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.

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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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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.

August 19, 1779: Battle of Paulus Hook

Captain Catlett, of the Second Virginia regiment, fortunately joined me at this moment, at the head of fifty men, with good ammunition. I immediately halted this officer, and having detached two parties, the one on the Bergen road in the rear of Major Clarke, the other on the banks of the North River, I moved with the party under the command of the captain on the centre route. By these precautions a sudden approach of the enemy was fully prevented. I am very much indebted to this officer, and the gentlemen under him, for their alacrity and vigilance on this occasion.

Major Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee

Major Henry Lee to General Washington.

Paramus, August 22, 1779.

To His Excellency
General WASHINGTON.

Sir: Lord Stirling was pleased to communicate to Your Excellency my verbal report to his Lordship of the 19th instant. I now do myself the honour to present a particular relation of the enterprize Your Excellency was pleased to commit to my direction.

I took command of the troops employed on this occasion on the 18th. They amounted to four hundred infantry, composed of detachments from the Virginia and Maryland divisions, and one troop of dismounted dragoons.

The troops moved from the vicinity of the New Bridge about four o’clock P.M. Patrols of horse being detached to watch the communication with the North River, and parties of infantry stationed at the different avenues leading to Powles Hook. My anxiety to render the march as easy as possible, induced me to pursue the Bergen road lower than intended. After filing into the mountains, the timidity or treachery of the principal guide prolonged a short march into a march of three hours; by this means the troops were exceedingly harassed, and being obliged, through deep mountainous woods, to regain our route, some parties of the rear were unfortunately separated. This affected me most sensibly, as it not only diminished the number of men destined for the assault, but deprived me of the aid of several officers of distinguished merit.

On reaching the point of separation, I found my first disposition impracticable, both from the near approach of day and the rising of the tide. Not a moment being to spare, I paid no attention to the punctilios of honour or rank, but ordered the troops to advance in their then disposition. Lieutenant Rudolph, whom I had previously detached to reconnoitre the passages of the canal, returned to me at this point of time and reported that all was silence within the works, that he had fathomed the canal and found the passage on the centre route still admissible. This intervening intelligence was immediately communicated from front to rear, and the troops pushed on with that resolution, order, and coolness which insures success.

The forlorn hopes, led by Lieutenant McAllister, of the Maryland, and Lieutenant Rudolph, of the dragoons, marched on with trailed arms, in most profound silence. Such was the singular address of these two gentlemen, that the first notice to the garrison was the forlorns plunging into the canal. A firing immediately commenced from the block-houses and along the line of the abatis, but did not in the least check the advance of the troops. The forlorns, supported by Major Clarke, at the head of the right column, broke through all opposition, and found an entrance into the main work. So rapid was the movement of the troops, that we gained the fort before the discharge of a single piece of artillery. The centre column, conducted by Captain Forsyth, on passing the abatis, took a direction to their left. Lieutenant Armstrong led on the advance of this column. They soon possessed themselves of the officers and troops posted at the house No. 6, and fully completed every object of their destination. The rear column, under Captain Handy, moved forward in support of the whole. Thus were we completely victorious in the space of a few moments.

The appearance of daylight, my apprehension lest some accident might have befallen the boats, the numerous difficulties of the retreat, the harassed state of the troops, and the destruction of all our ammunition by passing the canal, conspired in influencing me to retire in the moment of victory. Major Clarke, with the right column, was immediately put in motion with the greater part of the prisoners. Captain Handy followed on with the remainder. Lieutenants Armstrong and Reed formed the rear guard.

Immediately on the commencement of the retreat, I sent forward Captain Forsyth to Prior’s Mill to collect such men from the different columns as were most fit for action, and to take post on the heights of Bergen to cover the retreat.

On my reaching this place I was informed by Cornet Neill (who had been posted there during the night for the purpose of laying the bridge and communicating with the boats), that my messenger, directed to him previous to the attack, had not arrived, nor had he heard from Captain Peyton, who had charge of the boats.

