Fifteen year-old William Eagle enlisted in the 8th Virginia on Christmas Eve, 1776. He was one of the first to sign up when the regiment came limping back to Virginia from its encounters with redcoats and (far more dangerous) malaria in South Carolina and Georgia.
Colonel Muhlenberg brought the regiment back home to refill its ranks. Hundreds of men had died, deserted, or been left behind. Recruiting had been easy ten months earlier. Now, with Washington fleeing the British across New Jersey and the effects of camp disease staring them in the face, few men were willing to sign up. The regiment was never again at full strength. After Valley Forge, the original enlistments expired and very few of those men signed up for another three years. After the Battle of Monmouth, the regiment was combined with 4th and the 12th Virginia regiments and then folded into the 4th Virginia. A year later, even that unit had to be paired with the 3rd Virginia.
William Eagle was one of the few who enlisted during the Revolution’s darkest hour (literally two days before Trenton restored people’s faith in the cause). Nearing the end of his three-year term, he was “discharged for inability” on September 1, 1779. Tradition has it that he had a broken arm. Whatever his injury was, it saved him from a repeat of the 8th Virginia’s 1776 march to Charleston. This time, the entire Virginia line would be captured after the Siege of Charleston in 1780.
William Eagle’s grave is by Eagle Rocks, a steep peak near the headwaters of the Potomac in West Virginia’s remote Smoke Hole Canyon. Ross B. Johnston wrote in his book West Virginians in the Revolution that the veteran named his son George Washington Eagle, and nearly lost his life one day climbing his namesake peak in an attempt to capture some baby eagles.
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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