During August 1775, the Third Virginia Convention replaced the Volunteer Militia Companies, authorized in March 1775 by the Second Virginia Convention, with a new more robust defensive military structure. This new structure included two regular regiments recruited for one year of service, the 1st and 2nd Virginia Regiments, made up of fifteen, sixty-eight-man companies, one from each of the sixteen districts, minus the Accomack District. Each district was also responsible for recruiting volunteer minute battalions of ten, fifty-man companies, as well as organizing more traditional militia companies composed of thirty-two to sixty-eight men, ages sixteen to fifty. The Culpeper District, comprised of the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier and Orange, responded quickly, organizing their minute battalionand sending available companies to Williamsburg. Ultimately, five Culpeper companies joined Col. William Woodford’s six regular companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment to form a task force. This was the nucleus of the force that fought the Battle of Great Bridge and contributed to the liberation of Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties from British governance.
Col. William Woodford served as the task force commander of the hastily organized and trained eleven-company task-organized battalion that fought the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775. The six companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment and five companies of the Culpeper Minute Battalion fielded a headquarters and eleven companies totaling 717 officers and men at Great Bridge. During this engagement the 2nd Virginia Regiment companies averaged sixty-nine officers and men, and the Culpeper Minute Battalion companies fifty-six officers and men. Woodford’s field-grade leaders included some capable officers from the 2nd Regiment, Lt. Col. Charles Scott and Maj. Alexander Spotswood, and from the Culpeper Battalion, Lt Col. Edward Stevens and Maj. Thomas Marshall.
The eleven company commanders were highly capable and talented individuals. All these men collectively played important roles serving the Patriot cause during 1775-76 and all continued their service during the war. Three of these men reached the rank of colonel and five were promoted to lieutenant colonel, two serving as aides-de-camp to Gen. George Washington. Four of these men gave their lives in service to the nation, two in combat, one as a prisoner of war and one of disease. Unlike regular field-grade officers who were appointed by vote of the Virginia Convention, these men were selected by the district and county committees where they formed their units.
Companies of the Second Virginia Regiment
The initial 2nd Virginia Regiment structure included seven companies, but only six arrived at Williamsburg in time to participate at Great Bridge. The seventh company, formed in the Berkley District, Frederick County, under the command of Capt. Morgan Alexander, reinforced elements of the 1st Virginia Regiment, performing security operations on the Virginia Peninsula. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. Gorge Jump, Marquise Calmes and Ens. John Holder, are dated November 27, 1775. Capt. Alexander’s company was one of two of the regiment’s companies armed with rifles; the remainder were armed with muskets.
Capt. William Fontaine of Amherst County formed his rifle company in the Buckingham District including Buckingham, Amherst, Albemarle and East Augusta Counties. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. John Marks, Thomas Hughes and Ens. William Robinson, were dated October 21, 1775. His company arrived in Williamsburg about November 10-11, 1775. He continued his service in the 2nd Virginia Regiment through March 1776, later serving as a lieutenant colonel of the Saratoga Convention prisoner guard from June 1779 to June 1781. He died in 1810.
Capt. George Nicholas of Williamsburg (1754-1799) formed his company in the Elizabeth City District, with men from Charles City, Elizabeth City, James City, New Kent, Warwick, and York Counties and the City of Williamsburg. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. Beverley Dickenson, Thomas Russell and Ens. Merrit Moore, were dated October 3, 1775. His company was one of the first to muster in Williamsburg on October 3 because of the proximity of Williamsburg to the men’s homes. He previously commanded one of fourteen independent companies in Williamsburg during July 1775. Nicholas went on to serve as a major in the 10th Virginia and lieutenant colonel in the 11th Virginia before resigning in November 1777. Nicholas was the son of the of the politically influential Robert Carter Nicholas.
Capt. George Johnston (1750-1777) of Loudoun County formed his company in the District of Prince William including Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. Thomas Tibbs, William Sanford and Ens. Peyton Harrison, were dated September 21, 1775. Johnston’s company was also an early arriver at Williamsburg mustering on October 2. Johnston continued to serve as a major in the 5th Virginia Regiment; he observed and commented on Washington’s bravery at Trenton. His professionalism and a recommendation from his brother-in-law, Robert Hanson Harrison, another of Washington’s aides, resulted in assignment as one of General Washington’s aides-de-camp. He served in this a role between January and late spring 1777 when he died of camp fever. Before the war, Johnston’s father, George Johnston Sr., was a fellow member of the House of Burgesses, a lawyer, associate and friend of George Washington.
