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.


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”

“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”


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


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)


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)


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)


“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”

“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

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.)


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

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


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

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.”

Third Virginia Convention: July 17, 1775

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2d Virginia Regiment Light Company, July 1779

2d Virginia Regiment's Light Company, Stony Point, 1779 Artwork by Don Troiani,

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


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