The Shenandoah Valley's Regiment
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 and even beyond it 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. Most of them had come inland via Pennsylvania and were neither English nor Anglican. Culturally, the Irish and German men of the regiment had more in common with Pennsylvania than with Piedmont and Tidewater Virginia. Unlike Pennsylvania, most of Virginia was very homogeneous. Most "nonconforming" churches were illegal, but were tolerated west of the Blue Ridge. Lutheran-trained 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" and appointing German field officers to lead it, the Virginia Convention was making an effort to make sure the colony was united.
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.
(Updated April 26, 2020)
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
Most histories refer to the 8th Virginia as "the German Regiment." It was certainly led by Germans: Peter Muhlenberg, Abraham Bowman, and Peter Helphinstine. But many of the enlisted men were "Scotch-Irish." Most often they were simply called "Irish" at that time even though their ancestors often came from Scotland via Northern Ireland. They were universally Protestant, but Presbyterian--a denomination that most British soldiers equated with revolutionary sentiment. The term "Scotch-Irish" had been occasionally used for some time but became important to distinguish Protestant Irish from the Catholic Irish who began to come to American in large numbers in the 1840s. Here's an interesting article on the difference between "Irish" and "Scotch Irish" in American history and culture.
I use the term "Scotch-Irish" and "Protestant Irish" and sometimes just "Irish" interchangeably. Occasionally, someone will tell me that the proper term is "Scots-Irish." I've stuck with "Scotch-Irish" because it is the traditional term and the one I was taught. "Scotch" is also the original term, dating back three centuries. It shows up in Scotch Tape, Scotch plaid, and Scotch whiskey. It is, however, now distinctly American. If you go to the British Isles they will correct you if you say "Scotch" to refer to a person.
"You say 'tom-AH-to' and I say 'tom-AY-to.'" As an American blog about American history, "Scotch-Irish" seems like the right term here.
(Revised, May 26, 2021)
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.
© 2015-2022 Gabriel Neville