Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clinton, Henry (1738?-1795)

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CLINTON, Sir HENRY, the elder (1738?–1795), general, only son of Admiral the Hon. George Clinton, second son of Francis, sixth earl of Lincoln, and governor of Newfoundland from 1732 to 1741, and of New York from 1741 to 1751, was born about 1738. He first entered the New York militia, or the New York companies as they were called, and held the rank of captain-lieutenant, when he came with his father to England, and was gazetted on 1 Nov. 1751 a lieutenant in the 2nd or Coldstream guards. From this regiment he was promoted into the 1st, now the Grenadier guards, on 6 April 1758 as captain and lieutenant-colonel, and in 1760 went on active service for the first time. A brigade of guards was attached to the force under Prince Ferdinand, and Clinton so greatly distinguished himself that he was selected to fill the post of aide-de-camp to the hereditary Prince of Brunswick, who commanded a division. His gallantry was conspicuous; he was promoted colonel on 24 June 1762, was wounded at Johannisberg on 30 Aug. 1762, and after the conclusion of peace was appointed colonel of the 12th regiment in 1766. He was promoted major-general on 25 May 1772, and was in the following July elected M.P. for Boroughbridge, through the influence of his cousin, the second Duke of Newcastle, who in 1774 also returned him for Newark, a seat which he held for ten years. In May 1775 he reached Boston with Generals Howe and Burgoyne in time to hear of the skirmish of Lexington, and so greatly distinguished himself at the battle of Bunker's Hill that he was made a local lieutenant-general in September 1775, and a local general in January 1776. In the last year he was sent to America again with reinforcements, and a commission to act as second in command to Sir William Howe. He reached Staten Island with three thousand men in August 1776, and played so great a part in the battle of Long Island on 16 Aug. and in the capture of New York on 15 Sept. that he was promoted lieutenant-general, and made a knight of the Bath in the following year. In June 1777, when Sir William Howe started for Philadelphia in order to open up a communication with General Burgoyne marching from Canada, he left Clinton in command at New York, and when the great plan failed, and Burgoyne was captured at Saratoga, Sir William Howe returned to England in May 1778, and Clinton became commander-in-chief of the forces in North America. He at once evacuated Philadelphia and concentrated at New York, and pursued a policy of sending out predatory expeditions and not attempting military operations. These were all successful, and one expedition in May 1779, under Major-general Mathew, alone destroyed property worth 300,000l. on the Chesapeake river. But Clinton was not happy ; Lord Cornwallis, his second in com- mand, held a dormant commission to succeed him, a circumstance which always arouses distrust, and he would form large military plans, which were repugnant to the instincts of Clinton, and which he knew he had not sufficient force to carry into execution. However, in December 1779 he agreed to go to the southern states, and in January 1780 he took Charleston in conjunction with Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot [q. v.] with six thousand prisoners and four hundred guns, with a loss to his own army of only seventy-nine killed and 189 wounded. Clinton then returned to New York and left Cornwallis to operate in the south, and the younger general in 1781 made the famous march which ended in the capitulation of Yorktown and the final loss of the American colonies. How far Clinton is to be blamed cannot be accurately defined, but in May 1781 he resigned his command to Sir Guy Carleton and returned to England, and in 1783 he published his 'Narrative,' which called forth an acrimonious answer from Cornwallis. In 1784 Clinton quarrelled with his cousin the Duke of Newcastle, and failed to secure his re-election for Newark, but in 1790 he again entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Launceston. He had been appointed colonel of the 7th light dragoons in 1779, and was promoted general in October 1793, and in July 1794 he was appointed to the important governorship of Gibraltar. He did not hold the appointment long, but died at his post on 23 Dec. 1795. Clinton married in 1767 Harriett, daughter of Thomas Carter, by whom he had two sons, who both rose to be generals in the army and G.C.B.'s, Sir Henry and Sir William Henry Clinton [q. v.]

[Bancroft's and other histories of the United States for his career there, and the Narrative of Lieut.-gen. Sir Henry Clinton, K.B., relative to his conduct during part of his command of the King's Troops in North America (London, 1783), and the Army Lists for the dates of his promotions.]

H. M. S.