Capt. Richard K. Meade (1746-1805) of Prince George County formed his company in the Southampton District including the counties of Southampton, Brunswick, Dinwiddie, Prince George, Surry, and Sussex. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. Edward Travis, Bullar Claiborne and Ens. John Nicholas, were dated October 24, 1775. He arrived in Williamsburg with his men on November 10-11. He previously commanded one of fourteen independent companies in Williamsburg during July 1775. A detachment of Meade’s Company, led by Lt. Edward Travis, occupied the Patriot earthworks at the south end of the Great Bridge causeway on the morning of December 9, 1775 and were some of the first men to greet the advancing British regulars with devastating fire.
Meade served as the lieutenant colonel of the 14th Virginia Regiment and his professionalism brought him to the attention of George Washington. He began service as one of Washington’s aides-de-camp on March 12, 1777. Meade took leave from Washington’s family after Benedict Arnold’s defection, where he played a significant role in coordaining the execution of John André, a task he detested. Meade returned to Virginia to remarry. The invasion of Virginia by Benedict Arnold, William Phillips, and Lord Charles Cornwallis caused him to remain in Virginia where he actively participated with General von Steuben in defending the state. After the war he was a successful farmer and remained friends with George Washington.
Capt. Richard Parker hailed from Westmorland County and formed his company in the District of Lancaster including Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmorland Counties. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. Catesby Jones, John Monroe and Ens. Alexander Parker, were dated September 28, 1775. His company arrived at Williamsburg during the week of October 7-12, 1775. Parker’s performance earned him the job of brigade major on December 14, 1775, basically a modern-day operations officer, to coordinate the activities of multiple units in the growing task force. Parker would continue in service, advancing to major in the 6th Virginia in 1776, lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Virginia in 1777 and colonel of the 10th Virginia Regiment in 1778. He died of wounds received during the siege of Charleston in 1780.
Capt. William Taliaferro (multiple spellings) of Caroline County formed his company in the Caroline District including the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. His commission and those of his officers, Lts. John Willis, Seymore Hooe and Ens. Benjamin Holmes, were dated September 29, 1775. His company arrived in Williamsburg during the week of October 7-13. Taliaferro continued his service as a major in the 8th Virginia in 1776 and lieutenant colonel of the 4th Virginia Regiment 1777. He was taken prisoner on September 11, 1777 at the Battle of Brandywine and died in February 1778.
Companies of the Culpeper Minute Battalion
The Culpeper Minute Battalion was the only battalion of the sixteen districts that actually fielded a combat capable volunteer force of multiple companies, with a battalion headquarters, on short notice. This provides a unique distinction to the officers and men of the Culpeper Battalion. While other minute battalions supported the 1775-76 campaign to liberate Virginia, the Culpeper Minute Battalion responded quickly and efficiently in a moment of critical need. The majority of the battalion arrived in Williamsburg on October 22, 1775 and consisted of primarily riflemen. The five companies that crossed the James River included dedicated Patriots.
Capt. Abraham Buford (1747-1833) formed his company in Culpeper County. The majority of the men who served with Buford were from his home county. Buford’s company was involved in at least one raid on British and Loyalist forces during the Great Bridge campaign. Buford continued to serve and is best known for his defeat at the Waxhaw Massacre in 1780, at the hands of Banastre Tarleton, while in command of the 3rd Virginia Detachment, during the attempted relief of Charleston. He continued to serve as a colonel through the end of the revolution and died in Kentucky in 1833. From a military family, his grandnephew, Union Army, Brig. Gen. John Buford, is best known for his delaying action on 1 July, 1863, allowing the Army of the Potomac to secure the critical high ground at Gettysburg.
Capt. John Jameson (1751-1810) also formed his company in Culpeper County. His officers included Lt. Gabriel Long and Ens. David Jameson. Jameson continued his service throughout the revolution, attaining the rank of colonel. Col. John Jameson is the officer who exposed the treachery of Benedict Arnold in October 1780 while serving in the Hudson River Valley. Jameson decided to forward to Washington the papers John André had hidden in his boot when he was apprehended. However, Jameson also alerted Arnold and that allowed Arnold to escape; at the time Jameson did not suspect Arnold’s involvement in the plot to hand West Point to the British and trusted him. Had he been as good a judge of character as John Brown, he may have prevented Arnold’s escape to the British. John Jameson’s uncle, David Jameson, was the lieutenant governor of Virginia, serving with Thomas Nelson Jr. during the British occupation of Virginia in 1781.
