We only know the history that is written down. Some of the 8th Virginia’s most valiant warriors left sparse records and have consequently been forgotten. One of the best parts of this project is the opportunity to bring some of their stories back to life. A case in point is the story of Captain James Knox.
Knox lived an amazing life. He used his inheritance to come to Virginia from Northern Ireland at the age of 14. He evidently entered Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap before Daniel Boone did. He was the leader of the famous “long hunts” into Kentucky in 1769, 1770 and 1771 before serving in Dunmore’s War against the Shawnee in 1774. He then led the Fincastle (Kentucky) County company for the 8th Virginia in 1776. After his company was decimated by malaria in south, he was detached to lead a new company in Morgan’s Rifles and took part in the first major American victory of the war at Saratoga. After the war, he served in the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky (after it separated from Virginia) and served in the Kentucky militia as a colonel. In 1805 he married the widow of his neighbor and friend, Benjamin Logan.
Knox died on Christmas Eve in 1822 and was buried near his wife and Logan. From there, this once-prominent frontier hero slowly slipped into obscurity. In 1923, a Kentucky historian reported that Knox’s gravestone had “fallen from its base to the earth” where it lay “forgotten” in a “neglected and overgrown” graveyard. In 1964, the Commonwealth of Kentucky placed a historic marker two miles away on the Louisville Pike (Route 60). One side memorialized Benjamin Logan, the other (the back, officially) memorialized Knox.
On a recent trip to Kentucky, I decided to find the marker and—if I could—Knox’s grave. The Kentucky Historical Marker Database said the Logan-Knox sign was four miles west of Shelbyville. I drove ten miles west of Shelbyville, but couldn’t find it. An internet search found a newspaper account of the 2015 rededication of the Logan family burial ground (where Knox is buried), with vague directions. I thought, perhaps, the sign had been moved there—somewhere on Brunerstown Road.
Driving south from Shelbyville, Brunerstown Road was easy to find and the sign was right there at the intersection. Though happy to find it, I was disappointed to see it was literally posted in a ditch. Worse, it was falling over and situated so that the only way to read Knox’s side was to get out of your car and walk into the field behind it.
Several shutter-clicks later, I drove the length of Brunerstown Road looking for the cemetery but couldn’t find it. After a mile, the road narrowed and lost its markings—looking, probably, just the way it had in Knox’s day but for the pavement. On my second pass, I encountered a man checking his mail box. He happily told me where the graveyard was—up on a hill overlooking the Bullskin Creek. Far from the road, it was inaccessible except through a neighbor’s property, and they were not home.
I drove by the creek one more time and looked high up on the bluff on the opposite side. Through the trees, I could just make out a monument. Recognizing it from FindAGrave.com, I knew it was Benjamin Logan’s grave marker. Knox’s grave is up there too, but can’t be seen from the road.
The Logan cemetery was cleaned up in 2015. Already “neglected and overgrown” in 1923, in 2015 it was described as “in complete disrepair; you couldn’t even walk through it, you had to spread the trees and the bushes and the vines apart to even get through it.” My search for Knox’s grave is a perfect allegory for the story of the 8th Virginia. The story is out there, but it’s frequently very hard to find.
No other place does more to tell the story of the 8th Virginia Regiment than the house and museum at Locust Grove, near Louisville, Kentucky. It does this almost unintentionally. Locust Grove was the after-war home of Captain William Croghan (who was a major when the war ended). He married the sister of fellow 8th Virginia Captain Jonathan Clark and lived not far from Clark at the fall-line of the Ohio River (Louisville). This was a roughly 400-mile boat ride from his old home at Pittsburgh.For many 8th Virginia men, the opening up of Kentucky was their main reason for fighting in the war. Colonel Abraham Bowman, captains Croghan, Clark, James Knox, and George Slaughter all moved to Kentucky after (or during) the war. So did a large number of the regiment’s junior officers and enlisted men.
