Harmar, Josiah

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Harmar, Josiah

HARMAR, JOSIAH. (1753–1813). Continental officer, lieutenant colonel, commandant of the U.S. army, 1784–1791. Pennsylvania. Born in Philadelphia on 10 November 1753, Josiah Harmar was orphaned three months later. He was educated at Robert Proud's Quaker school. Commissioned as a captain of the First Pennsylvania Battalion on 27 October 1775, he was promoted to major in the Third Pennsylvania Battalion on 1 October 1776, and lieutenant colonel of the Sixth Pennsylvania Battalion on 6 June 1777. He saw action in the battles of Brandywine, Monmouth, and Stony Point, and endured the winter of 1777–1778 at Valley Forge. After 9 August 1780, Harmra commanded the Seventh Pennsylvania Battalion, transferring to the Third Pennsylvania in the reorganization of the Pennsylvania Line on 17 January 1781. At this point, Harmar was second in command to Genreal Anthony Wayne in the Yorktown campaign. Transferred to the First Pennsylvania on 1 January 1783, he was promoted to colonel on 30 September 1783 and served until 3 November of that year.

After the reconstitution of the Continental army, Harmar was recalled and made lieutenant-colonel commandant of the First United States Regiment, which constituted the entire army at the time. He held this post from 12 August 1784 to 4 March 1791, being brevetted brigadier general on 31 July 1787.

In 1790 Harmar pushed the Shawnees along the Scioto River, and later in the year he left Fort Washington (Cincinnati) to attack the Indians in the Maumee Valley with a force of 400 regulars and a thousand militia from Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Although his force reached his objective of Miami Town and burned a number of Shawnee settlements, Harmar twice detached units that were mauled by Little Turtle's forces. Coming under withering criticism for this fiasco, Harmar was cleared by a court of inquiry but replaced by General Arthur St. Clair, who went on to suffer even greater failure against the Indians. Harmar resigned from the army on 1 January 1792. From 1792 to 1798 Harmar served as Pennsylvania's Adjutant General. He died on 20 August 1813 at his estate on the Schuylkill River, called, appropriately enough, "The Retreat."

SEE ALSO Yorktown Campaign.


Eid, Leroy V. "'The Slaughter Was Reciprocal': Josiah Harmar's Two Defenses, 1780." Northwest Ohio Quarterly 65 (Spring, 1993): 51-67.

Kohn, Richard H. Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783–1802. New York: Free Press, 1975.

Palmer, Dave R. 1794: America, Its Army, and the Birth of a Nation. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1994.

                        revised by Michael Bellesiles