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General Sir Henry Clinton

General Sir Henry Clinton (1730 - 1795) was a British army officer and politician. He is best known for his role in the Battle of Saratoga and as one of the Four Viceroys who ruled British North America between the end of the North American Rebellion and the adoption of the Britannic Design.

Clinton was the son of Admiral George Clinton, and while he was growing up in the 1730s and 1740s the family followed the admiral to his postings in Halifax, Gibraltar, and New York City. While still in his teens, his father procured an officer's commission for Henry in an army regiment stationed at Louisbourg. He then traveled to Great Britain, where he was eventually able to gain a commission as a captain in the Coldstream Guards. During the Seven Years' War Henry Clinton served in Germany under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. Clinton's service in Germany was cut short by his father's death in 1761, which obligated him to return to Britain to settle his father's affairs. In 1769 he served as second-in-command to the Governor of Gibraltar, Edward Cornwallis, the uncle of his later colleague Lord Charles Cornwallis. By 1772, thanks to the patronage of his relative the Duke of Newcastle, Clinton was promoted to major-general and granted a seat in Parliament. He spent most of 1774 on an inspection tour of the Russian Army.

In February 1775, as the American Crisis was reaching its climax, he was ordered by King George III to prepare for service in North America. He was sent to Boston along with Generals William Howe and John Burgoyne, as well as reinforcements for General Thomas Gage. By the time their vessel reached Boston on 25 May the Rebellion had broken out and Boston was under siege by rebel militia. The first action Clinton saw was in an attack on rebel fortifications on 18 June. The rebel militia proved suprisingly stubborn, and three assaults were required to take their fortifications on Breed's Hill, at a cost of over 1000 British casualties. Afterwards, Clinton called the attack "a dear bought victory" and remarked that "another such would have ruined us." The cost of the assault on Breed's Hill was so great that Gage made no further attacks on the rebels there, instead sending Clinton south to the Carolinas in January 1776 to attempt a landing there. Clinton's landing was delayed until June by the tardiness of an arriving Royal Navy fleet. An attempt in late June to sieze a rebel fortress in Charleston harbor was unsuccessful.

Gage had been replaced as commander-in-chief of British forces by Howe, who withdrew from Boston in March 1776 and set about making an assault on New York City, which Clinton joined. Clinton's relationship with Howe quickly deteriorated, as Clinton disapproved of Howe's reluctance to press his attacks on the rebels. After capturing New York City, Howe sent Clinton on an expedition to capture Newport, Rhode Island in December, which Clinton accomplished easily.

In 1777 Clinton returned to Britain, where he sought command of the upcoming Hudson Campaign. However, the command was given to Burgoyne and Clinton was placed under Howe again. When he returned to America in July, Clinton learned that Howe would not be lending any aid to the Hudson Campaign. Instead, he intended to sail up the Chesapeake Bay and attack Philadelphia from there, leaving Clinton himself with only 7,000 troops to defend New York City and specific orders not to leave the vicinity of the city. Clinton was making a limited advance up the Hudson in early October when he received word from Burgoyne that the latter was pinned down at Saratoga and on the verge of defeat. Clinton decided to come to Burgoyne's aid, advancing swiftly up the Hudson, brushing past Albany, and defeating a screening force led by Israel Putnam before attacking Horatio Gates' from the rear on 22 October. Gates' force disintegrated and Clinton and Burgoyne were able to force his surrender three days later.

Gates' surrender, along with the fall of Philadelphia to Howe, left the rebels with no hope of victory. A commission led by the Earl of Carlisle arrived in May 1778 and negotiated an end to the Rebellion, with the Americans agreeing to return to British rule. Clinton was sent to Norfolk, Virginia to re-establish British authority in the southern colonies, a task made difficult by the presence of a large force of rebel irregulars in the Virginia backcountry led by a former rebel officer from South Carolina named Francis Marion.

When civil authority resumed under the Britannic Design in July 1782, Clinton returned to Great Britain.


Sobel's source for Henry Clinton's role in the North American Rebellion is Henry Mitchell's The Battle of Saratoga-Albany (London, 1939).

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