Joseph Carman was thirty years old when he enlisted in Captain William Croghan’s company of the 8th Virginia. He joined at Fort Pitt, then claimed by Virginia, early in 1776. He was from Bordentown New Jersey but had gone west for reasons that aren’t known. Croghan was the Irish-born nephew of the controversial Indian agent, trader, and land speculator George Croghan. Abraham Kirkpatrick, the company’s senior lieutenant, had fled Maryland as a youth after killing a man in a fight.
When we think of the “wild west” we are far more likely to think of Arizona than Pennsylvania. Yet, the distinction is really one of time, not of geography. No place illustrates this better than Pittsburgh. When the Revolutionary War broke out, and for years after, it was a virtual “Dodge City.” It was full of sketchy characters with fluid loyalties. People there were often just “passing through.” It was already known for violence and would soon be better known for whiskey. Its very existence was, in a sense, illegal under British rule. Fort Pitt was there to guard the frontier, but it was beyond the 1763 Proclamation Line and people were not supposed to settle there.
The great event of the pre-Revolutionary frontier was the 1774 Indian war known as Lord Dunmore’s War. Carman had been a soldier in that war in the division of the army personally commanded by Dunmore—the royal governor. Dunmore’s division had arrived too late at Point Pleasant to join in the victory there on October 10. Negotiations to formalize terms with the defeated Indians were just about to begin when Croghan’s men marched out of town a year later. They marched southeast along Braddock's old road toward Winchester, en route to the provincial capital at Williamsburg and an intended final destination at Suffolk.
The unique story of Croghan’s company in 1776 has been told here already. After another missed rendezvous, they were reassigned to the 1st Virginia Regiment for the year. Carman died too soon to leave a narrative of his specific experiences in the war. None of his five messmates are known to have left a record either. (They were Michael Martin, Moses Martin, George Martin, Daniel Viers, and John McDonald.) It is likely that he crossed the Delaware with Washington on Christmas Day for the attack on Trenton. Though most were too ill after the Trenton adventure he may also have been at the battles of Assunpink Creek and Princeton in early January. United at last with the 8th Virginia in the spring, he was very likely at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Muster rolls confirm he was present and healthy during this time. His Continental service concluded when his two-year enlistment expired near the end of the winter encampment at Valley Forge
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, the Indian peace broke down again and there was plenty to keep the militia (every fighting-age male) busy. An expedition across the Ohio under Col. Edward Hand failed about the time Carman was discharged. If Carman returned directly to Pittsburgh, he may have participated in one or both of the campaigns led by Gen. Lachlan McIntosh and Col. Daniel Brodhead in 1778 and 1779.
Though Pittsburgh itself was on the frontier Colonel Brodhead reported in 1780, “The Emigrations from this new Country to the Settlements on Kentucke & the Falls [of the Ohio—later Louisville] are incredible….” Joseph Carman and his family were among the thousands of pioneers headed to Kentucky, though the date of their move could fall anywhere between 1778 and 1787.
Seven years later Carman was living at Well’s Station. This was a frontier Kentucky settlement located about half way between Louisville and Frankfort. Well's Station was near the home of storied longhunter, frontiersman, and former 8th Virginia Captain James Knox. The town of Shelbyville would appear close by in 1792. In the fall of 1787, Carman and two companions—Vincent Robbins and Aaron Van Cleve— set out on a buffalo hunt. Buffalo were still common in Kentucky at the time. They headed a few miles north toward Drennon’s Lick, a saltwater spring that attracted large game. The site is known today as Drennon Springs.
They were ambushed there by a party of Indians—probably Shawnee—who fired on them. Van Cleve had a finger and part of the breech of his gun shot off. Though wounded, he and Robbins were able to escape. Carman was not so lucky. Van Cleve and Robbins raced to the settlements along the Bullskin Creek for help. Robbins then led a rescue party that set off after Carman and his captors. From the site of his capture they followed a trail of blood for about two hundred yards to the place where the Indians had been camping. There they found Carman’s body “dismembered and hung about on saplings. They gathered it up and took it back to Well’s Station, his home, for burial.” He may have been tortured, though the record doesn’t say and there may have been no way for his neighbors to know.
Carman left behind a wife, Mary, and six children. Though little more than courage can be discerned from our sources about Joseph Carman’s character, the fact that one of his sons was named “Isaac Newton Carman” is intriguing. Carman's fate was not an unusual one at that time on the frontier. A final "peace" with the Shawnee would not be achieved until after William Henry Harrison's victory at Tippacanoe in 1811 and the collapse of Tecumseh's Confederacy following the Battle of the Thames in 1813.