Capt. William Pickett hailed from Fauquier County where he formed his company. He is likely the same William Pickett with militia service as a major during 1777-78. A detachment of Pickett’s company manned the Patriot breastworks at Great Bridge on the flank of the British assault element on the morning on December 9, 1775. This position provided for devastating flanking fire on the attacking British column by the Culpeper riflemen. Pickett’s lieutenant during the Great Bridge campaign was the future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall.
Capt. John Chilton (1739-1777) also formed his company in Fauquier County, one of four-minute companies from the county. His lieutenant was Jonathan Keith. Keith may have ascended to command the company because, shortly after the Battle of Great Bridge, Chilton returned home after receiving the devastating news of the death of his wife. In the spring of 1776 Chilton continued his service as a captain in the 3rd Virginia Regiment, under the command of Col. Thomas Marshall, who he served with as the major of the Culpeper Battalion at Great Bridge. He was one of the oldest company commanders in the Continental Army and stated in a letter home he was known by “Old Chilton.” He was killed in action at Brandywine on September 11, 1777 in the ferocious action on the north flank of the Patriot defense at Battle Hill where the regiment lost 50 percent of the men engaged.
Capt. Joseph Spencer and his company hailed from Orange County. Like the others in the battalion, he continued serving the Culpeper Minute Battalion through the spring of 1776. He then received a commission as a captain in the 7th Virginia Regiment, later resigning in November 1777. He was recommissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia in June 1780, captured at Camden in August 1780, exchanged in May 1781, and on parole through the end of the war. Spencer was living in Pendleton County, Kentucky when he applied for a pension in 1818. He died in 1829.
Only three days after Col. William Woodford’s task force drove British regulars of the 14th Regiment of Foot and Loyalist militia from the north end of the Great Bridge, he received numerous reinforcements from North Carolina and Virginia. This doubled the number of companies available for employment, altering the makeup of the task force and its commander. The actions of the task force ultimately led to the successful occupation and destruction of the City of Norfolk to prevent its use as a British and Loyalist base of operations. During December 1775, Virginia also authorized the expansion of the regular military force structure to nine regiments, overshadowing the importance and accomplishments of these initial companies.
It is appropriate to recognize the names and accomplishments of the eleven company commanders who responded quickly by recruiting men across Virginia, training and deploying their units in the first major engagement of the American Revolution on Virginia soil. In just a few weeks these eleven company commanders personally recruited, fielded, trained and led a military force into combat, capable of defeating elements of a seasoned British regiment. The powerful words of Captain Meade describe the scene on the morning of December 9, 1775, and what a few disciplined Patriots accomplished in only minutes:
in short, the like is not to be equall’d in history; they fought, bled, and died, like Englishmen, . . . The scene, when the dead and wounded were bro’t off, was too much; I then saw the horrors of war in perfection, worse than can be imagin’d; 10 and 12 bullets thro’ many; limbs broke in 2 or 3 places; brains turning out. Good God, what a sight! What will satisfy the governor? You know my feelings; and my determination really is now fixed. I’ll see this present matter at an end, or die.”
These determined company commanders were responsible for the defense of the last few yards of the battlefield, close combat, or to close with and destroy the enemy; they inflicted 50 percent casualties on the assault force of British regulars and broke the will of the Loyalist militia. These company commanders fielded and led the men who made up Virginia’s and William Woodford’s composited battalion or task force that set the initial military conditions to liberate Virginia and ultimately the United States from British colonial rule.
The sixteen districts were each made up of two to six counties and named for a lead county. Fifteen of these districts were located west of the Chesapeake Bay with the sixteenth, Accomack, made up of Accomack and Northampton Counties on Virginia’s eastern shore, an independent command because of its location. The Accomack District retained all forces, including their regular company, on the eastern shore, explaining why there were only fifteen regular companies available to build the two regular Virginia regiments. Journals of the Convention, August 1775, Ordinances29-37, www.google.com/books/edition/_/bQEtAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=%22Ordinance%20for%20raising%20and%22; Brent Tarter, “The Orderly Book of the Second Virginia Regiment: September 27, 1775-April 15, 1776,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 85, 2 (April 1977), continued in 85, 3 (July 1977), 302 n78; Robert L. Scribner and Brent Tarter, eds., Revolutionary Virginia, the Road to Independence (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978), 4:53n4. There were elements of other minute and militia units at Great Bridge, including North Carolina units, however, the companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment and Culpeper Battalion formed the primary combat capable forces.
