Third Virginia Convention: July 17, 1775

On July 17, 1775 the Third Virginia Convention met in St. John’s Church in Richmond after Lord Dunmore had fled the capital.

There the representatives denounced the actions that the royal governor had taken against Virginia, including disbanding the assembly and mobilizing troops. When the governor fled to the sanctuary of an English ship, the convention became the governing force of Virginia. The delegates enacted legislation and established a Committee of Safety to direct military activities, dividing Virginia into 16 military districts and resolved to raise regular regiments.

The 2d Virginia Regiment was authorized by the Virginia Convention for the Commonwealth’s defense. It consisted of seven companies, 476 privates and the usual regimental officers. William Woodford of Caroline County was named colonel, along with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Scott and Major Alexander Spotswood were the regiment’s initial field officers. Virginia had been divided into sixteen military districts which took their name from the predominant county in the grouping.  These initial seven companies (six armed with muskets and one with rifles) would be raised from Prince William, Hanover, Westmoreland, Caroline, Amelia, Southhampton and Frederick Districts, and:

That the soldiers to be enlisted shall, at the expense of the publick, be furnished each with one good musket and bayonet, cartouch box, or pouch, and canteen; and, until such musket can be provided, that they bring with each of them the best gun, of any other sort, that can be procured; and that such as are to act as rifle-men bring with them each one good rifle, to be approved by their captain, for the use of which he shall be allowed at the rate of twenty shillings a year; that each common soldier, not already sufficiently provided, in the opinion of his commanding-officer, shall be furnished with sufficient clothing, at the expense of the publick, to be deducted out of his pay.

An ordinance for raising and embodying a sufficient force, for the defense and protection of this colony.

WHEREAS it is found necessary, in the present time of danger, that a number of forces should be immediately raised, and that the militia should be settled under proper arrangements, and be thoroughly disciplined, for the better protection and defence of the country against invasions and insurrections:

Be it therefore ordained, by the delegates and representatives of the several counties and corporations within the colony and dominion of Virginia, now assembled in general convention, and it is hereby ordained by the authority of the same, That there shall be forthwith raised, and taken into the pay of this colony, from the time of their enlistment, two regiments complete, to consist of one thousand and twenty privates, rank and file: Five hundred and forty four of whom to be the first regiment, under the command of a colonel, lieutenant-colonel, and a major, eight captains, sixteen lieutenants, eight ensigns, twenty four serjeants, eight drummers, and eight fifers; and the second regiment to consist of four hundred and seventy six, under the command of a colonel, lieutenant-colonel, major, seven captains, fourteen lieutenants, seven ensigns, twenty one serjeants, seven drummers, and seven fifers; to each of which regiments there shall be allowed a chaplain, a paymaster (who is also to act as muster-master) an adjutant, quarter-master, one surgeon, two surgeons mates, and a serjeant-major.

And for the better and more orderly appointment of the officers, Be it farther ordained, That the several field-officers shall from time to time be appointed, or approved, by the general convention of delegates; that the deputies of each district herein after described, excepting the counties of Accomack and Northampton, shall appoint one captain, two lieutenants, and one ensign, to command the company of men to be raised in each district; that the chaplain to each regiment be appointed by the field-offices and captains of such regiment; that the adjutant, quarter-master, and serjeant-major, be appointed by the commanding-officer of the regiment, the surgeon by the field-officers and captains, and the surgeons mates by the surgeon himself, with the approbation of the commanding officer of the regiment.

And be it farther ordained, That the commanding officer of the first regiment shall be allowed a secretary, to be appointed by him, who shall be allowed four shillings a day for his services.

And that the levy of the soldiers may be made general throughout the colony, and the better to avoid irregularity and confusion, Be it farther ordained, That the deputies of each district, except the counties of Accomack and Northampton, having appointed one captain, two lieutenants, and one ensign, as aforesaid,the said officers shall proceed, with the utmost expedition, to enlist within their respective districts their several companies, which are to consist of sixty eight men each; but the said officers shall not go into any other district to complete their company, until the officers in such other district have made up their company, nor, in that case, without the permission, in writing, of the committee of the county first had and obtained.