(Thanks to Duane Carter for sharing information about his ancestor.)
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
A map of the 8th Virginia's recruiting counties shows that the regiment was largely composed of frontiersmen and pioneers. No Tidewater counties and only one Piedmont county raised companies. Instead, the regiment was instructed to raise 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. The regions beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains were ethnically and religiously different from the rest of Virginia. Soldiers, some of whom were occasional subsistence hunters, were typically better marksmen than the average soldier. Consequently, the used rifles instead of muskets (for the first year). Their motives for fighting were less focused on taxes and trade and more focused on their desire to head west--something the King had forbidden since 1763.
Political geography has changed. All of these counties were later 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 pulled into 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 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 actually was. The lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley counties of Berkeley, Frederick, and Dunmore had significant German populations and all three field officers were from that area. Hampshire had a smaller German population. 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.
To learn more about the individual companies, visit the Soldiers page.
[Revised and Reposted from 9/1/19]
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
As an old man, Daniel Anderson wanted to spend his last years in prayer. He said he would “ever pray for the success and prosperity of his native state and country.” He would pray “to secure the liberties of which in his younger days he voluntarily encountered the perils of war and shed his blood in her service.” These were not platitudes. The bloodshed was real and there is no reason to doubt that his prayers were just as authentic. He was a humbled man. He was disabled by his war wounds and obliged to use the few resources he had caring for his wife and three physically and mentally handicapped adult children.
Surprisingly, the unique contours of Anderson’s war service resolve a persistent question. The men of the 8th Virginia fought almost everywhere during the Revolution. I have sometimes described them as having served “from New York to Georgia,” but wished I could say “from Canada to Florida.” The regiment didn't range that far, but I have long suspected that some of its men did over the course of the war.
The Florida question remains unsolved. In 1776, Maj. Gen. Charles Lee took the regiment south to attack the Tory haven at St. Augustine. They made it to Sunbury, Georgia before the expedition was called off. The malaria-stick regiment was posted there at Fort Morris, on the Medway River, for some time. Did they ever cross the St. Mary’s River into what was then the colony of East Florida?
The governor of Florida reported in October of 1776 that “depredations were made by the Rebels as far [across the border] as Saint John River,” forcing him to commandeer a boat for defense. The main body of the 8th Virginia was probably gone by then, but had any of them gone scouting across the river before the raid? Quite a few men also remained behind to recover from sickness and some--like William Gillihan and Collin Mitchum--transferred to the 5th South Carolina Regiment. Did any 8th Virginia men participate in the foray to the St. John’s River that summer or fall? Probably. Maybe. We may never know.
The Canada question, on the other hand, is now settled. The very first companies of Congress-authorized “Continental” troops included two companies of riflemen raised in the Shenandoah Valley in July of 1775. I have hoped to find just one 8th Virginia soldier who was in Capt. Daniel Morgan’s Frederick County company. But was there one? Yes. Daniel Anderson enlisted in Morgan’s rifle company in July of 1775 and was with him at Boston and the attack on Quebec. He was wounded at Quebec in the chest and the right arm, captured, and held prisoner for months. He was eventually exchanged and then discharged at Elizabeth, New Jersey.
In February 1777 he enlisted again under Morgan, who was now the colonel of the 11th Virginia. There is no record of Anderson in the 11th Virginia rolls, however, because he was promoted to sergeant and transferred into Capt. Thomas Berry’s company of the 8th Virginia. Anderson was with the 8th through Germantown, Whitemarsh, Valley Forge, and Monmouth. He was discharged on February 2, 1779. He then received a state commission as a lieutenant in the Western Battalion of Virginia state troops (state regulars—not militia and not Continentals), probably fighting Indians as far west as Indiana under Col. Joseph Crockett. Other 8th Virginia men were on the frontier as well, serving as far west as Illinois. After the war, Anderson settled in Shenandoah County, Virginia and lived the rest of his life there.
So what can we claim for the length and breadth of the regiment’s service? “From Canada to Florida” is still a stretch beyond what we can prove. To the Florida line? Still too far. Until we can prove more, we’ll have to settle for “From Canada nearly to Florida.” Can we also say, “From the Atlantic to the Mississippi?” Not yet, but it’s entirely plausible. Regardless, the range of the 8th Virginia’s men is impressive. Almost all of that movement was covered on foot.
