In 1781, the traitor Benedict Arnold was sent to Virginia by the British to disrupt American supply lines supporting patriots farther south. Opposing him was Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, the 8th Virginia’s original colonel. Gov. Thomas Jefferson gave Muhlenberg instructions to capture Arnold and specified that the plan should be carried out by “men from the western side of the mountains.” As a former pastor from Woodstock and colonel of the 8th Virginia, Muhlenberg knew many such men.
Arnold wasn’t captured. His security was too tight. Some histories, however, report rumors of a failed attempt. Edward Hocker’s 1936 biography of Muhlenberg, for example, documents a “tradition” that Col. George Rogers Clark (who had two brothers in the 8th Virginia) was tapped to lead the mission. Clark was newly famous for his successful campaign against the British in Illinois.
According to Hocker’s narrative, one of Clark’s men was captured and taken before Arnold, who asked him, “What would be my fate if the Americans caught me?” The prisoner replied, “We would cut off that shortened leg wounded at Quebec and Saratoga and bury it with the honors of war, and then hang the rest of you.”
Ironically, it was George Rogers Clark who ultimately had his leg cut off. Many years later, after a having a stroke and in a drunken stupor, he fell into a fireplace and severely burned himself. When gangrene set in, he was told a leg would have to be amputated. On the day of the procedure, he arranged to have fifers and drummers from the local militia come and play martial tunes to celebrate. He reportedly tapped his fingers in time with the music as they sawed off his leg, “effected more by the music than the pain.”
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.
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