Virginia was described as the the "most English" of the colonies. It had been consistently loyal to the Crown, even during the era of Parliamentary rule under Oliver Cromwell. The Church of England was integrated into the local government.
Virginia's frontier territories were different. When the Revolutionary War started, the Virginia Conventioned designated the 8th Virginia to be a "German" regiment. Thousands of Pennsylvania Germans had settled in the Shenandoah Valley.
On September 12, Gabe Neville spoke at Virginia's Germanna Foundation to explore the question: "Just how German was the regiment in reality?"
Learn more at the Germanna Foundation website.
A newly-created map of the 8th Virginia's recruiting counties shows that the regiment was largely composed of frontiersmen and pioneers. It is helpful to visualize how the regiment raised its ten companies in the westernmost settled areas of the province (Virginia wasn't a state, yet). This made the regiment unique in several ways. They were ethnically and religiously different from the rest of Virginia. Soldiers, some of whom were subsistence hunters, were typically better marksmen than the average soldier. Their motives for fighting were less focused on taxes and trade and more focused on their desires to head west--something the King had forbidden.
Political geography has changed. All of these counties have been divided, some within months of the regiment's formation. West Virginia, which is not shown, was created in 1863 and would occupy the left-center of the map. The disputed northeast part of the Augusta District is now southwest Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. Western Fincastle County became Kentucky County in 1776 and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1792. Most Americans are unaware that beginning in 1774, Ohio and lands west of it were part of the Province of Quebec. This, technically at least, extended holdover French civil institutions to the border of settled Virginia. Quebec had no elected legislature and had been allowed to keep its Catholic institutions. Both facts were seen by Virginians as sure signs of creeping tyranny.
The Soldiers Page lists the various companies and the counties from which they came. In brief: the West Augusta District and Dunmore County each raised two companies. Augusta, Berkeley, Culpeper, Fincastle, Frederick, and Hampshire counties each contributed one. Initially called the "German Regiment" and long remembered that way, the map also shows how wide-ranging and diverse the zone of recruitment was. The lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley counties of Berkeley, Frederick, and Dunmore had significant populations and all three field officers were from that area. Culpeper, the only Piedmont county, had a smaller German population that descended from the Germanna Colony. The other counties were predominantly Scotch-Irish and English.
All ten companies of the 8th Virginia hadn’t even arrived yet when Maj. Gen. Charles Lee took the regiment south to face the enemy. Suffolk, Virginia was the designated place of rendezvous. The ten companies came from all but one of the counties along Virginia’s 350-mile frontier, stretching from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh. They traveled to the rendezvous on foot, stopping in Williamsburg to collect company officers’ commissions. Col. Peter Muhlenberg and the early-arrived companies were posted at Kemp’s Landing, near Norfolk.
British Gen. Henry Clinton was sailing south with a significant force to meet with Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who was sailing from Britain with a fleet of warships and still more men. North Carolina was their target and a Tory uprising was their goal. On May 11, Lee impatiently wrote to the post commander at Kemp’s landing, inquiring, “[H]ave you order’d Muhlenberg’s Regiment to march to Halifax? I hope to God you have, for no time is to be lost, as we have certain news of the Enemy’s arrival in the River Cape Fear.”
Lee wrote to John Hancock, “As the Enemy’s advanced Guard…is actually arrived—I must, I cannot avoid detaching the strongest Battalion we have to [North Carolina’s] assistance; but I own, I tremble at the same time, at the thoughts of stripping this Province of any part of its inadequate force.” Battalions and regiments were essentially synonymous at this time. Lee was, in fact, calling the 8th Virginia the “strongest” of the province’s nine regiments. He would later confirm this assessment when he wrote to Muhlenberg, “You were ordered not because I was better acquainted with your Regiment than the rest--but because you were the most compleat, the best arm’d, and in all respects the best furnish’d for service.” To Congress he reported, “Muhlenberg’ s regiment wanted only forty at most. It was the strength and good condition of the regiment that induced me to order it out of its own Province in preference to any other.”
This was evidently true despite the absence of two complete companies. Lee may have extrapolated to account for the absent companies. Alternately, at least one of the present companies (Captain Jonathan Clark’s) appears to have enlisted numbers beyond its quota. When Muhlenberg set off on May 13, Capt. James Knox’s southwest (Fincastle County) company had not yet arrived. It was close, though—probably at Williamsburg. Or perhaps it had just arrived and needed to rest. Lee wrote, “Capt[ai]n Knox will follow the Regiment, so the Colonel must not wait for him.” Capt. William Croghan’s Pittsburgh (West August District) company, however, was even farther behind. Lee took the regiment anyway. There was no time to spare. Consequently, it would be an entire year until Croghan’s men joined the regiment.
