June 18, 1781: Assault on Ninety-Six

Aerial view of zigzag approach trenches dug by Greene's army

The health of Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Hawes, the commander of the “new” 2d Virginia Regiment formed of eighteen month levies, had declined following the battles of Guilford Courthouse and Hobkirk’s Hill, forcing him to relinquish command of the 2d Virginia Regiment in May 1781 with command passing to Major Smith Snead.

Major General Nathanael Greene next set his eyes on the British outpost at Ninety-Six, and began to lay siege to on May 22, 1781. After digging three parallels, building towers for sharpshooters to snipe the garrison, and even attempting mines under the works, Greene called for an assault on June 18, 1781.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee

Lieutenant colonel Campbell, of the first Virginia regiment, with a detachment from the Maryland and Virginia brigades, was charged with the attack on the left; lieutenant colonel Lee, with the legion infantry and Kirkwood’s Delawares, with that on the right. Lieutenants Duval of Maryland, and Seldon of Virginia, commanded the forlorn hope of Campbell; and captain Rudolph, of the legion, that of Lee. Fascines were prepared to fill up the enemy’s ditch, long poles with iron hooks were furnished to pull down the sandbags, with every other requisite to facilitate the progress of the assailant. At eleven the third parallel was manned, and hour sharp shooters took their station in the tower. The first signal was announced from the centre battery, upon which the assailing columns entered the trenches; manifesting delight in the expectation of carrying by their courage the great prize in view.

At the second cannon, which was discharged at the hour of twelve, Campbell and Lee rushed to the assault. Cruger, always prepared, received them with his accustomed firmness. The parapets were manned with spike and bayonet, and the riflemen, fixed at the apertures, maintained a steady and destructive fire. Duval and Seldon, entered the enemy’s ditch at different points, and Campbell stood prepared to support them, in the rear of the party furnished with hooks to pull down the sand bags. This party had also entered the enemy’s ditch, and began to apply the book. Uncovering the parapet now would have given us victory; and such was the vigorous support afforded by the musketry from the third parallel, from the riflemen in the tower, and from the artillery mounted in battery, that sanguine expectations of this happy issue were universally endulged. The moment the bags in front were pulled down, Campbell would have mounted the parapet, where the struggle would not have been long maintained. Cruger had prepared an intermediate battery with his three pieces, which he occasionally applied to the left and right. At first it was directed against Lee’s left, but very soon every piece was applied to Campbell’s right, which was very injurious to his column.

Aerial view of the Star Fort as it looks today

Major Green, commanding in the star redoubt, sensible of the danger to which he was exposed, if the attempted lodgment upon his front curtain succeeded, determined to try the bayonet in his ditch as well as on his parapet. To captains Campbell and French was committed this bold effort. Entering into the ditch through a sally-port to the rear of the star, they took opposite directions, and soon came into contact, the one with Duval, the other with Seldon. Here ensued a desperate conflict. The Americans, not only fighting with the enemy in front but with the enemy overhead, sustained gallantly the unequal contest, until Duval and Seldon became disabled by wounds, when they yielded, and were driven back with great loss to the point of entry. The few surviving escaped with the hookmen to our trenches, where yet remained Campbell, the sand-bags not being removed. On the left, the issue was very different. Rudolph gained the enemy’s ditch, and followed by the column, soon opened his way into the fort, from which the enemy, giving their last fire, precipitately retreated. Measures were in train on the part of Lee, to follow up his blow by passing the rivulet, entering the town, and forcing the fortified prison, whence the left might have yielded substantial aid to the attack upon the star, by compelling Cruger to struggle for the town, or forcing him with all his troops to take refuge in the star; a situation not long to be held, crowded as he must have been, and destitute of water. The adverse fortune experienced by our left column, made the mind of Greene return to his cardinal policy, the preservation of adequate force to keep the field.

Charmed with the courage displayed in his view, and regretting its disadvantageous application, he sent orders to Campbell to draw off, and to Lee to desist from further advance, but to hold the stockade abandoned by the enemy.

Our loss amounted, during the siege, to one hundred and eighty-five killed and wounded; that of the garrison to eighty-five. Captain Armstrong, of the Maryland line, was the only officer killed on our side, as was lieutenant Roney the only one on theirs. After our repulse, Greene sent a flag to lieutenant colonel Cruger, proposing a cessation of hostilities for the purpose of burying the dead; but as to the burial of the dead the proposition was rejected, Cruger not choosing to admit our participation in a ceremonial which custom had appropriated to the victor.

As soon as it was dark, the detachment was withdrawn from the stockade, and preparations were begun for retreat.

2d Virginia Regiment at Ninety-Six

While not mentioned by name in Lee’s account of the assault, the men of the 2d Virginia Regiment were also engaged during the twenty-eight day siege, as Lieutenant William Eskridge wrote an avadavat in 1788 that “…Patrick Bennigen a soldier of the 2d Virginia Regiment Was in the Action at ninety-six in So Carolina, where he received two wounds, one in the body — and the other broke his wrist — both by musquet Balls”

The site today is maintained by the National Park Service as Ninety-Six National Historic Site.

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March 15, 1781: Battle of Guilford Courthouse

The Virginia Brigade would first see combat at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781. While “Colonel Green…with his regiment of Virginia, was drawn off without having tasted of battle, and ordered to a given point in the rear for security…” Hawes’s battalion was heavily engaged on the American right of the third line. Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee noted that they were “…composed of new soldiers, among whom were mingled a few who had served from the beginning of the war; but all the officers were experienced and approved.”

When Cornwallis sent Webster’s Brigade to break Greene’s third line, they “…rushed into close fire; but so firmly was he received by this body of veterans, supported by Hawe’s regiment of Virginia…that with equal rapidity he was compelled to recoil from the shock.” As the battle concluded, “General [Issac] Huger, who had, throughout the action, given his chief attention to the regiment of Hawes’s, the only one of the two, constituting his brigade, ever engaged, and which, with Kirkwood’s company, was still contending with lieutenant colonel Webster, now drew it off by order of the general;”

Lee commended the untested brigade and credited its officers in that “…the two regiments of Virginia were comprised of raw troops; but their officers were veteran, and the soldier is soon made fit for battle by experienced commanders.”

Excerpt from “…the soldier is soon made fit for battle by experienced commanders.”: The Collapse, Reformation, and Battle History of the Virginia Brigade of the Southern Army, 1780-81 by Todd Post

The Decline of the Virginia Line, 1778-81

Following the hard campaigning and brutal winter of the Philadelphia Campaign in 1777-78 in which the Virginia Continental regiments were heavily engaged, the state struggled to maintain its quota of fifteen regiments and began a series of consolidations starting in September 1778. Officers would be deemed supernumerary and either furloughed, sent back to Virginia to recruit, or given alternative assignments with hopes they would return to duty when their regiments regained full strength.