And as well to prevent the enlistment of such men as are unfit for service, as to fix the rank of such officers, Be it farther ordained, That the deputies of each district shall appoint one certain place of rendezvous within their district, whither the captain of each company, as soon as it is complete, shall resort with his men, and shall give immediate notice thereof to the chairman of the committee of deputies, who is required forthwith to summon all the members of the said committee, who, or a majority of them, being present, shall either proceed themselves to review the said company, or appoint any number of their members, not under three, for that purpose: And if it shall appear to such committee of deputies that the company is complete, of able and proper men, and that they have been regularly enlisted, according to the terms and regulations prescribed by this ordinance, the said deputies shall order and direct the captain immediately to march with his company to the place of general rendezvous, hereafter to be appointed, and, moreover, shall grant to the said captain a certificate of the day when the said company first appeared complete, at the particular place of rendezvous in the district; which certificate being produced to the general committee of safety, the said committee shall cause the same to be entered in a book to be kept for that purpose, and shall cause the like certificates, from all the other district committees, to be entered in the same manner: And when all such certificates shall be returned, the same committee of safety, or the majority of those present, shall, and they are hereby required, to grant commissions, under their hands, to the officers of the several companies, according to their several appointments, fixing their ranks of seniority and precedence according to the priority of the completion of their several companies, certified as aforesaid; and if it shall appear, upon the examination of such certificates, that two or more of the companies appeared at the district rendezvous on the same day, the said committee of safety shall, in such case, determine the right of seniority and precedence amongst the several officers, by a fair and impartial ballot.

And be it farther ordained, That in case any vacancies shall happen, by deaths or otherwise, amongst the commissioned officers, the same shall be supplied, from time to time, by regular succession, in course of seniority, in the respective regiments and companies; and in case of a defect of officers to supply such succession, the commanding-officer of the regiment shall appoint the most proper person, in his opinion, to supply such vacancy, to be approved by the committee of safety.

And that the companies may be kept complete from time to time, Be it farther ordained, That if vacancies should happen among the private men, the commanding-officer of the regiment shall supply the same by new recruits, in the best and most expeditious manner he may be able.

And be it farther ordained, That the soldiers to be raised shall be enlisted on the terms following, to wit: That they shall continue in the service of the publick so long as may be judged necessary by the general convention, but not be compelled to continue more than one year, provided any soldier, or soldiers, do give the commanding-officer three months previous notice, in writing, of his or their desire to be discharged at the end of such period; and if it shall be judged necessary to disband the army before the expiration of twelve months, that each soldier discharged within that time shall be entitled to, and shall receive, six weeks pay in advance. That the pay of each captain, lieutenant, and ensign, shall commence the days of their appointment by the district committees; of the chaplain, and all the subaltern officers, on the days of their repective appointments; of the common soldiers, on the days of their enlisting; and that the pay of the several field and staff officers shall commence on the day of their being called into duty by the general committee of safety; and that the several recruiting officers may advance to each soldier, upon his enlisting, any sum he may think necessary, not exceeding one month’s pay.

Provided always, That no recruiting officer shall be allowed to enlist into the service any servant whatsoever, unless he be an apprentice, bound under the laws of this colony, nor any such apprentice, unless the consent of his master be first had in writing.

And be it farther ordained, That the soldiers to be enlisted shall, at the expense of the publick, be furnished each with one good musket and bayonet, cartouch box, or pouch, and canteen; and, until such musket can be provided, that they bring with each of them the best gun, of any other sort, that can be procured; and that such as are to act as rifle-men bring with them each one good rifle, to be approved by their captain, for the use of which he shall be allowed at the rate of twenty shillings a year; that each common soldier, not already sufficiently provided, in the opinion of his commanding-officer, shall be furnished with sufficient clothing, at the expense of the publick, to be deducted out of his pay.

And be it farther ordained, That the companies to be raised in the districts of Pittsylvania, Fincastle, Bedford, and Botetourt, and of Berkeley, Frederick, Dunmore, and Hampshire, Augusta, Albemarle, Buckingham, and Amherst, Culpeper, Fauquier, and Orange, shall consist of expert rifle-men; and shall be, by the committee to safety, allotted two to each regiment, to be employed as light infantry.

