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Lieutenant Colonel Henry ("Hal") Dixon, Jr. (1740-1782)




Battle of Guilford Courthouse
Battle of Guilford Courthouse
(Photograph Courtesy National Park Service)
  • Born 1740 Granville County (became Caswell)
  • Revolutionary War Lieutenant Colonel
  • Married Martha Wynne
  • Died 1782 Caswell County



During the Revoltionary War, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina was a major event that turned the tide in favor of the Americans. At the Guilford Courthouse National Battlefield Park stands a monument erected in 1895 to the memory of Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Hal" Dixon. The inscription reads as follows:

In Memoriam, Lt. Col. "Hal" Dixon, of Caswell County, NC
3rd North Carolina Regiment, Continental Line
Brandywine Sept. 11th 1777
Germantown Oct. 4th 1777
Monmouth June 20th 1778
Stono Ferry June 20th 1779
Camden Aug 16th 1779
Guilford Court House March 15th 1781
The Embodiment of Chivalry. The Idol of His Soldiers. Thrice Wounded in Battle,
From Which He Died July 17th 1782.
1895

Biographical Sketch

The following is from Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volume 2 D-G, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 1979-1996 by The University of North Carolina Press, and is included here by permission of the publisher. Mark F. Miller authored this article.

Dixon, Henry ("Hal") (ca. 1750 - 17 July 1782), Revolutionary War officer, was born in the part of Granville County that later became Orange and then Caswell, the son of Henry Dixon, Sr. Little is known about his life before the outbreak of the American Revolution. In 1763 he married Martha Wynne in Halifax County, Va. That Dixon had received some militia experience is clear, for when North Carolina was charged to form its first units of the Continental line in September 1775, he was commissioned captain of the First Regiment. He rose through the ranks quickly, becoming a major in July 1776 and a lieutenant colonel in May 1778 (amidst some controversy from several more senior officers). In the spring of 1778 the North Carolina legislature appointed Dixon "Inspector General over Militia," a post he held for the remainder of the war. His considerable duties involved raising militia units, equipping them for action, and coordinating their service with the Continental command. He was in close contact with Generals Jethro Sumner and Nathaniel Greene in the defense of the southern states.

In June 1779 Dixon was severely wounded at Stono Ferry near Charleston, S.C., in the campaign commanded by General Benjamin Lincoln. As the war moved into North Carolina, he played a key role in raising militia to meet the British advance. In 1781 he fought in the actions at Wetzell's Mill and Guilford Court House and was wounded again at Eutaw Springs, S.C. He never recovered from the injuries and died at home the next year. Dixon left his wife and seven children and apparently the family moved west to Tennessee and Kentucky. A grandson, Archibald Dixon, succeeded Henry Clay as senator from Kentucky.


Perhaps the most distinguished [Revolutionary War] officer from Caswell County was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dixon, popularly called Hal Dixon. He apparently was born in the Caswell section of Granville County about 1750. Before the Revolution he married Frances Wynne and they were the parents of seven children, noted for their beauty. Dixon was described as a muscular man who stood fix feet two inches and weighed over 220 pounds. He held a commission as captain in the Second North Carolina Continental Regiment under Colonel Robert Howe and saw action in the successful defense of Charleston against the British in 1776. From South Carolina Dixon accompanied the regiment north to reinforce General Washington in New Jersey, and he participated in the American success at Bound Brook on April 13, 1777. He was in the four successive battles at Brandywine (September 11, 1777) and Germantown (October 4, 1777) in Pennsylvania; Monmouth, New Jersey (June 28, 1778); and Stony Point, New York (July 16, 1779). Following Germantown Dixon was promoted to major of the Third Regiment under General Jethro Sumner. Later when seven of the North Carolina Continental regiments were compressed into three Dixon was made lieutenant colonel. he apparently returned to North Carolina with Sumner to enlist new companies and in 1778 he served in South Carolina with him before returning to the North for a brief time. He was again in the South and took part in the battle at Stono Ferry in South Carolina on June 20, 1780, where he was wounded. At the Battle of Camden in the same state on August 16, 1780, he was again wounded, this time more seriously. Camden was a disaster for the Americans and few officers from the highest to the lowest emerged with untainted reputations. Dixon, however, succeeded in holding his men together in the face of a retreat by most Americans and when chaos prevailed he and his men cut their way out with bayonets. During the following year Dixon served as inspector in General Nathaniel Greene's reorganized Southern Army and under Andrew Pickens was one of the few North Carolina Continental officers at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781). In the action leading up to this battle he had participated in the attack on February 23 near Hillsborough on a band of Tories being led by Dr. John Pyle, Sr., of Chatham County, on the way to join Cornwallis, as well as in the engagement at Weitzel's Mill in Guilford County on March 6. After Guilford Courthouse, and when the British were no longer a threat to North Carolina, most American troops left the state to help drive the British out of South Carolina. Hal Dixon participated in these movements, and at the Battle of Eutaw Springs there on September 8 he was again wounded. His son, Lieutenant Wynne Dixon, was also wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel Dixon returned to his home on the upper waters of Moon's Creek where he owned over 3,200 acres but he died on July 17, 1782, from the last wound that he had received.