By early 1780, all of Virginia’s forces would be reduced to three ill-fated “detachments” of roughly 700 men. The 1st and 2d Virginia Detachments would be captured at Charleston and the 3rd Virginia Detachment was smashed at the Waxhaws in May 1780.

In July 1780, Washington wrote Generals Gates and Muhlenberg of a plan to reconstitute the Virginia Line, by “…raising Five Thousand Men to serve Eighteen months, for supplying their Battalions…” as “The Whole of the Virginia line, except the 9th Regiment and the Officers mentioned below, being prisoners at Charles Town…” As an additional stopgap measure, Virginia sent its State Regiment to join the Southern Army, but that too was decimated at the Battle of Camden and instead of several regiments totaling 5,000 men.

Chesterfield Courthouse, 1780

One of the officers who had been deemed supernumerary was Danish-born Colonel Christian Febiger of the 2d Virginia Regiment. By May 1779, the regiment had fallen to only 180 rank-and-file; operational command had fallen to Major Thomas Massie and there was such a need for company officers that an inspection return recommended the promotion of serjeants to ensigns to fill the gap.

In July 1779, while still retaining command of the 2d Virginia Regiment on paper, Febiger was given command of the Corps of Light Infantry’s 1st Battalion and participated in General Wayne’s capture of Stony Point. Having been a merchant in Boston prior to the war, he was then sent to Philadelphia to help procure supplies for the Southern Army before eventually going to Virginia to head up recruitment efforts for his regiment and the Virginia Line at Chesterfield Courthouse.

In his memoirs, Lieutenant Francis Brooke of the 1st Continental Artillery talks of the recruiting depot and Febiger, saying: “Col. Febiger was an excellent camp officer, well acquainted with the tactics of the drill, and though I belonged to the artillery, I was called into rotation with other subalterns to train and drill the infantry, and I acquired perfect knowledge of the Prussian tactics, written by Baron Steuben, who had been an aid to the Great Frederick.”

To aid in his efforts, he also petitioned to form a band of music at his own expense, writing that he had “…twice tried it and have been often disappointed, as no musicians were to be had in this country except prisoners and deserters from the British army, who as soon as I had two or three of them engaged, one would desert me before I could get another in his place, I soon discovered that no faith must be put in these people and the assistant till last Fall, when the time of service of three of our best fifers expired, I proposed for them to reenlist and I would make a Band of them…”

He then hired a “…Mr. Schultz a German musician to teach them…” and made an offer to any of his fifers that if they would reenlist, that as a bounty he would have them taught, “four to learn clarinets and violins, 2 bassoons and bass viol, 2 French horn and that many should be entitled to all other embellishments such as clothing etc. as was allowed other non-commissioned officers in the army.” Febiger attempted to follow through on this effort when he wrote the Board of War “…as the Uniform of my Regt. is blue fac’d with red and it is customary to have the Drums and Fifes in Reverse Uniform to the Regt. to grant me the Order for red Coats fac’d with blue…”

Little did Febiger know that soon the remnants of his regiment and the rest of the Virginia Line would be effectively erased, making Chesterfield Courthouse the focal point for reestablishing it.

The 1st and 2d Virginia Regiments Take Form

The other two battalions of new levies and reenlisted veterans would eventually be formed into the Virginia Brigade under Brigadier General Isaac Huger with Major General Greene. These battalions are often erroneously referred to as the 4th and 5th Virginia Regiments, probably due to a misunderstanding of the 1st, 2d, and 3rd Virginia Detachments of 1780.

Initially, the battalions were referred to by their colonel’s name, Greene wrote to William Davies of the Virginia Board of War: “The disagreeable situation of the detachments serving with this army from the State of Virginia, and the complaints of all ranks of officers from their not being Regimented induces me to wish that the first and second Virginia regiments should be immediately formed, and the Officers sent forward without loss of time. While the troops act by detachment and the officers uncertain whether they will command the same men, they will not pay attention to the discipline of the troops which the service requires.”

The 1st Virginia Regiment would be formed in December 1780 under Colonel John Green. Green had started the war as a captain of the original 1st Virginia Regiment in 1775 and would go on to serve in the 10th and 6th Virginia Regiments, but like Febiger would become a supernumerary officer until this new battalion was formed.  When they marched off for North Carolina, Steuben wrote Greene: “Yesterday I had the Satisfaction of marching Col [John] Green with 400 Rank and file, on his way to the Southward… For those men I have procured a jacket with sleeves, one shirt, a pair of linen overhalls, a knapsack, Blanket, and a pair shoes each. This Detachment is completely furnishd with Camp Equipage. In order to complete them I was obliged to take Eight Horse Men’s tents out of those Stores sent on. The men are all Armed with Gun, Bayonet, and 40 Rounds.”

The second battalion also formed, as recalled by Private Lewis Griffin, “…at Steuben’s, or Chesterfield Courthouse…” during the winter …”where they drew their clothing and arms.” They marched to join Greene under Lt. Colonel Richard Campbell, who had previously served in the 8th Virginia Regiment and then commanded the 13th Virginia Regiment, which became the 9th Virginia Regiment and served at Fort Pitt. When they arrived, Campbell was named second in command of the 1st Virginia Regiment and the Lt. Colonel Samuel Hawes assumed command of the 2d Virginia Regiment. Hawes began the war as a captain in the original 2d Virginia Regiment in 1775 before transferring to the 6th Virginia Regiment.

Excerpt from “…the soldier is soon made fit for battle by experienced commanders.”: The Collapse, Reformation, and Battle History of the Virginia Brigade of the Southern Army, 1780-81 by Todd Post 

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.”

To Shelter the Enlisted Man: A Study of Other Ranks Tents During the American War for Independence – Part I

"A Perspective View of an Encampment" by Bowles & Carver, 1780. (A.S.K. Brown Military Collection Brown University)

by James Mullins, Todd Post, Steven Rayner, and Gregory Theberge

A Tent for Every Mess

During the American War for Independence, each company within a Continental or British Regiment was broken down into individual groups of 5 to 6 soldiers.  These groups were collectively known as “messes”.  In order to simplify the everyday routines of army life, military  regulations of the day required that the men of these messes would prepare and eat their meals together as well as sleep as a common group. In order to do this during a campaign season, each mess was issued a tin kettle from their regimental stores. In many cases, a bag to transport these kettles was also issued. Each mess was also assigned a common tent if, and when, tents were available in the field.  With this in mind, it was the mess, the most basic unit of an 18th century army, which greatly influenced the size, shape, and construction of the tents which saw service during the American War for Independence.

In order to cover a 5 man mess, as well as their accoutrements (less their firearms which were often stored in Bell Tents), the average size of an enlisted man’s (a.k.a. “Other Ranks’) tent in the British army was 7 feet long by 6 feet tall.

