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.

June 28, 1778: Battle of Monmouth

“This battle was fought on the 28th June 1778, and my Regiment was in the latter part of the action.”

– John Hereford

Recreated 2d Virginia Regiment at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, 2008

Recreated 2d Virginia Regiment at Monmouth Battlefield State Park, 2008

In the summer of 1777, I enlisted under Lieutenant Erasmus Gill, a recruiting officer belonging to the Second Virginia Regiment, of Infantry of the line, on the Continental establishment, for the term of three years. I marched with the said officer, and under the command of Captain Marcus Calimar [Marquis Calmes], another recruiting officer of the same Regiment, with about one hundred recruits from Leesburg, and joined the American Army near Philadelphia.

I was annexed to Capt. Peyton Harrison’s Company in said Regiment, as Sergeant, and continued as such, during my service in the Regiment. In the winter of 1777-1778, the army took up their winter quarters at the Valley Forge. When the Spring Campaign opened we left our huts and lay in the plains below, on the Schuylkill, until the enemy left Philadelphia.

As soon as the news of their movement arrived in our Camp the whole American Army was put in motion and crossed the Delaware at [?] ferry, as well as my memory serves.

Orders were given to the troops to divest themselves of knap-sacks and blankets in order to go with as much expedition as possible on a fast march to [overtake] the enemy.

Monmouth-mapThe day was [exceptionally] hot and as our march was through a dry, barren sandy coun-try destitute of water, many of our soldiers became exhausted, and fell by the way. Our Army passed through Mount Holley, an English town in the State of New Jersey. The principal action took place between the church and Monmouth Court House, where we [?] the retreating troops under Gen.l Charles Lee.

This battle was fought on the 28th June 1778, and my Regiment was in the latter part of the action. The division to which I belonged, formed near the church. The Re-giment in which I served, was then commanded by Col. Christian Febiger, an old swede, who told me he had been in thirty six actions in Europe and America.

The English having gained the heights of Monmouth, commenced a heavy fire from their artillery, which was returned by Col. Harrison of Virginia, commanding our artillery — We lay on the field of battle that night, and on the next day, buried the dead of both armies. The British having made their escape during the night, our army took up the line of March, for the heights of Brunswick, and lay their some time.

Pension application of John Hereford

Pension Declaration of Major Thomas Massie

In a few weeks the British army returned to New York, and the said Massie with his regiment under the command of Col. Febiger was posted at Hackensack. Soon after this Col. Febiger was called off, and the said Massie was left in the sole command of the regiment. This was the second Virginia regiment on continental establishment. The officers were Captains Taylor, Parker, Calmen, Catlett, Stokes, Kennan, Gill, etc., as well as recollected at the distant date.

Thomas Massie, son of William Massie of New Kent County, born August 22, 1747, was a captain in the 6th Virginia Regiment, March 11, 1776; Major 11th Virginia Regiment, February 20, 1778, transferred to the 2d Virginia Regiment, September 14, 1778, resigned June 25, 1779.  About 1780 he removed from New Kent County to Frederick, and about 1803 to Amherst (now Nelson) County.  He married Sarah Cocke of “Bremo” in Henrico County, and died at his residence “Level Green” on February 2, 1834.

