Here's an op ed I wrote about Major General Charles Lee, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer last year. His namesake town in New Jersey had been in the news after members of Governor Christie's staff were found to have intentionally caused bridge congestion there to settle a political score. Lee is a fascinating, important, but little known figure from the war. The 8th Virginia served directly under him during their hard service in South Carolina and Georgia in 1776. As of 1773, he was himself a resident of Berkeley County--part of the regiment's recruitment area. Nevertheless, they hated him. And they were right to.
The 8th Virginia was truly, and uniquely, the Shenandoah Valley's regiment in the Revolution. Unlike any other regiment, the 8th represented nearly the full extent of the greater Shenandoah Valley cultural region from the North Carolina (and later Tennessee) line all the way to Pittsburgh (then claimed by the Old Dominion). The only county in the valley that did not raise a company for the regiment was Botetourt County.
This vast territory can be characterized in two important ways. First, as the frontier. Second, and just as important at the time, the territory can be described as the part of Virginia populated by newcomers who were for the most part neither English nor Anglican. Unlike Pennsylvania, most of Virginia was very homogeneous. Nonconforming churches were illegal, but tolerated west of the Blue Ridge. Despite belonging to the same denomination as the last two kings of England, Peter Muhlenberg had to go to London to be ordained in the Church of England in order to preach in Woodstock as late as 1772. (Four years later he became the regiment's first colonel.) In describing the 8th Virginia as the "German Regiment," the Virginia Convention really meant the "non-English" regiment. Culturally, the Irish and German men of the regiment had more in common with Pennsylvania than with Piedmont and Tidewater Virginia.
Winchester's Daniel Morgan was a true hero of the Shenandoah Valley, and he is rightly famous. However, the units he led were not true Shenandoah Valley units the way 8th was. In 1775 he was a captain in the Virginia and Maryland Rifle Battalion; in 1776 and 1777 he was colonel of the 11th Virginia, which recruited from Frederick County but also from Prince William, Amelia, and Loudoun counties; his famous Virginia rifle battalion, formed in 1777, was built on merit, not geography.
Only the 8th Virginia truly represented the geography and the culture of the Shenandoah Valley.
Most histories refer to the 8th Virginia as "the German Regiment." It was certainly led by Germans: Peter Muhlenberg, Abraham Bowman, and Peter Helphinstine. But many or even most of the enlisted men were "Scotch Irish." The term Scotch Irish didn't exist then, however. They were simply called "Irish," even though their ancestors often came from Scotland via Northern Ireland. They were universally Protestant, but Presbyterian--a denomination that most British soldiers equated with revolutionary sentiment. The term "Scotch Irish" was conceived seventy years later to distinguish them from the Catholic Irish who began to come to American in large numbers in the 1840s. Here's an interesting article on the difference between "Irish" and "Scotch Irish" in American history and culture.
is researching the history of the so-called "German Regiment," recruited on the Virginia frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
© 2015-2017 Gabe Neville