Woodford’s December 10, 1775 personnel report lists the 2nd Virginia Regiment, 430; Culpeper Battalion, 287; Carolina Forces, 180. Other Virginia militia units were not accounted for by Woodford and included small numbers identified only by pension statements and other research. Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 5:101.
William Woodford advanced to brigadier general in 1777, was wounded in action at Brandywine, September 11, 1777, made prisoner of war at Charleston, May 1780, and died in British captivity, November 1780. Francis Bernard Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington: The Rare Book Shop Publishing Co. Inc., 1914), 604. Charles Scott would become a brevet major general and prisoner of war at Charleston; post war he served as governor of Kentucky and lead the volunteer Kentucky militia at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 alongside Anthony Wayne and the Legion Army, opening the Northwest territory to settlement. Ibid., 485. Maj. Alexander Spotswood would advance to colonel before resigning in 1777. Ibid., 512. Edward Stevens would advance to colonel before resigning in 1778, served as major general of Virginia Militia, was wounded in action at Guilford Courthouse, March 1781, and led a militia brigade at Yorktown. Ibid., 519. Thomas Marshall advanced to colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, and his unit suffered 50 percent casualties at Brandywine. Michael Harris, Brandywine(El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beattie, 2014), 302. Heitman states he resigned in December 1777, but he apparently continued to serve, became a prisoner of war at Charleston, was paroled and continued public service after the war in both Virginia and Kentucky. Heitman, Historical Register, 381. His son John Marshall became the longest serving Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
The Virginia Committee of Safety selected William Woodford to lead this eleven-company task force south of the James River to liberate Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties from control and governance by the royal governor Lord Dunmore. The Committee selected Woodford over Patrick Henry, Virginia’s commander in chief and commander of the 1st Virginia Regiment because of Woodford’s previous combat experience. In addition to the field-grade officers named above, the Committee sent Lt. Col. Thomas Bullitt, Virginia’s adjutant general, who served as Woodford’s engineer. Woodford received the instructions on October 24, 1775 but the attempted British amphibious assault on Hampton and later arrival of several companies delayed the movement of Woodford’s task force south the James River, with initial forces crossing on November 7. Because of British naval patrols, the last three companies of Woodford’s task force did not cross to the south bank of the James River until November 19. After crossing the James, the difficult land route from Williamsburg to Norfolk covered ninety miles and required controlling critical points, most notably the causeway at Great Bridge. Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 4:270-1, 274n7-14, 414, 418n3, 419n13; ibid., 53n4; Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, II, July 18, 1775 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1905), 187-190.
Morgan Alexander’s company arrived at Williamsburg during the third week of December 1775. Alexander continued to serve, eventually as a major in the 8th Virginia Regiment, resigning in December 1777, later serving as a Virginia militia colonel; he passed away in 1783. Southern Campaigns, Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters, B53 & 143, revwarapps.org/#rostersand VAS2203 Morgan Alexander, revwarapps.org/VAS2203.pdf; Heitman, Historical Register, 66; E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra, A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774-1787, (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1978), 35, 36, 55; Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 171n46.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 171n47, 302; Pension Application, W5863 James Bowling, revwarapps.org/w5863.pdf & Rosters B53 & 143; Heitman, Historical Register, 231.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 162n13, 302; Heitman, Historical Register, 413; Pension Application of David Jameson S5607, revwarapps.org/s5607.pdf and Rosters B53, B143,
Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 3:322, 325n19, 4:249.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 162n15, 169n38, 302; Heitman, Historical Register, 322; Pension Application of David Jameson S5607, revwarapps.org/s5607.pdf and Rosters B53, B143; Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 3;171-2; “General Orders, 20 January 1777,” founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-08-02-0118; George Washington to Robert Hanson Harrison, January 9, 1777, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-08-02-0026; Arthur S. Lefkowitz, George Washington’s Indispensable Men: The 32 Aides-de-Camp Who Helped him Win American Independence (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003), 35, 90, 103-4.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 171n49, 302; Heitman, Historical Register, 387; Richmond College History Papers, 127,archive.org/details/richmondcollege00richgoog/page/n130/mode/2up; Mount Vernon Library, www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/richard-kidder-meade/; CharlesCampbell, ed., The Bland Papers: being a selection from the manuscripts of Colonel Theodorick Bland, Jr.; to which are prefixed an introduction, and a memoir of Colonel Bland (Petersburg, VA: E & J. Ruffin, 1840), 1:38-39, archive.org/details/blandpapersbeing12blan; Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 3:106, 322, 325n19; Southern Campaigns, Rosters, B53, B143.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 171n48, 302; Heitman, Historical Register, 426; “Officers in the Virginia Continental Line,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 2, 3 (January 1895), 241-258; Heitman, Historical Register, 414; Pension Application of David Jameson S5607, revwarapps.org/s5607.pdf and Rosters, B53 & B143;
Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 4:51, 53n4;Richmond College History Papers, 127, archive.org/details/richmondcollege00richgoog/page/n130/mode/2up.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 169n39, 302; Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 4:99, 249; Heitman, Historical Register, 531; Richmond College History Papers, 119, archive.org/details/richmondcollege00richgoog/page/n122/mode/2up; Rosters, B53, B143.