Nelson, Feb. 15, 1833. Born Aug. 22, 1748. In the Spring of 1775 he was chosen captain of a large company of volunteers to assist in protecting Williamsburg and the country between York and James rivers, against the depredations of Lord Dunmore and his myrmidons. Within the ensuing fall, he received a captain’s commission to recruit a company of Regular soldiers to serve in the 6th Va. Reg. of the line on continental establishment. His Company, being recruited at the commencement o.f the following spring, he marched it to Williamsburg and united with the said 6th Regiment, then under command of Colonels Buckner and Elliott, and Major Hendricks. All the companies were nearly complete, some he believes, quite so, viz. : Capt. Samuel Cabell, Lieutenants Barrett and Taliaferro, and Ensign Jordan; Capt. Ruffin, two lieutenants and ensign; Capt. Johnson, two lieutenants and ensign; Capt. Hopkins, ditto; Capt. Garland, ditto; Capt. Cocke, ditto; Capt. Oliver Towles (a celebrated law- yer), and company officers; Capt. Gregory, ditto. He believes Capt. Worsham, or Dun and Avery. Also himself (Capt. Massie), Lieutenants Hockaday and Epperson, and Ensign Armistead. The companies were raised in different and distant parts of the State, and he had not even personal acquaintance with many of them, which together with the length of time, renders it difficult for him to remember every officer’s name. After the Regiment was equipped and armed, it marched out and camped in the vicinity of Williamsburg, where it entered into camp and military training; whence the regiment was ordered to march to the North. Within the summer following this was done under the command of Col. Buckner and Major Hendricks (Lieut-Col. Elliott having withdrawn), Capt. Ruffin died and he believes another officer, and several resigned or withdrew. The regiment marched through Virginia by way of Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck, through the upper part of Maryland into Pennsylvania by way of Lancaster, leaving Phila- delphia to the right; crossed the Delaware River above Trenton, and passed through Jersey to Perth Amboy, where the regiment was posted to defend that point and the country around until further orders. Gen. Washington at that time having the greater part of the main American army on Long and York Islands, soon after the defeat of that army on those islands, he, with his said regiment, was to march up the Sound by way of Newark. The storm and capture of Fort Montgomery taking place, he met with Gen. Putnam at Newark, and marched up the North River as high as Fort Lee. The defeated army had crossed the Hudson, except a part that had marched on the east side of that river under command of Gen. Chas. Lee. He, the said Thomas Massie, fell in the rear of those retreating troops who had been appointed to cover their retreat and marched the upper road by Springfield, Scotch Plains, etc., to New Brunswick, on the Raritan River, where the troops to which he was attached were attacked by the British Van. Having destroyed a part of the bridge, the said American troops kept up a hot fire with their artillery and small arms, with the British the whole day. This checked the progress so much as to enable Gen. Washington to cross the Delaware River with the retreating army, military stores, etc. The troops to which he was attached (being unin- cumbered), also had the good fortune to cross the Delaware without much loss. Gen. Washington having refreshed the troops and received reinforcements recrossed the Delaware in the night of the 24th of December (he thinks), surprised and defeated a large body of Hessians, posted at Trenton, captured about 900 of their number, and crossed the river again with them. Several days subsequent. Gen. Washington, having received reinforcements, again crossed the Delaware River with his army and took a post at Princeton.

