The Eastern Shore Battalion: The Story of the 9th Virginia Regiment

Walnut Street Jail, Philadelphia, c. 1789 (Library of Congress)

In July 1775, the Third Virginia Convention passed an ordinance to create two regiments of regulars and fifteen battalion for minute service. The counties of Accomack and Northampton constituted one district and was referred to as Accomack District Minute Battalion.[1] In Accomack County, there was plenty of support for service in the militia, but very few were willing to join the minute service. The same issue was found in Northampton. Both counites raised only one company each for the minute service. In response to this, the Third Virginia Convention amended the July 1775 Ordinance and disbanded the minute companies. Additional reinforcements from Maryland were sent to help guard the coastline while the Convention authorized the raising of a regiment of regulars to be garrison the Eastern Shore. Designated as the 9th Virginia, it was sometimes referred to early in the war as the Eastern Shore Regiment due to its station and the number of recruits from that region.[2] While the other eight regiments being raised for continental service in Virginia were raised with ten companies, the 9th Virginia was originally raised with only seven companies. Four of them were recruited from the Eastern Shore, while the other three were raised from the mainland of Virginia. Thomas Fleming of Goochland County, a veteran of the French and Indian War and wealthy landowner, was commissioned the first colonel of the regiment, with George Mathews as lieutenant colonel, and Matthew Donovan was appointed major, though he died after only a month in service.[3]

In June 1776, the Continental Congress accepted the 9th Virginia into continental service and three more companies were added to place it at full strength of ten companies. Seven of the ten companies came from the Eastern Shore, recruited between Accomack and Northampton Counties. Captains John Cropper, Levin Joynes, Thomas Snead, George Gilchrist, Thomas Parramore, and John Poulson commanded the companies from Accomack County, while Capt. Thomas Davis raised his company from Northampton County. The other three companies were recruited from the mainland of Virginia. Capt. Thomas Walker brought his company of riflemen from Albemarle County, while Capt. Samuel Woodson brought his company from Goochland County, and Capt. John Hays and his riflemen came from Gloucester County.

Unlike the recruitment for the minute service, recruiters for the 9th Virginia had no problem recruiting for continental service. Like many units, the 9th Virginia saw family members joining together. David and James Ashby left their homes in Accomack County to serve together in Captain Davis’s Company.[4] The three Elliott brothers, William, Teackle, and John, all enlisted in Captain Poulson’s Company. Captain Walker’s riflemen had Charles, James, and John Goolsby in the ranks together.[5]

By the fall of 1776, the 9th Virginia Regiment had over 700 names on its muster roll. Its early service consisted of guarding towns along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay and suppressing any disturbances from local Tories. In July 1776, Colonel Fleming marched 120 soldiers from the 9th Virginia (approximately two companies) to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to suppress a Tory uprising there.[6] In December 1776, Congress ordered the 9th Virginia to report to Philadelphia. Colonel Fleming marched his regiment, now clad in new brown regimental coats with red facings, out of Virginia and northward to defend the capital city. For many who marched out of Accomack County into Maryland, this was their last time seeing their homeland.

By early September 1777, the 9th Virginia had covered hundreds of miles over five different states and fought in several small engagements against British forces. Colonel Fleming had died of smallpox in January 1777 and was replaced by George Mathews. Mathews had gained fame for his flanking maneuver against the Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 and had come from Augusta County to serve in the regiment. John Sayres was transferred from the 4th Virginia Regiment to serve as lieutenant colonel, and Capt. Levin Joynes had been promoted to major.[7] Disease had taken scores of men in the winter of 1777, and most of the men from Captains Walker’s and Hays’ Companies were taken and placed in Morgan’s Rifle Corps.[8]  This further reduced the number of companies in the regiment to eight, and with disease and other men detached to serve in Gen. William Maxwell’s light infantry in September 1777, the regiment reported 224 officers and men present with the regiment.[9]

The 9th Virginia were placed under the command of Brig, Gen, Peter Muhlenberg, alongside the 1st, 5th, and 13th Virginia Regiments, as well as the 8th Maryland (also referred to as the German Battalion). They, like the other Virginians in Washington’s Army, became known for their conduct and energy in the service, and the Virginians were seen as some of the best in the Army after consisting of much of the fighting force during the Foraging War and in other engagements in New Jersey in 1777.[10] The 9th Virginia had become known for its spirit in the field, but also for some of its enlisted men’s argumentative nature. Pvt. John Lowery of Captain Hays’ Company was charged in June 1777 for “damning the General and his orders” and received thirty-nine lashes for the charge.[11] Pvt. Levi Bloxom of Captain Poulson’s Company was charged about two weeks later with “insolence to, and threatening to shoot Ensign Robbins of the same regiment.” He was found guilty and also received thirty-nine lashes.[12] Both of these men, as well as the others in the regiment, were later engaged in the Philadelphia campaign of 1777.