And be it farther ordained, That proper medicine chests, and necessary surgeons instruments, be provided at the expense of the publick.

And for the better protection and defence of the inhabitants on the frontiers of this colony, Be it farther ordained, by the authority aforesaid, That there shall be appointed and raised, exclusive of the regiments before-mentioned, two companies, consisting each of one captain, three lieutenants, one ensign, four serjeants, two drummers, and two fifers, and one hundred men rank and file, to be stationed at Pittsburg; of which the company ordered by this convention to garrison fort Pitt, under the command of captain John Neavill, shall be one; also one other company, consisting of a lieutenant, and twenty five privates, to be stationed at fort Fincastle, at the mouth of Weeling; the other company of one hundred men, and the twenty five men to be raised in West Augusta, also one other company, consisting of one captain, three lieutenants, one ensign, four serjeants, two drummers, and two fifers, and one hundred privates, to be raised in the county of Botetourt, and stationed at Point Pleasant, at the mouth of the great Kanawah; and one other company, consisting of the same number of officers and men as the last, to be raised in the county of Fincastle, and stationed at such posts as may, from time to time, be ordered and directed by the committee of that county.

And be it farther ordained, That the committees of the district of West Augusta, and of the counties of Botetourt and Fincastle, shall appoint the officers to the men in each to be raised; and the several companies last mentioned shall be enlisted in the same manner, and under the same regulations, as are before prescribed for the regiments, except that such companies are not to march to the general rendezvous which may be appointed for the said regiments.

And be it farther ordained, That the commanding-officers to be stationed at Point Pleasant, and Fort Fincastle, shall be under the direction of, and subject to, such orders as they may from time to time receive from the commanding officer at Fort Pitt.

And for settling the pay of the officers and soldiers to be appointed and levied as before directed, the same is declared to be as followeth, to wit: To a colonel, twenty five shillings per day; lieutenant-colonels, twelve shillings and sixpence; to a major, ten shillings; a captain, six shillings; a lieutenant, four shillings; an ensign, three shillings; chaplain, ten shillings, and adjutant, holding no other office, six shillings; if in other office, three shillings; to a quarter-master, holding, or not holding, any other office, the same as to an adjutant; to a serjeant-major, to be appointed from amongst the most expert serjeants, by the commanding-officer of the regiment, two shillings and sixpence; to a serjeant, two shillings; a corporal, drummer, and fifer, each one shilling and eightpence; to each private soldier, one shilling and four pence; to a surgeon, ten shillings; and to a surgeon’s mate, five shillings per day.

And be it farther ordained, That every commissioned and staff officer shall be allowed a tent, and every two serjeants shall have the same allowance, and every two corporals the same; and that for every six private men there shall be provided a proper and sufficient tent; and that one bell tent for each company shall also be provided, at the public expense.

And for the greater encouragement and farther promotion of the service, Be it ordained, That if any person enlisted by virtue of this ordinance shall be so maimed or disabled at to be rendered incapable of maintaining himself, he shall, upon his discharge, be supported at the expense of the publick.

And to the end that the forces to be raised may be well and speedily supplied with waggons, tents, bedding, arms, accoutrements, clothes, provisions, and all other necessaries, Be it farther ordained, That the committee of safety shall, and they are hereby required, to appoint some fit person, or persons, to provide arms and accoutrements, clothes, waggons, tents, and bedding, upon the best and cheapest terms, and also to appoint one or more commissaries or contractors; who are hereby required to use all possible despatch in purchasing such provisions as shall be necessary for the army, and in laying of the same in such convenient place, or places, as may best suit their different stations and marches.

And for the more regular pay of the army, the said committee of safety shall appoint one or more paymasters; and it shall and may be lawful for the said committee, from time to time, to issue their warrants to the treasurer, appointed by or pursuant to an ordinance of this convention, for the paying the several recruiting officers, commissioners, commissaries, or contractors, and paymasters, by them appointed; and to all expresses, and other persons by them employed in lesser services, so much money as the said committee shall judge necessary for their several purposes, taking proper security for the due disbursement and application thereof, and making a proper and reasonable allowance to the several persons so to be appointed for their trouble and expenses in conducting either branch of business to him or them assigned. And the said committee shall have full power and authority to displace and remove from his office any person so by them appointed, either for misconduct or neglect of duty. And the said treasurer is hereby required to pay all such sums as he may be directed by such warrant, out of the publick money in his hands.

