Revolutionary War Historical Article

George Washington's Generals
Major General John Glover

by Donald N. Moran

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the June 2007 Edition of the Liberty Tree Newsletter

Brigadier General John Glover is truly the forgotten hero of the American Revolution. On no less then three occasions, he, and he alone, can be credited with saving the Revolution!

John was the son of Jonathan and Tabitha (Bacon) Glover and was born in Salem Village (now Danvers) , Essex County, Massachusetts on November 5th, 1732. His
father died when he was only four years old. At an early age his mother took her family to Marblehead, Massachusetts where he apprenticed as a cordwainer (shoemaker), later a common sailor, then a merchant. Like many who come into this life from humble origins, Glover was driven to succeed. Through hard work and good business sense he was able to purchase a fishing schooner and enter into the lucrative fishing business.
Marblehead was a major fishing seaport at the time. In short order he acquired several vessels and with the profits propelled himself into a prominent position in Marblehead, both politically and in the local militia.

At age 28, in 1760, he entered the political arena, joining the local "Whig" party, opposing England’s encroachment on the rights of the colonists. After the 1770 "Boston Massacre", he and other Whigs got control of the town government from the pro-British loyalists. He had joined the Marblehead militia in 1759 and quickly rose through the ranks to become the Marblehead Regiment’s Colonel.

Shortly after the April 19th, 1775 engagement at Lexington and Concord, Glover led his Regiment to Boston to support the siege of that city. It is said that he was one of the best uniformed officers in the Army, carried a pair of silver pistols and a Scottish
broadsword. During the
first months of the war he was busy supervising the building of fortifications along the Massachusetts shoreline. He was thusly involved in Marblehead when the action on Breed’s Hill took place, missing that action.

When George Washington arrived in Cambridge, a suitable headquarters was sought for the new Commander-in-Chief. Glover, noted for his good taste, had occupied the mansion owned by Colonel John Vassall, a loyalist who was a refugee in Boston, as his regimental headquarters, newly re-designated as the 14th Continental Regiment. Washington choose the mansion for his headquarters and evicted the 14th. However, he was impressed by the discipline of the Marbleheaders. Being seafaring men, they were accustomed to absolute obedience to their officers, whereas the average Massachusetts soldier was totally devoid of that concept. Washington retained a company of the Marbleheaders to serve as his headquarters guard.

The adjutant of the Regiment, Captain Caleb Gibbs was appointed to serve as their commander. It appears that while the conversion of the mansion was taking place, George Washington, John Glover and Caleb Gibbs became lifelong friends. After the British were forced to evacuate Boston, General Washington established a permanent headquarters guard, officially known as the "Commander-in-Chief Guards", unofficially the "Washington Life Guards" he again chose Captain Gibbs to serve as the Commandant of said guard.

During the siege of Boston, George Washington was plagued with shortages of every kind of military equipment. He also realized that the British Army, besieged in Boston, was being completely supplied by sea. He decided to establish a naval force to intercept and capture some of these supply ships. He ordered Colonel Glover to take charge, acquire the ships, convert them to war ships and start operations.

Glover donated his own ship, the "Hannah", named after his wife, and six other schooners. This fleet was known as the "Washington Cruisers". One of these vessels, the "Lee", commanded by Captain John Manley, a Marblehead man, probably recommended by Glover, captured the British ordnance brig, the "H.M.S. Nancy". This single prize was exactly what was needed by Washington for the Army. The cargo consisted of 2,000 Brown Bess muskets, 100,000 flints, 30,000 of artillery ammunition, 30 tons of musket ammunition, and a 13" brass mortar.

On March 6th, 1776 the British evacuated Boston. With the city securely back in American hands, Washington realized that the British would certainly be back and the most likely target would be the great port of New York City.

General Washington ordered the Continental Army to march to New York to defend that city.

Upon arrival in New York City, Washington immediately ordered the building of defenses. The geography of the area made this an almost impossible task with the resources available to him. With the Royal Navy dominating the ocean, an invasion could take place anywhere along the extensive coast line.