Struck with apprehension that I should be disappointed in the route of retreat, I rode forward to the front, under Major Clarke, whom I found very near the point of embarkation, and no boats to receive them. In this very critical situation I lost no time in my decision, but ordered the troops to regain Bergen road and shove on to the New Bridge; at the same time I communicated my disappointment to Lord Stirling by express, then returned to Prior’s Bridge to the rear-guard.

Oppressed by every possible misfortune, at the head of troops worn down by a rapid march of thirty miles, through mountains, swamps, and deep morasses, without the least refreshment during the whole march, ammunition destroyed, incumbered with prisoners, and a retreat of fourteen miles to make good, on a route admissible of interception at several points, by a moving in our rear, and another (from the intelligence I had received from the captured officers) in all probability well advanced on our right; a retreat naturally impossible to our left; under all these distressing circumstances, my sole dependence was in the persevering gallantry of the officers and obstinate courage of the troops. In this I was fully satisfied by the shouts of the soldiery, who gave every proof of unimpaired vigour the moment that the enemy’s approach was announced.

Soldier of the 2d Virginia Regimentc. 1779

Having gained the point of intersection opposite Weehawken, Captain Handy was directed to move with his division on the mountain road, in order to facilitate the retreat. Captain Catlett, of the Second Virginia regiment, fortunately joined me at this moment, at the head of fifty men, with good ammunition. I immediately halted this officer, and having detached two parties, the one on the Bergen road in the rear of Major Clarke, the other on the banks of the North River, I moved with the party under the command of the captain on the centre route. By these precautions a sudden approach of the enemy was fully prevented. I am very much indebted to this officer, and the gentlemen under him, for their alacrity and vigilance on this occasion.

On the rear’s approach to the Fort Lee road, we met a detachment under the command of Colonel Ball, which Lord Stirling had pushed forward, on the first notice of our situation, to support the retreat. The colonel moved on, and occupied a position which effectually covered us.

Some little time after this, a body of the enemy (alluded to in the intelligence I mentioned to have received from the officers while in the fort) made their appearance, issuing out of the woods on our right, and moving through the fields directly to the road. They immediately commenced a fire upon my rear. Lieutenant Reed threw himself, with a party, into a stone house which commanded the road. These two officers were directed mutually to support each other, and give time for the troops to pass the English Neighbourhood Creek, at the liberty pole. On the enemy’s observing this disposition, they immediately retired by the same route they had approached, and gained the woods. The precipitation with which they retired, preventing the possibility of Colonel Ball’s falling in with them, saved the whole.

The body which moved in our rear, having excessively fatigued themselves by the rapidity of their march, thought prudent to halt before they came in contact with us.

Thus, Sir, was every attempt to cut off our rear completely baffled. The troops arrived safe at the New Bridge, with all the prisoners, about one o’clock P.M. on the nineteenth.

I should commit the highest injustice was I not to assure Your Excellency that my endeavours were fully seconded by every officer in his station; nor can any discrimination justly be made but what arose from opportunity. The troops vied with each other in patience under their many sufferings, and conducted themselves in every vicissitude of fortune with a resolution which reflects the highest honour on them.

During the whole action not a single musket was fired on our side — the bayonet was our sole dependence.

Having gained the fort, such was the order of the troops, and attention of the officers, that the soldiers were prevented from plundering, although in the midst of every sort.

American humanity has been again signally manifested. Self-preservation strongly dictated, on the retreat, the putting the prisoners to death, and British cruelty fully justified it, notwithstanding which, not a man was wantonly hurt.

During the progress of the troops in the works, from the different reports of my officers, I conclude not more than fifty of the enemy were killed, and a few wounded. Among the killed is one officer, supposed (from his description) to be a captain in Colonel Buskirk’s regiment. Our loss, on this occasion, is very trifling. I have not yet had a report from the detachment of the Virginians; but as I conclude their loss to be proportionate to the loss of the other troops, I can venture to pronounce that the loss of the whole, in killed, wounded, and missing, will not exceed twenty. As soon as the report comes to hand, I will transmit to headquarters an accurate return. I herewith enclose a return of the prisoners taken from the enemy.

