George Washington, like many 8th Virginia men, was a Indian fighter. His first war was the French and Indian War--a war, it is frequently said, he personally started. Washington's last war was the Northwest Indian War, which he oversaw as President and commander in chief. The latter war was bloodier than any other Indian conflict before or after. The Battle of Wabash in 1791 featured higher American casualties than any other battle until Shiloh in 1862. (The 8th Virginia's William Darke played a central role at Wabash and, though injured, made it home.)
The Revolution itself was an Indian war, especially in 1779. The following Speech to the Delaware Chiefs reveals the importance of Indian relations in the war. It shows a side of Washington we rarely see--the frontiersman, surveyor and Indian fighter who knows how to communicate with Indians and which buttons to push for maximum effect. When he delivered it in New Jersey, many 8th Virginia men had already finished their Continental Army service and moved to Kentucky where Indian warfare was an ever-present threat.
Head Quarters, Middle Brook, May 12, 1779.
Brothers: I am happy to see you here. I am glad the long Journey you have made, has done you no harm; and that you are in good health: I am glad also you left All our friends of the Delaware Nation well.
Brothers: I have read your paper. The things you have said are weighty things, and I have considered them well. The Delaware Nation have shown their good will to the United States. They have done wisely and I hope they will never repent. I rejoice in the new assurances you give of their friendship. The things you now offer to do to brighten the chain, prove your sincerity. I am sure Congress will run to meet you, and will do every thing in their power to make the friendship between the people of these States, and their Brethren of the Delaware nation, last forever.
Brothers: I am a Warrior. My words are few and plain; but I will make good what I say. 'Tis my business to destroy all the Enemies of these States and to protect their friends. You have seen how we have withstood the English for four years; and how their great Armies have dwindled away and come to very little; and how what remains of them in this part of our great Country, are glad to stay upon Two or three little Islands, where the Waters and their Ships hinder us from going to destroy them. The English, Brothers, are a boasting people. They talk of doing a great deal; but they do very little. They fly away on their Ships from one part of our Country to an other; but as soon as our Warriors get together they leave it and go to some other part. They took Boston and Philadelphia, two of our greatest Towns; but when they saw our Warriors in a great body ready to fall upon them, they were forced to leave them.
Brothers: We have till lately fought the English all alone. Now the Great King of France is become our Good Brother and Ally. He has taken up the Hatchet with us, and we have sworn never to bury it, till we have punished the English and made them sorry for All the wicked things they had in their Hearts to do against these States. And there are other Great Kings and Nations on the other side of the big Waters, who love us and wish us well, and will not suffer the English to hurt us.
Brothers: Listen well to what I tell you and let it sink deep into your Hearts. We love our friends, and will be faithful to them, as long as they will be faithful to us. We are sure our Good brothers the Delawares will always be so. But we have sworn to take vengeance on our Enemies, and on false friends. The other day, a handful of our young men destroyed the settlement of the Onondagas. They burnt down all their Houses, destroyed their grain and Horses and Cattle, took their Arms away, killed several of their Warriors and brought off many prisoners and obliged the rest to fly into the woods. This is but the beginning of the troubles which those Nations, who have taken up the Hatchet against us, will feel.
Brothers: I am sorry to hear that you have suffered for want of necessaries, or that any of our people have not dealt justly by you. But as you are going to Congress, which is the great Council of the Nation and hold all things in their hands, I shall say nothing about the supplies you ask. I hope you will receive satisfaction from them. I assure you, I will do every thing in my power to prevent your receiving any further injuries, and will give the strictest orders for this purpose. I will severely punish any that shall break them.
Brothers: I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly. This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve the friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One people with your Brethen of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.
Brothers: There are some matters about which I do not open my Lips, because they belong to Congress, and not to us warriors; you are going to them, they will tell you all you wish to know.
Brothers: When you have seen all you want to see, I will then wish you a good Journey to Philadelphia. I hope you may find there every thing your hearts can wish, that when you return home you may be able to tell your Nation good things of us. And I pray God he may make your Nation wise and Strong, that they may always see their own true interest and have courage to walk in the right path; and that they never may be deceived by lies to do any thing against the people of these States, who are their Brothers and ought always to be one people with them.
George Washington knew how to bite his tongue. His response to insubordination and criticism was usually a dignified silence. Like most people, he was most open when communicating with family. And so, we see his unvarnished opinion about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a letter to John Augustine Washington, written October 18, 1777. “[W]ith truth,” he wrote, “…it may be said, that this State acts most infamously, the People of it I mean, as we derive little or no assistance from them. In short they are, in a manner, totally, disaffected, or in a kind of Lethargy.”