Washington's prediction that New York would be the target of the British anticipated return to America came true on June 25th, 1776. Lieutenant General Sir William Howe arrived off Sandy Hook, New York with three ships, the vanguard of his fleet. By the 30th, the rest of the fleet arrived, with 130 ships. On July 2nd he landed his 9,300 troops on Staten Island. On the 12th, Sir William’s brother, Admiral Lord Richard Howe arrived from England with another 150 ships and reinforcements bringing his total of effective troops, including a substantial force of Hessian mercenaries, to 31,625. This was the largest expeditionary force ever launched by the English. General Washington’s troops, opposing the invasion were 19,000, mostly untrained and poorly equipped, scattered all around New York.

On August 27th, General Howe launched his attack on Long Island. The results were predictable. After some heated battles, Washington was forced to retreat to the heavily fortified Brooklyn Heights. His troops, exhausted and demoralized could not have withstood a determined attack, however, it appears that General Howe, having witnessed the carnage endured by the British troops at Breed’s Hill (Bunker
Hill) the previous year, knew all too well what type of resistance he could expect from a frontal attack on Americans behind fortifications. He stopped the attack and started siege operations.

Washington realized that being outnumbered six-to-one, by regular troops, he could not hold Brooklyn Heights. He called upon Colonel Glover to organize an evacuation. It was masterfully done. 9,000 American troops, their horses, artillery and supplies were transported across the East River to Manhattan. John Glover saved the American Army from certain annihilation. John Glover’s save number 1!

Colonel John Glover organizing the evacuation of General
George Washington’s Army from Brooklyn

General Howe’s attempts to cut off and capture Washington’s army on Manhattan were not going well. He successfully landed at Kipp’s Bay (34th Street on Manhattan’s eastern shore) on September 15th. Using the fire power of the Royal Navy he drove the defenders from their defense lines. Owing to fast action on the part of the Americans, Washington’s Army retreated north, ahead of the pursuing British. Another landing force landed further north at Throg’s Neck on October 12th - - this too failed. An impassable marsh, and a well defended single road stopped the invasion cold! General Howe was determined to prevent the American army from escaping, so he launched yet another amphibious landing, this time at Pell’s Point (Pelham), on Long Island Sound on October 18th.

Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead men, plus three other Massachusetts Regiments, numbering 750 men, had been ordered to Eastchester to protect that part of the coast line. On the morning of October 18th, Glover reported seeing "two-hundred sail" laying off shore. His first thought was to ask for advice from a senior officer. Later he recalled "I would have given a thousand worlds to have had General Lee or some other experienced officer present." Glover realized that his position was geographically strong. The only way off the point was a narrow road that passed through small fields, lined with stone walls. He organized his defense by placing each of the Regiments, one behind the other, each behind a wall. He then ordered the men to lay down, and not raise up until the enemy was within range. The first Regiment, the Marbleheaders, did so. They stood, fired volley after volley into the devastated front ranks of the British, then retreated. The British saw the Americans retreating and launched a bayonet charge. When they reached the next wall, another Regiment stood and fired. The effect was devastating. This was tactic was repeated. The British lost more men at Pell's Point then they did on Long Island! His determined defense slowed the British advance to a crawl. That delay allowed Washington to continue his retreat to the safety of the hills behind White Plains, where he consolidated his retreating forces and was ready to make a stand. John Glover’s save number 2!

Colonel John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment
holding off the British at Pell’s Point.

On October 28th, the two armies clashed at White Plains. Although it was another British victory, General Washington was able to retire from the battlefield and move his army across the North (Hudson) River and start the long, humiliating retreat across New Jersey.

When the exhausted army crossed the Delaware River to the relatively safety of Philadelphia, the situation was desperate beyond belief. Almost all of the military supplies and artillery had been lost in the defense of New York. Most of the men’s enlistments would expire on December 31st. Washington would be left with a skeleton of his original army. Almost to a man, everyone thought the war had already been lost and morale could not have been lower. It was at this juncture that the greatness of George Washington shone through. Washington realized that an invading army cannot conquer a country by marching through it. It had to be occupied. Every city and town had to have a garrison stationed there in order to maintain control. That was their weakness!

He devised a plan to re-cross the Delaware River and attack one of the garrison towns with what was left of his army. Intelligence told him that the most vulnerable
town would be Trenton.

Entirely by force of his personality he convinced enough of his army to prolong their leaving the army and with the arrival of fresh troops from New England made the attack possible.

The only problem remaining was would it be possible to cross the Delaware River in the middle of winter? If it could be done at all, the only man capable of pulling it off was John Glover. Colonel Glover was consulted by Washington and his response was typical of him: "not to be troubled about that, as his boys could manage it." At dusk Glover’s men started ferrying the army across the ice choked Delaware River in Durham boats. In addition to the danger of the ice flows at about 11:00 p.m. a snow storm started reducing visibility to near zero.