In retirement, Daniel Anderson’s wounds kept him from performing hard labor—even the work of a subsistence farmer. Still, he somehow had to support his wife and three disabled children. “I am by occupation a farmer,” he said in 1820, “but owing to wounds and age I am unable to follow it. I have my wife living with me, aged 57 years; 1 daughter, aged 23 years, a cripple; and two dumb children, both simple, one a girl aged 14 the other a boy aged 27. The reason for his older daughter’s disability was her being “so much afflicted with Cancers that she has not been out of the house for 16 months.” The word "dumb" in those days still meant "mute." "Simple" meant intellectually disabled.
There were no federal pensions yet, but he applied to the Virginia legislature for pension on the basis of his own service-connected disability. He made his case before a judge. His conclusion was recorded by the court in the third person: “The prayer of your petitioner therefore is that your honorable body will pass an Act allowing such pension as in your wisdom you may deem sufficient to enable him to end his few remaining days in praying, as he will ever pray for the success and prosperity of his native state and country to secure the liberties of which in his younger days he voluntarily encountered the perils of war and shed his blood in her service.”
The date of his petition isn’t shown, but it was supported by notes from doctors and a letter from Daniel Morgan in 1796: “The bearer of this Dan’l. Anderson Inlisted a soldier with me in the year 1775 march’d with me to Boston & from thence to Quebec – was with me in the storm of the garison, on the last Day of Dec’r. when Gen;l Montgomery fell. He Rec’d two wounds in the action, one in the Breast & one in his Arm which Doctor senseny & Doctor Balwin certyfies that said wounds has so disabled him as to Rendered unfit for Hard Labour & thinks Him a proper object for a Pension.”
"Doctor Balwin" was Cornelius Baldwin, the former surgeon of the 8th Virginia. Anderson received his state pension and later received federal support as well. He died on November 6, 1840.
UPDATE: Thanks to Carolyn Brown Butler who alerted us to the pension of her ancestor William Smith. Smith, after his time in the 8th, served under George Rogers Clark and (former 8th VA captain) George Slaughter. He was sent by Clark as an express rider to the Iron Banks, six miles below the mouth of the Ohio on the Mississippi. So now we can say that at least one 8th Virginia man served from "the Atlantic to the Mississippi."
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
There is no dignity in being forgotten. A case in point is Virginia Lt. Col. Richard Campbell, a Continental officer who died bravely for his country but lies today in an unmarked grave far from his home. “Killed near the end of the battle at Eutaw Springs,” wrote the authors of a 2017 study of that battle, “he is virtually unknown today.” In his own day, however, Nathanael Greene called him a “brave, active, and intrepid Soldier.” Light Horse Harry said he was an “excellent officer” who was “highly respected and beloved.” In 1832 one of his soldiers still remembered him as “the brave Col. Campbell.” Dick Campbell, as he was known, deserves to be remembered.
Little is known of his early life. Historian Louise Phelps Kellogg asserted a century ago that he was “a distant relative of the Campbell family of southwest Virginia.” This would tie him to militia Gen. William Campbell, a leader at the Battle of King’s Mountain. He was evidently born in Virginia about 1730 and raised in Dunmore (now Shenandoah) County, where he was appointed a sheriff’s deputy in 1772 and reappointed in 1774. The Shenandoah Valley was culturally distinct from the eastern parts of Virginia. Many of Campbell’s neighbors were Germans who had migrated from Pennsylvania.
As war approached, he joined the First Independent Company of Dunmore. News of the Virginia Powder Alarm sent the company parading out of the county seat at Woodstock toward Williamsburg. When word of a peaceful settlement arrived they returned and held a barbeque. In November 1775, Campbell was tasked with conducting a census of his part of the county, reporting for his own household ten white and two black residents. Notably, his was the only household out of seventy-six that reported black, likely enslaved, members.
...continue to The Journal of the American Revolution.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen was the 8th Virginia's division commander in 1777, leading them at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He worked closely with George Washington for more than two decades, sometimes challenging and undercutting him. He ran against Washington for the House of Burgesses and almost ruined the surprise Christmas, 1776 attack on Trenton by sending soldiers across the river to settle a personal vendetta against the Hessians. He was reportedly drank too much, and was finally court-martialed and cashiered from the Army after the disaster at Germantown.
