William Lee Davidson

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William Lee Davidson
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchContinental Army
North Carolina Militia
Years of service1775–1781
Unit4th North Carolina Regiment
Battles/warsSnow Campaign
Battle of Colson's Mill
Battle of Cowan's Ford

William Lee Davidson (1746–1781) was a North Carolina militia general during the American Revolutionary War.

Origins and education[edit]

William Lee Davidson was born in 1746 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.[1] His father George Davidson moved with his family to Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1750. William, the youngest son, was educated at Queen's Museum (later Liberty Hall) in Charlotte.[2][3]

Military campaigns[edit]

Active in the war from its inception as adjutant to General Griffith Rutherford during the Snow Campaign in December 1775, he was promoted to major of the Fourth Regiment of the North Carolina line in 1776. He marched with the North Carolina line to the north and was at the Battle of Germantown, after which he was promoted to Lt. Colonel of the Fifth Regiment of the North Carolina line. At Valley Forge with Washington, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, Daniel Morgan and others, he became friends with most of the influential military commanders in the Continental Line.

Left without a command, he had been ordered out for the purpose of preventing the British from crossing the Catawba. Griffith Rutherford appointed Davidson his second in command. Severely wounded at the Battle of Colson's Mill on July 21, 1780, he did not participate in the Battle of Camden at which Rutherford was captured. Davidson was promoted to brigadier general and given command of Rutherford's Salisbury District militia. He participated in resisting the entry of Lord Cornwallis into Charlotte in late September 1780.

Brigadier General William Lee Davidson was in Charlotte, North Carolina by December 3, 1781 the day after General Nathanael Greene arrived in Charlottetown as it was then called. After the defeat of the American Forces at the Battle of Camden or as called by most veteran's in their pension records the Battle of Gum Swamp; so it was then that the Continental Congress finally agreed to permit General George Washington to replace General Gates with his best officer.

General Washington immediately selected General Nathanael Greene. General Greene arrived later in the day on December 2, 1781 in Charlottetown after a long journey from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and rested. Officially the Change of Command Ceremony took place between General Gates and General Greene on December 3, 1781; and as quickly as he could General Nathanael Greene got to the business at hand to meet his new officers in the field. General William Lee Davidson and General Nathanael Greene had previously met. They were both in the Battle of Brandywine opposing British General Lord Cornwallis in Pennsylvania.

Greene recognized that Davidson was very respected and in favor with the local militia in the western half of North Carolina, called the Salisbury Military District over which General Davidson had complete jurisdiction. Greene wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to create a "Flying Army" that was approved by General Washington. Davidson was going to be the leading Patriot Commander in the field to raise the local militia up as this "Flying Army." Having previously served in battle and camped at Valley Forge together, they already had a bond of trust.

Davidson was killed at the Battle of Cowan's Ford in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on February 1, 1781 while opposing the re-entry of Cornwallis into North Carolina. General Davidson was trying to rally his men as the lead British and German elements arrived on the near bank. He was killed within minutes as the engagement unfolded.[4] Davidson's body was recovered by fellow officers later that evening after the battle; and was buried at Hopewell Presbyterian Church located on Beatties Ford Road North of Charlotte.[5][6][7][8][9][10]


Congress voted $500 for a monument to him, but it has never been erected.[2]


  1. ^ "Descendants of William Lee Davidson Sr. and Mary Brevard". Rootsweb. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Davidson, William". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  3. ^ Lathan, S. Robert (July 29, 2012). "We Are Family". Davidson Journal. Retrieved November 8, 2018.
  4. ^ Stonestreet, O.C. IV, The Battle of Cowan's Ford: General Davidson's Stand on the Catawba River and its place in North Carolina History, (Createspace Publishing, 2012) ISBN 978-1468077308.pp.10-11.
  5. ^ William S. Powell, Ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 1991), Vol. 2, pp. 27-28.
  6. ^ Charles B. Baxley (February 2006). Battle of Cowan's Ford. 3. SCAR. p. 3.
  7. ^ Chalmers Davidson. Piedmont Partisan: The Life and Times of Brigadier General William Lee Davidson. Davidson: Davidson College, 1951.
  8. ^ O'Kelley, Patrick. Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas: Volume Three 1781. Booklocker.com. 2005.
  9. ^ Muster Roll of 5th NC Division at Valley Forge
  10. ^ Sons of the American Revolution - Battle of Cowan's Ford
  11. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 101.

External links[edit]