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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December 9, 1775: The Battle of Great Bridge

“This was a second Bunker’s Hill affair, in miniature; with this difference, that we kept our post, and had only one man wounded in the hand.”

– Colonel William Woodford
Virginia Gazette, 15 December 1775

Prelude to Great Bridge

Part of the Province of Virginia. Library of Congress

While Colonel Patrick Henry of the 1st Virginia Regiment was technically the commander-in-chief of Virginia’s forces, correspondence between the President of Virginia’s Committee of Safety Edmund Pendleton and Colonel William Woodford of the 2d Virginia Regiment indicates that this was a political decision in recognition of Henry’s efforts prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  Woodford on the other hand had served in the French and Indian War and had real military experience. For this reason, the Pendleton decided to keep Henry in Williamsburg, Virginia while dispatching the 2d Virginia Regiment to meet Governor Dunmore’s small “army” comprised of detachments of the 14th Regiment of Foot, Marines, runaway slaves who had been formed into the Ethiopian Regiment that had taken up post near Great Bridge, near of Norfolk in modern day Chesapeake VA.

Edmund Pendleton to William Woodford, 24 December 1775

The Field Officers to each Regiment will be named here and recommended to Congress in case our Army is taken into Continental pay, they will send Commissions — a General Officer will be chosen there I doubt not and sent Us; with that matter I hope we shall not intermeddle, lest it should be thought propriety requires our calling or rather recommending our present First Officer [Colonel Henry] to that station. Believe me Sir The unlucky step of calling that Gentleman from our Councils where he was useful, into the Field in an Important Station, the duties of which he must in the nature of things, be an entire stranger to, has give me many anxious and uneasy moment. In consequence of this mistaken step which can’t not be retracted or remedied, For he has done nothing worthy of degradation and must keep his Rank, we must be deprived of the Service of some able officers, whose Honor and former Ranks will not suffer them to Act under him, in this juncture when we so much need their Services, however I am told that [Hugh] Mercer, [William] Buckner, [William] Dangerfield and [George] Weedon will serve and are well thought of. I am also that Mr. [Charles Mynn] Thruston and Mr. Millikin ar Candidates for Regiments. The latter I believe will raise and have a German one. In the course of these reflections my greatest concern is on your Account, The pleasure I have enjoyed in Finding your Army conducted with wisdom and success, and your Conduct meet the General Approbation of the Convention and Countrey, make me more uneasy at a thought that the Countrey should be deprived of your Services or you made uneasy in it, by any untoward circumstances. I had seen your Letter to our friend Mr. [Joseph] Jones (now a member of the Committee of Safety) and besides that Colonel Henry had laid before the Committee your Letter to him and desired Our Opinion whether he was to command you or not. We never determined this ‘til Fryday evening, a Copy of the Resolution I inclose you. If this will not be agreable and prevent future disputes, I hope some happy medium will be suggested to effect the purpose and make you easy, for the Colony cannot part with you, while Troops are necessary to be continued.

The Committee of Safety was hard put to it to work our a formula that would give Henry the face-saving semblance of over-all command while leaving Woodford the actual commander.  In the end the following resolution was adopted, a copy of which accompanied Pendleton’s letter to Woodford:  “Resolved unanimously, that Colonel Woodford, although acting under a separate and detached command, ought to correspond with Colonel Henry, and make returns to him at proper times, of the state and conditions of the forces under his command; and also that he is subject to his orders, when the convention, or the committee of safety, is not sitting, but that while either of these bodies are sitting, he is to receive his orders from one of them.”

Because either the Convention or the Committee of Safety would always be sitting, Henry was effectively shelved.

"A view of the Great Bridge near Norfolk in Virginia where the action happened between a detachment of the 14th Regt: & a body of the rebels." by Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings

When Woodford arrived at the Great Bridge on December 4, 1775, he “found the area for a considerable distance from each end of the bridge a swamp, except for two bits of land that might not improperly be called islands, being surrounded entirely by water and marsh, and joined to the mainland by causeways”. On the northern “island” stood the stockaded wooden fort (prejoratively called “the Hog Pen”) that Dunmore had caused to be erected, with two four-pound cannon so placed as to command the bridge and both causeways. The southern causeway, that nearer Woodford’s position, ran the 150 yard length of the second “island” and contained seven houses; and from that point the road extended 400 yards past a dozen houses to where it forked in front of a church, where the 2d Virginia Regiment pitched its camp and began entrenchments consisting of a breastwork in the form of a “sagging M” seven feet high, with mounting platforms and loopholes, and in length 150 feet. And on a firm, penninsula-like projection of land west of the town, they erected two earthworks for batteries when cannon should be made available. (Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Volume 5)