I have compared this research to a jigsaw puzzle—the compilation of thousands of discrete bits of information from a multitude of sources. It was a bit of a shock, therefore to visit Locust Grove and find a place that seemed in so many ways to be a memorial to the 8th Virginia Regiment and its veterans. It isn’t actually that, of course. I don't think the regiment itself is even mentioned. Much more is said about Croghan's brother-in-law George Rogers Clark. But the museum’s exhibits wonderfully contextualize and illustrate the world of the 8th Virginia, before, during and especially after the war.
Croghan was a very important man in Kentucky. He had money, land, and relationships. Much or most of that—including his marriage—came to him through his service in the war. The same could be said for many of his 8th Virginia comrades who prospered in the west. It was in large measure what they fought for during the Revolution: opportunity.
8th Virginia Captain Jonathan Clark was the oldest of ten siblings in a family that left a powerful impact on American history. No other family can claim a larger role in the history of the War for Independence, the conquest of the old frontier (the “Northwest Territory”), and the exploration of the post-Louisiana purchase frontier than the Clarks can.
Today, the most famous of them is William, who was twenty years younger than Jonathan. Each of them, however, contributed to the founding and expansion of the nation in his or her own way.
Jonathan (1750 – 1811) was the oldest. A Captain in the 8th Virginia, he was later promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel and held a post-war rank of major general in the Virginia militia. He was at the Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge, Monmouth, Paulus Hook, and the siege of Charleston--where he was taken prisoner. He lived his later years near Louisville, Kentucky.
George Rogers (1752 – 1818) was, during his life, the most famous sibling, known as the “Conqueror of the Northwest.” He led successful western campaigns against the Shawnee, who were allied with the British. Control of that Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and a bit of Minnesota) was no small matter. Following the French and Indian War, the British Crown considered this territory to be part of Quebec. This territory would likely be part of Canada today were it not for George.
Ann Rogers (1755 – 1822) married Owen Gwathmey, an early settler of Louisville.
John (1757 – ca 1784) was, at the age of 19, awarded a commission in the 8th Virginia as a 2nd Lieutenant in Robert Higgins’ 1777 replacement company. He served only a short while. He was captured three weeks after his twentieth birthday at the Battle of Germantown. Held in terrible conditions aboard a prison ship, he eventually returned home half-dead with consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis). He continued to waste away until his death in 1783 or 1784.
Richard Henry (1760 – 1784) died alone while traveling on horseback from the falls of the Ohio (Louisville) to Vincennes or Kaskaskia (Illinois). He is presumed to have drowned.
Edmund (1762 – 1815) served in the 4th Virginia Regiment as a young sergeant. This was the regiment the 8th Virginia merged with (and took the number of) in 1778. He is believed to have been captured in the siege of Charleston, along with Jonathan.
Lucy (1765 – 1838) married 8th Virginia Captain William Croghan. The Croghans lived and prospered on their estate “Locust Grove” east of Louisville, Kentucky. Jonathan lived close by and George came to live with Lucy in his later years, struggling toward his eventual death with an amputated leg and the effects of a stroke.
Elizabeth (1768 – 1795) married Richard Clough Anderson, a well-regarded officer in the Virginia Line and surveyor of Kentucky military bounty lands.
William (1770 – 1838) explored the new frontier with Meriwether Lewis at the head of the Corps of Discovery from 1804 to 1806, co-leading the first overland journey all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He is now, by far, the most famous of the Clark siblings.
Frances Eleanor (1773 – 1825) married three times, the second time to Charles Mynn Thruston, Jr. Thruston’s father had been the rector of Berkeley Parish (Berkeley County), Virginia, and a Colonel in the Continental Army. Berkeley County played an important role in the life of the 8th Virginia. The life of the elder Thruston holds strong parallels to the life of 8th Virginia Colonel Peter Muhlenberg—they were both “fighting parsons” from the frontier.
