There were thousands of families that sent sons, fathers, brothers, and—when the families allowed it—daughters and sisters. But one family with five sons sent four of them to war as officers in the Revolution, and they fought at some of America’s crucial battles, eventually earning special honors from Gen. George Washington at Yorktown.
Col. Richard Butler, the eldest brother, later served as a general and died fighting Native Americans after the Revolutionary War.
The Butler Family was born to Thomas Butler and his wife Eleanor. Thomas was a gunsmith and a patron of the church as well as an immigrant to America. He moved with his family from County Wicklow, Ireland, to the American Colonies in 1748 and settled in Pennsylvania. The older brothers, William and Richard, emigrated with their parents while Thomas Jr., Percival, and Edward were born in the colonies.
Obviously, this was a fateful time to set up life in the colonies. And, soon enough, the four elder brothers were serving in the Continental Army. Richard was recommended for commission as a major in 1776, and he received it. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel and sent to Morgan’s Riflemen, The 11th Virginia Regiment. He received credit for the constant state of readiness in that unit.
More positions and commands followed. He survived Simcoe’s Rangers’ raids near Williamsburg and then was a part of the American victory at Saratoga. He then led troops in the assault on the British positions at Yorktown and, when British Gen. Charles Cornwallis was forced to surrender, Washington selected Richard to plant the first American flag on the former British fortifications. Baron von Steuben ultimately took the honor for himself, though.
The Battle of Monmouth, where three of the Butler brothers fought.
Richard’s younger brother William was commissioned as a captain in 1776 and promoted to major during October of that year. He fought in Canada and, after promotion to lieutenant colonel, at Monmouth. He then fought defensive actions against Native American tribes and took part in the successful Sullivan-Clinton Expedition to break the Iroquois Confederacy and its British allies in 1779.
The third brother, Thomas, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in early 1776 and promoted to captain later that year. His bravery at the Battle of Brandywine allowed him to rally retreating Colonials and stop a British thrust, earning him accolades from Washington. Later, he fought at Monmouth and was cited for defending a draw against severe attack, allowing his older brother Richard to escape as the British forces were tied up.
(Fun fact about Thomas: He was court-martialed in 1803 for multiple charges but defeated all of them except for “wearing his hair.” Basically, he wore a Federalist wig and refused to take it off for the Army.)
The youngest brother to fight in the war was Percival, who was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1777 at the age of 18. He fought at Monmouth with two of his brothers after a winter at Valley Forge.
All of this led to the Butlers being specially praised by senior leaders. Washington gave a toast during a victory banquet, “To the Butlers and their five sons!” And Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, said, “When I wanted a thing done well, I had a Butler do it.”
Thomas, the men’s father, fought in the Revolutionary War as well and the youngest brother, Edward, fought for the U.S. and died in combat in 1791.