Captain Matthew Squire, HM Sloop Otter to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves, 2 December, 1775

We have now a small fort at the great Bridge, which the Rebels must pass to come to Norfolk, we have destroyed the Bridge, and for these ten days past, have kept a body of near nine hundred Rebels from passing. We have likewise entrenched the town of Norfolk, and I have great reason to suppose, & hope from their being such Cowards, and Cold weather coming on, that they will return to their respective homes, & we shall be quiet the remainder of the Winter.

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 4 December 1775

I arrived at this place the Day before Yesterday, & found the Enemy Posted on the Opposite side of the Bridge in a Stockade Fort, with two four pounders, some swivells & Wall Pieces, with which they keep up a constant Fire, have done no other damage than Kill’d Corporal Davis with a cannon Ball, the Man that was Killed on Lt. Colo. Scotts first arrival here, & Yesterday Wounded one of the Minute Men in the Wrist, from all Accts from the other side we have killed many of them…their Numbers in the Fort are said to be 250, Chiefly Blacks; commanded by Serjts. of the Regulars, that act as Officers, & the Scotch Tories of Norfolk.

We keep a Capt. and 42 Men as a Guard upon some Boats we have secured down the River about 6 Miles, the Enemy keep a Guard of about the same Number on the Opposite side to secure three other Boats they have. Between these parties there is a constant Fire, we have been lucky enough to recieve no damage, our Officers & Men say they can discover Many fall from the Fire of our Riffles, who I have directed only to Fire when they have a good chance.

My Intelligence inform’d me this Boat Guard of the Enemy might be Attacked to advantage by a Party crossing A Mile below (where a sufficient Boat lay concealed in a cove). I Yesterday detach’d Capt Taliaferro with 60 Men to lay concealed in that Neighbourhood, & cross in the Night with proper guides to conduct him to the back of the Enemy Post, if they find a ready passage, & are well conducted, I have the greatest expectations that they will cutt them off between two Fires. The Officers have discretionary Orders, as to returning, or maintaining this post on the other side. If they find the situation & other circumstances favourable, I shall immediately reinforce them.

We have raised a strong Breast work upon the lower part of the Streat joining the Causway, from which Centrys are Posted at some Old Rubbish not far from the Bridge (which is mostly destoy’d) some blacks got over last Night & set fire to the House nighest the Bridge, five Houses (some of them Valuable) were consumed, one of the Centinals Shott one of them down. The great light this Occasion’d would have exposed our Men too much, to attempt saving any of the Houses, they have likewise destroy’d all the Buildings on the other side, & I am inform’d have done the same to many of our Friends in the Country.

The last Accts from Norfolk say their Fortifications were not then Finished. They were busily Imploy’d & preparing a Number of Cannon, which it’s supposed are Mounted by this time. I am happy to find that steps I have ventured to take are agreeable to the Wishes of your Honorable Body. The Enemy’s Fort, I think, might have been taken, but not without the loss of many of our Men, their Situation is very advantageous, & no way to Attack them, but by exposing most of the Troops to their Fire upon a large open Marsh….

Colo. Robert Howe [of North Carolina]…informs me [by express] that I might expect 400 to 500 Men with some Cannon & Ammunition at this place tonight, & that they had 900 men at different places in Motion to Join us…. We are now making the Necessary preparations to raise Batterys for these Cannon upon the most Advantageous ground to play upon their Fort, & sent a large detachment at the same time to intercept their Retreat….

Our small Stock of Ammunition will be soon expended, & I must request another Supply, an Additional Blanket to each Soldier would be very Necessary, if to be had. The Men are tolerably well at present, but the dampness of the Ground, without straw (which is not to be had) must soon lay many of them up, & Houses that are tolerable safe from the Enemy Cannon, can only be procurred for a few.