Lewis Lochee: British Other Ranks’ Tent Revealing 3 Side Panel Construction, with 2 Panel Flaps, and a Bell Back

 

Lewis Lochee, “Essay on Castremetation”
1778

“The Tents which are of various sorts and forms, serve to lodge and protect the troops against the inclemency of the weather; those of the private men are made of strong cloth, and are large enough to lodge 5 men.”

Lewis Lochee: British Other Rank’s Tent Poles

 

“These tents are fixed by means of three poles and thirteen pegs: The poles A are called Standard Poles, and are about 6 feet high; the pole B is called Ridge Pole, and is about 7 feet long: The ridge and standard poles are held together by two iron pins, fixed in the top of the standard poles.”

What is interesting is that these dimensions of British Army tents were the same as they were when the New Model Army was operating in the mid 17th Century:

3 Aprilis 1645

“Tents for the Trayne  200 of John Snow Tentmaker the Tents viien foote long viien foote broad and six foote high of good Lockeram according to the pattern & wth firre staves lynes & pinns & other appurtenances according to ye best Trench Tents at xxs p Tent”

(M-4)

Unlike their British counterparts, the size of a Continental Army tent often varied throughout the course of the war.  These tents were ideally built to accomodate a mess of six men. Later in the war, they were to shelter up to 7 or 8 men.

June 1776

Returns for Captain Joseph Bloomfields Company

3rd New Jersey Regiment, Continental Line

“Tents to be Drawn for … 72 Soldiers, which is 12 Tents allowing Six men to a tent.”

Orderly Book of the Pennsylvania State Regiment.

“Head Quarters Fort Mercer May 24th 1777…

Regular Division of Tents to be made according to ye number of men in each Company – one tent for six men or 5 men and one woman…” (need bibliography, p. 58.)

At times, Continental Army tents were too small to accomodate a full mess of men. This could have been due to a variety of reasons. First, there were the contractors.  Quite frequently, these men were sailmakers who did not necessarily have any set standards to go by.  Secondly, in certain cases, it may have been due to the tent manufacturing process itself. To be discussed later, there is evidence that some tents were sewn utilizing a selvedge edge seam technique.  Depending on the width of the canvas used, tents could have varied if the selvedge edge of the cloth dictated the location of the seams.

Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering

‘Since the army took the field I have heard great complaints of the smallness of the tents. The new common tents are not too big for four Men: upwards of 400 were made before my Appointment… The same sail maker I suppose have made those sent only you, which tho of very good stuff yet are ruined by the smallness of their size… Some old common tents were from 7 to 7 1/2 feet square on the ground. The ends of the new tents Complained of are little more than five feet broad. It seems that the various descriptions of tents have been misunderstood.” (need bibliography – national archives?)

On October 10, 1776 the Connecticut Assembly resolved:

“That each Tent ordered to be made by this Assembly… shall contain the quantity of twenty-seven yards of cloth, one yard wide, or equal thereto in cloth of different width, well manufactured of yarn not coarser than thirty knots to the pound;” (H-2)

In 1781, however,  Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering attempted to “standardize” the minimum dimensions of the tents used by the Continental Army.  He recommended that:

“A common, or soldier’s tent should be at least 7 feet square, larger a little if it happens to suit the breath of the cloath.” and should be “7 feet square and 7 Feet Height.” (W-2)

Once again, this implies that the length of these tents could vary depending on the width of the canvas available for their fabrication.

Tent and Sail Cloth

A detail of Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Colonel Walter Stewart of The Pennsylvania Line revealing a typical Regimental Camp layout of the Continental Line. Note the musket rack, sparseness of the camp, as well as the individual kitchen and possible Quarter Guard with sentry at the tree line.

According to current research, the fabric and techniques utilized to produce other ranks’ tents during the American War for Independence was frequently similar to that used in the production of sails during the 18th century. In fact, sailmakers were often contracted to produce military tents.

Nathanael Greene to Captain Maberly:

December 4, 1780 (Year Uncertain)

“All the sail and tent makers will be sent to you tomorrow. You will make up the sail and raven’s duck into common tents.” (G-1,  p.79)

Likewise, the tools that were required to sew sails were also utilized in the fabrication of tents.  Although he is referencing Officer’s Marquis, Timothy Pickering, Quarter Master General of the American Army, confirms this:

Timothy Pickering, General Quartermaster’s Return, April 1, 1782

“Return of all Public Property belonging to the Quarter Master General

Department from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania & with the Main Army

Species of Property….

[p. 16.]

Materials & Spare Furniture…

Marquee {Hooks

________{Tops…

Tent Buttons

Marquee Balls

Tent Pole Rings

Horsemans do.

Tent Sliders

Hanks Tent Cord…

Palm Irons

Sail Needles

Sailmakers Hooks…” (W-2)

Fabric utilized in the production of enlisted men’s tents was traditionally 12 to 16 ounces per square yard (on average) with a thread count roughly of 29 x 25-30 x 32 ends per inch. For an other ranks’ tent, the cloth had a Plain Weave. As an aside, there are some period examples of an Officer’s Marquee (or portions thereof) being made out of a Herringbone Patterned cloth.

While no resource specifically mentions the color of the  cloth used for tents, one period source states that it was Bleached. It is also quite possible that tent cloth was simply left in its natural (light brown) state which, over time, would bleach with exposure to the sun.

Depending on the reference, 18th Century Military Tent cloth was made of any of the following materials.  Some differed by name alone:

“Duck,” “Russia Duck,”  and “Raven Duck”

“Duck”, or “Dutch Duck”, was defined by Richard Rolt in 1761 as “a kind of Dutch sail cloth….sail cloth…is a particular sort of cloth, or canvas, made of hemp.”  Rolt also refers to a statute of George II stipulating that both hemp and flax was used for sail cloth (Duck), but the yarn used “should be well cleansed, even spun, and well twisted”.  More contemporary source refers to it as “strong, thick linen cloth, finer and lighter than canvas” (M-3)

To General Nathanael Greene.

