Nathaniel Towson (//; January 22, 1784 – July 20, 1854), also known as Nathan Towson, was a major general in the United States Army. A career soldier, he fought in the War of 1812 as an artillery officer. He served as paymaster of the Army after the war, and was promoted to brigadier general and then major general for his service during the Mexican–American War.
Nathaniel Towson was born in Towson, Maryland, which was then a small town north of Baltimore. Nathan farmed for much of his early life and left Towson to establish his family’s recently acquired farm in Kentucky. Because of a land dispute, Nathan moved to Natchez, Mississippi.
While in Natchez, Nathan joined a volunteer artillery outfit to accompany the first American governor of Louisiana, William C. C. Claiborne, to New Orleans. Nathan quelled an attempted mass desertion and quickly rose through the ranks until he finally commanded the Natchez Volunteer Artillery. In 1805, Nathan returned to Baltimore County and continued farming but remained a military officer through his position with the Maryland Militia. Nathan’s military prowess earned him recognition in the Maryland Militia and he became Adjutant of its 7th Regiment.
During this period prior to the War of 1812, Nathan became an astute artillery officer and devoted significant efforts to artillery’s related study of mathematics. Nathan also became an adviser to the state during its revision of the militia laws.
War of 1812
With American and British tensions escalating, Nathan was appointed Captain in the US Army artillery on March 15, 1812. Nathan’s service during the War of 1812 began with a notable success. His first engagement involved his commanding a small group to capture an enemy brig, HMS Caledonia. The successful capture propelled Nathan’s reputation. Nathan quickly rose through the ranks, both through his own acts of individual bravery and his effective artillery command. While commanding relatively few artillery pieces, his batteries’ discharges were so numerous that his position during the Siege of Fort Erie became known as “Towson’s Lighthouse”. During the War of 1812, Nathan commanded artillery during many confrontations, including the Battle of Fort George, the Battle of Stoney Creek, the Battle of Queenston Heights, the Battle of Chippawa, the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, and the Siege of Fort Erie.
After the War, Nathan was assigned to a command Fort Independence in Boston and then Fort Wolcott in Newport, Rhode Island. He was then appointed Paymaster-General of the United States Army in 1819 and was promoted to colonel on June 1, 1821. As Paymaster General, Towson resided primarily in Washington, D.C.
Towson received a brevet (honorary promotion) to brigadier general on June 30, 1834, and another to major general on May 30, 1848, for his services during the Mexican War.
During the 1820s, Towson was a member of the prestigious society, the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, which counted among its members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams as well as many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions.
In 1831 he was admitted as an honorary member of the Maryland Society of the Cincinnati.
- A U.S. military outpost was renamed Fort Towson in 1831. It is located in Fort Towson, Oklahoma.
- An American World War II liberty ship was named .
- Towson High School (in his hometown) named its mascot the “Generals”.
- Towson Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
- Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1789–1903. Francis B. Heitman. Vol. 1. p. 968.
- “Roadside Sketches”. Washington Evening Star. August 15, 1891. p. 12.
- Rathbun, Richard. The Columbian institute for the promotion of arts and sciences: A Washington Society of 1816–1838. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, October 18, 1917. Retrieved 2010-06-20.