Davidson, William Lee

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Davidson, William Lee

DAVIDSON, WILLIAM LEE. (1746?–1781). Militia general. North Carolina. Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, probably in 1746, Davidson's family moved to Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1748. After serving on the county Committee of Safety from 1774 to 1776, he served with the militia in the operations against Loyalists in South Carolina. Appointed major of the Fourth North Carolina Regiment on 15 April 1776, he went north under Colonel Francis Nash to take part in the New Jersey campaign. For gallant conduct in the battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the Fifth North Carolina Regiment, with which he endured the winter at Valley Forge. On 1 June 1778 he was transferred to the Third North Carolina Regiment, and on 9 June 1779 to the First North Carolina Regiment. In November 1779 the North Carolina Continentals were sent to the Southern theater of war. Having stopped to visit his family, he arrived too late to join his regiment in the Charleston defenses and therefore avoided becoming a prisoner of war when General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered.

Having lost his regiment, Davidson was given command of a battalion of 300 light infantry in the Patriot force rallied by Governor (General) Griffith Rutherford for the operation that ended with the Loyalist defeat at Ramseur's Mill, North Carolina, 20 June 1780. Davidson proved effective in harassing British forces. In the summer of 1780 he was severely wounded in an engagement with Loyalists near Colson's Mill, on the Yadkin River; a musket ball passed through his body and he was out of action for eight weeks. With the capture of General Rutherford at Camden in August, Davidson was promoted to brigadier general of the state troops and given command of the Salisbury district.

Two weeks after arriving to take command of the Southern theater of operations, General Nathanael Greene ordered Daniel Morgan to march south from Charlotte and join the North Carolina militia led by Davidson for operations between the Broad and Pacolet Rivers. Around 25 December 1780, Davidson joined Morgan in his camp on the Pacolet, bringing with him 150 men. Two weeks later, on 31 January 1781, he was directed by Greene to rally the unenthusiastic North Carolina militia for service in guarding the fords of the Catawba after the withdrawal of the main army. He went off on a recruiting drive and thus did not see action at the battle of Cowpens (17 January 1781). Davidson was killed at Cowans Ford on 1 February 1781, while engaged on his recruiting mission, and with him died Greene's hope of militia assistance.

SEE ALSO Cowans Ford, North Carolina; Southern Campaigns of Nathanael Greene.


Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. Piedmont Partisan: The Life and Times of Brigadier-General William Lee Davidson. Davidson, N.C.: Davidson College, 1951.

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