“Newport, Nov. 6th, 1779…

Sir, your favour of the 30th ult. I received, and have, as you wished, laid hold of every

piece of duck in the town, which is only eleven of Russia and five of Raven’s, which

are now making into tents…

E. Bowen, D. Q. M. G.” (S-3,  p. 248)

An Example of Extant Unbleached 18th Century Dutch Duck Tent Cloth from the Anders Berch Papers, labeled “Taft Duuk”

An order of Congress to P. Curtenius to purchase and fill a requisition for supplying the Continental Army:

‘Amount of sundries, as per the order of Congress, of the 26th of February, 1776, and sundry other orders, viz.:…

£    s    d

12 field officer’s tents, at about £25,                                   300   0    0…

32 captain’s tents,

32 lieutenant’s tents,

16 ensign’s tents,

4 adjutant’s tents.  96, at about £8 each,                            768   0    0

4 quartermaster’s tents,

4 chaplain’s tents,

4 surgeon’s tents,

108 valises at about 40s.                                                    216   0   0

108 tent bags at 5s.                                                              27   0   0

450 soldier’s tents at about 80s,                                       1832  0   0

(The price depends on the price of duck. If I must give £5 10s for ravens duck they will cost full what I have estimated. A square tent takes a piece of duck, and making 32s.  A soldier’s, 21 yards at 3s per yard, and making 10s. P. T. C.)’” (H-3, p. 487)

Here, we can see that an individual soldier’s tent took 21 yards of “duck.”

We can also get an idea on the quantity of tent cloth required to furnish a company with tents:

Captain John Floyd to Col. William Preston

Sept. 18th 1774…

I am in hopes we shall make out pretty well about kettles we are also allowed 60 yards of tent cloth for a company…” (K-1)

On the Manufacture of Sail Cloth in Scotland:

Thomas Pennant, Montrose, Scotland, 1772:

A Detail Taken From David Morier’s Painting of the British Grenadiers of the 19th and 20th Regiments of Foot and 21st Royal North British Fusiliers Showing A Tent Possibly Made of Brown, Unbleached, Linen, c. 1751-1760 (The Royal Collection)

 

“The town has increased one-third since the year 1745; at that time there was not a single manufacture: the inhabitants either lived by one another, or by the hiring out of ships, or by the salmon trade. At present the manufactures have risen to a great pitch: for example, that of sailcloth, or ‘sailduck,’ as it is here called, is very considerable; in one house, eighty-two thousand five hundred and sixty-six pieces have been made since 1755. Each piece is thirty-eight yards long, and numbered from eight to one. No. eight weighs twenty-four pounds, and every piece, down to no. one, gains three pounds in the piece. The thread for this cloth is spun here, not by common wheel, but by the hands. Women are employed, who have the flax placed round their wastes, twist a thread with each hand as they recede from a wheel, turned by a boy at the end of a great room.”

Extrapolating from Pennant’s description:

No. 1 – 45 lbs.

No. 2 – 42

No. 3 – 39

No. 4 – 36

No. 5 – 33

No. 6 – 30

No. 7 – 27

No. 8 – 24, per Pennant.

Width unknown.

(P-2, p. 499)

Although the following account by Isaac Titford is dated 7 years after the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, it nonetheless sheds some light on the manufacturing process of sail-cloth in Boston in 1790. While it may not exactly pertain to the fabrication of sail-cloth during the American Revolution, it does reveal that English sail-cloth was STARCHED during this period.

Isaac Titford, in a letter of December 26, 1790:

“I am lately returned from the continent of North America, and beg leave to mention the two following remarks I made at Boston, although I must conceive them known to the Society; yet their importance will, I am sure, excuse the mentioning them to you.

In their sail-cloth or Duck manufactory, which they carry on with great spirit, they publicly allege that theirs is superior to the British sailcloth, from its never being subject to mildew, which I understand is very pernicious to its wear. I observed that their weavers wet or moisten their warp in the loom, with a decoction or jelly-like substance, made of the remains of Neat-feet, after the oil is expressed from them, and which then is of no farther use: this residuum is boiled to a jelly, or kind of glue, and used by them instead of starch made with flour and water, commonly used, if I am rightly informed, by sail-cloth manufacturers in England.” (need bibliography p. 184-85. (transactions of the society)

Arthur Young also elaborated on both BLEACHING and STARCHING sail-cloth during the manufacturing process in his 1771 “A Six Months Tour through the North of England” :

Manufactures at Warrington, Cheshire.

“At -Warrington,- the manufactures of sail-cloth and sacking are very considerable. The first is spun by women and girls, who earn about 2 d. a day. It is then bleached, which is done by men, who earn 10 s. a week; after bleaching it is wound by women, whose earnings are 2 s. 6 d. a week; next it is warped by men, who earn 7 s. a week; and then starched, the earnings, 10 s. 6 d. a week. The last operation is the weaving, in which the men earn 9 s. the women 5 s. and boys 3 s. 6 d. a week.” III, (Y-1, p. 164)

“The spinners in the sacking branch earn 6 s. a week, women; then it is wound on bobbins by women and children, whose earnings are 4 d. a day’ then the starchers take it, they earn  6 s. a week; after which it is wove by men, at 9 s. a week. The sail-cloth about three hundred weavers, and the sacking an hundred and fifty; and they reckon twenty spinners and two or three other hands to a weaver.

During the war (the Seven Years War, author’s addition) the sail-cloth branch was very brisk, grew a little faint upon the peace, but is now, and has been for some time, pretty well recovered, though not to be so good as in the war. The sacking manufacture was also better in the war; but is always brisk.

The spinners never stand still for want of work; they always have it if they please; but weavers sometimes are idle for want of yarn, which, considering the number of poor within reach, (the spinners of the sacking live chiefly in /Cheshire/,) is melancholy to think of.” III (Y-1, p. 164)

In Lord John Sheffield’s  1784 “Observations on the Commerce of the American States,” we gain some further insights on Russian and Raven Duck sail-cloth:

“Sail-Cloth of every kind is imported by the American States. Russia had the advantage in Russia-duck and Raven-duck, but, when charged with the duty on importation here, they were as dear as the British sail-cloth. lately, the exportation from hence of of Russia sail-cloth for America has almost ceased. Russia-duck in England is about 6s. per piece (of 36 yards) dearer than in Holland, arising from duties and other expenses, which, as far as it will not interfere with our own linen manufactures, should be lowered.

In the Spring of the present year, 1783, Russia-duck was so scarce in England, that near 3l. was given for a piece that formerly sold from 35s. to 40s. This occasioned a great demand for British sail-cloth, which has a bounty of 2d. per ell on exportation. A duty of 2l. 1s. 8 1/2d. is payable on importation of 120 ells, or 150 yards of Russia-duck or sail-cloth, no part of which is drawn back upon exportation, either to any British colony, or to any other parts whatever. It it considerably wider than English.

The number of pieces of sail-cloth exported from Petersburg for five years, was as follows:

1774        1775      1776      1777      1778

Pieces in Eng. ships         11580       6757      2659      1505        401

Do. in foreign ships         25187      28397    38660    44156     37663

________________         ——        ——      ——      ——      ——-

Tot. numb. of pieces        36767      35154    41319    45661     38054

The law that obliged all British-built ships to have the first set of sails of British canvas under the penalty of 50l. being now at an end, with regard to the ships of the American States, there will be competition for this article. Of late years considerable improvements have been made in the various species of sail-cloth in Scotland, and the price is considerably reduced, in consequence of the facility with which hemp can be brought from the Baltic, and the low price of labour in the north of Scotland. It will be in the interest of the Americans to take British sail-cloth while the present bounty is continued.