He wrote this two weeks after the Battle of Germantown. It is a revealing quote in many respects. It shows a normally very careful Washington speaking his mind to a trusted confidant. At the same time, it is an informed assessment. At Germantown and Brandywine before it, he had suffered from poor local intelligence, bad guides, and incompetent local militia support. In addition to the usual proportion of Tories and loyalists (generally a third, according to John Adams), a large number of Pennsylvanians were pacifists—Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites—and unwilling to resist established authority. Many more simply had little faith in the cause. Washington had, after all, just lost three battles in a row.
Even though Philadelphia was the seat of the Congress for most of the war, eastern Pennsylvania was never a hotbed of revolutionary fervor. Some of the city’s most prominent citizens remained openly loyal to the crown. The war’s most fervent revolutionary patriots came from New England and the mostly Scotch-Irish settlements of the western frontier. Many observers, then and now, have ascribed this to the one thing New England and the Appalachian settlements had in common: Reformed (Congregational and Presbyterian) Christianity. Washington himself belonged to the Church of England, proving that things were not that simple.
On September 22, 1776, William Croghan’s detachment of men from the 8th Virginia arrived at Fort Constitution, high on a cliff looking over the Hudson River and the island of Manhattan. Very soon, they would be part of the most famous campaign of the war.
Months earlier, when the 8th Virginia first formed, its ten companies were ordered to rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia—south and across the James River from the provincial capital at Williamsburg. Those from the far frontier were the last to arrive. Captain James Knox’s company from Fincastle County (now the state of Kentucky and parts of far southwest Virginia) arrived just in time to join the Regiment as it headed south to with General Charles Lee to defend Charleston.
Captain William Croghan’s company from Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, now in Pennsylvania) came too late. His company and several dozen stragglers from other companies were attached for the season to the 1st Virginia and sent north to reinforce Washington at New York. After a march that took more than a month, the 1st Virginia arrived at the fort overlooking the Hudson. It was commanded by Nathanael Greene and was charged with maintaining patriot control of the strategically critical waterway. It was called Fort Constitution, but was soon renamed Fort Lee after General Lee got (partially deserved) credit for the glorious June 28 victory at Charleston.
Sergeant William McCarty recorded their arrival. After ferrying across the Passaic River they “marched to the fort, which we came by several camping places and camps on top of a high hill by the North [Hudson] River.” They “halted in sight of the fort and river till Colonel [James] Read [of the 1st Virginia] went to speak to General Greene.” He “returned shortly” and “ordered us to march back up the hill a piece, where it was late when we pitched camp.”
For the next few days, the roughly 140 8th Virginia men detached under Captain Croghan rested and celebrated after their long march. They were issued flour, beef and rum. They got paid for the first time. On the third day there, McCarty wrote “We lay there and our men drunk very hard as they had plenty of money.”
Things soon turned serious, however. The day after their arrival, soldiers across the river were assembled to witness the execution of a man—bound, blind-folded, and kneeling—for cowardice (Washington gave him a last-minute reprieve). Croghan’s men must also have soon learned that the Hessians and Scottish Highlanders had given no quarter at the Battle of Long Island the month before, and had shot as many as seventeen Americans in the head after they had surrendered at Kip’s Bay. If they did not already know it, they learned here that there is no romance in war.
Four days after their arrival, still at Fort Constitution atop the Jersey Palisades, they watched British maneuvers in the river below. McCarty wrote, “The force heard the cannon fire very brisk from the shipping of the English, and we could see them land. We could easy see their camps and every turn they would make.”
Their stay at the fort was brief. They crossed the river to Fort Washington and Harlem Heights where they joined the 3rd Virginia to form a small, temporary brigade. Private Jonathan Grant later attested that they traveled through the Jerseys “to fort Lee on the North River & thence crossed the River to Fort Washington. The enemy at that time was in New York.” Similarly, Private Henry Gaddis recalled that they traveled “to Fort Lee, then we crossed over the North river to Fort Washington.” Days later, they were with the main army and thrust into battle—first at White Plains and later at Trenton. After the latter ordeal, just a handful of them were well enough to participate in the critical victory at Princeton.
The site of Fort Lee and its surrounding camps and artillery emplacements has been partially preserved. Judging purely from McCarty’s account it appears that much of the camping area has been blasted away to make room for the George Washington Bridge. Some of what remains has been preserved as Fort Lee Historic Park. The visitor center and its displays date from the 1976 Bicentennial and, though deteriorated, still tell the story well. Reconstructed buildings and artillery batteries show the site’s purpose, though the existence of trees and surrounding skyscrapers make the site look very different from they way it was in the fall of 1776. The position of the actual fort is in the middle of the town of Fort Lee and called Monument Park. An artistic monument records the presence of the fort and the events that occurred there.
Fort Lee was abandoned during the retreat through New Jersey, a retreat the fort’s namesake pointedly did nothing to assist with. Lee was in fact captured by the enemy and began to advise them on how to defeat the Continentals—a story told in this earlier post. One has to wonder how many people who live in Fort Lee today have any idea that their town is named for a traitor.