Muhlenberg and his brigade were engaged in the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, but records of their involvement are scarce. They were rushed into the latter part of the battle alongside Gen. George Weedon’s 2nd Virginia Brigade, and while some accounts claim it was only Weedon’s brigade that took part in the rearguard to save the army, there is no evidence to say that Muhlenberg and his men remained near Chadd’s Ford where they had been stationed most of the day. In addition, at least six men from the regiment were killed or wounded in the battle, including Capt. John Blair who had taken command of Captain Joynes’ old company. This indicates that the 9th Virginia, alongside the rest of the brigade, had been in the action but may not have been as heavily engaged as Weedon’s men. Regardless of the details, all the Virginia regiments had been engaged that day, and their conduct prompted Richard Henry Lee to claim that “the Virginia troops have gained for themselves immortal honor.”[13] The men of the 9th Virginia were destined to show their prowess and eagerness to fight only three weeks later.

After the defeat at Brandywine and the capture of Philadelphia, Washington devised a bold plan to reverse the tide of the war. He planned a surprise attack, much like he had done at Trenton just ten months before, but this time, he had over 11,000 men, nearly six times as many men he had to attack Trenton. Bolstered by the success of the Northern Army near Saratoga around the same time, Washington challenged his men to not let themselves be “out done by their northern Brethren.”[14] Each soldier was ordered to prepare three days’ rations and given forty rounds with good flints. The 9th Virginia marched as part of Gen. Nathanael Greene’s wing and formed part of the attack on the British right flank. The division was now commanded by General Muhlenberg, and Col. William Russell of the 13th Virginia assumed command of Muhlenberg’s Brigade. All the Virginia regiments were also part of Greene’s force, split between Muhlenberg’s division and the division of Maj. Gen. Adam Stephen. With full cartridge boxes, no knapsacks (they were ordered to leave them in camp), and white slips of paper in their hats, the 9th Virginia (now consisting of around 200 men) marched from camp with the rest of General Greene’s command around 6 p.m. on October 3, and were on the march till nearly 5 a.m. on October 4. Greene’s column fell behind the rest of the army, and Greene began his attack forty minutes after Gen. John Sullivan had begun his attack on the British camp.

While there has been much research and many articles and books written on the Battle of Germantown and the confusion of the foggy morning, nearly all can agree that the Virginians under Muhlenberg, alongside Gen. Alexander McDougall’s Connecticut brigade, pushed the furthest of any American unit and saw the most success over the whole day. While most of General Stephens’ division shifted toward the fighting around the Cliveden House, Muhlenberg’s men, including the 9th Virginia, drove back the British 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. The British 4th Regiment of Foot advanced toward the Virginians and from behind fence rails along Church Lane, the Virginians ambushed them. A British officer recalled that Greene’s men “threw in a most severe fire upon the 4th Regt . . . which knocked down almost the whole of their right wing.”[15] As the British 4th Regiment was driven toward Germantown, the Virginians advanced close behind, but the 9th Virginia pushed further than the other Virginia regiments, advancing as far as the market house in Germantown itself. The charge that day earned the regiment the nickname “the brave and rash 9th.”[16] The advance of the 9th Virginia also passed by the British 1st Battalion of Light Infantry and forced them to withdraw.