That did not end his life of civic engagement, though. He founded Martinsburg (now in West Virginia) and served in the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Sometime during the war, he built a fine house for himself where Martinsburg grew up. Intriguingly, he built his house over the mouth of a cave. According to tradition, this was done to prove an escape in case of an attack by Indians or other enemies. Since that era, the cave has been filled in with dirt, leaving a persistent mystery: where does the natural underground tunnel lead? For nearly twenty years, TriState Grotto--a local caving club--has been working to excavate the passage, one five-gallon bucket at a time. Videos of their progress (and archeological finds) have been posted occasionally on YouTube. Here they are, in chronological order.
Stephen died in 1791 and is buried under a rustic monument not far from his home. Despite the controversies associated with his life, he served his country at important moments and in important ways. He was with Washington at Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, and Braddock's Defeat years before his Revolutionary War service. His French and Indian War waistcoat and gorget are in the Smithsonian. Aside from his legacy of service and these artifacts, he left an enduring mystery beneath his house. One day soon, perhaps, we'll know where the tunnel leads.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
On November 21, 1821 an old Revolutionary War veteran in Buckingham County, Virginia named Bartholomew Cyrus wrote a letter to the President and the Secretary of War. Missing one of his hands and living in desperate poverty, he was looking for help resolving a bureaucratic problem with his pension. It is a powerful narrative from a “poor boy” who owned nothing but his “shirt and pantaloons” when he entered the Continental Army in 1777. Like many enlisted veterans, Cyrus was barely literate. Nevertheless, he wrote to President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun asking for help. The tone is desperate but also dignified. Though poor, he addresses Monroe and Calhoun as duty-bound public servants and concludes familiarly by writing “no more at present but your well wishing friend” above his signature. Though he was poor, they worked for him. It is worth navigating the misspellings and missing punctuation to read an enlisted-man’s perspective that is only scarcely available from the Revolutionary War.
Annotations are given below as end-notes to preserve the flow of the text.
Nov. 21st 1821 Buckingham Cty.
Honorable presedentand secatary of warbelonging to the united states I wish to inform you of my sufferance in the revolutionary war I inlisted in the year 1776I went from Chesterfield County under Capt. James Harris a three year Soldier then inlisted some time after that for during the war I belonged to the 15 Virginia Ridgment General Woodfords brigade near Philadelphia at valy forge next summer we fought at monmouth the year following our brigade was sent off to CharlestownSouth Carrolina there almost all were taken prisoners by the Britishthen General Green took command of usand the first battle was at Gilford Courthousethe next at eutawspringsand a number of lives were lost on both sides we lay at ninety six siegenear 1 month scarcely 1 hour in the night but firing like claps of thunder many days we could not get any thing to eat 40$was cried through the camp for 1 hoecake of bread and it could not be got we were like hogs that had been wallowing when we came out of the intrenchment the next siege was at camblainnear 1 month and we suffered very much there and a great many dserted and would not stand the sufferanceI was never absent one day without liberty. I was discharged in the year 1783 July the 6 day at winchester barracksunder the command of General neulinburgCapt. kirk partrick was my Capt.I served during this time without ever being confined or one lickwhich few can say in truth sir look at your records and you’ll find this to be truth Sir I have received three draws from the pension you bestowed us then I sent my Schedule and have got no return from it proved before judge Daniel I am upon sufferance I have had the misfortune a few years since to loose one of my hands by a gun bursting and am troubled at times with reumatic pains and my wife worse off than myself I am going on 64 years of age and my wife is near 70 years of age I was a poor boy had nothing but my shirt and pantaloons when I went in to the army. I think it hard for me to suffer now after doing as much for my country as I have and without your assistance am oblige to go to the poor house and I had almost rather diedI thank you for what you have done with more thanks than my lips can express and would freely down with my nees for assistanceno more at present but your well wishing friend
I would be thankful to you to let me know at Oakville post office Buckingham County what I am to depend on
Cyrus got his pension. After his wife died, he got married again in 1833 to a younger woman named Phebe. He died in 1855 at the age of 97, and Phebe inherited his pension. A decade later, after the end of the Civil War, sheapplied for the restoration of the benefit, which had been suspended during the war. She was unable to return the old pension certificate, because it hd been “destroyed by being in a house between the lines of the two armies while engaged.” She had given the certificate to a neighbor named William Durrum to keep in his house, but during the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse “it was destroyed or taken off by the soldiery.” She stated that she had resided in the town of Appomattox Courthouse during the Civil War, when her means of subsistence had been “a small remnant of her pension fund and then she was supported by her relations and friends, except a small allowance from the pauper fund from the Overseers of the Poor of Appomattox County.” The Bartholomew Cyrus pension file contains an Amnesty Oath signed with her mark. The oath, as prescribed by President Johnson, was as follows:
I, _____, do solemnly swear or affirm, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder. And that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.