What did Peter Muhlenberg look like? The most frequently-seen image of the General is the oil-on-canvas portrait in the collection of the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The gallery, however, identifies this portrait as the work of an unknown artist, created on an unknown date: “circa 1800-1900.” Judging purely from that date range, there is a good chance that this familiar portrait was not made from life. Muhlenberg died in 1807.
The second-most commonly-seen image is the statue that stands in the United States Capitol, one of two statues representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This statue, which was created in 1889 by Blanche Nevin, hardly resembles the Martin Gallery portrait, though it is possible to imagine similarities. It depicts Muhlenberg as the new colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment, removing his pastor’s robe to reveal a military uniform. (Muhlenberg was made a general after serving as the regiment's colonel for about a year.)
Directly upstairs from that statue, in the Capitol Rotunda, there is another image of Muhlenberg which may be the most reliable. It is a partially-obscured side image of General Muhlenberg in John Trumbull’s grand depiction of The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. According to the Architect of the Capitol, Trumbull created this giant painting “between 1819 and 1820, basing it upon a small painting … that he had first envisioned in 1785…. In 1787 he made preliminary drawings for the small painting. Although he struggled for a time with the arrangement of the figures, he had settled upon a composition by 1788.”
Trumbull worked hard to make his depiction of the people in his history paintings as accurate as possible. He wrote that “to transmit to their descendants, the personal resemblance of those who have been the great actors in those illustrious scenes” was one of the goals of his patriotic painting. A war veteran from a prominent Connecticut family, Trumbull knew many of his subjects personally.
“To create portraits from life of the people depicted in this and other paintings," the Capitol architect's website says, "Trumbull traveled extensively. He obtained sittings with numerous individuals in Paris (including French officers at Thomas Jefferson’s house) and in New York. In 1791 he was at Yorktown and sketched the site of the British surrender. He continued to work on the small painting during the following years but did not [immediately] complete it; nevertheless, in January 1817 he showed it and other works in Washington, D.C., and was given a commission to create four monumental history paintings for the Capitol. Surrender of Lord Cornwallis was the second of these large paintings that he completed. He exhibited it in New York City, Boston, and Baltimore before delivering it to the United States Capitol in late 1820. He completed the small painting around 1828; it is now part of the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.”
If he even needed a sitting, Muhlenberg would not have been a hard man for Trumbull to find. The retired general served in Congress and as vice president and de-facto governor of Pennsylvania during the earlier years of Trumbull’s project. Though Trumbull’s portrait should be considered the most reliable, it is worth taking a moment to compare the Trumbull side-image to the anonymous portrait at Muhlenberg College. They are quite similar. In both depictions he has a long nose, slightly angled eyes, and slightly jowly cheeks. If the college has not made an effort to research the origin of the portrait in its collection, it should.
In the summer of 1777, General Washington sent Daniel Morgan’s rifle battalion north to help fend off the enemy advance down the Hudson valley. One of Morgan’s companies was led by 8th Virginia Captain James Knox who, along with a handful of enlisted men, was technically still in the 8th but on detached duty. With Morgan and Knox gone, the main army was without a light infantry battalion.
Washington formed a new one, under the command of General William Maxwell. Colonel William Crawford—half brother of 8th Virginia captains John and David Stephenson—seems to have been in active command of this force. Maxwell’s Light Infantry played the central role at the battle of Cooch’s Bridge (September 3) and a key role at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11).
As a temporary force, only hints about how Maxwell’s Light Infantry was organized 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 General Charles Scott. The recollections of a deserter from the 12th Virginia make it fairly clear that the 8th Virginia’s Captain William Darke was one of two captains sent to lead Scott’s men.
William Walker, also from the 4th Brigade (but a different 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.
Until recently, I had little hope of identifying which men of our regiment were detached to Maxwell’s command. Notes on the August, 1777 muster roll, however, appear to tell us who they were. The roll, taken September 2, lists one sergeant and 28 privates as “at the lines” or “on command at the lines.” The day before the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge when the 8th proper was not engaged but Maxwell's men were in the thick of battle, this seems to be a fairly clear indication of who was serving in the new light infantry battalion. Here’s the list. Note that only half the regiment's companies are represented. This reflects among other things the uneven effects of malaria on the troops the year before (Knox's company didn't exist anymore, and Darke's and Higgins' had only a handful of men).
Pvt. George Ashby
Pvt. Abraham Hogman
Pvt. George Lair
Pvt. Daniel Nichols
Pvt. William Shovel
Pvt. Barton Whitehorn
Pvt. Ezekiel Abel
Pvt. Moses Crawford
Pvt. Jesse Davis
Pvt. Jonathan Grant
Pvt. Aneas Lany
Pvt. Thomas Owens
Pvt. John Reed, Sr.
