit was diffused amongst the troops which was felt by the enemy in the next encounter. Parade duties were regularly attended, as well by officers as soldiers, and discipline not only began to be perfectly restored, but even gave an air of stability and confidence to the regiment which all their rags could not disguise. In this encampment, no circumstance of want or distress was admitted as an excuse for relaxing from the strictest discipline, to which the soldiers more cheerfully submitted, as they saw their officers constantly occupied in procuring for them whatever was attainable in their situation. Absolutely without pay; almost destitute of clothing; often with only a half ration, and never with a whole one, (without substituting one article for another,) not a soldier was heard to murmur, after the third or fourth day of their being encamped. Instead of meeting and conferring in small sullen squads, as they had formerly done, they filled up the intervals from duty with manly exercises and field sports; in short, the officers had very soon the entire confidence of the men, who divested themselves of all unnecessary care, and devoted themselves to duty and pastime within the limits assigned them.
On General Greene's assuming the command of the southern army, he soon discovered the superior abilities of Colonel WILLIAMS,
and appointed him adjutant-general of his army. In this high trust, he enjoyed the confidence of his general and the army, and fully merited it by his gallantry and his strict attention to his duties. In every action-and they were numerous-he displayed tact, judgment, and presence of mind. He gained great honor for his conduct in covering, with the rear guard, which he commanded, the memorable retreat of the army through North Carolina.
He baffled every attempt of the enemy to bring on a general engagement, and by checking his advance, gained sufficient time to enable the main body of the army to secure its retreat. The preservation of that army has been justly attributed to him for his firmness, coolness, and able manœuvres.
In the battle at the Eutaw Springs, he led that celebrated charge, which gained him the highest honors of the day. At a critical moment General Greene issued the order, “Let WILLIAMS advance and sweep the field with his bayonets.” Promptly was the order obeyed—the field was swept, but the victory was dearly bought. Near the close of the war, he was sent by General Greene with despatches to congress, and was by that body promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, as a reward for his gallant services. About that period the state collector of the customs for Baltimore, died, and WILLIAMS received the appointment from the governor of Maryland. The office was lucrative, and he enjoyed it until the adoption of the constitution of the United States, when Washington appointed him to the same office, which he held until his death.
General WILLIAMS married Mary, the second daughter of William Smith, a wealthy merchant of Baltimore, who had been a member of congress. They had four sons, William, Edward, Henry, and Otho, all of whom inherited handsome fortunes, and many of the fine qualities of their father. William and Edward married, the former Miss Susan Cook, and the latter Miss Gilmore, of Baltimore. The four brothers have all, however, been called to early graves, and the only lineal representatives of the gallant, amiable, and accomplished WILLIAMS, are the two sons, and two daughters of his son William, and a daughter of his son Edward.
The health of General WILLIAMS had been very delicate for many years; the result of the cruelty inflicted on him while a prisoner, and of the severe service he was engaged in, during his campaign in the south. He died on the 16th of July, 1794, on his way to a watering place, regretted by his country and his friends.