The Culpeper Battalion reorganized after arriving at Williamsburg; it is possible ten or more of the fourteen companies known to have formed in 1775 actually arrived in Williamsburg. The reorganization involved retaining the five companies that crossed the James River led by two of the battalion’s three field-grade officers. The battalion colonel, Lawrence Taliaferro, returned home with the companies and men who did not have sufficient arms and supplies for combat. This reorganization involved equipment and personnel redistributions. In one case, a father sent his son home to return to school. Pension Application of David Jameson S5607, revwarapps.org/s5607.pdf; Pension Application, W29886 Philip Slaughter, revwarapps.org/w29886.pdf; John S. Carter, “The Slaughter Family,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 22, 2, (April 1914), 208-211. The Committee authorized Woodford to employ the Princess Anne District Minute Battalion, but after the defeat at Kemp’s Landing in mid-November with the loss of senior battalion-level leaders cohesion suffered. This resulted in employment of the unit by company and smaller detachment-sized elements. The Committee ordered two other districts to send minute detachments to reinforce Woodford’s task force. The Southampton District sent a detachment, 180 officers and men, from multiple counties, under command of Maj. John Ruffin that arrived in Norfolk on December 24, 1775. The Amelia District sent a smaller two-company detachment that arrived in Norfolk about January 3, 1776. Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 5:224n39, 242, 244n9, 330, 368-9; Sanchez-Saavedra, Guide, 16, 22-3; Scribner & Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia, 3:307-8n5, 480-1n4, 305, 307n5, 313, 370, 405n1, 407n1 and n4, 436n21, 449n6 and n8, 449-50n10, 494n11; Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 320n112, 306-7n87.
Heitman, Historical Register, 317; National Constitution Center, Interactive Constitution, “From hero to traitor: Benedict Arnold’s day of infamy,” constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/blog/from-hero-to-traitor-benedict-arnolds-day-of-infamy.
Pension Application R6965 Benjamin Martin, revwarapps.org/r6965.pdf; Heitman, Historical Register, 381; Pension Application, W4249 Henry Jones, revwarapps.org/w4249.pdf; Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 302.
Heitman, Historical Register, 154; Bounty Land Warrant Application, BLWt519-300 John Chilton, revwarapps.org/blwt519-300.pdf; Pension Application, W9358 David Blackwell, revwarapps.org/w9358.pdf; Michael Cecere, They Behaved Like Soldiers: Captain John Chilton and the Third Virginia Regiment, 1775-1778 (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2004), 7, 103, 111; Harris, Brandywine, 302; Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 308. Chilton’s name appears in the orderly book through December 11, 1775, Lieutenant Keith’s name does not appear in the orderly book.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 302, Pension Application S37436, Joseph Spencer, revwarapps.org/s37436.pdf; Heitman, Historical Register, 511.
Tarter, “Orderly Book,” 306-7n87, 308n88. Col. Robert Howe, commander of the 2nd North Carolina Regiment, arrived on December 12, 1775 with over 400 men, and because he held a continental commission was senior to Woodford and assumed command of the task force on December 15. Woodford remained in command of the Virginia forces, but in practice, subordinate to Howe, who exercised command of the reinforced task force through March 1776. William Waller Henning, Statutes at Large Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia (Richmond: Samuel Pleasants Jr., 1809), 9, 9-35, 75-92.
The contemporary mission of the infantry has not changed since the American Revolution. The mission, “is to close with the enemy using fire and movement to destroy or capture enemy forces, or to repel enemy attacks by fire, close combat, and counterattack to control land areas.” U.S. Army, TRADOC, Infantry Battalion, ATP 3-21.20 (Army Publishing Directorate, 12/28/2017), 1-13, armypubs.army.mil/ProductMaps/PubForm/Details.aspx?PUB_ID=1003799.