At every point of the enterprize I stood highly indebted to Major Clarke for his zeal, activity, and example. Captains Handy and Forsyth have claim to my particular thanks for the support I experienced from them on every occasion. The Captains Reed, McLane, Smith, Crump, and Wilmot, behaved with the greatest zeal and intrepidity. I must acknowledge myself very much indebted to Major Burnet and Captain Peyton, of the dragoons, for their counsel and indefatigability in the previous preparations to the attack. The premature withdrawal of the boats was owing to the non-arrival of my despatches; and, though a most mortifying circumstance, can be called nothing more than unfortunate. Lieutenant Vanderville, who was to have commanded one of the forlorns, but was thrown out by alteration of the disposition of battle, conducted himself perfectly soldier-like. The whole of the officers behaved with the greatest propriety; and, as I said before, no discrimination can justly be made, but what arose from opportunity.

The Lieutenants McAllister, Armstrong, Reed, and Rudolph distinguished themselves remarkably. Too much praise cannot be given to those gentlemen for their prowess and example. Captain Bradford, of the train, who volunteered it with me, for the purpose of taking direction of the artillery, deserves my warmest thanks for his zeal and activity. I am personally indebted to Captain Rudolph and Dr. Irvine, of the dragoons, who attended me during the expedition, for their many services.

I beg leave to present Your Excellency with the flag of the fort by the hands of Mr. McAllister, the gentleman into whose possession it fell.

It is needless for me to explain my reasons for the instantaneous evacuation of the fort. Your Excellency’s knowledge of the post will suggest fully the propriety of it. The event confirms it.

Among the many unfortunate circumstances which crossed our wishes, none was more so than the accidental absence of Colonel Buskirk and the greatest part of his regiment. They had set out on an expedition up the North River the very night of the attack. A company of vigilant Hessians had taken their place in the fort, which rendered the secrecy of approach more precarious, and, at the same time, diminished the object of the enterprize by a reduction of the number of the garrison. Major Sutherland fortunately saved himself by a soldier counterfeiting his person. This imposition was not discovered until too late.

I intended to have burned the barracks, but on finding a number of sick soldiers and women with young children in them, humanity forbade the execution of my intention. The key of the magazine could not be found, nor could it be broken open in the little time we had to spare, many attempts having been made to that purpose by the Lieutenants McAllister and Reed. It was completely impracticable to bring off any pieces of artillery. I consulted Captain Bradford on the point, who confirmed me in my opinion. The circumstance of spiking them being trivial it was omitted altogether.

After most of the troops had retired from the works, and were passed and passing the canal, a fire of musketry commenced from a few stragglers, who had collected in an old work, on the right of the main fort. Their fire being ineffectual, and the object trifling, I determined not to break in upon the order of retreat, but continued passing the defile in front. I cannot conclude this relation without expressing my wannest thanks to Lord Stirling, for the full patronage I received from him in every stage of the enterprize. I must also return my thanks to the cavalry, for their vigilant execution of the duties assigned them.

Captain Rudolph waits on Your Excellency with these despatches. I beg leave to refer to this officer for any further explanation that may be required.

I have the honour to be, Sir, with the most perfect respect, Your Excellency’s most obedient and humble servant,

Henry LEE, Jr.

Captain Allen McLane

Monday, August 16. Moved toward Powles Hook to reconeter. Took two prisoners on Hobuck.Returned with the party to Hackinsack. This night lay at Storms house.

Tuesday, 17 Aug. Drew four days provisions. Detached two sergeants [?] with 12 men eatch to lay in Bergain Woods. This night lay near the liberty pole.

Wensday, 18 August. This morning received orders from Maj. Lee to take post in the wood near Bargan in order to intercept the communications between Powles Hook and the [?] and to join him at a sertain place in the woods near the Three Pigeons in order to conduct him to attack Powles Hook. Met him and after some difficalty arrived at the works half past three in the morning. Stormed them without more loss than tow men killed and five wounded who killed about fifty, took 150 prisoners, 9 officers.