He, the said Massie, was for the two succeeding years generally employed on detached or particular service, consequently was seldom with the said Sixth Regiment or his company, which company was by this time much reduced. On the 1st day of January, 1777, he marched under the command of Gen. Scott (who headed a con- siderable body of troops), on or about the Princeton road and en- camped in the evening on the Heights above Maiden-head. Soon after the van of an army under the command of Lord Cornwallis appeared, followed by the main body, said to amount to 12,000 men, and encamped in the place for the night. By dawn of the next day the enemy were in motion and filed off in columns to the American left, apparently to surround them. The Americans discharged two light field pieces of artillery at them, without return, and retreated down the road to a creek, which they crossed over a bridge and destroyed the same, and took possession of the ground on the Trenton side of the creek, then covered with large forest trees. Gen Hard at that time, being above with a large corps of Western Pennsylvania riflemen, the Americans kept the enemy at bay for several hours (he believes), before he could effect the passage of the creek with his large and heavy artillery. The Americans retreated up and slowly along the road to a summit of a hill, also covered with forest trees. Here Gen. Washington, accompanied by Gen. Green with reinforcements, came up. Here the Americans also skirmished (a considerable time), with the enemy before they retreated, and ultimately retreated to a long hill perhaps a mile to the west end of Trenton in view of the main American army. Here they formed and awaited the attack of the enemy. The day being now very far spent, the enemy appeared and approached the Americans in columns. As they were displaying we gave them a fire in single file from right to left, and retreated under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, and formed under the protection of the main army in Trenton. A very heavy cannonade ensued directly between the two armies that lasted until after dark and has been called the cannonade of Trenton. Gen. Washington, having fortunately gained a grand point in eluding Cornwallis’ intention of bringing him into a general action, made up large fires in front and left those who had been in the van during the day to keep them up. He immediately marched with his army, and takirg the Princeton road, reached that place early the next morning, defeated Col. Mahood, whom Lord Cornwallis had left there with troops to defend the place and its stores. Gen. Washington, having taken off these stores, etc., proceeded down the road by Kingston and Somerset Court House to Morristown, where he established posts on the Raritan in Jersey, viz., at Perth Amboy, Bonnontown and Brunswick. Gen Washington also established a line of posts opposite to them with a view of preventing the British garrisons from having intercourse with and marauding the country. He, the said Massie, was placed on this duty at Middle Post, Matuchen, under the command of Col. Hendricks, and served on it near five months. This duty was extremely severe by night as well as by day, con- stant patrolling, frequent skirmishes, some of them very bloody, nocturnal surprises, the cutting off of pickets, etc., always attended with loss of men and great fatigue. The British called in their posts about the first of June, and the American ports were evacu- ated about the middle of June. He, with the other officers, etc., who had been in this line of duty, joined the main army at Middlebrook. Sometime after, he and five other officers were sent to Virginia with instructions. He, on his return, joined the army under Gen. Washington at the White Marsh Hills. Shortly after, Gen Morgan returned with troops from the capture of Burgone’s army. Our army then marched into winter quarters by way of the gulf to Valley Forge. He was soon detailed on duty under Gen. Morgan, who was to take post at Radnor, about half way between Valley Forge and the mouth of the Schuylkill River, with a view of cutting off the communication of the enemy from that part of the country which was effected. About this time (Feb., 1778), he was promoted to the rank of Major. In the Spring he commanded a large guard low in the lines not far above Philadelphia. Here he received Lord Cathcart, aide to Gen. Clinton, with a flag of truce and dispatches for Congress. Agreeably to orders, he, Cathcart, was not permitted to proceed further. The dispatches were read and delivered to Gen. Morgan. Immediately after, Gen. Clinton evacuated Philadelphia. He (Massie), marched under Gen. Morgan, through the city, pro- ceeded up and crossed the river, and united with the main army. He, with Major Gibbs, was detailed to attend Gen. Morgan, who was appointed to command the light troops, etc., to interrupt and endeavor to retard the march of the British army through Jersey to Sandy Hook. The first attempt to retard their march was made at Allentown. This stopped them a day and some prisoners were taken. The second attempt was a complete surprise, from thick shrubbery in the pines, where 16 to 18 prisoners were brought off and a few killed with little loss to the Americans. Several other attempts were made to alarm and retard their march which succeeded so far as to enable Gen. Washington to march with his main army by Englishtown and obtain a position which gave him the power of bringing Gen. Clinton to a general engagement, in which it is believed he would have been entirely successful except for the flagrant disobedience of orders by Gen. Chas. Lee, who commanded the van of the American Army. On that, the 28th day of June, 1778 (an intense hot day), Gen. Washington ordered Gen. Lee to attack in full force. This, the said Massie, knows to be the fact, the orders having been communicated verbally by Gen. Washington through him (the said Massie),theeveningbefore. On Gen. Lee’s approach, the British army drew up in order for battle. Gen. Lee ordered a retreat which was done under a slow retreating fire for some time. Gen. Lee repeatedly sent orders to the officers commanding the several flanking corps not to advance and engage. This state of things continued until Gen. Washington came into the field himself, took the command, arrested Gen. Lee, and renewed the battle by bringing the troops into action. The battle at Monmouth Court House was a bloody and hard fought action. After the sunset the British army gave way, and it being too dark for pursuit, the Ameri- can army lay on the field for the night, with a view to renew the battle the next day; but the British army in the night made a silent and rapid retreat, leaving their dead and wounded. Gen. Morgan, under whose command he, the said Massie, still acted was ordered to pursue the British early next morning, but they could not be overtaken except two or three hundred stragglers that were captured. Pursuit was continued to Middleton Heights immediately above Sandy Hook. After being there and thereabouts for several days, the troops marched up by Sposwood to Brunswick bridge on the Raritan River. Here we had a feu de joie in honor of the victory of Monmouth. From thence he marched to King’s Ferry on the Hudson River and crossed to the White Plains in New York. Here he remained several weeks. From there, he, with several other officers, was ordered to Rhode Island to assist Gen. Sullivan at the siege of Newport, then in the possession of the British. A violent storm, however, with rain, etc., for several days having driven Count D’Estrey’s fleet from the mouth of the harbor out to sea, rendered it impracticable for Gen. Sullivan to proceed with the siege; he consequently retired from the island, and the said Massie with the other officers detached as above stated returned and rejoined their respective regiments then encamped on the Hudson some distance above West Point, and on the opposite side.