[Source:Pension Application of Bartholomew Cyrus W25467, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Summary of Phebe Cyrus application adapted from C. Leon Harris.]
Rural Buckingham County lies between the Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended, and Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello.
James Monroe, now in his second term.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
An error. He enlisted in 1777.
Charles Town was renamed Charleston at the end of the war.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln surrendered May 12, 1780. Cyrus evidently escaped or avoided capture.
Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, 3 Dec 1780.
TheBattle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, March 15, 1781.
The Battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781.
The Siege of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, May 22 to June 18, 1781.
Probably a mis-transcription of “Cambdain,” or the Second Battle of Camden, better known as the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, April 25, 1781. Though it was an American loss, Greene returned to the area after the battle so it is not unreasonable for Cyrus to recall it as a “siege.”
The actual sequence of events was: Guilford Courthouse, Camden, Ninety-Six, Eutaw Springs.
Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg.
Captain Abraham Kirkpatrick.
Jailed or whipped.
He would almost rather die than go to the poor house.
He would go down on his knees to beg for help.
A post script.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
Long after the Revolution, Col. John Stuart of Greenbriar County recalled the Virginia Militia army that defeated the usually victorious Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.
General Lewis’s army consisted chiefly of young volunteers, well trained to the use of arms, as hunting, in those days, was much practised, and preferred to agricultural pursuits by enterprising young men. The produce of the soil was of little value on the west side of the Blue Ridge— the ways bad, and the distance to market too great to make it esteemed. Such pursuits inured them to hard ships and danger. We had more than every fifth man in our army killed or wounded in the battle,— but none were disheartened ; all crossed the river with cheerfulness, bent on destroying the enemy;- and had they not been restrained by the Governor’s orders, I believe they would have exterminated the Shawanese nation.
Stuart said this after noting that the Shawnee were the tribe that had (often with allies) repeatedly defeated Virginian and American armies on the frontier: those of Gen. Edward Braddock (1755) and Major James Grant (1758) in the French and Indian War; colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg at the Battle of Blue Licks (1782) in Kentucky; and against generals Josiah Harmar (1790) and Arthur St. Clair (1791) in Ohio.
The victory at Point Pleasant was a very big deal. Moreover, though Lord Dunmore (the governor of Virginia) had raised and led the army, the victory had been won without him by the other of two divisions. An army of frontier Virginia marksmen, many of them occasional subsistence hunters, had proven what they could do.
Dunmore headed back to Williamsburg. His officers, cognizant of political events, convened on November 5 at Fort Gower (modern Hockingport, Ohio) on the Ohio River. Among those present were many men who would be important in the Revolution, including William Campbell, George Rogers Clark, Simon Kenton, Andrew Lewis, Daniel Morgan, William Russell, and Adam Stephen. An unidentified officer (possibly Adam Stephen) addressed the group. Having concluded the campaign against the Indians, he said, “it only remains that we should give our country the strongest assurance that we are ready, at all times, to the utmost of our power, to maintain and defend her just rights and privileges.”
He was careful to deny that the army had any revolutionary intentions while also making it clear where their real loyalties lay. “We have lived about three months in the woods without any intelligence from Boston; or from the Delegates at Philadelphia. It is possible, from the groundless reports of designing men, that our countrymen may be jealous of the use such a body would make of arms in their hands at this critical juncture. That we are a respectable body is certain, when it is considered that we can live weeks without bread or salt; that we can sleep in the open air without any covering but that of the canopy of Heaven; and that our men can march and shoot with any in the known world. Blessed with these talents, let us solemnly engage to one another, and our country in particular, that we will use them to no purpose but for the honour and advantage of America in general, and of Virginia in particular. It behooves us then, for the satisfaction of our country, that we should give them our real sentiments, by way of resolves, at this very alarming crisis."
A committee was formed to draft the resolves, which were published soon after. Like other documents of the period immediately before the war, it proclaims loyalty to the King and the governor, but in a way that implied a threat.
Resolved, That we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his Majesty King George the Third, whilst his Majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will, at the expense of life, and every thing dear and valuable, exert ourselves in support of the honour of his Crown and the dignity of the British Empire. But as the love of Liberty, and attachment to the real interests and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve that we will exert every power within us for the defence of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges; not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen.
Resolved, That we entertain the greatest respect for his Excellency the Right Honourable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawanese; and who, we are confident, underwent the great fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the true interest of this country.