It is said,  British sail-cloth is more apt to mildew; but that may be prevented, in a great measure, by pickling when new; it is also said, that the Russia sail-cloth is more pliable. France makes sail-cloth, but is much dearer and inferior. Some has been made at Philadelphia, but the quantity must be trifling.” (S-2)

“Osnaburg”

Col. William Christian to Col. William Preston

“Camp Union Septr. 12, 1774…

The kettles and Tents were chiefly distributed before I came  I could get but 16 or 17 battered tin kettles for all Fincastle & but few Tents  But I am told oxen brigs [unknown doodle] enough for Tents will be brought with the Pack horses to morrow  If the major is not marched when you get this Intelligence I really think we ough[t] to send over the whole Country and try to beg or borrow kettles for to do withougt is very hard almost [im]possible  It will presently make men sick to live on Roasted meat without broath.” (T-1, p. 198)

Col. Richard Henderson

“Fort Boone, on the mouth of Otter Creek, Cantuckey River…” (H-4, p. 221)

“Friday, 5th. [May, 1775.]… Let Mr. Wm. Cocke have five yards and a half oznaburgs off      my old tent, for which I charge him 5s. 6d. V. money.” (H-4, p. 225)

From various accounts, we can determine that osnaburg tents had their limitations when retarding the elements:

1760 (Pre-war):

Captain Samuel Jenks of Chelsea, Massachusetts:

“Thirsday, 4th Sept. [1760. Six miles from Chamblee, Canada.] Last night I had my tent pitcht & fixed so that I lay quite well… we shall soon I hope, be mouing homeward, for it begins to be cold nights, & our oznabrig tabernacles is but poor shelter for this cold climate.” (M-3, p. 375)

1778:

Henry Hudson, in a letter from Rhode Island, October 14, 1778.

“It would be pretty tolerable, if it was fair weather all the time, but these oznabrig houses are not so clever in rainy weather.” (C-4, p. 409)

1791 (Post-war):

Captain Samuel Newman, 2nd United States Regiment. St. Clair’s Campaign:

Saturday Septr. 24th [1791].

Rainy, stormy morning. rain’d all Day, but absolutely pour’d in sheets & torrents all night! Tent, bed & Clothes Wet, d–d the Economy of the Contractor who for thinness of our Tents, particularly the backs & doors which are made of very coarse Oznabrigs! & thro! which the rain beat, as if thro! a Sieve! this is the Country cheated, and the Soldier imposed on…”  (Q-1, p. 64)

“Ticklenburg”

“Williamsburg May 17, 1777
Commonwealth … D
To 20 Ps Ticklenburg 2681 1/4 Yds.
deliv’d W. Davenport for makg
Tents for the soldiery belonging
to this State: also 12 ll brown
Thr.d @ 8/6 for making up the said linen
Rec’d by [signed] Amb— Davenport”
(W-3)

“List of Camp Equipage Military Stores, Baggage &c. taken in the Brigt. Symetry Capt.

[Blank.] at Wilmington Jan: 1778.-…

Sent to Faggs

Manor Meeting house

230 New Ticklenburg Tents…

117 worn do. fit for use

38 old ditto…

Moor Hall Jan. 10 1778” (W-2)

“Tuesday, June 13, 1780…

That the board of admiralty take order for supplying the quartermaster general with   such quantity of the duck and ticklenberg belonging to the United States, in possession  of the navy board at Boston, as he may have occasion for, to compleat the number of tents wanting for the army, and which can be spared from the immediate use of the navy.” (C-2, p.175)

According to this account, it is apparent that the cloth to be used for the construction of tents was originally intended to be used for the fabrication of sails for the navy.

“Tow Cloth”

“At a Meeting &c. adjourned from Yesterday. 16 July [1776.]

The Hono. Congress having requested this Colony to furnish our troops with tents, Cloathing &c.:  On consideration voted a committee be appointed to purchase and procure all the tow cloth and other suitable cloth or materials for making tents that can be had in the Colony.” (H-2, p. 482)

“This Board do appoint Messrs. Andre Huntington, Joshua Elderkin, Cauncey Whittelsey of Middletown, Jona. Fitch, Saml Squire, and Lynde Lord, a committee to purchase all the suitable tow cloth and other suitable cloths for tents, to be obtained in their respective counties, and cause the same to be made up into proper tents for the use of the troops of this Colony, in the most expeditious manner they can, and report to his honor of what they shall respectively do in the premises.” (H-2, p. 483)

Again taking into consideration the relationship of sail and tent cloth, we can gain further insight on tent material by referencing Nautical manuscripts.  In David Steel’s, “The Elements and Practice of Rigging And Seamanship” (1794) , we see that sail cloth came in a variety of different weights based on a 38 yard long “Bolt” of 24” wide material:

CANVAS. For the royal navy, canvas or sail-cloth is 24 inches wide; and 38 Yards are called a bolt. To distinguish the different qualities, each bolt is numbered, and should weigh as follows; No. 1, 44 lb. No. 2, 41; No. 3, 38; No. 4, 35; No. 5, 32; No. 6, 29; No. 7, 24; and, No. 8, 21 pounds: from No. 1 to 6 is termed double, and above No. 6 single, canvas.” (S-4, p.86)

The Marquee of General George Washington - The American Revolution Center

The Marquee of General George Washington (The American Revolution Center)

Detail of General George Washington’s Marquee showing the utilization of unbleached linen cloth for the sod flap.  Examination of the canopy and walls of this tent reveals that it was originally made from a white and blue striped linen which has faded over time.

October 4, 1777: Battle of Germantown

"The Battle of Germantown" by Xavier della Gatta, 1782

The heroism and gallantry of the second Virginia regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honour to any country in the world. It is universally believed they behaved the best of any troops in the field.”

— Virginia Gazette, October 17, 1777

Virginia Gazette, October 17, 1777

WILLIAMSBURG, Oct. 17.
Extract of a letter from York town, Pennsylvania,
dated October 8, 1777.

Our loss is pretty well fixed to seven hundred killed, wounded, and missing; that of the enemy not certainly known, but surely very great, as you may judge by the following intelligence, brought this evening by General Green’s aid de camp, and which he says may be relied upon: General Agnew, Colonels Walcot, Abercrombie, and Thomas Byrd, from Virginia, with General De Heister’s son, killed; General Kniphausen wounded in the hand; and between two and three hundred waggons, loaded with wounded, sent to Philadelphia.  That General Howe had sent about two thousand Hessians over Schuylkill (denoting a retreat) and that he had refused to let any of the inhabitants of Philadelphia go to see the field of battle”.