Jonathan and his wife Sarah Hite Clark lie in the center of six Clark family graves fronting a family monument at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery. Flags adorn the graves of Jonathan, George, and Edmund, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Their famous younger brother, William, is buried in St. Louis, Missouri.
8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman’s frontier cabin looks better than has in 200 years.
Frontier log cabins, usually built of American Chestnut on stone foundations, were very durable structures. A surprising number of them survive today, including the cabin 8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman built about 1779 or 1780 when he moved to Kentucky. Nevertheless, after two centuries, the Bowman cabin showed signs of deterioration (and alteration) when images of it were submitted to the National Park Service in 1979.
Bowman and his brothers are remembered as accomplished equestrians, reportedly known back in the Shenandoah Valley as the “Four Centaurs of Cedar Creek.” Appropriately, most of his land in Kentucky is now part of one of the most important equestrian facilities in the world. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is a horse enthusiast and owner of a global thoroughbred stallion operation which stands stallions in six countries. Soon after acquiring the property in 2000, Sheikh Mohammed had the Bowman cabin repaired and restored, along with other properties built long ago for Bowman’s children.
The unique cabin, which features a basement and an exterior staircase to a second floor, has never looked better. The most notable change from the restoration is the reorientation of the exterior stairs, presumably to their original position and providing more headroom over the basement stairs.
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 largest battle ever fought between Native Americans and European Americans, the “whites” lost—miserably. At the Battle of Wabash, in 1791, more than a thousand Americans were killed or wounded. (This puts the much more famous Battle of Little Big Horn--“Custer’s Last Stand”, where about 270 U.S. soldiers died--into context.) Reputations were ruined, too. The only reputation that seems to have survived intact was that of Lt. Colonel William Darke, a veteran of the 8th Virginia Regiment of Foot. During the battle, Darke saw his own son take a wound that would kill him after several days of agony.
Darke is a poorly remembered hero of the American frontier. He served in virtually every frontier conflict from the French and Indian War to the Whiskey Rebellion. He was among the first captains to recruit a company for the 8th Virginia in 1776 and was captured at the Battle of Germantown a year-and-a-half later. After a prisoner exchange he immediately recruited a regiment of frontier militia and was present for the victory at Yorktown. An Ohio county and a West Virginia town are named after him. He was well-known to George Washington, who personally asked him to serve in General Arthur St. Clair’s army of 1791.
Washington clearly knew Darke and respected him. They may have served together in General Braddock’s army in 1755—though this is unproven and seems unlikely. If they served together in the French and Indian War it was more likely during the less well-known frontier conflicts that followed, when Darke served as a ranger. After the revolution, they had a business relationship though the Potomac Company, formed by Washington and others to make that river navigable. Darke Visited Mount Vernon in 1786 and 1787. Washington visited with Darke near the latter’s home close to Harper’s Ferry in 1790. In 1791, Washington wrote to Darke asking him to recruit officers for St. Clair’s army in advance of the campaign to pacify the Indians in Ohio. In that letter Washington bluntly and unapologetically told Darke that he was his third choice to command a regiment—pending a reply from his second choice (his first choice was “Light Horse Harry” Lee, who declined).
Intriguingly, what may be the best evidence of a close (but certainly unequal) relationship between Darke and Washington is a gift. According to longstanding tradition—apparently perpetuated by descendants of Washington’s nephew—Darke presented Washington with a sword. The date of the presentation is unknown, but it is believed by at least one researcher to have been worn by Washington at his presidential inauguration. The sword itself is real—it is on display at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.
"Their pickets stormed; the alarm was spread
The rebels, risen from the dead,
Were marching into town."
On Christmas Day in 1776 the 8th Virginia was dispersed across the east coast. The main group, with Colonel Muhlenberg, had just returned to Virginia after their long ordeal in South Carolina and Georgia. A large group remained behind--dead in the ground or too sick from the effects of malaria to march home. On the west bank of the Delaware River, Pittsburgh's Captain William Croghan was preparing to lead his detachment of sick, hungry, and frostbitten soldiers across the icy river from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.