And be it farther ordained, That the said committee of safety shall have full power and authority, at such times and places as they may think convenient and necessary, to call all persons, who may receive any publick money for carrying into execution the purposes of this ordinance, to a strict account; and upon examining their accounts, and finding them justly stated, to certify the same, and, if necessary, to give proper acquittals and discharges.

And whereas it may be necessary, for the public security, that the forces to be raised by virtue of this ordinance should, as occasion may require, be marched to different parts of the colony, and that the officers should be subject to a proper controul, Be it ordained, by the authority aforesaid, That the offices and soldiers under such command, shall in all things, not otherwise particularly provided for by this ordinance, and the articles established for their regulation, be under the control, and subject to the order, of the general committee of safety.

And be it farther ordained, That the exercise to be performed throughout the several battalions and companies shall be that recommended by his majesty in the Year 1764.

The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia From the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619 by William Waller Hening

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2d Virginia Regiment Light Company, July 1779

2d Virginia Regiment's Light Company, Stony Point, 1779 Artwork by Don Troiani, http://www.historicalartprints.com

Research shows that most of the troops involved at Stony Point would have been in French-made “contract coats” (aka “Lottery Coats”), supplemented by linen hunting shirts. Wayne comments to Washington in September 1779 that the clothing of the Light Infantry was “very Ragged–especially the Virginia Line whose coats are so worn out that they are Obliged to Substitute Linen hunting Shirts”. These hunting shirts were probably natural or off-white.

The Corps of Light Infantry had a difficult time becoming uniform, as Washington was not willing to apply too many resources to a temporary Corps. For that reason, some of the Corps had caps (either leather or felt “cap-hats”) and some had simple cocked hats. Wayne’s orders the day before state: “Every Officer & Soldier is then to fix a peice [sic] of white paper in the most Conspi[c]ous part of his Hat or Cap to Distinguish him from the Enemy”. Based on this information, either caps or hats are appropriate, with slips of white paper added to them.

Just after Stony Point, it can be documented that the battalion companies of the Virginia Line bought Nivernois style hats (4″ in the front, 3″ on the side, 5″ in the rear). The first mention specific mention of caps for the Virginian light companies comes in October 1779, “Gen’l Wayne has observed with Great Concern That the Virginians are the only troops in the Light Infantry that has not procured Hair for their Caps.”

July 16, 1779: Battle of Stony Point

“I have the happiness to say that every officer and soldier behaved with a fortitude and bravery peculiar to men who are determined to be free, and overcame every danger and difficulty without confusion or delay…the citizens of Virginia might know from your authority that their troops deserve their thanks and support.”

– Colonel Christian Febiger, 2d Virginia Regiment, to Governor Thomas Jefferson

By 1779, four years after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the American Revolution had developed into an expanded conflict. In addition to fighting the colonists, the British were also at war with the French and the Spanish, and had been compelled to evacuate Philadelphia, the nation’s capital, the previous winter. Sir Henry Clinton, commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, was ordered “to bring Mr. Washington to a general and decisive action.”

The British had captured the peninsula of Stony Point in May 1779, and began to fortify it by cutting down trees, and by erecting an earthen fort and two barriers called abatis. In addition, two British ships offered extra protection, and the newly-captured fort at Verplanck’s Point, across the river, could be signaled by rocket for reinforcements. The commander of the garrison at Stony Point felt certain that his defenses were secure, calling the new fort his “little Gibraltar.”

Washington responded to Clinton’s move by marching his troops north from Middlebrook, New Jersey, to protect the American fortifications at West Point. Clinton garrisoned Stony Point and Verplanck’s Point with about 1,000 men to protect the King’s Ferry, which crossed the Hudson River between the two posts. Clinton then launched raids against Connecticut coastal towns, in the continuing attempt to lure Washington into battle.

