Benjamin Lincoln

Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), American soldier, was a loyal but undistinguished general who participated in many of the great battles of the Revolution.

Benjamin Lincoln was born on Jan. 24, 1733, in Hingham, Mass., where, after "a good common education," he became a farmer, as his father was. He also eventually succeeded his father as town clerk and commander of the local militia regiment. As the Revolutionary crisis deepened, Lincoln joined the town's committee of safety, served in the Massachusetts provincial congresses, and, after Lexington and Concord, saw extensive militia duty alongside George Washington's Continentals. The commander in chief informed the Continental Congress that Lincoln was "well worthy of Notice in the Military Line."

In February 1777 Congress appointed Lincoln a major general in the regular service. He was a popular man, loved by his troops for his thoughtfulness and integrity, but his talents as a tactician and strategist were minimal.

Because of Lincoln's appeal among his fellow New Englanders, Washington sent him to rally the militia of the region against British general John Burgoyne, who, in 1777, was driving down from Canada in hopes of splitting the American states in two. Lincoln dispatched columns that cut the enemy's supply line to Canada and then joined Gen. Horatio Gates's Northern Army in time to participate in the defeat of Burgoyne near Saratoga, N.Y.

Lincoln's only major independent command was in the South, where between 1778 and 1780 he sought to check British efforts to regain the area. With a limited war chest and inadequate support from the states, Lincoln did reasonably well. However, he bowed to pressures from local politicians and decided to withstand a siege of Charleston by Sir Henry Clinton's formidable royal army. Soon surrounded and low on supplies, he surrendered the city on May 12, 1780, and over 5,000 men—the largest single American loss of the war.

Lincoln was to gain his revenge; Washington gave him the honor of receiving the British capitulation at Yorktown in 1781. For the next 2 years Lincoln held the post of secretary of war in the government formed under the Articles of Confederation. Lincoln donned his uniform once more to put down Shays' Rebellion in western Massachusetts. Following the adoption of the Constitution, President Washington appointed him collector of the Port of Boston and twice called upon him to carry on negotiations with the Indian tribes. Lincoln died in the house of his birth on May 9, 1810.


Further Reading on Benjamin Lincoln

A biography of Lincoln, now da ted and based on little research, is Francis Bowen, The Life of Benjamin Lincoln (1847). The best scholarly analysis of Lincoln's contribution to the Revolution is Clifford K. Shipton's "Benjamin Lincoln: Old Reliable" in George A. Billias, ed., George Washington's Generals (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

Mattern, David B., Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution/David B. Matter, Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.