History vs. Hollywood: The 2d Virginia Regiment in “TURN”

The AMC series Revolutionary War drama TURN is loosely based on the Culper Ring, a spy ring organized by Major Benjamin Tallmadge which operated primarily in New York, Long Island, and Connecticut. Episode 3 – “Of Cabbages and Kings” opens with Tallmadge and General Scott encountering a group of retreating soldiers and refugees. They confront one of the soldiers and ask what regiment he is from.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 4.26.52 PM

After the soldier avoids the question, Scott goes on to say “You’re 2d Virginia Regiment, you’re supposed to be at Fort Lee.”, to which the soldier replies with his account of the fall of Fort Washington and evacuation of Fort Lee.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 4.27.10 PM While the entire series thus far has taken liberties with the historical timeline, none of the story in this brief scene as it relates to this soldier of the 2d Virginia Regiment has any basis in historical fact.

The 2d Virginia Regiment was not present at Fort Lee. In the summer of 1776, Congress called for Virginia to send reinforcements to the Main Army near New York. It may seem logical that the 1st and 2d Virginia Regiments would be sent, as they were most senior and the 2d had seen fighting at Great Bridge, that is not how it played out. Early in the war when the choice was between the politician Patrick Henry as colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment and French and Indian War veteran William Woodford, the Committee of Safety gave preference to Woodford’s experience.

When Henry left military service to become governor and other capable officers came into their own however, Woodford’s abrasive personality became a detriment. The effects of Woodford’s demeanor became evident when General Andrew Lewis offered the “post of Honour” to the regiments to be sent north if their men reenlisted for three years. Captain George Johnston related what happened in his letter to Major Levin Powell dated 6 August 1776:

“D’r Sir: In obedience to Congress, two Regiments are ordered to N. York instantly. Gen’l Lewis, as a lure to the 1st and 2nd, directed that they should be re-enlisted for 3 years to seize the post of Honour as he terms it, hoping that the men’s well grounded Complaints would thus be hushed into peace. But Alas! human nature is not so easily smothered, and to Col. Woodford’s great mortification, the 1st almost to a man swallowed the bait, while his 2nd resisted his eloquent harangue at their head, and silently rejected the intended honour he proposed doing them by delaying his resignation that he might lead them on to the Field of Glory. They say that they will Col. Scott, but he is ordered to the 5th and I question much whether Col. W. will immediately resign, tho’ he is certain they will re enlist; twill be tried tomorrow.”

The 2d Virginia Regiment would remain in Virginia until January 1777, when it was finally sent north, passing through the Eastern Shore of Maryland to suppress “Insurgents in Somerset and Worcester Counties”, before joining the Main Army in New Jersey:

“War Office (Baltimore)
Feby 14th 1777
The 2d Virginia Regt now on Duty against the Insurgents in this State & the 7th Regt now in this Town, both whereof consist of about 600 Men fit for Duty, have orders to march to join Genl Washington but are directed to avoid Philadelphia on Acct of the Small Pox. The Board have directed me to inform you of their coming & that they are to halt in the Neighbourhood of the Town or proceed to Trenton if Safe & there wait until they are provided with Cloathes Arms & Accoutrements – Their Arms have been ordered after them, as they were left in Virginia under the direction of that State they may be otherwise applied. You will be pleased to order all Necessaries to be provided for them that they may hasten to Head Quarters in New Jersey where their assistance is apprehended is much wanted.”
Papers of the Continental Congress, Item 147, vol. I, folio 67, National Archives, Record Group 360.

Charles Scott A post-war portrait, likely as major general in the Kentucky militia c. 1792-94

Charles Scott
A post-war portrait, likely as major general in the Kentucky militia c. 1792-94

General Scott wasn’t a general yet. Charles Scott would certainly have recognized a soldier of the 2d Virginia Regiment if he met one. Early in the war, Scott was lieutenant colonel of the 2d Virginia Regiment in 1775 and saw action with it at the Battle of Great Bridge in December 1775. As mentioned in the above letter from Captain Johnston, the men of the 2d would have taken the offer to join the Main Army if under the command of Scott, but he had been promoted to command the 5th Virginia Regiment.

As colonel of the 5th (which saw service in the New York campaign along with the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th regiments,), Scott served with distinction during the “Forage War” following the Battle of Princeton in early 1777. He was promoted to Brigadier General in April 1777, commanding troops throughout the Philadelphia Campaign and a battalion of “picked men” at the Battle of Monmouth, before furloughed in 1778. He would come back to active duty to recruit troops to reinforce the Southern Army, joining the garrison at Charlestown just prior to its capture in May 1780. he would remain a prisoner of war until exchanged in July 1782.

2d Virginia Regiment September 1775-February 1777

2d Virginia Regiment
September 1775-February 1777

The prescribed uniform of the 2d Virginia was not a brown coat faced red. Even if the 2d Virginia Regiment had been present at the evacuation of Fort Lee, it was not issued a brown coat faced red for its soldiers. In November 1777 the regiment was most likely still been wearing its purple hunting shirts and round hats as originally authorized in the fall of 1775. It wouldn’t be until it marched north that it would receive regimental coats made in Philadelphia by regimental tailors at the expense of Colonel Alexander Spotswood. These coats were short blue coats with “with white binding on the button holes.”

The only instance of a member of the 2d Virginia Regiment wearing brown faced red would come in late 1779 for its junior officers. In 1778 and again in 1779 the regiment received French-made blue regimental coats faced red with its officers wearing the same. There was not enough fine blue cloth for the officers however. Colonel Christian Febiger writes on November 30, 1779 that he was “extremely sorry the blue cloth did not hold out for all for all the officers.” and a month later the Virginia Public Store daybook records Ensign George Blackmore receiving “1 3/4 brown cloth, 1 1/2 light colored cloth, 3/16 yards scarlet, 3 yards shalloon, 3 yards course linen, 1 1/2 yards fine linen.” for his uniform.

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One thought on “History vs. Hollywood: The 2d Virginia Regiment in “TURN”

  1. Reblogged this on TURN to a historian and commented:
    Any Virginians in the house? Todd Post, an avid researcher of the Second Virginia regiment, has a few things to say about their unexpected cameo in the latest TURN episode, “Of Cabbages and Kings.” Definitely worth a read if you’re trying to make sense of the TURN’s convoluted timeline or keep track of the liberties it’s taking with military history.

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