Colonel William Woodford to Edmund Pendleton, 5 December 1775

Soldier of the 2d Virginia Regiment, 1775

After my letter of Yesterday, I received an Acct. from Capt. Taliaferro that the Boat intended for him to cross in could not be got off ’till day light, & he desired my further Instructions. I had sent Capt. Nicholas with 42 Men to reinforce Taliaferro & on Receipt of his letter, order’d Lt. Colo. Stevens to take the Command of the Whole. They crossed about Midd Night, & got to the Enemys Centinals without being discover’d. One of them Challenged & not being Answer’d, Fired at our party, the fire was returned by our Men, & an over Eagerness at first, & rather a backwardness afterwards, occation’d some confusion, & prevented the Colonel’s. plan from being so well executed as he intended, however, he Fired their Fortification & House, in which one Negro perished, Killed one dead upon the Spott, & took two others Prisoners. This party (consisting of 26 Blacks & 9 Whites) escaped under cover of the Night.

This Country between this & Suffolk is so exposed to several Water Courses, that there will be an Absolute Necessity to Establish two or three posts upon the Road, as the Inhabitants are all Tories & when the Fort over the Bridge is reduced, a strong party must guard this Important pass. All these reasons induce me to advice what I recommended Yesterday, some 4 lb Shott with 3 or 4 of the best Mounted Cannon of that size.

The want of…Shoes begins to be severly felt by some, & will shortly be so by the Whole, unless a Speedy supply arrives…. The bearer brings you one of the Balls taken out of the Cartridges found upon the Negro Prisoners. As they are extreemly well made & no doubt by some of the Non comd. Officers of the Regulars…. This Horrid preparation was made for the Flesh of our Countrymen, the others are prepared in the same Manner…. I have never suff’d a Soldier of mine to do a thing of this kind.

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 6 December 1775

The Fort over the Bridge was reinforced last Night with about 90 Men, & they seem very Busy at Work. No news of the Carolina Cannon yet. By the Firing at our Boat guard I expect the Enemy have taken post there again, when well inform’d of their Situation & Numbers, I shall endeavour to surprise them again.

Colonel William Woodford to Colonel Patrick Henry, 7 December 1775

The enemy are strongly fortified on the other side of the bridge, and a great number of negroes and tories with them; my prisoners disagree as to the numbers. We are situated here in mud and mire, exposed to every hardship that can be conceived, but the want of provisions, of which our stock is but small, the men suffering for shoes, and if ever soldiers deserved a second blanket in any service, they do in this; our stock of ammunition much reduced, no bullet moulds that were good for any thing sent to run up our lead, till those sent the other day by Mr. Page. If these necessaries and better arms had been furnished in time for this detachment, they might have prevented much trouble and great expense to this colony. Most of those arms I received the other day from Williamsburg, are rather to be considered as lumber, than fit to be put in men’s hands, in the face of any enemy. With much repair, some of them will do; with those, and what I have taken from the enemy, I hope to be better armed in a few days.

Colonel Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 7 December 1775

I have the pleasure to inform you that my detachment last Night under the Command of Lieut. Colo. Scott beat up the Quarters of the Enemys other party, who I inform’d you had again taken post opposite our Boat Guard. They Killed one White Man & three Negros, took three of the Latter Prisoners, two of Which are Wounded (one Mortally) with six muskets & 3 Bayonetts. The Colo. unluckily fell in with a Cart coming from Norfolk, guarded by four Men, some distance from the Enemy’s post, who Fired upon our party & Alarm’d them, otherways there is no doubt most of their Men would have fallen into our Hands. Their Number 70. Col. Scott’s party 150, who all escaped unhurt, one Man only was grazed by a Ball in the Thumb.

The Battle of Great Bridge

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention Great Bridge, 9 December 1775

The Enemy were reinforced about three Oclock this Morning with (as they tell me) every Soldier of the 14th Regt. at Norfolk, amounting to 200 Commanded by Capt. Leslie, & this Morning after Revelle Beating crossed the Bridge by laying down some plank, & made an Attempt to Force our breast Work, the prisoners say the Whole Numbers amounted to 500 with Volunteers & Blacks, with two pieces of Cannon but none Marched up but his Majestys Soldiers, who behaved like English Men. We have found their Dead, Capt. Fordice & 12 privates, and have Lieut. Batut Wounded in the Leg & 17 privates prisoners all Wounded. They carried their Cannon back under Cover of the Guns of the Fort, & a Number of their Dead. I should Suppose…their Loss must be upwards of 50. Some powder & Catridges were taken…. There has been no Firing since [a flag of truce allowed the British to collect their dead and wounded]. We are now under Arms expecting another Attack.

