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William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe

commander of British forces in America during the American Revolution

William Howe

William Howe was born in London on August 10, 1729, the youngest son of Emanuel Howe, 2nd Viscount Howe, and Charlotte, daughter of Sophia von Kielmansegg, Countess of Leinster and Darlington. His brothers were General George Howe, who was killed in the expedition against Fort Ticonderoga in 1758, and Admiral Richard Howe. He entered the army in 1746, and served in Flanders for two years during the War of the Austrian Succession. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1747, to Captain-Lieutenant and then Captain in 1749, and to Major in 1756.

Seven Years' War

Howe was sent to America in February of 1757, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel that December, and commanded a regiment at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758. During General James Wolfe's campaign against Quebec in September of 1759, Howe led the advance party in the landing at Wolfe's Cove that allowed Wolfe to besiege and capture the city, and distinguished himself during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham that followed. He subsequently commanded his own regiment in defense of Quebec until 1760, led a brigade in an advance on Montreal in 1760, and then returned to England. He took part in the siege of Belle Isle off the French coast in 1761, and served as Adjutant-General of the British force that took Havana in 1762. By the time the war ended in 1763 Howe had established himself as one of the most brilliant junior officers in the British army.

Howe was made Colonel of the 46th Foot in 1764, named Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Wight in 1768, and promoted to Major General in 1772. In 1774 he was entrusted with training light infantry companies based on a system he devised. As a member of Parliament from 1758 to 1780 he was generally sympathetic to the American colonies and publicly opposed the Intolerable Acts.

American Revolution

Although he disagreed with his government's policy toward the colonists, Howe agreed to become second in command to General Thomas Gage and sailed for America in March of 1775. Arriving at Boston on May 25, he immediately helped formulate plans to break the American siege of the city. On June 17 he actively led a column against Americans entrenched on Breed's Hill (commonly called the Battle of Bunker Hill), and at times was in the thick of the battle. He was knighted later that same year, and succeeded Gage as commander of all British forces in America that October.

In 1776, Howe defeated the Americans on Long Island, took the city of New York, and won the battles of White Plains and Brandywine. During the winter of 1777-1778, when George Washington had set up quarters at Valley Forge, Howe stayed in Philadelphia with his troops. He was severely criticized for his inactivity, and in May of 1778 he resigned and returned to England, claiming that he had not received sufficient support.

Later Life

In 1782, Howe was commissioned Lieutenant General of the Ordnance. In 1790, he was placed in command of forces being organized against Spain, but was never called into action. He was made a full General in 1793, named Governor of Berwick-on-Tweed in 1795, succeeded to the Irish viscounty upon the death of Admiral Earl Richard Howe in 1799, and was made Governor of Plymouth in 1805. He died in Plymouth on July 12, 1814.

SEE ALSO
Battle of Bunker Hill
Battle of White Plains
George Washington

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This page was last updated on July 12, 2017.