“General Schuyler writes us, the twenty ninth of September, that if superior numbers, health, and spirits, can give success, our army in the Northern department will have it this campaign.

“For my part, I do not despair of success in this quarter also.  Another such battle as the last will totally unfit General Howe for pursuing farther hostilities this campaign, and again possess us of Philadelphia.”

This moment an express arrived, with a letter from Captain William Pierce, dated Skippack camp, 12 o’clock P.M. the day which the above bloodly battle was fought.  It contains sundry particulars, but the printed has only time to relate the following, viz.  Our glorious general, after animating speech to his army, directed them to hold themselves in readiness to march at 6 o’clock, with two days provision, ordered large fires to be made in the camp, and the tents to stand still nine at night, when they were to be struck, and put into the baggage waggons.  The army marched all night, arrived at Chestnut Hill about day-break, and immediately fell upon the enemy’s picket guard, with such fury and firmness, that they were instantly routed, with great slaughter.  The whole army then pushed towards Germantown, but were met by the main body of the British army consisting of about ten thousand men, when a hot and dreadful engagement ensued.  After an incessant fire of cannon and musketry, for upwards of an hour, the enemy gave way in all quarters and our men drove them, with fixed bayonets, for near two miles, when they formed again.  Our men, with steadiness and intrepidity, broke them a second time, and they retreated in great disorder to Germantown, with our whole army in close pursuit of them, till they got about half way the town,

"...when they took up in houses..."Cliveden, the home of Benjamin Chew, was used by British forces during the battle

when they took up in houses, and opened upon our men two or three field pieces with grape shot, which played with such violence that general Sullivan’s division gave way, and we, in turn, were beat back better than two miles.  Both armies, being greatly fatigued, shewed a willingness to discontinue the fight, and ours were ordered to march to Skippack creek, where they are now encamped.  The enemy contented themselves with their last advantage, and retired to their old quarters at Germantown.  They must have had 1000 killed dead on the field, and at least 1500 wounded.  A Captain, and twenty five men, fell into our hands.  Our loss does not exceed three hundred killed, and five hundred wounded.  We brought off two field pieces, and two waggons loaded with baggage.  General Nash is mortally wounded with a cannon ball.  Col. Hendricks is wounded below the left eye, but likely to recover; he behaved with such heroism, that he was the admiration of the field.  Lieut. Col. Parker, of the second Virginia regiment, a brave officer, got wounded in the leg, and it is said the bone is broke.  Col. Matthew Smith, our deputy adjutant general, got his leg broke by a grape shot.  Cornet Baylor, of light horse, had one half of his foot shot away.  Major Jameson had his horse killed under him, but he himself was unhurt.  Capt. Dickinson was slightly wounded in the knee.  Capt. Thomas Edmonds was so badly wounded, that he died in a few hours.  Capt. Eustace, of the first Virginia regiment, was killed dead on the spot.  Two Maryland colonels, of the name of Stone, were wounded, and many other officers, that I cannot recollect at present.  The heroism and gallantry of the second Virginia regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honour to any country in the world.  It is universally believed they  behaved the best of any troops in the field.  Indeed the whole continental army is composed of a set of brave men; and if the different states would exert themselves to raise their different quotas, general WASHINGTON would put an end to the contest immediately.  The artillery I cannot overlook; it was served, in every instance, to admiration.  Col. Josiah Parker behaved like a hero. Brigade Major Scott does honour to his country, and in the action shewed himself to be one of the first military characters in our army.  Capt. Moss, of the first Virginia regiment, I must not forget; he is truly a brave man.  The Carolina troops fought like heroes. —  The Delaware Frigate fell into the enemy’s hands, it is said by the treachery of the crew; but the river is still ours, and I am convinced Philadelphia will be again in a few weeks.

Dr. James Wallace to Michael Wallace

Head Quarters Army, Oct. 12, 1777

Dear Sir: I received yours two days after the action at German Town whilst I was in the midst of fatigue and hurry with my sick wounded, among whome was our friend Col. Blackburn, who was wounded through the thigh, has been under my care ill within these few days I left him at Baltimore in care of Dr. Brown. I make no doubt but by this time you have a very ostentatious account of the drubbing we had at German Town. We most certainly were drubbed, let the account which you have received be what they will. I wish it was in my power to give you a just account of the action. I believe few know. But this much is evident that we attacked the enemy early in the morning before it was quite light, and drove them some distance, when all of a sudden we retreated in a very confused state and left many of our wounded on the field. The 9th Virg’a Reg. was all taken to a man; the manner in which they were taken does them much honour, if it be true. It is said they fought their way into the commons of Philadelphia and on the army’s retreating they were left without any support, and were surrounded and all taken.

The whole of this affair appears a mystery to me. Many of the officers have told me that when they were ordered to retreat they were then pursuing the enemy, who were flying before them; they were astonished to the last degree when they retreated from the highest expectations of success. Our army is now [in] exceedingly good spirits. We increase every day with the militia from Virginia, we have rec’d a reinforcement of about 1500 Continental troops from New England.

We lost only one officer out of our Regiment, which was Mr. Die of Capt. Willises company. Our Lieutenant Col. Parker was wounded in the leg. Since the action we have lost a fine officer from our Reg’t, viz., Col. Spotswood, who has resigned and gone home. I wrote you a day or two before the engagement at Brandy Wine which I imagine you have not rec’d. Many of my intimate acquaintances were killed; the third Virg’a Reg’t was cut to pieces.

Narrative of My Life; For My Family, Francis T. Brooke

The General was neglectful of his affairs, and was better fitted for the army than for the pursuits of civil life.  He commanded the second regiment, at the battle of Brandywine; and, it was said by a British writer, one Smith, that it was the only regiment that left the field of battle in good order.  He was again in the battle of Germantown, where his brother, Capt. Spotswood, being badly wounded, was thought to be dead; whereupon he sent his resignation to Gen. Washington, having made a contract with his brother, when they entered the army, that if either should be killed, the survivor should return home to take care of the two families.  When it was known that Capt. Spotswood was still alive, a prisoner in Philadelphia, he wished to return to his command in the army; but General Washington replied to his letter to this effect, that he could not be reinstated in his former command, because many officers had been promoted after his resignation…General Spotswood spent a great deal of his fortune in the army; and representing a claim for his land, before a committee of the Senate of Virginia, I heard General Meade, who was a member of that committee say, that he knew the fact, that while the army of the North was naked of clothing, General Spotswood had clothed his whole regiment out of his own pocket, in Philadelphia.

September 3, 1777: The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge

The September 3, 1777 battle of Cooch’s Bridge between Brigadier General William Maxwell’s corps of light infantry (which consisted of 100 men from each Continental brigade, as there was no Continental light infantry at this time) and a combined force of the 2nd battalion of light infantry (a composite British force made up of the light companies of several regiments), German jaegers and hat companies, and British artillery was a major skirmish prior to the battle of Brandywine, and the only significant battle to take place in Delaware.