Letter from a Midshipman on Board HM Sloop Otter, 9 December, 1775

Our troops, with about sixty Townsmen from Norfolk, and a detachment of Sailors from the ships, among whom I had the honour to march, set out from Norfolk to attack once more the Rebels at the great bridge, who had been lodged there some time, and had erected a breast-work opposite to our fort on their side of the river. We arrived at the Fort half an hour after three in the morning, and, after refreshing ourselves, prepared to attack the Rebels in their entrenchment.

We marched up to their works with the intrepidity of lions. But, alas! We retreated with much fewer brave fellows than we took out. Their fire was so heavy, that, had we not retreated as we did, we should every one have been cut off. Figure to yourself a strong breast-work built across a causeway, on which six men only could advance a-breast; a large swamp almost surrounding them, at the back of which were two small breast-works to flank us in our attack on their intrenchments. Under these disadvantages it was impossible to succeed; yet our men were so enraged, that all the intreaties, and…threats of their Officers could [not convince] them to retreat; which at last they did…We had sixty killed, wounded, and taken prisoner.

Major Alexander Spotswood, Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, 15 December 1775

We were alarmed this morning by the firing of some guns just after reveille beating, which as the enemy had paid us this compliment several times before, we at first concluded to be nothing but a morning salute; but, in a short time after, I heard adjutant Blackburn call out, “Boys, stand to your arms.” Col. Woodford and myself immediately got equipped, and ran out. The colonel pressed down to the breastwork, in our front; and my alarm post being 250 yards in another quarter, I ran to it as fast as I could, and by the time I had made all ready for engaging, a very heavy fire ensued at the breastwork, in which were not more than 60 men. It continued for about half an hour, when the king’s troops gave way, after sustaining considerable loss, and behaving like true-born Englishmen. They marched up to our intrenchments with fixed bayonets; our young troops received them with firmness, and behaved as well as it was possible for soldiers to do. Capt. Fordyce, of the grenadiers, led the van with his company, and lieutenant Batut commanded the advance party. The former got killed within a few yards of the breastwork, with 12 privates. The lieutenant, with 16 soldiers, were taken prisoner, all wounded. Several others were carried into the fort, under cover of their cannon; and from the blood on the bridge, they must have lost one half of their detachment. It would appear that providence was on our side, for, during the whole engagement, we lost not a man, and only one was slightly wounded, in the hand….

Colonel William Woodford to the Virginia Convention, 10 December 1775

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

I must apologize for the hurry in which I wrote you Yesterday; since which nothing of moment has happened, but the abandoning of the Fort by the Enemy; We have taken Possession of it this morning.

From the vast effusion of blood on the bridge & in the Fort, from the Accounts of the Centries who saw many bodies carried out of the Fort to be interd, & other circumstances I conceive their loss to be much greater than I thought it yesterday, & the victory to be complete…. I have dispatched scouting Parties, & from their intelligence I shall regulate my future operations.

I am just informed by Lieut Batut that a Servant of Majr. Marshall who was in the party with Colo. Scott & deserted informed Lord Dunmore that not more than 300 Shirtmen were here; that imprudent Man caught at the bait & dispatched Capt. Leslie with all the Regulars who arrived at the Fort about 4 in the morng.

Colonel William Woodford to Edmund Pendleton, 10 December 1775

A servant belonging to major [Thomas] Marshal, who deserted the other night from col. Charles Scott’s party, has completely taken his lordship in. Lieutenant Batut, [of Britain’s 14th Regiment], who is wounded, and at present my prisoner, informs, that this fellow told them not more than 300 shirtmen were here; and that [Dunmore took] the bait, dispatching capt. Leslie with all the regulars (about 200) who arrived at the bridge about 3 o’clock in the morning, joined [by] about 300 black and white slaves, laid planks upon the bridge, and crossed just after our reveille had beat…capt. Fordyce of the grenadiers led the [attack] with his company, who, for coolness and bravery, deserved a better fate, as well as the brave fellows who fell with him, who behaved like heroes. They marched up to our breastwork with fixed bayonets, and perhaps a hotter fire never happened, or a greater carnage, for the number of troops. None of the blacks etc. in the rear, with capt. Leslie, advanced farther than the bridge. This was a second Bunker’s Hill affair, in miniature; with this difference, that we kept our post, and had only one man wounded in the hand.