The other nine companies marched for Cape Fear via Halifax, North Carolina, joined by a North Carolina Regiment that had come north to Virginia’s aid. Unlike every other Virginia regiment, the 8th Virginia men all carried rifles. No muskets also meant no bayonets, which were—at the end of the day—often the real implements of war. Lee compensated for this by issuing pikes (he called them “spears”) to some of the men. “I have formed two companies of grenadiers to each regiment; and with spears of thirteen feet long, their rifles (for they are all riflemen) slung over their shoulders, their appearance is formidable, and the men are conciliated to the weapon.”
Meanwhile, the British commanders were learning that the Patriot victory at Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge had quelled their hoped-for Tory uprising. They opted, therefore, for an alternate target. Just as the 8th Virginia arrived at Cape Fear, the enemy was sailing off for Charleston, South Carolina. Muhlenberg’s men continued the chase, now at a forced-march pace. A very difficult and deadly summer lay ahead of them.
The Battle of Monmouth Courthouse (June 28, 1778), was the last engagement for the 8th Virginia Regiment in the war. Shortly after, the seriously depleted regiment was folded into the 4th Virginia Regiment. (In fact, at Monmouth, the regiment had already been provisionally merged with two others as the "4th, 8th, and 12th Regiment.") Monmouth was fought exactly two years after the 8th Virginia's first real battle at Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.
Very few of the original enlistees were still in the regiment at Monmouth. Aside from deaths from disease and battle, all of the original enlistments from 1776 expired during the Valley Forge Encampment. Some of the original officers still remained, however. Some of the original recruits had also reenlisted. Monmouth, however, was the end of the road for the storied 8th Virginia, a unit that first began as a Virginia provincial regiment led by a pastor and loyal (technically, at least) to the King. The Virginia legislature had intended it to be a German unit and commissioned German field officers for it (Col. Muhlenberg, Lt. Col. Bowman, and Maj. Helphinstine). It recruited men of other ethnicities, however, and was never as German as originally envisioned.
Some of the men, commissioned and enlisted, continued to fight on to the end of the war. In September, the regiment was merged with the 4th Virginia under the latter's number. Other regiments were consolidated as well, and the regiment previously known as the 12th became the "new" 8th Virginia. In 1779, the consolidated 4th was provisionally merged with the 3rd Virginia and known for a time as the "3rd and 4th Virginia Regiment." Lastly, the handful who remained were included in the 2nd Virginia Brigade sent to reinforce General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780. Some of them were under the command of Captain Abraham Kirkpatrick, who had begun the war as a lieutenant in William Croghan's Pittsburgh company of the 8th Virginia. Croghan, now a major, was also at Charleston. All of them were taken prisoner when Lincoln surrendered on May 12, 1780.
Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg, the regiment's original colonel, and Lt. Colonel William Darke, one of the regiment's original captains, were both at Yorktown. They may be the only men of the original 8th Virginia who served at Yorktown as members of the Continental Army. Darke, who had been captured at Germantown, paroled and then exchanged, held a Continental commission but led militia at Yorktown. Malaria, to which men from the frontier had no resistance, prompted his militiamen to return home before the surrender of Cornwallis, but he remained (presumably having developed a resistance after the regiment's ordeal in Georgia in 1776). Private Bean Smallwood, an original 8th Virginia recruit in Captain Berry's company, was at Yorktown as a militiaman.
Here is an excellent overview of the Battle of Monmouth.
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 attached to 1st Virginia (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 under Colonel Daniel Morgan (Saratoga):
Major General Horatio Gates
Major General Benjamin Lincoln
Darke Detachment in Maxwell's Light Infantry (Cooch's Bridge, Brandywine)
Brigadier General William Maxwell
1778 Campaign (Valley Forge, Monmouth):
General George Washington, Commander in Chief
Major General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette
Brigadier General Charles Scott
The 8th Virginia was composed of ten companies of 68 enlisted men, each led by four officers (captain, 1st lieutenant, 2nd lieutenant, and ensign). The overall regiment was commanded by three field officers (colonel, lt. colonel, and major), assisted by several staff officers (chaplain, adjutant, surgeon, surgeon's mate, and quartermaster). One inherited company was composed men on 1-year enlistments that began in December of 1775. The other nine companies served 2-year enlistments, beginning in the spring of 1776 and ending at Valley Forge in the spring of 1778. An 11th regiment was raised to replace that of the 1-year men in 1777. Replacements recruited in 1777 served 3-year enlistments. The 8th existed from the spring of 1776 to the fall of 1778, when it was merged with other depleted regiments.