On Tuesday, September 2, 1777, General William Howe was at Grey’s Hill, Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen was stationed at Buck Tavern, also called Carson’s, (south of Summit Bridge), Major General Charles Grey was at Lum’s Pond, (then called Mill Dam). General George Washington reconnoitered around Mill Dam but did not see any troops and wrongly believed that Knyphausen must have rejoined Howe.

That evening, Washington, in Wilmington, wrote to Maxwell, near Cooch’s Bridge:

I do not know where the Sign of the Buck is, I therefore cannot say whether it will be proper for you to leave your present post to go and attack the party that is said to be thereabouts. If it is upon your left as I suppose it is it will be by no means proper, because while you were gone down, the enemy might advance from Grey’s Hill to Christeen and cut you off from us.

General Caesar Rodney was at Noxontown with about 370 Kent County militia. He knew the enemy were moving toward Christiana Creek and wanted to cause them some trouble. He wrote to Washington that he: “kept his light horse, about 17 or 18 in number, out beating up the enemy’s quarters, and gaining what intelligence he could of the enemy’s movements.” Rodney’s men exchanged shots with the enemy around Buck Tavern, alarming the whole camp; but he and the Delaware militia had no part in the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge.

The following morning, Wednesday, September 3, 1777, was cool; but the afternoon was excessively hot, as some American troops were reconnoitering around Aiken’s Tavern. They left before British troops arrived in the area. Maxwell stationed his troops all along the road between Aiken’s Tavern and Cooch’s Bridge. After resting and refitting at Head of Elk for over a week, Howe divided his army into two divisions under Earl Charles Cornwallis and Baron Wilhelm Knyphausen. Howe accompanied Cornwallis’s column, which advanced from Head of Elk and reached Aiken’s Tavern, in what is now Glasgow, DE, about 9:00 AM. Knyphausen division, marching from Cecil County Courthouse, arrived an hour later.

Cornwallis’ division, having arrived earlier, proceeded first on the road north from Aiken’s Tavern toward Cooch’s Bridge and Iron Hill. Just a mile north, the vanguard of German jaegers under Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig Johann Adolph von Wurmb encountered outposts of General Maxwell’s light corps. This ad hoc formation had been thrown together to replace Colonel Daniel Morgan’s valuable riflemen, sent some months earlier to aid Major-General Horatio Gates in New York.

Stationed “at the entrance of a wood,” the Americans commenced an irregular fire on the advancing British that continued for two miles up the road. Captain Johann Ewald of the Hessian jaegers, who had gone ahead with six dragoons to scout the road, “received fire from a hedge, through which these six men were all either killed or wounded.” This continued for some time as the Americans fell back from one position to another. Howe’s aide, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen, “saw several rebels behind trees, firing at our advancing jaegers, then retreating about 20 yards behind the next tree, then firing again.” Wurmb was meanwhile “continuously in front of the jaegers, encouraging them in every way, both by actions and by words.” Finally, the Americans retreated to the area of Cooch’s Bridge. Von Wurmb wrote of this retreat:

I had the corps form on the right and attack. The captain on the right wing found an opportunity to fall upon the enemy’s flank. After the enemy had shot themselves out of ammunition the fight was carried on with the sword, they being finally put to flight. But they immediately made a stand again and we drove them away the second time when they took post beyond Christeen Creek at Cooch’s Bridge. Here the second battalion of light infantry came to our assistance.

Howe ordered a simultaneous advance on both flanks of the enemy. On the American right, the attempt of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Abercromby’s light infantry got entangled in the woods and bogged down, in what was known as “Purgatory Swamp,” advancing no further. On the left, Captain Carl August von Wreden with a body of Hessian grenadiers succeeded in gaining the American flank and “cannonaded [them] with some amusettes and charged with bayonets,” driving the Americans back in disorder. Major John André wrote, “their flight afterwards became so precipitate that great numbers threw down their arms and blankets.” Accounts of casualties vary widely, but probably approached thirty British and sixty Americans. What was intended to be little more than a delaying action had turned into a bloody skirmish. The initial tenacity of the Americans, as well as their propensity to break when pressed with the bayonet, was a portent of things to come.

The Americans retreated to rejoin the main army at White Clay Creek. They were pursued about two miles. The British and Germans then returned to Cooch’s Bridge and Iron Hill.

Washington wrote to Congress, two days after the battle:

We have not been able to ascertain the Enemy’s loss in the late Action by any other way, than by a Woman that came from their Camp yesterday, she says she saw Nine Waggon loads of Wounded. I think this probable because we had about forty killed and wounded, and as our Men were thinly posted they must have done more damage upon a close Body, than they received.” (The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.)

Aftermath

Howe made the following comments about the battle:

The Spirite’d Manner in Which Lt Colo Wormb & the officers & Men yesterday Engaged Defeated the chosen Advance’d Corps of the Enemy, Desires the highest Encomicum’s & Calls for the Genl’s Fullest Acknowledgements.

Washington wrote to Congress:

Upon reconnoitering their situation, it appeared probable that they only meant to amuse us in front, and by suddenly passing the Brandywine, get between us and Philadelphia. To prevent this, it was judged expedient to change our position immediately. The army accordingly marched at two o’clock this morning (September 9), and will take position this evening upon high ground near Chadd’s Ford.

Several eyewitness accounts of the battle of Cooch’s Bridge have survived and appear below:

Lt. Henry Stirke, 10th Regiment of Foot, Light Infantry

Septr 3d This morning about 5 O’Clock The Lt Infantry, Grenadiers, Hessian Chasseurs, Queens Rangers, some battalions of Brittish and Hessians, march’d under the Command of Sr Wm How, to take possession of they Iron Hills. About 8 O’Clock ye Hessian Chasseurs, and 2d Battalion of Light Infantry, attack’d a large party of the Rebels, strongly posted at a bridge, at the foot of the Iron hills ; which after a faint resistance, was carried with very little loss. The Rebels had about 50 kill’d, and Wounded ; The 1st Battalion of Light Infantry endeavouring to turn the left flank of ye Rebels, and cu[t] off their Retreat, was prevented by an Impassable morass, which ye Guide was not acquainted with. At this pass there was 500 Regulars, and 300 militia, under the Commd of Genl Maxwell.