Aftermath

Following the Battle of Great Bridge, Woodford’s letters were reprinted in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette on 15 December 1775 stating that they had captured: “35 stands of arms and accoutrements, 3 officers [fusils], powder, ball and cartridges, with sundry other things, have likewise fallen into our hands.”, as well as Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette on 16 December 1775:  “I must apologize for the hurry in which I wrote you yesterday, since which nothing of a moment has happened but the abandoning of the fort by the enemy. We have taken possession of it this morning, and found therein the stores mentioned in the enclosed list, to wit, 7 guns 4 of them sorry, 1 bayonet…Enclosed is an inventory of the arms, &c. taken yesterday, to wit, 2 silver mounted [fusils] with bayonets, 1 steel do. without bayonet, 24 well fixed muskets with bayonets, 6 muskets without bayonets, 28 cartridge boxes with pouches; 3 silver mounted cartridge boxes…26 bayonet belts…The arms I shall retain for the use of the army.”

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

Recommended Reading: Battle History of the 2d Virginia Regiment

Battle of Great Bridge

Philadelphia Campaign

Paulus Hook

Charleston

Guilford Courthouse (Hawes’ 2d Virginia Regiment of 1781)

Leggings

Leggings: The 2d Virginia Regiment made up leggings of blue duffle with horn buttons, as entries in the Virginia Public Store Day Book indicate:

Capt William taliaferro Dr To Sundries to fill up his necessary Roll 3 yds blue duffil @ 6/8…17 doz horn buttons for leggings…4d
Virginia Public Store Daybook, October 31, 1775

Capt. Meade P Self Dr…10 yards Duffle @ 7/…11 doz small butts. @ 6d
Virginia Public Store Daybook, November 13, 1775

In the colonies “country boots” were often popular with civilians, especially the backcountry:

On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggins, made of course woolen cloth, that are either wrapped round loosely and tied with garters, or are laced upon the outside, and always come better than half way up the thigh; these are a great defence and preservative, not only against the bite of serpents and poisonous insects, but likewise against the scratches of thorns, briars, scrubby bushes, and under wood, with which this whole country is infested and overspread.

J.F.D. Smyth, A Tour in the United States of America…Sometime in 1773 or 1774, 2 volumes (London 1784), 2: 178-81.

This style of legging was also adopted by men of the Fairfax Independent Company, who resolved to “…distinguishing our Dress, when we are upon Duty, by painted Hunting-Shirts and Indian Boots…” (Fairfax County Militia Association; Independent Company of Fairfax, The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792, edited by Robert A. Rutland (Chapel Hill), I, 210-211).  Given the quantity of buttons to fabric, it appears that the early Virginian leggings were made of blue duffle like “Indian boots” with approximately five horn buttons at the ankle.  Entries in the daybook of the Virginia Public Store indicate that the 1st Virginia Regiment also drew garters, but there are no such entries for the 2d Virginia Regiment.

Hunting Shirts

1775-1776: The hunting shirts of used by the Virginia regiments of 1775 were made of osnaburg and had differing finishing details to designate rank and regiment. Research seems to indicate that during the Revolutionary War, “hunting shirt” indicated an open front garment. They would become a defining feature of the early regimental clothing, as Colonel Woodford and others would refer to the soldiers as “shirtmen”.

Most of the exact finishing details come not from the 2d Virginia Regiment’s orderly book, or the orderly book for the regiments encamped at College Camp, but from another Virginia regiment that was serving in the same place during this time, the 6th Virginia Regiment. As there were several general orders being made in regards to all of the regiments at College Camp, the use of short round hats with black binding for instance, it stands to reason that the general construction techniques were the same and that they differed only in regimental distinctions.

The 2d Virginia Regiment’s hunting shirts were most definitely purple and made from osnaburg, however that is all that is known of their appearance from their own orderly book: “It is Expected that each Capt. will with all Expedition Provide Legins for his men & hunting shirts Dy’d of a purple Coulour…” (Orderly Book of the 2d Virginia Regiment, October 27, 1775)   The fabric used and the fact that the men made these shirts themselves is clearly established by several orders and draws of cloth:

Thread Sufficient for the purpose must be Drawn, at the same Time as much as will make each Soldier a Hunting Shirt
Orderly Book of the 2d Virginia Regiment, October 11, 1775

Capt George Johnston Dr P order Colo. Woodford…To 4 yards oznabr. For H. shirts @ 1/6
Captn William Taliaferro Dr P order Colo Woodford…137 yards Oznabr. Hunting Shts @ 1/6