Thursday 19, 1779 August. and then retired to the new bridge the distance of 22 miles.

Captain Levin Handy to George Handy

Paramus, 22 August, 1779

Before this reaches you I doubt not but you have heard of our success at Powles Hook, where the enemy had a very strong fort, within one and a quarter miles from New York. We started from this place on Wednesday last half after ten o’clock, taking our route by a place called New Bridge on Hackensac River, where my two companies were joined by three hundred Virginians and a company of dismounted Dragoons, commanded by Captain McLane. We took up our line of march about 5 o’clock in the evening from the bridge, the nearest route with safety, to Powles, distant then about twenty miles, with my detachment in front, the whole under command of the gallant Major Lee. The works were to be carried by storm- the whole to advance in three columns, one of which I had the honour to command.

The attack was to commence at one half after 12 o’clock, but having been greatly embarrassed on our march, and having a number of difficulties to surmount, did not arrive at the point of attack till after four o’clock in the morning, when, after a small fire from them, we gained their works and put about fifty of them to the bayonet, took one hundred and fifty-seven prisoners, exclusive of seven commanding officers; this was completed in less than thirty minutes, and a retreat ordered, as we had every reason to suppose unless timely it would be cut off. Our situation was so difficult that we could not bring off any stores. We had a morass to pass of upwards of two miles, the greatest part of which we were obliged to pass by files, and several canals to ford up to our breast in water. We advanced with bayonets, pans open, cocks fallen, to prevent any fire from our side; believe me when I assure you we did not fire a musket.

You will see a more particular account of it in the papers than it is in my power to give you at present. It is thought to be the greatest enterprise ever undertaken in America. Our loss is so inconsiderable that I do not mention it.

Congressional Resolution

Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to His Excellency General Washington for ordering with so much wisdom, the late’ attack on the enemy’s fort and work at Powles Hook.

Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to Major General Lord Stirling for the judicious. measures taken by him to forward the enterprise and to secure the retreat of the party.

Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to Major Lee for the remarkable prudence, address and bravery displayed by him on the occasion; and that they approve the humanity shown in circumstances prompting to severity as honorable to the arms of the United States, and correspondent to the noble principles on which they were assumed.

Resolved, That Congress entertain a high sense of the discipline, fortitude, and spirit manifested by the officers and soldiers under the command of Major Lee in the march, action and retreat, and while with singular satisfaction they acknowledge the merit of these gallant Men, they feel an additional pleasure of considering them a part of an army in which very many brave officers and soldiers have proved, by their cheerful performance of every duty under every difficulty, that they ardently wish to give the truly glorious examples they now receive.

Resolved, That Congress justly appreciates the military caution so happily combined with daring activity by Lieuts. McCollister and Rudolph in leading on theforlorn hope.

Resolved, That a medal of gold emblematical of this affair be struck, under the direction of the Board of Treasury, and presented to Major Lee.

Resolved, That the brevet and the pay and subsistence of Captain be given to Lieuts. McCallister and Rudolph respectively.

Medal awarded to Major Henry Lee for his assault of Paulus Hook in 1779. The original was engraved by Joseph Wright and struck in gold.

On one side of the medal awarded to Major Lee is a bust of the hero, with the words Henrico Lee, Legionis Equit Praefecto Comitia Americana. “The American Congress to Henry Lee, Colonel of Cavalry.” On the reverse, Non Obstantib fluminibus vallis astutia et virtute bellica parva manu hostes vicit victosq armis humanitate devinxit. In mem. pugn. ad Paulus Hook, die XIX August, 1779. “Notwithstanding rivers and entrenchments, he with a small band conquered the foe by warlike skill and prowess and firmly bound by his humanity those who had been conquered by his arms. In memory of the conflict at Paulus Hook, nineteenth of August, 1779.”

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.”

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)

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.