American Revolution: Major General Anthony Wayne

Anthony Wayne in uniform
Major General Anthony Wayne. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Major General Anthony Wayne was a noted American commander during the American Revolution (1775-1783). A Pennsylvania native, Wayne was a prominent businessman before the war and aided in raising troops during the early days of the conflict. Commissioned into the Continental Army in early 1776, he initially served in Canada before joining General George Washington's army. Over the next several years, Wayne distinguished himself in each of the army's campaigns as well as earned famed for his victory at the Battle of Stony Point.

In 1792, Wayne was appointed to lead American forces during the Northwest Indian War. Relentlessly drilling his men, he led them to victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Following this triumph, Wayne negotiated the Treaty of Greenville which ended the war.

Early Life

Born January 1, 1745, at the family home in Waynesborough, PA, Anthony Wayne was the son of Isaac Wayne and Elizabeth Iddings. At a young age, he was sent to nearby Philadelphia to be educated at a school run by his uncle, Gabriel Wayne. During the course of the schooling, the young Anthony proved unruly and interested in a military career. After his father interceded, he began to apply himself intellectually and later attended the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania) where he studied to become a surveyor.

In 1765, he was dispatched to Nova Scotia on behalf of a Pennsylvania land company which included Benjamin Franklin among its owners. Remaining in Canada for a year, he helped found the Township of Monckton before returning to Pennsylvania. Arriving home, he joined his father in operating a successful tannery which became the largest in Pennsylvania.

Continuing to work as a surveyor on the side, Wayne became an increasingly prominent figure in the colony and married Mary Penrose at Christ Church in Philadelphia in 1766. The couple would ultimately have two children, Margaretta (1770) and Isaac (1772). When Wayne's father died in 1774, Wayne inherited the company.

Actively involved in local politics, he encouraged revolutionary feelings among his neighbors and served in the Pennsylvania legislature in 1775. With the outbreak of the American Revolution, Wayne aided in the raising of regiments from Pennsylvania for service with the newly-formed Continental Army. Still retaining an interest in military matters, he successfully obtained a commission as the colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment in early 1776.

Major General Anthony Wayne


Dispatched north to aid Brigadier General Benedict Arnold and the American campaign in Canada, Wayne took part in the American defeat to Sir Guy Carleton at the Battle of Trois-Rivières on June 8. In the fighting, he distinguished himself by directing a successful rearguard action and conducting a fighting withdrawal as the American forces fell back.

Joining the retreat up (south) Lake Champlain, Wayne was given command of the area around Fort Ticonderoga later that year. Promoted to brigadier general on February 21, 1777, he later traveled south of join General George Washington's army and to take command of the Pennsylvania Line (the colony's Continental troops). Still relatively inexperienced, Wayne's promotion irritated some officers who had more extensive military backgrounds.

Philadelphia Campaign

In his new role, Wayne first saw action at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11 where American forces were beaten by General Sir William Howe. Holding a line along the Brandywine River at Chadds Ford, Wayne's men resisted attacks by Hessian forces led by Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen. Ultimately pushed back when Howe flanked Washington's army, Wayne conducted a fighting retreat from the field.

Shortly after Brandywine, Wayne's command was the victim of a surprise attack on the night of September 21 by British forces under Major General Charles Grey. Dubbed the "Paoli Massacre," the engagement saw Wayne's division caught unprepared and driven from the field. Recovering and reorganizing, Wayne's command played a key role at the Battle of Germantown on October 4.

Equestrian statue of Major General Anthony Wayne
Statue of Brigadier General Anthony Wayne at Valley Forge. Photograph © 2008 Patricia A. Hickman

During the opening phases of the battle, his men aided in exerting heavy pressure on the British center. With the battle going favorably, his men fell victim to a friendly fire incident that led them to retreat. Defeated again, the Americans withdrew into winter quarters at nearby Valley Forge. During the long winter, Wayne was dispatched to New Jersey on a mission to gather cattle and other foodstuffs for the army. This mission was largely successful and he returned in February 1778.

