Worst working relationship?


January 4, 2017
by Editors Also by this Author


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Which two people let their personal dislike of each other interfere the most with their working relationship?


It was quite obvious that generals, Charles Cornwallis and his superior officer Henry Clinton didn’t care for each other. As early as Oct. 1776 after White Plains, Clinton said some bad things about Howe (their overall commander-in-chief), and Cornwallis happened to tell Howe. Oops. Then Clinton blamed Cornwallis for the defeat at Princeton. And every time Cornwallis needed to go back home to Britain for a “sick wife”, Clinton assumed Cornwallis was really defaming Clinton’s name in Parliament. The two seemed to work together at the siege of Charleston. But then Clinton went back to New York and left Cornwallis with little supplies or troops, and with his orders to just recruit all the (non-existent) Loyalists. Until their Yorktown surrender, Clinton and Cornwallis played a confusing communications game with each other. Even when both were back in Britain, the two continued their very public blame game for the war’s loss.

John L. Smith, Jr.


The worst working relationship was between Ambassador Benjamin Franklin and fellow diplomat, John Adams. The latter’s jealousy was close to paranoia. He never stopped smearing BF in endless letters to  Congress.

Thomas Fleming


There is a sad tale in the relationship that developed between two respected Philadelphia physicians, Dr. John Morgan and Dr. William Shippen, Jr., during the early course of the war.  They were both educated at the University of Edinburgh, became the first two professors of medicine at the city’s fledgling medical school, and were each esteemed in the eyes of Benjamin Franklin.

Upon Benjamin Church’s arrest, in October 1775 Morgan was appointed Director General and Physician-in-Chief of the American Hospital and brought great knowledge and zeal to correct the extreme deficiencies he witnessed in the delivery of medical care to soldiers in Boston.  He subsequently provided great service to Washington, earning him the disapprobation of Shippen, also attempting to gain personal advantage and appointment.  As a result, Shippen succeeded in having Morgan summarily dismissed from service by the Continental Congress, a move it later regretted and reversed, but only after Morgan experienced great stresses because of the meritless accusations made against him.

Gary Shattuck


Ambition soured the working relationships of many during the Revolution. Friction between John Adams and John Dickinson, as well as between Adams and Benjamin Franklin, undermined their relationships. Virtually no one could establish a good working relationship with Arthur Lee.  Washington’s hatred and fear of General Horatio Gates had perhaps the most profound impact. Although Gates was the logical choice to command the defense of Rhode Island in 1778, Washington refused to put him in command. General Nathanael Greene, who knew the inside story, said that Washington would not “gratify a doubtful friend,” a decision that came close to costing the U.S. dearly during the fighting in that state.  Gates was no less ambitious than Washington, and he knew that he would be the beneficiary of continued failures by the commander in chief. It was a reality that colored Gates’ relationship with Washington.

-John Ferling


On the British side, the animosity between Clinton and Cornwallis, which began with Clinton placing the blame for Princeton on Cornwallis and culminated in Clinton’s failure to support Cornwallis in Virginia and his ultimate surrender at Yorktown.  Their disputes would spill into the British press and political circles, and recriminations would go back and forth for years after.

Alec D. Rogers


Hands down, Benedict Arnold and the other officers who came into contact with him.  Fellow Continental Army officers respected his abilities, but none formed a lasting friendship with Arnold.  Starting with Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga, conflict and animosity followed Arnold throughout his time with the Continental Army.  Only Washington, who highly respected Arnold’s military expertise, formed somewhat of a personal and professional relationship with him.  That is why Washington so vigorously pursued capturing Arnold after his treason.

Gene Procknow


Sir Henry Clinton, the British Commander-in-Chief in North America, and General Charles Cornwallis take the cake. Both had profound disagreements over the strategic direction of the Revolutionary War: Clinton aimed to launch repeated predatory expeditions from New York (with the eventual goal of crippling the colonial war effort); and Cornwallis wanted to invade and completely subdue Virginia and the southern colonies. (A dispute not helped by George Germain’s constant meddling in military affairs.) These tensions eventually spilled out into a petulant pamphlet war following the cessation of hostilities.