John Graves, apparently a lieutenant at the time, was captured at the Battle of Camden and confined on board the British prison ship Forbay for a time in Charleston Harbor. By February, 1782, however, with a rank as captain, Graves commanded a company under Lt. Col. Henry Dixon.1

Tories certainly were active in the vicinity of Caswell County. From Hillsborough on May 22, 1781, Major Henry Dixon wrote General Sumner: "The Tories are very mischievous between this and Deep River; the day before yesterday they were plundering within five or six miles of this. yesterday there was a man found within three miles that had been murdered by them a few days before [by] them as he was hauling wood."

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1This probably was Captain John Herndon Graves (1746-1829).
Source: When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 73-74, 75, 76, 79, and 89.

A descendant of Lieutenant Henry Dixon, Jr., Mrs. Lucille Williams Wright contributed the following to The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 180 (Article #171, "Henry Dixon and Descendants"):

I claim Henry Dixon, Jr and his wife Martha Wynne Dixon of Caswell Co. as my great-great-great grandparents. Henry, son of Henry Dixon, Sr., was born in 1840 in Caswell Co. Martha, daughter of William Wynne, was born ca 1745 in Virginia. Their children were: Wynne, Roger, Elizabeth, Robert, Francis, Henry and Susannah.

I equate Henry Dixon's patriotism with the other great men of our Revolutionary War history. As with the others, he staked his life, fortune and the welfare of his family on the winning of the War. He ended up making the supreme sacrifice at the age of 42. When I inquired of the D.A.R. about him they sent me the following Service Record. They did not tell me who wrote this account but said that it could not be photocopied so they typed it for me.

In 1777 Major Henry Dixon joined George Washington and participated in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth, being conspicuous for bravery and skill during these sanguinary engagements and for endurance during the awful privations of Valley Forge. Major Dixon was under the command of Sumner and in such twin molds were they cast that they became as David and Jonathan; side by side they fought along the bloody way until glory and triumph perched upon their banners. On May 12, 1778 Dixon was again promoted and made Lt. Col. of the 3rd Regiment. These rapid promotions to high places bespeak the character and worth of this heroic soldier. it was in the Battle of Camden that he rose to the grandeur of his fame and shed immortal lustre on his name.

When the raw militia from Virginia broke in a panic without resistance, it exposed the left flank of the North Carolina Militia to a raking fire and they were routed in succession by the bayonets. The line broke until it reached Dixon's regiment. When his comrades fled, Dixon standing before his men in the midst, ordered a part of his command to face the left and there at bay, he refused to yield of fly. His men fell thick and fast on every side but this tall majestic figure was still seen moving among his comrades exhorting them to courage and firmness. "His bugle blast was worth a thousand men." All the Militia on Dixon's left having been routed, his battiliton [sic] alone was left to protect the flank of the regulars under Baron De Kalb. The enemy not disengaged, pressed him sorely and were about to overwhelm him with numbers, when he ordered his little band to charge bayonets and leading the charge himself, he drove the enemy before him and resumed his steady fire from the line. Surrounded on every side, De Kalb fell with eleven wounds. The North Carolinas under Dixon were fighting over his body and witnessed his expiring moments. At last, every cartridge being exhausted, the gallant leader faced about and ordered a second charge of bayonets and again cut his way through the hosts of British, bringing with him the few who survived the dreadful scourge of this battle. He was afterwards with Sumner at the Battle of Eutaw Springs and at that battle received a would from which he died in Caswell Co. on July 17, 1782.

Susannah Dixon was my great-great grandmother. She married John Williams, Jr. in Caswell Co., January 10, 1800. The riddle of John's parents is unsolved. John and Susannah's first children were born in North Carolina and then about 1815 to 1820 they moved to Bedford Co., Tennessee where they lived the rest of their lives. Susannah died before 1840 and John married again, had more children and lived to be more than 80 years.

Census records indicate that John and Susannah had more children that we have names for. Those confirmed are: Wynne D., Robert D., Joseph Mack, John, Martha, Mary and Lucy. I descend from their son, John, who was born in Bedford Co. ca 1820 and died there in 1864. He married Abaline Hart, daughter of Henry and Barbara (Lambeth) Hart. John and Abaline's children were: Sarah Susan, Marmaduke, John Jefferson, Wynne D., Francis and Mary Elizabeth, all born in Tennessee. After John's death, Abaline moved the family to Christian Co., Missouri to be near her Hart relatives.

John and Abaline's son, Wynne D. was my grandfather. He was born 1852 in Bedford Co., Tennessee and died 1932 in Christian Co., Missouri. He married Mary Ellen Estes, daughter of Samuel and Melcina (Steele) Estes and their children were: Myrtle, Edna, Maude, Clyde and Harry. Clyde L. Williams was my father, born 1893, died 1892.

Sources: Family information, census records, court records of Bedford Co., Tennessee, D.A.R. information, and Henry Dixon's will, Caswell Co. and Katharine K. Kendall's books of Caswell County records.

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