Croghan commanded the remnants of a 140-man detachment that included his own company from Pittsburgh, and another seventy 8th Virginia soldiers who had missed the spring rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia. For the year, Croghan's men were attached to the 1st Virginia Regiment. That regiment's field officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major) were all sick or wounded, so a man of Croghan's own rank was in command: Captain John Fleming from Goochland, Virginia. In a week, even Fleming would be dead.
The arduous crossing and the all-night march to Trenton were followed by a victory over the Hessians that revived the American cause. “[B]eat the damn Hessians and took 700 and odd prisoners,” wrote Sergeant McCarty in his diary. The march back was even worse than the approach. The bloody footprints in the snow we learned about in school were very real. Men who sat too long on the way to Trenton froze to death. A week later, at the battle of Princeton, only a handful of Captain Croghan's men were fit for service.
At Trenton, Croghan's men fired on the enemy just yards in front of General Washington and alongside the soldiers of Colonel George Weedon's 3rd Virginia. Their victory, though small in military terms, revived a dying cause. Afterward, the overconfident British became more cautious and Washington found a tactical model for victory against an enemy that was better trained and equipped.
Thereafter, Christmas would always carry a special meaning for those who were there. After the war George Weedon wrote a song that was sung at a large party he held each year at his home in Virginia. The song was remembered by the orphaned son of General Hugh Mercer, who knew Weedon as his “uncle and second father.” He recalled that for “many years after the Revolution my uncle celebrated at ‘The Sentry Box’ (his residence, and now mine) the capture of the Hessians, by a great festival—a jubilee dinner, if I may so express myself—at which the Revolutionary officers then living here and in our vicinity, besides others of our friends, were always present. It was an annual feast, a day or so after Christmas Day, and the same guests always attended. …I was young, and a little fellow, and was always drawn up at the table to sing ‘Christmas Day in ’76'…. It was always a joyous holiday at ‘The Sentry Box.’”
Christmas Day in '76
On Christmas Day in seventy-six
Our ragged troops, with bayonets fixed,
For Trenton marched away.
The Delaware ice, the boats below,
The light obscured by hail and snow,
But no signs of dismay.
Our object was the Hessian band
That dare invade fair Freedom’s land,
At quarter in that place.
Great Washington, he led us on,
With ensigns streaming with renown,
Which ne’er had known disgrace.
In silent march we spent the night,
Each soldier panting for the fight,
Though quite benumbed with frost.
Green on the left at six began,
The right was with brave Sullivan,
Who in battle no time lost.
Their pickets stormed; the alarm was spread
The rebels, risen from the dead,
Were marching into town.
Some scampered here, some scampered there,
And some for action did prepare;
But soon their arms laid down.
Twelve hundred servile miscreants,
With all their colors, guns, and tents,
Were trophies of the day.
The frolic o’er, the bright canteen
In center, front, and rear, was seen,
Driving fatigue away.
And, brothers of the cause, let’s sing
Our safe deliverance from a king
Who strove to extend his sway.
And life, you know, is but a span;
Let’s touch the tankard while we can,
In memory of the day.
When he was 18, Marylander Abraham Kirkpatrick killed a man in a fight and fled to Pittsburgh, the Dodge City of the original wild west. He had family money, which he used to buy property and establish himself. When the war broke out he was commissioned the 1st lieutenant of Captain William Croghan’s company of the 8th Virginia. He served the length of the war, and rose to the rank of major. Always happy to fight, in 1779 he permanently maimed a fellow officer in a duel. In the 1790s, he played a central role in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, famously defending General John Neville’s home from an angry mob.