General Henry Knox, Washington’s Chief of Artillery, realized that the wet weather would make the soldier’s primer powder next to useless, hence the artillery would be all the more important. He supervised the loading of eighteen cannons on the boats. Later he wrote: " . . . perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible". John Glover’s Regiment was worth a dozen Regiments that night. Without them there would not have been a victory at Trenton, a turning point of the Revolution.

Historian George Trevelyan noted: "It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater or more lasting results upon the history of the world."

The crossing was successfully made, surprise achieved and Trenton fell into our hands along with 918 prisoners, several much needed brass cannons and a great deal of supplies. John Glover’s save Number 3!

After playing an important part in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Glover went home - his wife, Hannah, was ill. John and Hannah were married on October 30th 1754, at Marblehead. They had eleven children: John (1756) who served as Captain in his father’s Regiment; Hannah (1757 - died in infancy); Daniel (1759 - died in infancy) ; Hannah (1761), Samuel (1762), Jonas (1764), Tabitha (1765); Susannah (1767); Mary (1769); Sarah "Sally" (1771) and Jonathan (1773). With so many young children, and his financial affairs in disorder owing to his absence, it is understandable that his attention turned to his family. Hannah passed away on November 13th, 1778.

George Washington recognized Glover’s value and requested that Congress promote him to Brigadier General. They did so February 21st, 1777. Upon learning of the promotion, he wrote to General Washington saying on April 1st, 1777, " . . . . but when I consider my own inabilities & inexperience, I cannot think myself in any degree capable of doing the duty, necessary to be done by an officer of that rank, these are my only objections, which I hope will have weight, with your Excellency as to excuse one from accepting the Commission . . . ."

General Washington replied:

"Headquarters, Morristown, April 26th, 1777.

Sir: After the conversation I had with you before you left the Army last winter, I was
not a little surprised at the contents of yours of the 1st Instant. As I had not the least doubt but you would accept of the Commission of Brigadier, if conferred upon you by Congress. . . . Diffidence in an Officer is a good mark, because it will always endeavour to bring himself up to what he conceives to be the full line of his duty; but I think I may tell you without flattery, that I know of no man better qualified than you to conduct a Brigade, you have activity and industry, and as you very well know the duty of a Colonel, you know how to exact that duty from others . . .

George Washington"


Glover accepted the promotion and was appointed a Brigade commander and sent to
upstate New York to confront British General
John Burgoyne under the command of American Major General Horatio Gates. With the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga, and the capture of his army, Glover was assigned to escort the prisoners of war (known to history as the convention army) to Boston. He guarded 2,139 British soldiers, 2,022 Hessian and 830 Canadians to Cambridge, Massachusetts. After accomplishing the assignment without incident, General Glover returned to his Marblehead home, because of family concerns.

The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga By John Trumbull. John Glover is the second from right. The sketch of Glover earlier in this article was made by Trumbull to include in this painting.

During the summer of the following year, 1778, he was called back to active service in the failed attempt to dislodge the British force at Newport, Rhode Island. Once again Glover served with distinction.

Following that assignment, General Glover took a post in the Hudson Highlands. He
served on the board of officers that court martialed British Major John Andre.
General Glover spent the rest of the war in the Highlands and did not participate in the southern campaign. While on leave he married to Francis Fosdick, a cousin of Paul Revere.

At the end of the war, Brigadier General John Glover was breveted a Major General on September 30th, 1783, very much deserved.

Many leaders of the quest for independence suffered heavily during the Revolutionary War. General Glover was no exception. He lost his first wife, of 24 years; his eldest son, Captain John Glover was captured in 1778 by the British and was lost at sea while being transported to England.

General Glover contracted the dreaded malaria in late 1777 which cost him his health. His personal wealth was greatly diminished by the collapse of the maritime economy. After the war Glover served two terms in the Massachusetts State Legislature, and six terms as a Selectman for Marblehead. In 1789, President George Washington visited Marblehead and was entertained by Glover.

General John Glover’s Statue
in Boston Massachusetts.

General John Glover died of hepatitis on January 30th, 1787, at age 64, at his home in Marblehead. He was buried in the Old Burial Hill cemetery.

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