Signed by order and in behalf of the whole Corps,
BENJAMIN ASHBY, Clerk.
Lord Dunmore, whose motives for leading the campaign came to be suspected, fled Williamsburg just a few months later.
Little is remembered about Benjamin Ashby, who signed the document on behalf of the unanimous officers. The ink he put to paper had an impact, however. Just three years later his nephew, George Ashby, a private in the 8th Virginia, would be scrambling about the ground during the Siege of Fort Mifflin collecting and recycling hot cannonballs as his comrades’ ammunition ran low.
More from The 8th Virginia Regiment
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. But how German was it really? There were also many Protestant Irish ("Scotch-Irish") and English settlers in the area, and the actual recruitment territory stretched all the way to Pittsburgh.
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.
“The men are to be excused from carrying their Camp Kettles tomorrow,” announced General Washington in his general orders on August 23, 1777. The heavy cast-iron kettles were hated objects that often served only to mock hungry soldiers who had nothing to cook in them. They also did not add to the air of martial precision that Washington wanted his army to convey as it prepared to march through Philadelphia the next day.
Congress would be watching, and Washington wanted his army to be impressive. A show of strength was also important for the city’s many loyalist, pacifist, and vacillating eyes.
The men were ordered to go to bed early. No passes to leave camp were to be allowed except for urgent business. In the morning, “great attention” was to be paid by officers to ensure “that the men carry their arms well, and are made to appear as decent as circumstances will admit.”
The army was ordered to be up and ready to march at four o’clock sharp. The commander in chief played choreographer, specifically arranging the units of his army. He wanted no “strollers,” but rather “strongly and earnestly enjoined” his officers to “make all their men who are able to bear arms…march in the ranks” in order to project the very best order and discipline. “There is to be no greater space between the divisions, brigades and regiments, than is taken up by the Artillery, and is sufficient to distinguish them.”
The order of march was precisely arranged. Leading the parade was a subaltern officer with twelve light horsemen, followed two hundred yards behind by a complete troop of cavalry. After another hundred yards came a company of pioneers carrying their axes and shovels in proper order. Four divisions of infantry followed. Leading the way, from Green’s division, was one regiment from General Muhlenberg’s brigade. Then came the rest of Muhlenberg’s brigade followed by General Weedon’s. Adam Stephen’s division followed: Woodford’s brigade first and then Charles Scott’s. Each of these brigades was preceded by its field artillery. Col. Abraham Bowman’s 8th Virginia men, now in their second year of service, were in Scott's brigade.
Behind Scott, in the center of the procession, came the artillery park and its artificers. Then Benjamin Lincoln’s division, now commanded by Anthony Wayne, and most of Lord Stirling’s division. These latter brigades were each followed by their field artillery. William Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade, from Stirling’s division, completed the procession of foot soldiers followed by the final two troops of cavalry.
As they marched, drums and fifes were arranged in each brigade’s center. Washington ordered “a tune for the quick step played, but with such moderation, that the men may step to it with ease; and without dancing along, or totally disregarding the music, as too often has been the case.” The single-column parade entered the city from the north on Front Street, along the Delaware River, and then turned west on Chestnut Street where it passed the State House (Independence Hall) and the critical gaze of Congress. The soldiers continued on, exited the city, and crossed the Schuylkill River at Middle Ferry where they reunited with the baggage wagons and their cast iron camp kettles.
John Adams, after watching the parade, wrote home to Abigail. “The Army, upon an accurate Inspection of it, I find to be extreamly well armed, pretty well cloathed, and tolerably disciplined. … Much remains yet to be done. Our soldiers have not yet, quite the Air of Soldiers. They don’t step exactly in Time. They don’t hold up their Heads, quite erect, nor turn out their Toes, so exactly as they ought. They don’t all of them cock their Hats -- and such as do, don’t all wear them the same Way.”
Pondering what he saw, Adams observed, “Discipline in an Army is like the Laws in civil Society. There can be no Liberty, in a Commonwealth, where the Laws are not revered, and most sacredly observed, nor can there be Happiness or Safety in an Army, for a single Hour, where the Discipline is not observed. Obedience is the only Thing wanting now for our Salvation -- Obedience to the Laws, in the States, and Obedience to Officers, in the Army.”
The 8th Virginia’s Captain Jonathan Clark made a much more concise record of the day’s activities: “Rain. Marched thro Philadelphia, cross’d Schuylkill and march’d to Derby & encamped.”
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.
© 2015-2020 Gabriel Neville