The charge of the 9th Virginia, though often noted, has been clouded with confusion. While some accounts claim that Colonel Mathews ordered the attack, there is also evidence that he was ordered to the attack by General Stephens. During the advance into the British camp, Stephens rode up to the 9th Virginia, who he described as “advancing with spirit.” He ordered them to charge at a body of British troops in his front.[17] This was an issue as the 9th Virginia was not even in General Stephens’ division, meaning General Stephens had abandoned his own command in the battle. In the advance, Colonel Mathews and his regiment were joined by other Virginians. Colonel Mathews’ conduct and the confusion of the early morning fog, a large portion of the 6th Virginia of Weedon’s 2nd Virginia Brigade charged forth with them, led by Maj. Oliver Towles. The two Virginia regiments made it all the way to the market house inside Germantown and halted their advance, and in the attack took nearly 100 prisoners.[18]

After the fierce fighting around Cliveden had ended and General Sullivan’s and Wayne’s men had been driven off, the British units shifted to their right and focused their attack on General Greene’s men. Slowly the Virginia and Connecticut troops were driven off and attempted to fight a rearguard action but were overwhelmed by superior numbers. Colonel Mathews and his men of the 9th Virginia remained near Market Square to guard prisoners and some of the men were pillaging the British camps for food. Followed again by Major Towles’ 6th Virginia, they fell back toward Kelly’s Hill and rallied to make a stand. In the fog and the smoke of battle, the Virginians didn’t realize they were left unsupported with the rest of Muhlenberg’s division falling further back. In their retreat, the Virginians lost nearly all their prisoners and the wagons that had been captured earlier.[19] In their new position, the Virginians under Mathews and Towles were attacked by the reorganized British regiments led by Maj. Gen. James Grant. The Virginians were further outflanked by the British 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. The Virginians turned to fight the light infantrymen who charged upon them and pushed them into the British camps. The British troops found that the Virginians had been ransacking their camp and this only enraged the British more. The overpowered Virginians tried to fight their way out with the bayonet and ran as fast as they could to escape the trap. Those who didn’t run were bayoneted by the advancing enemy.[20]

Market Place, now Market Square, Germantown, PA, c. 1905 (Library of Congress)

While the light infantry pressed the Virginians on the left and rear, the 49th Regiment of Foot struck the 9th Virginia on their right, freeing the British prisoners and capturing sixty-three Virginians that had thrown down their arms.[21] The remainder of the Virginians were surrounded and fought on with Colonel Mathews on a spot now known as Kelly Hill. Accomack County native Robert Russell witnessed the death of his comrade Elijah Hickman as he stood next to him, while Russell himself was wounded in the groin.[22] Cpl. William Raleigh of Captain Morris’s Company fell wounded in the ankle and was captured. Pvt. Thomas B. Taylor of Captain Gilchrist’s Company was wounded by two musket balls in his leg.[23] Pvt. Levi Bloxom, who had threatened to shoot an officer four months before, was killed in the fighting. Lt. Samuel Waples recollected that Colonel Matthews was “so severely wounded with the bayonets, and Lieutenant Colonel John Seares killed. Major Scott who had his arm broken was with us and many others wounded and in short, it was a seane of carnage.”[24] Surrounded and with much of the regiment already killed or wounded, the last of the 9th Virginia was captured.

Maj. Gen. John Sullivan wrote that the regiment had about one hundred men who were captured.[25] The pay rolls of the 9th Virginia taken after Germantown indicate that 185 officers and men were killed, wounded, or captured at Germantown. Included in the captured was Cpl. Micajah Clark of Captain Woodson’s Company who had attempted to escape capture by hiding under a barn. This may have worked if a British soldier had not pulled up the plank above Clark. Upon discovery, the soldier told Clark to “come out damned Rebel” and Clark became a prisoner of war.[26] The Goolsby brothers of Albemarle County were both captured as well.  Those who could march were taken to a church near the market house in Germantown, where young boys in the town came out to see the “battalion of tall Virginians.”[27] One witness remarked that the “faces of the prisoners and their guards were well blackened about their mouths with gunpowder, in biting off their cartridges.”[28] The prisoners spent the night at the church and were marched the next day to Philadelphia.