Soon after this, the surprise and capture of Baylor’s newly raised regiment of cavalry near Heroington, happened, when he with his regiment marched under the command of Gens. Woodford and Morgan with their troops to that neighborhood and took post on the strong heights of Paramus. By this time a large British force (said to amount to 6,000), under the command of Lord Cornwallis, had taken possession of the town of Hackensack, with a view of foraging the country, in which they did not succeed to much extent, owing to the vigilance of the American troops in attacking and repulsing their foraging parties. In a few weeks the British army returned to New York, and the said Massie with his regiment under the command of Col. Febiger was posted at Hackensack. Soon after this Col. Febiger was called off, and the said Massie was left in the sole command of the regiment. This was the second Virginia regi- mentoncontinentalestablishment. The officers were Captains Taylor, Parker, Calmen, Catlett, Stokes, Kennan, Gill, etc., as well as recollected at the distant date. He continued there until after the middle of December, when he with his command pursuant to orders marched into winter quarters at Boundbrook, on the north side of Raritan River (under the command of Gen, Lord Sterling, who commanded that division of the army), where he continued quietly for a considerable time. The British were confined to New York and its environs and employed in arranging and strengthening their posts of defense. Their embarcation of troops to our Southern States and other occurrence demonstrated the intention of moving the main seat of war there, with a view to attempt the subjugation of those states. Time progressing, it was known that Congress had determined to defend and save Charleston, if possible, and that the eight old Virginia regiments were doomed to that service. Those (8) regiments were then so much reduced in number that they were consolidated into (?) regiments (March, 1780). The officers whose commissions bore the highest rank, of course, took the command. The said Massie was of consequence a supernumerary officer, and, with Gen. Washington’s permission, returned to Virginia, holding his commission (which he at this time has), ready and subject to duty with other supernumerary officers whenever called on or required.

He ranked as Major on the 20th of February, 1778, but did not take his commission from the war office (not having leisure to call for it), until the 20th of March, 1779. His commission as captain was literally worn and rubbed out in his pocket while on duty from the constant exposure to rain, hail and snow day and night. He acted alternately, under the command of Gens. Scott, Weedon, Sullivan, Morgan, Woodford, Gen. Lord Sterling, etc. He was afterwards under the command of Gen. Nelson as aidecamp in the winter of 1780 and 1781, when Arnold invaded Virginia and de- stroyed the public stores and houses at Richmond and arsenal and foundry, etc., at Westham, and was finally at the siege of Yorktown, and the surrender of that post with the British army, in October, 1781.

After the ratification of the treaty of peace, he received five thousand, three hundred and thirty-three and a third acres of land in the states of Ohio and Kentucky (the patents for which he now has), in consideration of his services as Major aforesaid. He like- wise received some three per cent and six per cent certificates, not worth much at the time, afterwards sold, amount not recollected.

*Note:—Except for the introductory lines, this declaration is given in full, the language of the original document being followed. It will be found of much interest. It throws important light on the treachery to the American cause of Gen. Charles Lee at the battle of Monmouth; a matter which was not fully cleared up by American historians for seventy or more years after it occurred.

Recommended Reading: Battle History of the 2d Virginia Regiment

Battle of Great Bridge

Philadelphia Campaign

Paulus Hook


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