Revolutionary War Historical Article

CALEB GIBBS 1748 - 1818
Commander of the Commander-in-Chief Guards

by Donald N. Moran

Caleb Gibbs was born on February 28, 1748 in Newport, Rhode Island.  He settled in Marblehead, Massachusetts and was very much involved with the Sons of Liberty and smuggling supplies into the blockaded City of Boston for John Glover and John Hannock.  When the Revolutionary War broke out he was a Captain in the 14th Massachusetts Regiment from Marblehead and marched to Lexington Concord on that fateful day, April 19, 1775.  He and his regiment arrived too late to participate in the battle, but immediately joined the army besieging Boston.

On March 6, 1776, General Washington personally picked Gibbs to command his newly established personal guard, officially known as the "Commander-in-Chief's Guard," and unofficially called the "Life Guards."  In this capacity, Caleb Gibbs served the cause of American Independence.  It was a unique position, as he was considered to be a member of General Washington's family, as he called his personal staff, and at the same time Gibbs was an officer of the line, having a combat command.  His responsibilities were many.  In addition to protecting the person of the Commander-in-Chief, and the headquarters, when the Army was moving, he was responsible for the selection of defensible quarters for General Washington and his staff.  When the General was traveling, Major Gibbs usually mounted a guard to accompany him.  On several occasions they encountered the British while on the move, and some serious skirmishes resulted.  In 1781 at Kings Bridge, New York, a fifty man Guard escort encountered fifteen hundred British Regulars.  An impossible rear-guard action was fought, wherein the Guard lost seventeen men, but General Washington was able to escape back to the Continental Line.

In every major engagement fought by General Washington, his elite Guards participated, and in several instances, under the direct leadership of Major Gibbs, that participation was decisive.  In spite of putting himself in harms way, Gibbs was wounded but once, at Yorktown, when he was shot in the ankle while assisting Colonel Alexander Hamilton.

When the Guard was disbanded in 1783, Gibbs was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and transferred to the Second Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Line.  He held that post until the Army was disbanded in June of 1784.  Few Continental Line officers could claim a longer continuous war record.

After the war, Gibbs returned to the Boston area and married his pre-war sweetheart Katherine Hall and had nine children.  He maintained a close relationship with General Washington's family, and in particular with Alexander Hamilton, who he regularly visited, and named his first born son after.

Gibbs was appointed to a key civilian post by Washington, at the newly established Charlestown Navy Yard and was deeply involved in the building of such ships as the famed U.S.S. Constitution.

When then President Washington visited Boston in 1789, it was Gibbs who mounted the honor guard for the President, the guard uniformed in the same style uniforms that were worn during the Revolutionary War.

Gibbs was very active in the Society of the Cincinnati, and served that group of former Army Officers up until his death.  He died in his office at the Navy Yard on November 6, 1818, still serving his Country.  He was 68 years old and left his wife and several children.



“The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard” by: Carlos F. Godfrey, Ph.D.
Originally published: 1904 - publisher: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1972 (DNM Lib.)

“The Encyclopedia of the American Revolution” by: Col. Mark M. Boatner, III (USA).
“Life Guard of Washington” Publisher: David McKay Company - 1974 (DNM Lib.)

George Washington' sIndispensable Men by: Arthur S. Lefkowitz
Publisher: Stackpole Books - 2003 (DNM Lib.)

Washington's Crossing by: David Hackett Fischer, Ph.D.
Publisher: Oxford University Press - 2004 (0MM Jib.)

“The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Sources” -39 vol. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor - Publisher: United States Government Printing Office. (DNM Lib.)

“TheContinental Army” by: Robert K. Wright, Ph.D.
Publisher: Center of Military History - United States Army - 1983 (DNM Lib.)

“To Major Gibbs With Much Esteem” by: Howard H. Wehmann
ublisher: “Prologue Magazine” - National Archives, Volume 4 (1972)

“George Washington, a Biography” by: Douglas Southall Freeman - 7 Volumes
Publisher: Scribners, New York - 1948 (DNM Lib.)

“The Field Book of the American Revolution” by: Benson J. Lossing -2 volumes
Publisher: Harper, New York -1951 (DNM Lib.)

“Pension Records” - Held at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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