Unknown and forgotten: James Hogun


September 21, 2017
by Jeff Dacus Also by this Author


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Generals appointed by the Continental Congress often owed their commissions to their state of residence as the congressmen tried to ensure that the rank of general be equally spread among the colonies based upon population. Five generals were appointed from the state of North Carolina during the Revolution: Francis Nash, James Moore, Robert Howe, Jethro Sumner, and James Hogun. All would be dead before the establishment of the United States Constitution: Nash killed in battle at Germantown, Moore died of disease in 1777, Hogun died due to horrible conditions as a prisoner of war in 1780, Sumner died of illness in 1785, and Howe also succumbed to illness in 1786.

Because of the brevity of their lives after the war, the North Carolina generals are relatively unknown. The life of James Hogun in particularly is unknown, not only because of his early death but also because of the lack of written sources. According to family tradition, his personal papers disappeared during the Civil War, apparently looted by Yankee soldiers.[1] There are a few letters in the Washington Papers and in the archives of the state of North Carolina but this correspondence deals primarily with mundane military matters.

Hogun was born in Ireland and in 1751 settled in Halifax County, North Carolina. There appears to be no record of Hogun before this time. He appears in local records for the first time that year when he married a local girl of a prominent family in October.

Whether because of new connections or his standing in the community, Hogun became a member of the local committee of safety and then was elected to the North Carolina Provincial Congress. As a member of that body he participated in the writing of the North Carolina State Constitution.

After the first clashes in the North, James Hogun was commissioned as a major in the Halifax County Regiment of Militia. In May of 1776, Hogun served the newly created 2nd Battalion of Militia, established in response to an anticipated British invasion along the Cape Fear region that never materialized. On August 13, 1776, the militia went home.

James Hogun was commissioned as colonel on November 26, 1776 to command the newly created 7th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Line. Hogun led the regiment in the thick of the fighting at Brandywine Creek in September 1777. At Germantown the following month Hogun and his North Carolinians fought in the center of the action in which their brigade commander, Francis Nash, was killed by a cannon ball.

After Germantown, the 7th North Carolina’s numbers were severely depleted and the unit was disbanded. Hogun went back to North Carolina to recruit new soldiers and the 7th North Carolina Regiment was reinstated in August of 1778 with over 600 men, mostly “New Levies” enlisted to serve only nine months. The regiment went to West Point and helped construct defensive positions. Congress was looking for North Carolinians to fill two openings as brigadier generals in the Continental Line after the deaths of General Nash and James Moore as well as the promotion of Robert Howe to major general. The North Carolina State Assembly felt Thomas Clark and Jethro Sumner were their best choices to fill the general officer positions and submitted their names to Congress:

Resolved, That two brigadiers be appointed for the troops of North Carolina.

Colonels Jethro Sumner and Thomas Clarke are nominated by the delegates of North Carolina for brigadiers.[2]

Thomas Burke, a delegate to Congress from North Carolina, thought that Hogun’s bravery during battle of Germantown merited the second promotion instead of Clark, who was actually junior in rank.[3] Burke pushed for Hogun’s promotion instead of Clark and the final vote was for Sumner and Hogun. To Clark’s credit, the colonel accepted the decision of Congress.

The North Carolina brigade was ordered to Philadelphia. En route to Philadelphia Hogun found out about his appointment as a brigadier general dated January 9, 1779. Hogun served as commander in Philadelphia after Benedict Arnold moved on to command West Point. The time in Philadelphia was trying, as civilian leaders were often contentious and his troop strength was inadequate, as he wrote Washington:

Sir,                                                                                          Philadelphia, 3d April 1779

            I take this opportunity of informing your Excellency of the present weak state of this garrison, & the prospect of its soon being still weaker by the discharge of the draughts in the 3 No. Carolina Battn whose term of service expires the 20th Inst. — Our whole strength present fit for duty by the last returns amounts to 165 rank & file — Our daily guards consist of 82 rank & file, so that we have barely one relief[4]

With the threat of a new British move in the South, the North Carolina Brigade received orders to march southward on August 10, 1779, but the orders were countermanded and the brigade moved to Morristown to await developments. When news arrived that Savannah had fallen to the British, George Washington again ordered the brigade south on November 18. Logistics difficulties slowed the march and they were unable to reach Charleston until March 3, 1780, just before the British under Sir Henry Clinton began bombarding the town.

The siege of Charleston was a sad chapter in the Revolution with squabbling between militia, Continentals, and civilians interfering with Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s defense or possible escape. Lincoln surrendered Charleston on May 5, 1780. Over eight hundred North Carolina Continentals, including James Hogun and Thomas Clark, became prisoners, and the North Carolina line virtually disappeared. There would be no unit representing North Carolina at Yorktown.

The British offered to parole Hogun with other generals to a private home in Charleston, but both Hogun and Clark chose to stay in a prison camp with their men at Haddrell’s Point on Sullivan’s Island. British officers tried to win over the Continental soldiers with the promise of freedom in exchange for service in the British Army. The officers offered certain enticements. Those who joined the British would not have to serve against their own people in North America but would be sent to the Caribbean. Prisoners who stayed suffered severe mistreatment and many died. Hogun felt his presence would stiffen the resolve of the men and refused repeated opportunities to give his parole for better conditions. Over the next six months, Hogun’s health declined steadily, and he died on January 4, 1781 while still a prisoner.[5] He was buried in an unmarked grave and today only a roadside marker near Hopgood, North Carolina serves as his cenotaph. Coincidentally Robert Howe, another of North Carolina’s five generals, lies in an unknown grave somewhere on his former plantation, remembered only by a marker in a nearby cemetery. The five Continental generals from North Carolina served valiantly but are relatively unknown today due to unfortunate, early deaths. Sadly, James Hogun suffers the double indignity that he is relatively unknown to posterity and that his gravesite is unknown.


[1] Walter Clark, “James Hogun,” in Samuel Ashe, Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present, Volume 4 (Greensboro: C.L. Van Noppen, 1906), 199.

[2] Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Tuesday, December 29, 1778, 1260 memory.loc.gov/cgibin/query/r?ammem/hlaw:@field(DOCID+@lit(jc012102)).

[3] Thomas Burke to Richard Caswell, January 10, 1779, in Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 8, September 19, 1777-January 31, 1778, memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/hlaw:@field[DOCID+@lit(dg011434)}_1L8N.

[4] Philander P. Chase and William M. Ferraro, eds., The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series 19, 15 January—7 April 1779 (University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2009), 723.

[5] Clark, “James Hogun,” 199.

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