When the 8th Virginia headed south into the Carolinas in 1776, they were heading into deadly territory. Those who were born and raised in the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains around it had absolutely no resistance to malaria. Large numbers of men, living together outdoors in the summer heat of the swampy coastal south, created the perfect conditions for an epidemic. According to one South Carolina officer, “14 or 15 [soldiers] were buried every day” for awhile that summer.
The 8th Virginia’s third-ranking officer, Major Peter Helphinstine of Wichester, was one who fell dangerously ill. At 52 years old, he was the oldest officer in the regiment. He resigned his commission and headed for home, perhaps in the back of a wagon. He continued to slowly deteriorate and died a couple of years later, leaving a widow who struggled to survive without him.
Helphinstine was buried in the graveyard of Winchester’s Lutheran Church, which is now part of a large and unique cemetery. In Winchester’s early days, the Lutheran, German Reformed, and Presbyterian churches were all on the edge of town. Only the Church of England was allowed to have a building in the center. After the Revolution, new churches were built in town and the graveyards of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches were combined with additional tracts of land to form a large public cemetery. Graves from the old Presbyterian Church (including that of General Daniel Morgan) were later reinterred in the new cemetery. After the Civil War, a large section was added for Confederate dead.
Helphinstine’s grave is close to the one remaining wall of the old Lutheran Church, though his marker is long gone. It may be that his widow could not afford a proper stone for him. Other prominent 8th Virginia veterans are buried in what is now known as Mount Hebron Cemetery. Chaplain Christian Streit, later the long-serving pastor of the Lutheran Church, is buried close to Helphinstine. Surgeon Cornelius Baldwin, originally buried in the Presbyterian graveyard, was relocated to the cemetery in 1912.
Other graves in the cemetery have been ascribed to 8thVirginia veterans, but may be in error or belong to veterans of the 12th Virginia Regiment (which was redesignated the “8th” when regiments were consolidated late in 1778). Winchester was the home of Daniel Morgan and was George Washington’s base of operations for much of the French and Indian War. It is full of history and deserves a visit. If you do visit, a stroll through Mount Hebron is worth thirty minutes of your time.
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