The officers and men were imprisoned at two places in Philadelphia. The officers, such as Lieutenant Waples, were taken to the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) and remained there during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Some officers and all the men of the 9th Virginia, joined by other American prisoners taken at Germantown, were taken the Walnut Street Jail, which the veterans of the 9th Virginia referred to often as the “Philadelphia new Jail.” Opened in January 1776, it had been used by the Continental Congress to house British and Hessian prisoners of war.[29] The Jail was converted to hold American rebels after the British occupied the city in the fall of 1777. At either location, the officers and men suffered under harsh conditions, but the Walnut Street Jail was infamous for the treatment of American prisoners. The commanding officer of the Jail, Capt. William Cunningham, would take the food women brought for the prisoners and toss it onto the floor to watch the prisoners fight over the scraps. Those men who got outside to the prison yard ate grass and roots, and caught rats for food. In the winter, the men were not given blankets and they suffered from exposure. The prisoners were whipped and received very little medical treatment. Those who died in the jail were dragged outside and buried in a ditch. The Goolsby brothers, Benjamin Taylor, and other men of the regiment died alongside around 275 other Americans at the Walnut Street Jail. At least sixteen men of the 9th Virginia preferred to enlist in Loyalist regiments rather than remain prisoners of war.[30]

Some found their way back to the American lines after being prisoners for some time. Lt. Samuel Waples had spent three days without food at the Walnut Street Jail before he was moved with other officers to the Pennsylvania State House. After suffering for two months with no fuel for fire and scanty rations, Waples escaped in late December 1777 disguised as a civilian and rejoined the Americans at Valley Forge three days later.[31] He was furloughed to go home to Accomack County for three months. Cpl. Micajah Clark tried to escape the jail by dressing as a woman with a dress brought in by other women visiting the jail. This failed when the guards realized that one more woman exited the jail than had entered. He was exchanged eight months later.[32] Those who survived the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail remained there for about eight months. When the British evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778, 135 American prisoners were exchanged for British prisoners. Many survivors of the 9th Virginia were amongst the exchanged soldiers. The official exchange, ironically, took place in Germantown.[33] Those who were exchanged either reenlisted or were discharged, for their two years’ enlistment had run out in February. Those who weren’t exchanged were put on ships and taken to confinement in New York; the officers were taken to Long Island.

Not all the men of the 9th Virginia were captured. Before the battle, orders were given that twenty men from each brigade who were unfit for march or lacked shoes to remain in camp.[34] Sgt. Maj. James Lewis remarked that the only man who made it off the field was a drummer who had held Colonel Mathews’ horse early in the battle. This possibly could have been Fifer James Parsons, who remembered escaping capture at the battle.[35] Pvt. Isaiah Bagwell of Captain Gilchrist’s Company was sick in the hospital when the battle occurred. He was discharged at Valley Forge.[36]

Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, who assumed command of the brigade after the battle, had lost an entire regiment that weakened his brigade. The 9th Virginia, however, was soon replaced. Two days after the battle, the 1st Virginia State Regiment, which had been ordered to bolster the strength of the Virginia troops under Washington, marched into camp with over 200 officers and men. The next day, the 1st Virginia State Regiment was assigned to replace the 9th Virginia in General Muhlenberg’s Brigade and later the Virginia General Assembly officially ordered the 1st Virginia State Regiment to serve in continental service until the 9th Virginia was reorganized and recruited.[37]

Those who did escape from the battle, in addition to new recruits for the regiment that arrived over the next few months, were organized into one company and served as part of the 1st Virginia Regiment (Continental, not state). Those veterans who weren’t captured were discharged when their enlistments ended in February and March 1778. Fifty-eight men were still enlisted in the 9th Virginia in September 1778, of which twenty-three were present and fit for duty. Most of these men had enlisted in September 1777 and joined the army after Germantown.[38] The 9th Virginia was officially consolidated with the 1st Virginia Regiment in September 1778. The numerical designation was then given to the old 13th Virginia Regiment. The 9th Virginia Regiment of 1776, as a unit, had ceased to exist.

Though the 9th Virginia Regiment had effectively ceased to be a unit after Germantown, some of its officers and men continued to serve for the remainder of the war. Col. George Mathews survived his wounds, was exchanged in December 1781 and commanded Continental troops under General Greene in the South until the end of the Revolution. Other men, like Cpl. Micajah Clark, later served in the Virginia militia in battles such as Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.

The effects of the battle were still felt by the men and the communities on the Eastern Shore decades after the Revolution. Pvt. Benjamin Sadler, though captured unharmed at Germantown, broke his leg while stumbling around the Walnut Street Jail.[39] Pvt. Thomas Brown received full pay for life in 1778 after being disabled by frostbitten feet while a prisoner of war.[40] He, along with other comrades who had been disabled at the battle, received pensions for their injuries starting in 1778. Others, like Pvt. Provost Nelson, remained prisoners of war as late as 1783; he died on the way home to Accomack County after the Revolution.[41] After the Revolution, John Cropper, who had risen to the rank of colonel, made a list of the men he had recruited in Accomack County for the 9th Virginia. Of the eighty-five men he listed, eighteen (just over one fifth) were either killed at Germantown or died at the Walnut Street Jail.