Maryland Historical Journal, 1964

Anonymous British diary

Sepr – – the 3 [1777] Our Army Consisting of the Light Infentry gradiers Conoal [Colonel] Morises Raingers and Heaseans Cheeuars Marched at Day Break and fell in With the Rebels At A Very strong pass at Iron hill and they Soon Retreated of[f] to the Woods Leaving ther dead and Wounded on the ground / they had Sixty kild Which was in the Woods Some days befoare they Were found by Information of Some Disarters / 2d [i.e. two] Light Companys of the 2d. Battalion Advanced three Miles of[f] from the picquett and Returnd the same Night With Oppesion

Transcribed by John Rees and posted to RevWar75.com

Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, Adjutant-General of the Hessian Forces in North America

Tomorrow morning, by five o’clock, camp must be broken and the regiments must be at the front ready to march. The old pickets will have been previously withdrawn. The new pickets of the English regiments will make up the vanguard and take along two of Lieutenant Willson’s 3-pounders; then will follow the English dragoons, except for that one non-commisioned officer and six dragoons who will march at the head of the pickets; then all the quartermasters and officer’s men from the battalions of the 71st Regiment; then the 3rd, (15th, 17th, 42nd, 44th Regiments) and 4th (33rd, 37th, 46th, 64th Regiments) English Infantry Brigades by half companies; then the Hessian Leib Regiment, Mirbach’s Regiment, the combined battalion (the Fusilier Battalion Loos, the remnants of Rall’s Brigade) and half of von Donop’s Regiment, then the baggage (the wagons of the generals first and the rest in the same order as the regiments). The baggage will be followed by the cattle, and the guards assigned to it will keep the drovers in order. The Hessian pickets will patrol along both sides of the baggage and cattle train, keeping particularly close watch on the right, Lieutenant Colonel Heymell (Carl Philipp Heymell) will form the rear with the other half of von Donop’s Regiment, which is to be preceded by Lieutenant Willson’s two remaining 3-pounders. Everyone is warned against setting fire to houses, barns, or other buildings along the line of march. At each building a double post will be left, which is to be relieved by each successive battalion until the rear guard. In addition, one officer and fifteen dragoons will follow the rear guard.

Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, Adjutant-General of the Hessian Forces in North America 1776-1784 (translated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf in Revolution in America: Confidential Lettters and Journals, 1957)

General William Howe

The spirited manner in which Lieutenant Colonel von Wurmb & the officers and men yesterday engaged & defeated the chosen advance corps of the enemy deserves the highest encomiums & calls for the General’s fullest acknowledgements.

Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, Adjutant-General of the Hessian Forces in North America 1776-1784 (translated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf in Revolution in America: Confidential Lettters and Journals, 1957)

Lieutenant Heinrich Carl Philipp von Feilitsch, Ansbach-Bayreuth Jaegers

The 3rd – We marched out of our camp at four o’clock in the morning. At a distance of two and one-half miles we entered Pennsylvania and shortly thereafter encountered and enemy corps of 3,000 men in the region of Wellstreg, or the Fort Euren Kill, or Katschers Mill (Gooch’s Mill). The enemy stood firm. The fire was extremely heavy and lasted about two hours. Only our corps (i.e. the jaegers) was engaged and a few English. The enemy attacked three times. We lost one dead and ten wounded, while the rebels suffered nearly fifty dead and, according to the deserters, very many wounded. We made few prisoners. Our jaegers conducted themselves well and, after the enemy was driven back, we entered camp during the afternoon not far from that place. The affair began at eight o’clock and lasted until ten. The company had two wounded, a corporal and a jaeger.

Lieutenant (later Captain) Heinrich Carl Philipp von Feilitsch (1752-1827)of the Ansbach-Bayreuth jaeger company (translated by Bruce E. Burgoyne in Diaries of Two Ansbach Jaegers, 1998)

Captain John Montresor

…the Country is close – the woods within shot of the road, frequently in front and flank and in projecting points towards the Road…A Continued Smart irregular fire [ensued] for near two miles.

“Journal of Captain John Montresor,” 3 September, 1777, in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 5, ( Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1881 ), 412

Captain Johann Ewald, Jaegers

I…had not gone a hundred paces from the advance guard, when I received fire from a hedge, through which these six men [the dragoons] were all either killed or wounded. My horse, which normally was well used to fire, reared so high several times that I expected it would throw me. I cried out, “Foot jagers forward!” and advanced with them to the area from which the fire was coming…At this moment I ran into another enemy party with which I became heavily engaged. Lieutenant Colonel von Wurmb, who came with the entire Corps assisted by the light infantry, ordered the advance guard to be supported…The charge was sounded, and the enemy was attacked so severely and with such spirit by the jagers that we became masters of the mountain after a seven hour engagement … The majority of the jagers came to close quarters with the enemy, and the hunting sword was used as much as the rifle … The jagers alone enjoyed the honor of driving the enemy out of his advantageous position.

Captain Johann Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, trans. & ed. By Joseph Tustin, ( New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979), 77

Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, 49th Regiment of Foot

…after a hot fire the enemy retreated towards their main body, by Iron Hill. They made a stand at the Bridge for some time, but the pursuing Corps made them quit that post also, and retire with loss.

“Before and After the Battle of Brandywine: Extracts from the Journal of Sergeant Thomas Sullivan of H.M. Forty-Ninth Regiment of Foot”, 3 September, 1777 in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 31, ( Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1907), 410

General George Washington

September 3: “This morning the Enemy came out with considerable force and three pieces of Artillery, against our Light advanced Corps, and after some pretty smart skirmishing obliged them to retreat, being far inferior to them in number and without Cannon. The loss on either side is not yet ascertain’d. Ours, tho’ not exactly known is not very considerable; Their’s, we have reason to believe, was much greater, as some of our parties composed of expert Marksmen, had opportunities of giving them several close, well directed Fires, more particularly in one instance, when a body of Riflemen formed a kind of Ambuscade.They advanced about two Miles this side of Iron Hill, and then withdrew to that place, leaving a Picket at Couch’s Mill about a Mile in front. Our parties now lie at White Clay Creek, except the advanced Pickets, which are at Christiana Bridge.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off. [1931-44] September 3, 1777

William Walker, 4th Virginia Regiment

But passing over many interesting circumstances, from the above time to the latter part of August 1777, went on our march to meet the enemy in the State of Virginia as we supposed we were met immediately after passing Chester with an express that the enemy was landing at the head of Elk [River]. At this place 8 hundred men chiefly volunteers called the detached light infantry I being among them the following are the names of the field officers commanding this party, Rich. Parker [Lt. Colonel Richard Parker, 2d Virginia Regiment] , Colonel Heath [probably Willam Heath] with a glass eye Colonel Crawford [perhaps William Crawford] with his leather hunting shirt, pantaloons and Rifle, Colonel Martin [perhaps Alexander Martin] from North Carolina, General [William] Maxwell being the commander we marched to a place called Iron Hill where we remained until the 2nd of September, the enemy being as yet stationary when a very bloody conflict ensued. As no historian has noticed this I refer you to Washington’s Official letters. For myself I can say that this detachment on that day deserved well of their country.

Pension application of William Walker

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