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Charles O'Hara
1740 – 25 February 1802
Charles O'Hara surrender at Yorktown.jpg
General O'Hara surrenders the sword of Lieutenant-General Cornwallis to Count de Rochambeau and General Washington.
Anonymous engraving (ca. 1783)
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Rank General
Battles/wars Seven Years War
American War of Independence
French Revolutionary War

General Charles O'Hara (1740 – 25 February 1802) was a British military officer who served in the Seven Years War, American War of Independence, and French Revolutionary War, and later served as Governor of Gibraltar. During his career O'Hara personally surrendered to both George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Contents

Early life

Charles O'Hara was born in Lisbon, Portugal, the illegitimate son of General James O'Hara and his Portuguese mistress. Charles was sent to Westminster School. On December 23, 1752, at the age of twelve -- a young but not uncommon age for a subaltern of the era -- he became a cornet in the 3rd Dragoons. He became a lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of the Coldstream Guards on January 14, 1756 shortly before major warfare broke out in Europe.

Seven Years' War

In 1762, during the Seven Years' War, he served under his father in Portugal in the same campaign with Charles Lee. He also saw service in Germany.

Senegal

On 25 July 1766, O'Hara was appointed commandant of the Africa Corps at in Senegal which had been captured from France in 1758, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. This unit was made up of British soldiers pardoned in exchange for accepting life service in Africa. It came at a time when the British government were trying to build up a base in West Africa. In 1769, he was appointed as a captain in the Coldstream Guards.

The development of Senegal was a disapointment for the British and O'Hara was uninterested in civil governance. Despite the constitution which had been created offering generous rights to settlers, very few British colonists ever came to West Africa. The territories would ultimately be ceded back to France at the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

American War of Independence

In July 1778, Lt. Col. O'Hara arrived in America and immediately commanded forces at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Lt. Gen. Henry Clinton, commander of the British army in America, gave him that assignment as the French fleet under Admiral d'Estaing threatened New York City. Clinton ended up regretting his choice.

In October 1780, O'Hara was promoted to brigadier and became commander of Brigade of Guards. He became Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis' second-in-command and good friend. During Cornwallis' pursuit of Major General Nathanael Greene to the Dan River, O'Hara distinguished himself at Cowan's Ford, North Carolina on February 1, 1781. He also led the British counterattack at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, which led to General Greene withdrawing from the field of battle. He was seriously wounded during this battle.

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Yorktown

The British surrender at Yorktown.

General O'Hara represented the British at the surrender of Yorktown on October 19, 1781, when General Cornwallis pleaded illness. He first attempted to surrender to French Comte de Rochambeau, who declined his sword and deferred to General George Washington. Washington declined and deferred to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, who was serving as Washington's second-in-command and had surrendered to General Clinton at Charleston in May 1780. O'Hara was exchanged on February 9, 1782, and returned to England having been promoted to major general.

The Sword of Surrender

There are various accounts of what became of the surrender sword after the battle: some claim General Washington kept it for a few years and then had it returned to Lord Cornwallis, while some believe the sword remains in America's possession, perhaps in the White House. However, in what is generally regarded as the definitive modern study of the Yorktown campaign, The Guns of Independence (2005), U.S. National Park Service historian Jerome S. Greene writes simply that O'Hara extended Cornwallis's sword and, Lincoln took the sword, symbolically held it a moment, and then returned it to O'Hara.[1] Thus, this most symbolic of war trophies remained with its proper owner.

After the war

In 1784, O'Hara fled from England to Italy due to gambling debts. In 1792, he was appointed lieutenant governor of Gibraltar.

Toulon

In 1793, he was promoted to Lieutenant-General. On 23 November 1793, he was captured at Fort Mulgrove in Toulon, France during operations that gained Napoleon the attention of his superiors. O'Hara had been leading a bold sortie by the besieged British troops. Napoleon had personally directed the capture operation and accepted O'Hara's formal surrender. He spent two years in prison in Paris.

Later years

In August 1795, he was exchanged for Comte de Rochambeau. Later that year he became engaged to Mary Berry, but the engagement was broken when he was named Governor of Gibraltar on December 30, 1795, and she would not leave England. He was promoted to full general in 1798. He died on February 25, 1802, from complications due to his old wounds.

In popular culture

In the Roland Emmerich film The Patriot starring Mel Gibson, Charles O'Hara is played by Peter Woodward. This was criticised as the real O'Hara, despite his Portuguese birth and English education, spoke with an Irish accent rather than the upper-class English voice portrated in the film.

References

  1. ^ Greene, Jerome S. The Guns of Independence: The Seige of Yorktown, 1781. (Savis Beatie Publishing: 2005) page 297; ISBN 1-932714-05-7

Bibliography

  • Bicheno, Hugh. Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolutionary War. Harper Collins, 2003.
Government offices
Preceded by
Charles Rainsford
Governor of Gibraltar
1795–1802
Succeeded by
The Duke of Kent

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