Departing Valley Forge, the American army moved in pursuit of the British who were withdrawing to New York. At the resulting Battle of Monmouth, Wayne and his men entered the fight as part of Major General Charles Lee's advance force. Badly handled by Lee and compelled to start retreating, Wayne assumed command of part of this formation and re-established a line. As the battle continued, he fought with distinction as the Americans stood up to the attacks of British regulars. Advancing behind the British, Washington assumed positions in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.

Leading the Light Infantry

As the 1779 campaigning season began, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton sought to lure Washington out of the mountains of New Jersey and New York and into a general engagement. To accomplish this, he dispatched around 8,000 men up the Hudson. As part of this movement, the British seized Stony Point on the western bank of the river as well as Verplanck's Point on the opposite shore. Assessing the situation, Washington instructed Wayne to take command of the army's Corps of Light Infantry and recapture Stony Point.

Developing a daring attack plan, Wayne moved forward on the night of July 16, 1779. In the resulting Battle of Stony Point, Wayne directed his men to rely on the bayonet to prevent a musket discharge from alerting the British to the impending attack. Exploiting flaws in the British defenses, Wayne led his men forward and, despite sustaining a wound, succeeded in capturing the position from the British. For his exploits, Wayne was awarded a gold medal from Congress.

Remaining outside of New York in 1780, he aided in foiling Major General Benedict Arnold's plans to turn over West Point to the British by shifting troops to the fort after his treason was uncovered. At the end of the year, Wayne was forced to deal with a mutiny in the Pennsylvania Line caused by pay issues. Going before Congress, he advocated for his troops and was able to resolve the situation though many men left the ranks.

"Mad Anthony"

During the winter of 1781, Wayne is said to have earned his nickname "Mad Anthony" after an incident involving one of his spies known as "Jemmy the Rover." Thrown in jail for disorderly conduct by local authorities, Jemmy sought aid from Wayne. Refusing, Wayne instructed that Jemmy be given 29 lashes for his behavior leading the spy to say that the general was mad.

Having rebuilt his command, Wayne moved south to Virginia to join a force led by the Marquis de Lafayette. On July 6, Lafayette attempted an attack on Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis's rearguard at Green Spring. Leading the assault, Wayne's command advanced into a British trap. Nearly overwhelmed, he held off the British with a daring bayonet charge until Lafayette could arrive to aid in extricating his men.

Later in the campaign season, Washington moved south along with French troops under the Comte de Rochambeau. Uniting with Lafayette, this force besieged and captured Cornwallis' army at the Battle of Yorktown. After this victory, Wayne was sent to Georgia to combat Native American forces which were threatening the frontier. Successful, he was awarded a large plantation by the Georgia legislature.


With the end of the war, Wayne was promoted to major general on October 10, 1783, before returning to civilian life. Living in Pennsylvania, he operated his plantation from afar and served in the state legislature from 1784-1785. A strong supporter of the new US Constitution, he was elected to Congress to represent Georgia in 1791. His time in the House of Representatives proved short-lived as he failed to meet the Georgia residency requirements and was forced to step down the following year. His entanglements in the South soon ended when his lenders foreclosed on the plantation.

Anthony Wayne in a blue US Army uniform.
Major General Anthony Wayne, ca. 1795. Public Domain

Legion of the United States

In 1792, with the Northwest Indian War ongoing, President Washington sought to end a string of defeats by appointing Wayne to take over operations in the region. Realizing that previous forces had lacked training and discipline, Wayne spent much of 1793, drilling and instructing his men. Titling his army the Legion of the United States, Wayne's force included light and heavy infantry, as well as cavalry and artillery.

Marching north from present-day Cincinnati in 1793, Wayne built a series of forts to protect his supply lines and the settlers in his rear. Advancing north, Wayne engaged and crushed a Native American army under Blue Jacket at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794. The victory at ultimately led to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ended the conflict and removed Native American claims to Ohio and the surrounding lands.

In 1796, Wayne made a tour of the forts on the frontier before beginning the journey home. Suffering from gout, Wayne died on December 15, 1796, while at Fort Presque Isle (Erie, PA). Initially buried there, he body was disinterred in 1809 by his son and his bones returned to the family plot at St. David's Episcopal Church in Wayne, PA.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Major General Anthony Wayne." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). American Revolution: Major General Anthony Wayne. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Major General Anthony Wayne." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).