LAFAYETTE, MARQUIS de (Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier)
Born at Chavaniac, Auvergne, Lafayette was the son of an aristocratic soldier killed at the battle of Minden (1759). At age 13, with the death of his mother and grandfather, he was left a wealthy orphan. Following his father's lead, Lafayette joined an infantry regiment within a year (1771), where he began an illustrious career as a lifelong champion of freedom and liberty. After only several years of French service, a young Lafayette came to America in 1777 to serve the Continental Congress without pay or a specific command, and was commissioned a major general in July. And, though he had little practical military experience before arriving in America, he quickly proved to be an enterprising and effective commander, concerned for the welfare of his men, and often serving as an inspiration to less enthusiastic soldiers. Lafayette repeatedly distinguished himself: at the battle of Brandywine, where he was wounded (1777); in his steadfastness during the winter at Valley Forge and his support of Washington during the infamous Conway Cabal; with the skirmish of Barren Hill (1778); and leadership of a division at the battle of Monmouth (1778), and in his close involvement in the abortive Franco-American joint effort at Newport. Other accomplishments include command of Virginia Light Troops (1780) , and ensuing opposition of Benedict Arnold (1781), skillful evasion of Cornwallis (1781), support of Gen. Anthony Wayne at Green Spring, where he had two horses shot from beneath him (1781), following Cornwallis to Yorktown where he played a major role in the ensuing siege (September 14 - October 19, 1781). In December of 1781, Lafayette returned to France where he continued a notable career as both a military mastermind and a skilled statesman, serving despite continual political upheaval, until shortly before his death in 1834.