As a temporary force, only hints about how Maxwell’s Light Infantry was structured survive, but it seems the soldiers were organized by their home brigades, as one would expect. The 8th was part of the 4th Virginia Brigade, commanded by Gen. Charles Scott. The recollections of a deserter from the 12th Virginia Regiment make it fairly clear that 8th Virginia Capt. William Darke was one of two captains sent by Scott to Maxwell.
William Walker, also from the Scott's Brigade (and the 4th Virginia Regiment), left this colorful recollection of the events just before the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge: “At this place [a unit was formed composed of] 8 hundred men, chiefly volunteers, called the detached light infantry, I being among them. The following are the names of the field officers commanding this party, [Lieutenant Colonel] Rich[ard] Parker, [Lieutenant] Colonel [William] Heath [Heth] with a glass eye, Colonel [William] Crawford with his leather hunting shirt, pantaloons and Rifle, Colonel [Alexander] Martin from North Carolina. General [William] Maxwell being the commander, we marched to a place called Iron Hill where we remained until the 2nd of September, the enemy being as yet stationary, when a very bloody conflict ensued.”
A week later, the unit spent many hours skirmishing with the enemy during the early hours of the Battle of the Brandywine—most of it exposed and alone on the enemy’s side of the river.
There is no known roster of men who were detached to Maxwell’s command. In most cases, there is simply no way to know unless they left a record of it themselves. Fortunately, in the 8th Virginia's case, notes on the August, 1777 muster roll appear to tell us who they were. The roll, taken September 2, lists one sergeant and 29 privates as “at the lines” or “on command at the lines.” September 2 was the day before the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge. Maxwell's Light Infantry was the only Continental unit engaged in that battle. Therefore, this seems to be a fairly clear indication that these men were serving in the temporary battalion.
There are a total of 31 men listed below: Capt. William Darke, Sgt. Edward McCarty, and 29 privates. It is probably not a complete list. Each brigade was ordered to furnish “one Field Officer, two Captains, six Subalterns, eight Serjeants and 100 Rank & File from each brigade.” Only half of the 8th Virginia's companies are represented. This reflects, in part, the uneven effect of malaria on the troops the year before. Darke's and Knox's companies were virtually wiped out, and the latter company was eliminated when Knox joined Morgan. Higgins' company, raised as a replacement unit, never had more than a handful of men. It is harder to explain why the companies of Jonathan Clark and Thomas Berry are not represented. It could be that for those companies no notation was made on the August muster roll. Alternately, they may simply have not contributed any men to Maxwell. This seems more likely because--at 29 privates--the 8th was already someone overrepresented coming from a brigade with five regiments. Western troops, like those in the 8th, were considered to be natural light infantrymen, so this overrepresentation is not surprising.
Capt. Slaughter’s Company:
Pvt. William Campbell
Pvt. Joseph Delaney
Pvt. William Fincham
Pvt. James Johnston*
Pvt. William Robert
Pvt. Richard Roberts
Pvt. John Rosson
Pvt. Elzaphan Rucker
Pvt. James Vowels
Capt. David Stephenson’s Company:
Pvt. Cornelius Cain
Pvt. William Donavan
Capt. Westfall’s Company:
Sgt. Edward McCarty
Pvt. Richard Cain
Pvt. Zachariah Pigman
Pvt. John Williams
*Pvt. James Johnston reported in his pension affidavit in 1832, "I was then attached to the Company of Light infantry and sent to the Iron hills near the head of Elk under the Command of Genl. Sullivan we had a small skirmish with the British. We then returned to the main army and I joined my own regiment on the Evening before the battle of Brandywine." That Johnston's memory is imperfect is clear from his misidentification of General Maxwell as General Sullivan. His report that he rejoined the regiment the night before Brandywine might be read to sow doubt on the participation of other detached men from the regiment in Maxwell's maneuvers on the American left at Brandywine. Unlike the other men listed above, however, Johnson is not listed as detached the September muster roll. I interpret that to mean that his short detachment was unique.
[Updated 8/7/17 to add Pvt. William Donavan. Updated 9/12/20 to add James Johnston. Revised, 9/28/20.]
Read More: "The 'B Team' of 1777: Maxwell's Light Infantry."
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
© 2015-2020 Gabriel Neville