Nicolas Bell-Romero


Unquestionably the relationship between Henry Clinton and Earl Cornwallis, which destroyed any chance the British had for winning the southern campaign. When the King refused to accept Clinton’s resignation during the 1780 siege of Charleston, which would have given Cornwallis command in America, the Earl responded with an infantile tantrum, blamed Clinton for not tendering his resignation in stronger terms, and then set about creating divisions that hampered the entire officer corps. Cornwallis gave key posts to his favorites, such as Nisbet Balfour, while doing nothing to assist Patrick Ferguson because Clinton had appointed Ferguson to the militia command. Then Cornwallis kept Clinton in the dark while ignoring his orders and leaving South Carolina to engage in a futile pursuit of Nathanael Greene across North Carolina, and from there marched to Virginia without bothering to inform Clinton, who was his superior. Clinton was too timid to enforce his orders with Cornwallis, and we know how that turned out. Yorktown.

Jim Piecuch


Sir Henry Clinton and Benedict Arnold. After Arnold defected to the British, the two clashed almost immediately.  Their two personalities did not work well together.  In the summer of 1781, Arnold is itching to attack Washington and Rochambeau north of New York City.  He badgers Clinton with the desire to command the troops and with ways on how to defeat the allied armies.  After not getting his way, Arnold goes behind Clinton’s back and solicits friends in New York to write to London to complain about Clinton.  He even writes to Lord Germain himself, offering suggestions on how the British can win the war while asking for a promotion to major general.  Unfortunately for Arnold, Lord Germain does not listen to him either and Clinton finds out about his scheming.  Needless to say, this did not help their already sour relationship.

Matthew Reardon


Clinton + Cornwallis × divergent agendas2   = debacle in the South. That’s certainly a simplistic equation, but in any endeavor, key players who nurse grudges and work at cross purposes are inviting failure.

Joshua Shepherd


British Generals Clinton and Howe might fill this bill. Howe was older, but Clinton, who had grown up in the colonies, was full of ideas about America’s people and places and griped about Howe’s tactics.  When American forces fortified Breeds Hill near Boston in June 1775, Clinton urged an early attack from Charlestown Neck to starve out the Americans. Howe argued that the hill was “open and easy of ascent and in short would be easily carried.” Howe’s frontal attack led to the highest casualty count suffered by the British in any single encounter during the entire war. Clinton, remarked in his diary that “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.

In August 1776, utilizing Clinton’s ideas, which called for a strike through the Guan Heights via Jamaica Pass, Howe flanked the Americans and led the British army to victory at the Battle of Long Island. Howe was thereby formally promoted to lieutenant general and made a Knight of the Order of Bath. Clinton, understandably offended, returned to England in 1777 and tried to resign. He was presented with a knighthood to mollify him, but was ordered by the king to return to New York where he resumed his post as second-in-command to Howe.   Their relationship seemed to go from bad to worse, but ironically, both were blamed by the British for the losses at the end of the war.

Kim Burdick


Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates. During 1776 Major General Schuyler, a New York aristocrat who commanded the Northern Department, and Major General Gates, a former British officer from a modest background, who commanded at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, cooperated to turn back an invasion from Canada. In 1777 their animosity, abetted by regionalism in the congress, led to catastrophe.

In the winter Gates lobbied for an assignment free of Schuyler’s interference and was ordered back to Ticonderoga. From headquarters in Albany, he exercised command of the Northern Department. Then Schuyler, a congressman as well as a general, used his position to regain his position. He returned to Albany in June and supplanted Gates, who rushed to Philadelphia to make his case.

So at a time when the army on Lake Champlain needed consistent leadership, there was turmoil. General Burgoyne’s invasion came as a shock, and the poorly prepared Americans retreated.

Ennis Duling


Gen. William Howe and Gen. Henry Clinton arrived in Boston in May 1775. Both had years of experience in the British army. Both were dedicated commanders. But within a short time, it was clear that Howe and Clinton
didn’t get along. That was unfortunate for the British war effort since they kept being assigned to the same theater, with Clinton as Howe’s deputy. British commanders needed to coordinate their attacks, and personal animosities and rivalries kept getting in the way. Eventually Clinton succeeded Howe as commander of British troops in North America. It was soon clear that there were very few people Clinton got along with. After the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781, Clinton turned from second-guessing his commander to scapegoating his subordinate.

J. L. Bell


  • It is not surprising that so many of these comments involve General Clinton and his “caustic” personality. I would love to see someone tackle an in depth personality profile of him. One person that seemed to be able to work well with him and gained his respect was Major John Andre. So one cannot be surprised at the almost immediate discord between Clinton and Benedict Arnold.

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