Pvt. John Reed, Jr.
Pvt. David Williams
Pvt. William Campbell
Pvt. Joseph Delaney
Pvt. William Fincham
Pvt. William Robert
Pvt. Richard Roberts
Pvt. John Rosson
Pvt. Elzaphan Rucker
Pvt. James Vowels
David Stephenson’s Company:
Pvt. Cornelius Cain
Pvt. William Donavan
Sgt. Edward McCarty
Pvt. Richard Cain
Pvt. Zachariah Pigman
Pvt. John Williams
A captain (William Darke), a sergeant (Edward McCarty), and 28 rank-and-file soldiers represent nearly all of the men of our regiment who served in Maxwell’s light infantry. Missing from the list is an unknown number of additional officers. Each brigade was ordered to furnish “one Field Officer, two Captains, six Subalterns, eight Serjeants and 100 Rank & File from each brigade.”
[Post updated 8/7/17 to add Pvt. William Donavan.]
A dozen different generals commanded the 8th Virginia in various capacities during its roughly 30-month existence. The Continental Army grades of general officers were: general (Washington), major general (division commanders, typically), and brigadier generals (brigade commanders). The army was organized into departments: Canadian, northern, Highlands, eastern, main, and southern. Washington was the de facto commander of the middle (or "main") department for most of the war. Major General Charles Lee (junior only to Washington in the entire army) was commander of the Southern Department during the 8th Virginia's service in that theater.
A large number of 8th Virginia men were detached to the 1st Virginia for the entire 1776 campaign, under the command of Pittsburgh’s Captain William Croghan. While the rest of the regiment went south from Virginia to serve in South Carolina and Georgia under Lee, Croghan’s detachment went north to serve in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with Washington. In 1777 a select group of riflemen from the 8th were detached to Daniel Morgan’s Rifle Battalion under the command of Captain James Knox and participated in the Saratoga campaign. The main body of the regiment fought with Washington at Brandywine and Germantown. With its ranks severely depleted by disease, casualties, and expired enlistments, the 8th was folded into the 4th Virginia after the Battle of Monmouth.
1776 Campaign (Sullivan’s Island, Savannah, Sunbury):
General George Washington, Commander in Chief
Major General Charles Lee, Commander of the Southern District
Brigadier General Andrew Lewis (Tidewater service)
Brigadier General Robert Howe (Charleston, Savannah, Sunbury)
Croghan Detachment (White Plains, Trenton, Assunpink Creek, Princeton):
Major General Joseph Spencer (White Plains)
Major General Nathanael Greene (Trenton and Princeton)
Colonel George Weedon (temporary brigade at Fort Washington)
Brigadier General William Alexander, Earl of Stirling (White Plains through Trenton)
Brigadier General Hugh Mercer (Princeton)
1777 Campaign (Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge)
General George Washington, Commander in Chief
Major General Benjamin Lincoln (spring)
Major General Adam Stephen (Brandywine, Germantown)
Major General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (Valley Forge)
Brigadier General Charles Scott
Knox Detachment (Saratoga):
Major General Horatio Gates
Major General Benjamin Lincoln
1778 Campaign (Valley Forge, Monmouth):
General George Washington, Commander in Chief
Major General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette
Brigadier General Charles Scott
Watching news of the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, I'm thinking about the longstanding alliance America has with France. France was our first important ally--we may not have won the Revolution with out her. The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, is a great symbol of our friendship. In 1777, the 8th Virginia fought at Brandywine alongside a 19 year-old French volunteer named Lafayette. After the Battle of Germantown, Lafayette was given his own Division, and the 8th was part of it. In 1921 Frank Schoonover depicted Lafayette encouraging the men in front of the regiment's banner in this painting.
Many years later, America honored the alliance by sending soldiers across the Atlantic to save France. On July 4, 1917 American Colonel Charles Stanton went to Lafayette's tomb and said, "America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here."
The words "Lafayette, we are here!" ("Lafayette, Nous Voila!") were once famous. Ninety-eight years ago, they gave hope to France--even to those behind enemy lines. They gave meaning to the service of that war's late-arriving American troops and to the sacrifice of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy 27 years later. The World War I generation is gone, and the currency of the phrase has largely gone with them. Today is a good day to revive it.
Here's an op ed I wrote about Major General Charles Lee, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer last year. His namesake town in New Jersey had been in the news after members of Governor Christie's staff were found to have intentionally caused bridge congestion there to settle a political score. Lee is a fascinating, important, but little known figure from the war. The 8th Virginia served directly under him during their hard service in South Carolina and Georgia in 1776. As of 1773, he was himself a resident of Berkeley County--part of the regiment's recruitment area. Nevertheless, they hated him. And they were right to.
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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