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Drawn portrait of Robert Kirkwood

Robert Kirkwood

A veteran of over thirty battles in the War of Independence.

"How justly his name is entitled to be enrolled among those whose memory and worth a grateful after-age will not willingly let die."     Benson de Lany, 1846

One of colonial America's most prolific and determined patriots rests in an unknown grave in lands far west of the Revolution. Once celebrated by citizens, soldiers, and politicians, Captain Robert Kirkwood has been all but forgotten, and deserves to be remembered once more.

An illustrated map showing a point on Newark, DE.

A Patriot's Fate

Kirkwood was born to a large Irish immigrant family near Newark, Delaware in 1756. As a child he attended Newark Academy and had his sights set on the ministry. But fate—and the war with Great Britain—intervened.

An illustrated map showing Kirkwood at Long Island and George Washington joining him.

Kirkwood received an officer's commission in the Delaware Regiment in January 1776, and arrived in New York in time to join General Washington.

An illustrated map showing Kirkwood facing Howe at Long Island followed by an image of the Battle of Long Island .

Baptism by Battle

As the Continental Army faced against Howe's British force at the and , Kirkland experienced baptism by fire. He was quickly promoted for his actions, and began recording his troops' movements, engagements, and daily goings on in his journals.

An illustrated map showing Kirkwood facing Howe again but this time in Philadelphia.

Battle Hardened

Now a captain with a new regiment under him, Kirkwood again faced Howe as the British determined to capture Philadelphia in the summer of 1777.

An illustrated map showing a marker at Brandywine and then Germantown.

Kirkwood saw action at the subsequent battles of where he was "several times exposed to the fire of the enemy's cannon and small arms," and , where Kirkwood noted that a lack of ammunition and reinforcements forced his retreat.

Winter Encampment at Valley Forge

Although the Delaware Regiment spent limited time at the Valley Forge encampment, Kirkwood's letter book contains detailed description regarding the construction of soldier huts. It provides a window into a soldier's life in the winter of 1777-1778. "Plan for construction of huts, 14 by 16 foot sides, ends and roofs made of logs, the roof made with slight slabs, the sides made with tight clay; the fire places made of wood and secured with clay in the inside 18 inches thick, this fire place to be in rear of the hut, the door to be at the end next the street – the door to be made of oak split slabs unless boards can be procured, side walls 6 and a half feet high." Visitors can view reconstructed huts at the Valley Forge National Historical Park.

An illustrated map showing a marker at Monmouth, then Camden, and then Cowpens.

In His Own Writing

Kirkwood's journals testify to his service and action at major battles of the Revolution, including , , and , where Kirkwood led his Delawareans to play a decisive role in Daniel Morgan's victory — his journal for January 16, 1781 simply notes "Marched to the Cowpens, and on the 17th defeated Tarleton."

An illustrated map showing a marker at Guilford Courthouse, then Hobkirk Hills, then Ninety-Six and then Eutaw Springs.

Kirkwood's action did not stop there — he continued to lead his men at , , , and .

An illustrated image of Kirkwood.

Late in October of 1781 Kirkwood recorded that he learned of Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.

An illustrated map showing Kirkwood returning to Newark, DE.

Death and Starting Over

The end of the war at hand, Kirkwood left the battlefield and returned home to Delaware. He settled for a time and married Sarah England.

An illustrated map showing Kirkwood traveling to Ohio Country.

Sarah’s death shortly thereafter prompted Kirkwood to travel to the Ohio country, where he had received a land grant and an appointment in the newly formed 2nd U.S. Regiment. In 1791, he joined the army at under Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair.

More War After the War

St. Clair's objective to reach the confluence of the Maumee River was ill-fated. Plagued with poor supplies and undisciplined soldiers—Kirkwood notwithstanding, of course—the convoy reached the Wabash River on November 3. Kirkwood's biographer P. Benson de Lany wrote that the ensuing engagement would be, for Kirkland, "the oldest captain of the oldest regiment in the country…the thirty-third time he had been in the midst of battle and death." But it would be his last. Early in the morning of November 4, an alliance of tribes under Blue Jacket and Little Turtle attacked St. Clair's army.

An illustrated map showing a marker at Battle of the Wabash followed by an image showing the monument to the fallen at St. Clair's Defeat in Fort Recover, Ohio.

A Captain's End

Fellow officer and friend Colonial Jacob Slough witnessed Kirkwood's last moments, as the rest of the army took flight from the scene. "Thus fell…a man who had passed through unscathed the fiercest conflicts of the Revolution, and who had faced danger and death in a thousand shapes." Later, then-governor of Virginia Henry Lee eulogized that Kirkwood "…died as he had lived… brave, meritorious, unrewarded."