 

[1]E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra, A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774-1787 (Heritage Books; Westminster, MD 2007), 12.

[2]Ibid.,59.

[3]Ibid., 58; “The Ancestors and Descendants of John Rolfe with Notes on Some Connected Families. The Fleming Family (Continued),” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 24, no. 2 (1916): 206.

[4]James Ashby Land Bounty Record, VAS2299, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters, revwarapps.com.

[5]Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia (The Michie Company; Charlottesville, VA 1901), 211.

[6]“The Ancestors and Descendants of John Rolfe,” 207.

[7]Sanchez-Saavedra, A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations, 59.

[8]William Dews Pension S8312, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[9]This is calculated from the last monthly returns from each company, dated September 2, 1777.

[10]Lyon G. Tyler, “The Old Virginia Line in the Middle States during the American Revolution,” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 12 (1931), 23.

[11]“General Orders, 9 June 1777,” founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0646.

[12]“General Orders, 23 June 1777,” founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-10-02-0107.

[13]Tyler, “The Old Virginia Line,” 28.

[14]“General Orders, 3 October 1777,” founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0403.

[15]Thomas McGuire, The Philadelphia Campaign: Germantown and the Roads to Valley Forge (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2006), 2:101.

[16]Joynes, Thomas R. “Memoranda Made by Thomas R. Joynes on a Journey to the States of Ohio and Kentucky, 1810,” The William and Mary Quarterly 10, no. 3 (1902): 146.

[17]Michael C. Harris, Germantown; A Military History of the Battle for Philadelphia, October 4, 1777 (Savas Beatie; El Dorado Hills, CA 2020), 301.

[18]Tyler, “The Old Virginia Line,” 31.

[19]Harris, Germantown, 363.

[20]Ibid., 364.

[21]Ibid., 364.

[22]Elijah Hickman Pension, VAS1511, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[23]Thomas B. Taylor Pension, VAS2027, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[24]Samuel Waples Pension, W6427, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[25]McGuire, The Philadelphia Campaign, 2:132.

[26]Micajah Clark Pension, W6678, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[27]McGuire, The Philadelphia Campaign, 2:133.

[28]John F. Watson and Willis P. Hazard, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time, etc.,Vol. 2. (J.M. Stoddart; Philadelphia, 1877), 48.

[29]Thorsten Sellin, “Philadelphia Prisons of the Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 43, no. 1 (1953): 326–31

[30]Based on a survey of American and British muster rolls by Todd W. Braisted.

[31]Samuel Waples Pension.

[32]Micajah Clark Pension.

[33]Claiborne Bradshaw Pension, W8394, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[34]“Orderly Book of Gen. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, March 26-December 20, 1777,”The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 35, No. 1 (1911), 63.

[35]James Parson Pension, S40239, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[36]Isaiah Bagwell Pension, S6550, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

[37]“Orderly Book of Gen. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg,” 67.

[38]Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, M246, NARA, Record Group 93, Roll 0107.

[39]Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (Thomas W. White; Richmond, VA 1827), 85; James Ashby Land Bounty Record.

[40]Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 17.

[41]Provost Nelson Bounty Land Warrant, VAS375, Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters.

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The Eastern Shore Battalion: The Story of the 9th Virginia Regiment

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3 Comments

  • Very interesting and enlightening article. Of particular interest was the description of the POWs held in Philadelphia – the fate of those held in New York City prisons and ships is well documented but the cruel treatment and hardships they faced in Philadelphia aren’t as well known. However, one common denominator I note was Capt. William Cunningham, whose brutality was also felt in New York

  • This is a nice overview of the regiment’s service, including details that would have been easier to gloss over. Starting with the experiment with minute battalions was especially impressive, given how little is recorded on that. Well done!

  • John, for additional information on this unit, see my “History of the Original 9th Virginia Regiment, 1776-1777” in the Spring 2014 number of Military Collector & Historian. Bill

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