I have posted an outline of the regiment's structure, naming the original officer and a handful of enlistment men I have blogged about. This is not intended to be a "roster" of the regiment, but rather a look at its structure, origins, and organization.
Here are images of all three known Virginia regimental standards, shown together apparently for the first time. All three flags are in anonymous private collections but have been exhibited publicly. The flag in the middle belonged to the 8th Virginia. One of the other flags reportedly belonged to the 3rd Virginia. The faded rectangle in the center of the 8th Virginia flag is a consequence of light damage resulting from the way in which it was displayed for many years--it was originally one consistent (salmon) color. The flags follow an apparently standard design, but in varying colors. The color was the most important distinguishing characteristic of the flags, which were used to help troops stay organized in the smoke and confusion of battle.
The scrolls on the blue and yellow flags contain only the word "regiment." This suggests that they were made at the same time, with the intention that regiment numbers would be added when the colors had been assigned to the respective units. (The word "regiment" is not centered in the scrolls; space was retained to the left of the word on both flags.) The writing in the 8th Virginia's scroll is illegible because of light damage. The writing was retouched on the reverse side of the flag to say "VIII Virg Regt." An 1847 account in the Richmond Whig says the scroll contained the words "VIII Virga Regt." This sets it apart from the other two flags. This can be explained by the history of Virginia's Continental regiments.
The 1st and 2nd regiments were authorized by the Virginia convention in 1775 for one-year enlistments. Seven more regiments were authorized in December of 1775 to be formed in 1776 for two-year enlistments, with the expectation that the 1st and 2nd would also continue with new or reenlisted men. Virginia expected all of these regiments to be taken into the Continental Army. Congress, however, initially only authorized seven Virginia Continental regiments. Despite being the first regiment to leave the Commonwealth in Continental service, the 8th drew the short straw and was not recognized immediately as anything other than a provincial (after July 4, "state") regiment. (The same was true of the small 9th regiment, which was created only for Eastern Shore defense.) At the urging of General Charles Lee, Congress later increased the number of authorized Virginia Continental regiments. One consequence of this complicated history may be that the 8th Virginia's regimental standard was not made at the same time as the other banners.
The 8th Virginia was truly, and uniquely, the Shenandoah Valley's regiment in the Revolution. Unlike any other regiment, the 8th represented nearly the full extent of the greater Shenandoah Valley cultural region from the North Carolina (and later Tennessee) line all the way to Pittsburgh (then claimed by the Old Dominion). The only county in the valley that did not raise a company for the regiment was Botetourt County.
This vast territory can be characterized in two important ways. First, as the frontier. Second, and just as important at the time, the territory can be described as the part of Virginia populated by newcomers who were for the most part neither English nor Anglican. Unlike Pennsylvania, most of Virginia was very homogeneous. Nonconforming churches were illegal, but tolerated west of the Blue Ridge. Despite belonging to the same denomination as the last two kings of England, Peter Muhlenberg had to go to London to be ordained in the Church of England in order to preach in Woodstock as late as 1772. (Four years later he became the regiment's first colonel.) In describing the 8th Virginia as the "German Regiment," the Virginia Convention really meant the "non-English" regiment. Culturally, the Irish and German men of the regiment had more in common with Pennsylvania than with Piedmont and Tidewater Virginia.
Winchester's Daniel Morgan was a true hero of the Shenandoah Valley, and he is rightly famous. However, the units he led were not true Shenandoah Valley units the way 8th was. In 1775 he was a captain in the Virginia and Maryland Rifle Battalion; in 1776 and 1777 he was colonel of the 11th Virginia, which recruited from Frederick County but also from Prince William, Amelia, and Loudoun counties; his famous Virginia rifle battalion, formed in 1777, was built on merit, not geography.
Only the 8th Virginia truly represented the geography and the culture of the Shenandoah Valley.
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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