Robert Howe Fights With the South About How to Fight in the South

Robert Howe Fights With the South About How to Fight in the South

Robert Howe was the only North Carolinian to obtain the rank of Major General in the American Revolutionary War.

Robert Howe

Robert Howe was a North Carolina militia leader in the French and Indian War.  He served the colonial government in the War of the Regulators as an Artillery Captain and Quartermaster General.

When tempers were becoming heated between the colonists and Great Britain, Howe began to have serious disagreements with the new Royal Governor.  During the Stamp Act crisis, Robert helped create the North Carolina Sons of Liberty.

Howe continued supporting the Patriots when the Provincial Assembly was dissolved.  He was elected to the North Carolina Committee of Safety.

Fort Johnston

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Howe organized a plot to kidnap the Governor.  

Already respected as a leader by the local militia, Howe led 500 men to take Fort Johnston.  The Governor was known to be staying at this location.  Unfortunately, Governor Martin escaped when word reached him that Howe was on his way.

So that the journey was not a total loss, Howe burned Fort Johnston to the ground.

Southern Department

Howe brought his soldiers into Virginia, where he assumed command from William Woodford.  Woodford had captured the city of Norfolk and Howe decided to burn it to the ground so as not to let the British retrieve any supplies.

Because of his heroics, the Continental Congress named Richard Howe as a Brigadier General.  He then went to South Carolina to take charge of more men.

Howe found himself at odds with the South Carolina Legislature who did not believe a North Carolina militia captain should oversee their troops.  The Continental Congress gave it’s support to Howe, but the South Carolinians would hamper his efforts for the rest of his time in the South.

Despite this, when James Moore died, Howe was put in charge of the entire Southern Department.  He was also named as a Major General, the only North Carolinian given that honor during the Revolutionary War.


In the Spring of 1778, Howe was ordered to invade Florida.  Although he did not believe this to be the wisest course to take, he headed south.  Short on supplies due to resistance from South Carolina (and now also Georgia), this mission was a failure.

Upon returning to South Carolina, Howe fought a duel with Christopher Gadsden.  The issues stemmed primarily from the earlier disagreements about who was in charge.  While shots were fired, the fight ended without serious injury to either person.

West Point

Since he could not seem to get along with anyone in the South, Howe was transferred to the Northern Department.  For the rest of his time in the Continental Army, Howe saw little battle.

He did, however, oversee and fortify West Point.  Robert was the last commander of this Fort before it was handed over to Benedict Arnold.

Howe operated a small spy ring for Washington around the Hudson River.  He was also on the court that convicted Major John Andre (Arnold’s accomplice in treason) of espionage and agreed to sentence him to hanging.


Around the close of the war, Howe’s final actions on behalf of the Continental Army were to suppress mutinies in Philadelphia.  

Many of the soldiers were upset that they had not been paid and threatened to storm the Continental Congress.  Washington sent Howe and William Heath to Pennsylvania to quell these uprisings.  In one case, they hung the leaders to display the General’s seriousness that mutiny would not be tolerated.


Major General Robert Howe played a large role in rallying the militia of North Carolina to support the Patriot Cause.  He bravely led his soldiers in the tumultuous early fighting in the American South.  Howe may have played more of an administrator role in his later career, but that should not take away from the years of service his spent in the fields engaging in the Revolutionary War.


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The Constitutional Society of Virginia

The Constitutional Society of Virginia

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