Virginia Public Store Day Book, November 6, 1775

The orderly book of the 6th Virginia Regiment provides more detail: “…a hunting shirt well made and short just to come below the waistband of the breeches…” (Orderly Book of the 6th Virginia Regiment, 26 March 1776 to 26 January 1778, American Collection, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. September 11, 1776)  Rank apparently also was denoted by finishing details, for this entry goes on to say that the shirts (for the 6th Virginia Regiment) were to be: “Cuffed and Caped with red. The Serjts to be only cuffed with red. the Drummers and fifers to be white & cuffed with brown the Corporals shirts to be the same as the mens but they are to get some red twist & I will put then in the way of making a knot…” Unfortunately, the same extrapolation cannot be made to the what the 2d Virginia Regiment may have done for rank designations as their shirts were entirely one color, therefore there is no contrasting color to use to designate who the sergeants were.

The only additional piece of information is that in March 1776 that money would be provided for their addition: “The Committee allow Cuffs and Capes to be added to the Hunting Shirts of the regular’s at the expense of the Country.” which could be interpreted to mean that contrasting cuffs and capes were to be added (a common detail of Virginia Continental hunting shirts in 1776).

1777-1778: The 2d Virginia Regiment was completely suppled with new regimental coats at the expense of Colonel William Spotswood when they joined the Main Army in 1777 and no mention of hunting shirts are made in the clothing returns of late 1777 or early 1778.  There are only two apparent references during this period:

Deserted from capt. John Willis’s company, on their march to the Northward, a soldier by the name of Jos: Bryant, who lives in the upper end of Westmoreland, and frequently to be seen at mr. Benjamin Johnston’s ordinary, where he was enlisted. He is a well made man, with a dark skin, and black hair, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high ; had on when he deserted a dark hunting shirt.
Alexander Purdie, Virginia Gazette, April 11, 1777

Henry Mace, a Private, 5 feet 8 inches high, well set, fair faced, hand a blue hunting Shirt when he went off…
Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, September 5, 1777

It should be noted that of the thirteen men mentioned in the September 1777 deserter advertisement, Mace is the only one mentioned wearing a hunting shirt and five others are described as wearing regimental coats.  It is quite possible that these hunting shirts were leftovers from 1775-1776 as “dark” could describe purple and “blue” could be a faded purple shirt.  For these reasons, we do not currently use hunting shirts in our 1777-1778 impression other than as something to be loaned to a new recruit for their first few events.

Watercolor by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger

1778-1780: In October 1778, a large quantity of French-made regimental coats were delivered and issued to the Continental Army with enough of a surplus that a second issue was made again in November 1779, “I must first request of you not to permit one of the men to wear their new clothes until the huts are done…” (Febiger Letter Book, 1778-1780, November 30, 1779, Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

The French and state issued bounty clothing issued in 1778 must not have been durable, as in the period between its issue and late 1779, the Virginians were frequently described as being in poor clothing, which was supplemented with hunting shirts:

General Anthony 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”

Head Quarters, West Point, September 28, 1779.

My Lord: I have your favr. of the 27th. Supposing the Continental Cloathing delivered to the Virginia line last Fall to be of equal quality with that delivered to the other part of the Army, they ought now to be in better condition than any other troops, as they had [at the same time contrary to my judgment and express desire] a very considerable quantity of state Cloathing in addition to the Continental [which I was sure coming altogether would be misapplied and avail them little].

I have directed Mr. Wilkinson the new Cloathier General who is gone to the Eastward to send immediately forward all the woolen Cloathing of every kind. The moment it arrives it shall be delivered to those most in want. I hope we shall have a sufficiency of Body Cloathing, but in Blankets [and Hats], notwithstanding my repeated remonstrances, I fear we shall fall short. I do not know what stock of shoes are on hand, but I imagine not great. I will write to the Cloathier and know, and will order a due proportion to your division. I hope the new arrangement of the Cloathing department will put it upon a better footing than it has heretofore been. It has occasioned more trouble to me, and has given more disgust to the Officers than any one thing besides in the service.

George Washington to William Alexander, Lord Stirling, September 28, 1779. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor

The common hunting shirt later in the war was open in the front, had a single cape, a simple cuff and light fringe as illustrated in the watercolor by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger, a sublieutenant in the Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment that took part in the siege of Yorktown and painted several American soldiers.