Grey, Charles

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Grey, Charles

GREY, CHARLES. (1729–1807). ("No-flint.") British general. At age fourteen he was commissioned an ensign in the Sixth Regiment and in 1746 fought at Culloden. After service at Gibraltar, he was promoted to lieutenant of the Sixth Regiment on 23 December 1752. Three years later he raised an independent company and in May 1755 was promoted to captain of the Twentieth Regiment. He was in the Rochefort expedition in September 1757. At Minden, on 1 August 1759, he was wounded while serving as aide-de-camp to Prince Ferdinand. On 16 October he was in the hottest fighting at Klosterkamp. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the Ninety-eighth Regiment on 21 January 1761. Prevented by illness from serving with his regiment at Belle Île (1761) and Havana (1762), he joined the Portuguese army with the rank of colonel in June 1762. He served as aide-de-camp to the Count zu LippeBrückenberg and in 1763 was retired on half pay.

For the next decade, Grey did not advance in the army. In 1774 he was promoted to colonel and appointed aide-de-camp to George III. In March 1777 he was made colonel of the Twenty-eighth Regiment and ordered to join the British army at New York with the local rank of major general. On 24 June, in command of the Third Brigade, he skirmished with Lord Stirling at Woodbridge, New Jersey. In August he was promoted to permanent major general and landed with the British army at Head of Elk, Maryland. Leading a night action at Paoli, Pennsylvania, on 21 September, he surprised and overwhelmed Anthony Wayne's troops with a brilliant bayonet assault. His success established his reputation as a master of light infantry tactics and won him his nickname, "Noflint," but he was bitterly resented by the Americans. On 4 October at Germantown, Pennsylvania, he led a valiant assault and rescued British soldiers in Chew House.

Grey was involved in an ineffectual attack on the Marquis de Lafayette at Barren Hill on 20 May 1778 and in a more successful one at Monmouth, New Jersey, on 28 June. In September he conducted brilliant amphibious operations against Massachusetts seacoast towns and on the 28th led a successful night bayonet attack against George Baylor's Third Dragoons at Old Tappan, New York. Criticized by Britons and Americans for allowing his men to perpetrate atrocities during the battle, Grey was unrepentant, for he had become a proponent of sanguinary warfare against his foes. He returned to England on 24 November, convinced that Britain did not possess the will to win the war. In 1782, after service at Plymouth, he was promoted to lieutenant general, knighted, and named commander in chief for North America. He never assumed the office, for ministerial politics precluded his departure. In 1793–1795 he led a successful West Indian expedition and in August 1796 was promoted to general. He commanded England's southern district from 1796 to 1800. In 1801 he was made a baron, with the style of Baron Grey of Howick, and five years later he was created Viscount Howick and Earl Grey.

Grey was a controversial officer. He was, however, among Britain's best field commanders in the second half of the eighteenth century.

SEE ALSO Barren Hill, Pennsylvania; Paoli, Pennsylvania.


Fortescue, John W. "The Military Career of the First Earl Grey." Edinburgh Review 196 (1902): 408-435.

Nelson, Paul David. Sir Charles Grey, First Earl Grey: Royal Soldier, Family Patriarch. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

                            revised by Paul David Nelson