Clearly, the British could not be allowed to remain unopposed at Stony Point, and by early July, Washington observed the enemy works himself from nearby Buckberg Mountain and devised a plan. Brigadier General Anthony Wayne would lead a surprise midnight assault against Stony Point. Wayne commanded the Corps of Light Infantry, a select force which probed enemy lines, fought running skirmishes, and defended the army against sudden attack. The Light Infantry was comprised of the very best soldiers, each regiment producing one company, which then served on detached duty.

On July 15, 1779, Wayne’s troops began their march from Fort Montgomery, near the present-day Bear Mountain Bridge. For eight hours they struggled over narrow mountain trails, arresting civilians they encountered en route to avoid detection. When the soldiers arrived at Sprintsteel’s farm, two miles from Stony Point, they were told for the first time about their mission. Three columns would lead the Continental force. One column of 300 men would wade through the marches of the Hudson River from the north. A second column, led by Wayne, would wade through the waters of Haverstraw Bay and approach from the south. Each of these two columns would consist of three part: twenty men called “the forlorn hope” who would enter the enemy lines first, overcome sentries and cut through the abatis; an advance party which would enter the fort and seize its works; and the main body, which would continue around the unfinished back of the fort and approach it from the river.

Soldiers in these two attacking columns wore pieces of white paper in their hats to avoid confusion in the darkness, and were armed with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets, so that an accidental shot would not reveal their presence and reduce the element of surprise. When they entered the enemy fort they would shout the watchword “the Fort’s Our Own” to signal their comrades-in-arms. Finally, twenty-four artillery men would accompany the Light Infantry, so that captured enemy cannon could be turned against the British ships and their other fort at Verplanck’s Point.

To create a diversion, a third column of two companies of Light Infantry would be positioned near the center of Stony Point peninsula and in front of the fort’s defenses, where they would divert the enemy’s attention by firing musket volleys. On a dark and windy midnight, the northern and southern attacking columns forded the marshes separating Stony Point from the mainland. The two columns swept up the treeless slopes, arriving in the fort within minutes of each other.

The heaviest fighting lasted half an hour, and by 1AM the garrison had surrendered. Fifteen Americans had been killed. Twenty British had also died, and the remainder were taken prisoners. “Our officers and men behaved like men who are determined to be free,” reported Wayne, who received a slight head wound. Three days later, Washington abandoned Stony Point because he knew it could not be defended against the combined might of the British army and navy.

Although they returned to Stony Point and rebuilt the fort, British troops were withdrawn in October because of insufficient reinforcements, and never again threatened the Hudson Highlands. The victory at Stony Point was the last major battle in the north, and boosted American morale. Clinton’s plan to defeat the Continentals and end the war had failed.

Colonel Christian Febiger

The 2d Virginia Regiment’s light infantry was in the First Regiment commanded by Col. Christian Febiger of the Light Infantry Corps. The following is a letter from Col. Christian Febiger to Thomas Jefferson regarding the storming of Stony Point:

“To his Excellence, Governor Jefferson, of the State of Virginia July 21, 1779 Sir: You must undoubtedly before this have heard of and seen the particulars of our glorious and successful enterprise at Stony Point, which renders my giving you a detail unnecessary. But as I had the honor to command all the troops from our State employed on that service I think it my duty, in justice to those brave men, to inform you that the front platoon of the forlorn hope consisted of 3/4 Virginians, and the front of the vanguard, of Virginians only, and the front of the column on the right of Posey’s battalion composed of four companies of Virginians and two Pennsylvanians.

….the advance composed of 150 Volunteers, first entered the works. Seven of my men in the forlorn hope who entered first were either killed or wounded. I have the happiness to say that every officer and soldier behaved with a fortitude and bravery peculiar to men who are determined to be free, and overcame every danger and difficulty without confusion or delay, far surpassing any enterprise in which I have had an active part. I request neither reward nor thanks, but I am happy in having done my duty and shared the dangers and honor of the day; but could wish, if not inconsistent, that the citizens of Virginia might know from your authority that their troops deserve their thanks and support. Christian Ferbiger, Col.”