October 4, 1777 was a bad day for the 8th Virginia and the Continental Army.
Colonel Bowman’s men had seen combat, most notably at Brandywine—but disease and cold had caused more casualties than enemy musket balls or bayonets. The Battle of Germantown was different. Confused by fog and under the command an allegedly drunk major general, the 8th Virginia suffered severely on this day, 238 years ago.
At least one soldier, Henry Saltsman of Captain Croghan’s company, was killed in the battle itself. Charles Sanders of Captain Stephenson’s company was never seen again. At least ten and perhaps as many as sixty men were wounded. Another 25 men were captured, mostly in the companies commanded by captains Westfall, Slaughter, and Higgins.
Wounds in that era were not easy to recover from. In 1818 veteran Jonathan Grant reported that he “was wounded in the leg” at Germantown, “in consequence of which wound I am now rendered incapable of labouring for my support” and living “in reduced circumstances.”
The men who were captured may have suffered the worst fate. They were carted off to the notoriously filthy and disease-ridden prison ships, where they were lucky to live more than another four months. The regiment's new lieutenant colonel, John Markham, was charged with "Having left the regiment I time of action ... and also, on the retreat of the same day" and with "Delay when ordered to support the advanced guard." A court martial unanimously found him guilty and he was cashiered. General Stephen was also tried but found innocent of being drunk during the battle. He was, however, found guilty of being inappropriately drunk at other times and of other misdeeds, and also cashiered.
[Post Updated 10/5/19]
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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