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.
On March 5, 1833 an old man named John Duncan walked into the Franklin County, Illinois courthouse and applied for a Revolutionary War pension. His father, he said, had been killed by Indians in Washington County, Virginia, when he was nine or ten years old. He recorded his own 20-year story of virtually nonstop Indian fighting, including the famous Vincennes campaign led by General George Rogers Clark (younger brother of 8th Virginia Captain Jonathan Clark). “He never was regularly mustered into or out of service," he said. "He never was discharged regularly. He received some little pay, but does not now recollect how much. He is unacquainted with the names of any Regular or Continental officers or companies, nor ever served with any.... He never was regularly enrolled in any company or corps, unless it might be Genl Clark’s or Col Hays’s. He belonged to none at home. He has no documentary evidence of his service; he knows of no living witness who can testify personally as to his service....”
Duncan’s life of fighting, colorful as it was, did not qualify him for a pension. Most of it happened after the war was over (he was about 18 at the time of the victory at Yorktown). The pension affidavit, however, is great reading for anyone interested in early frontier history. It was transcribed by C. Leon Harris and is one of thousands Harris and his partners at RevWarApps.com have transcribed and put online. These affidavits have long been largely ignored by historians, who have been suspicious of them as the late memories of old men eager for money. Viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, however, they are a great resource to my research—especially when they corroborate each other or fill in blanks in the record. Duncan’s affidavit can be read here. (Though he lived for a time in an area that recruited men for the 8th Virginia, Duncan was never connected with the 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.
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