Despite his rough edges, Kirkpatrick became part of the Pittsburgh elite. He co-founded the Bank of Pittsburgh and ran an early steel mill. His grandson Abraham Kirkpatrick Lewis was a pioneer in the Pittsburgh coal business, shipping coal on flat boats all the way to new Orleans.
George Washington sent Abraham Kirkpatrick several bottles of imported wine to thank him for his service putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. One bottle (its contents evaporated into a dry sediment) survives, having been kept by the family for over two centuries. It was put up for auction earlier this year, but didn’t sell. Details about the object, including a high-definition image, are can be seen at the Skinner auction house website.
On December 14, 1776, the 8th Virginia’s Sergeant Thomas McCarty wrote in his diary, “I lay in camp and the excessive cold weather made me very unwell.” He and the rest of Washington’s army lay shivering on the west bank of the Delaware River, temporarily safe from the enemy who had chased them all the way from New York.
This was the Revolution’s darkest time. Washington was losing. Badly. His troops were barefoot and hungry, and most of their enlistments were about to expire. People were giving up. Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, swore allegiance to the King. Many others believed the cause was lost.
For the enlisted men, the immediate problem was the historically cold December weather. McCarty had frostbite. “I had great pain with my finger,” he wrote on December 9, “as the nail came clean off.” For shelter, he made a hut out of tree branches. It burned down on the thirteenth, along with nearly everything he had.
McCarty and the other men in Captain William Croghan’s company of Pittsburgh men had had it rough. They were separated from the rest of the regiment by hundreds of miles because they had missed the spring rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia. Now, freezing in the snow after being hounded across New Jersey by the enemy, things looked very bleak. In two weeks, most of the army would go home—but not Croghan's men. Soldiers from Virginia (including Pittsburgh) were on two year enlistments. On December 14, 1776, it looked like they would remain behind only to see the Revolution’s last gasp. But things were about to look very different.
In my October 29 post about William Eagle, I wrote that he "enlisted in the 8th Virginia on Christmas Eve, 1776" and that he "was one of the first to sign up when the regiment came limping back to Virginia from its encounters with redcoats and ... malaria in South Carolina and Georgia." I gave him credit for being "one of the few who enlisted during the Revolution’s darkest hour."
Well, it's not true. His pension says it's true and the West Virginia historic marker that stands next to his grave says it's true. But they are both wrong.
First, His name appears nowhere in the muster or pay rolls for 1777, and the "commencement of pay" date for on his first pay roll entry is February 1, 1778.
Second, His pension affidavit claims that he "enlisted for the term of three years, on or about the 24th day of December in the year 1776, in the state of Virginia in the Company commanded by Captain Stead or Sted or Steed, in the Regiment commanded by Colonel Nevil or Neville." Colonel John Neville (no known relation to me) commanded the regiment after it was folded into the 4th Virginia in the fall of 1778. Had Eagle enlisted in the regiment in December of 1776 and joined it in January of 1777 he would certainly have mentioned Colonel Abraham Bowman, who became a "supernumerary" officer when the regiment was folded into others in the summer of 1778 and released from service in the fall. Eagle served under Bowman only for a little while and, consequently, did not mention him. Eagle got the names right (Neville and Steed), but the year wrong.
Third, the term of his enlistment is consistently recorded as for 3 years or the length of the war (which ever was shorter). Soldiers who enlisted in 1777 or later enlisted under these terms. Virginia soldiers who enlisted in 1776 signed up for two years. (Someone might argue that a date so late in the year might have been treated differently, but I'm not aware of any examples of this.)
The date of his enlistment is not recorded anywhere in the surviving official records. From the evidence, however, it seems certain that he in fact enlisted "on or about the 24th day of December" in the year of 1777 (not 1776), and joined the regiment at Valley Forge about a month later.
Eagle is not the only veteran who got the dates of his service wrong when applying decades later for a pension. It is an understandable error. The State of West Virginia might, however, want to invest in an updated marker.
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.
© 2015-2018 Gabriel Neville