John Ashe (ca. 1720 – October 24, 1781) was a general officer in the North Carolina militia during the American Revolutionary War.
Born to a prominent family in Grovely, Brunswick County, North Carolina around 1720, Ashe enlisted in the North Carolina militia during the French and Indian War. The Harvard-educated Ashe served as Speaker of the colonial assembly from 1762 to 1765 (his father, John Baptista Ashe, had served as speaker in 1726-27).
An outspoken opponent of the Stamp Act and eventually a supporter of independence from Great Britain, Ashe served in the North Carolina Provincial Congress and on both the committees of correspondence and safety as hostilities between the colonies and Great Britain began to rise.
Leading a force of 500 men, Ashe destroyed the British garrison of Fort Johnston (near present day Wilmington, North Carolina) in 1775, becoming a colonel later that year. Raising and equipping a regiment at his own expense, Ashe led his regiment in the American victory at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Ashe was thereafter promoted to brigadier general of the militia in April 1776.
He was dispatched to support Continental Army Major General Benjamin Lincoln following the British capture of Savannah, Georgia in late 1778. Ashe’s troops first marched to Purrysburg, South Carolina, where Lincoln had established his camp, but was then sent north to join forces threatening Augusta, Georgia, which was being held by British Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell. Ashe’s advance in early February 1779 prompted Campbell to abandon Augusta, and Ashe followed him southward in Georgia. Ashe halted just above Brier Creek, where the British had burned out a bridge during their retreat, and established a camp while he traveled back to South Carolina for a war council with Lincoln. Ashe returned to the Brier Creek camp on March 2.
Lieutenant Colonel Campbell had, however, been active. In a plan that was well executed by Colonel Mark Prevost, most of the British force embarked on a lengthy detour to flank Ashe’s camp while a diversionary force demonstrated on the far side of the burned-out bridge. The British approached his camp from the rear on March 3, with Ashe’s force having just 15 minutes notice to prepare for the onslaught. Ashe’s poorly trained and supplied militia were routed, with an estimated 150 casualties compared to around 16 British casualties. Ashe was subjected to a court martial, which found that although he was not entirely to blame for the debacle, he was guilty of setting inadequate guards around his camp.
===Capture and death===
Returning to Wilmington, remained active there in suppressing Loyalist activity in the district. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war following the town’s occupation in 1781 by the army of General Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis. Contracting smallpox while imprisoned, Ashe was paroled, but died in Sampson County on October 24 shortly after his release.
One of his sons, also named John Ashe, served as a captain in the 4th North Carolina Regiment. Governor Samuel Ashe (1725-1813), for whom Asheville, North Carolina was named, was his younger brother, and other descendants (not named Ashe since none of their male children had offspring) have continued to play a role in North Carolina politics.