Virginia Units in the Revolutionary War

The Militia - Colonial Virginia did not maintain a standing army. Nearly everyone was engaged in agriculture, and needed to plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. The Virginians were not wealthy enough to afford full-time soldiers. Whenever there were colonial "alarms" about pirates or Indians, riders on horses would spread the word to various farms and the men would assemble as needed.

The militia was organized by county. In theory, there were regular training sessions of the militia at the county courthouse. In times of peace, however, these became largely social events. The County Lieutenant was often a candidate for the House of Burgesses, and strict discipline of essentially volunteer soldiers was rare. More often, the drinking during the militia assemblies was more intense than the target practice.

In times of war, those with crops to plant and harvest were reluctant to serve for more than a few weeks. When a militia unit received orders to march to another colony, their reluctance was based in part on a desire to return home soon rather than a misguidance allegiance to Virginia. Bounties were often offered to attract the "idle poor" who had less to lose, and were more willing to volunteer. These were rarely the most-disciplined or hardest-working members in the county, however. In addition, they often arrived in camp without the required clothing, guns, powder, and ammunition. Whatever was issued to such soldiers had a tendency to be lost or damaged... though some items were obviously sold or kept for personal profit. The militia motivations were basic, with patriotism towards the colony far down the list.

During the French and Indian War, George Washington struggled to obtain and trained enough soldiers for a sustained campaign. Some were recruited through financial incentives, while others were forcibly drafted. One author has described the conditions of serving at the front - Winchester, in Frederick County - in 1757:

Nearly all the militia remained law abiding in their idleness except the contingent from Prince William County who became violently abusive in claiming their superiority not only to the privates but also the officers of the Virginia Regiment. As a result, one militiaman was seized and locked in the guardhouse for his insolence. This insult was not to be endured. A militia officer gathered his comrades, stormed the guardhouse, released their compatriot and proceeded to demolish the building. The leader of the mutiny swore that the Virginia Regiment officers were all scoundrels and that "...he could drive the whole Corps before him...

" Although the Regiment was anxious for reinforcements from the militia, insults were not to be countenanced. The mutinous militia leader was personally acquainted, in a manner left unexplained, with military law and enforcement by irate members of the Regiment. The next morning the chastened militia officer tendered his apologies at headquarters. Washington chose not to punish the leader as the fright he had suffered at the hands of the Regiment "...sufly attoned for his imprudence."

The Continental Army - The Revolutionary War may have been another one of those "rich man's war, poor man's fight" - but many Virginians did fight. They were recruited to serve intially in the First Virginia Regiment. Additional regiments were raised, and then many were transferred to the emerging "national" Continental army - where they served outside of the new state, in the northern colonies and then in South Carolina.

George Washington was given command of the first multi-colony army. He had not-so-subtly dressed in his old French and Indian War uniform, while Congress debated who was trustworthy enough to lead the military forces... but not try to become a dictator on the process. He left the Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was meeting, and did not return to Virginia for six years (when he stopped at Mount Vernon on the march to Yorktown). Martha managed to join him for winter camps, providing some moral support to the troops as well as to her husband.

The Continental Army was organized by state, and the Virginia troops were in the Virginia Line. Almost all Virginians serving in the Continental Army were captured in the disastrous surrender by General Benjamin Lincoln of the army at Charlestown, South Carolina in 1780.

An additional 350 under Colonel Abraham Buford in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry were killed or wounded at Waxhaws, South Carolina. They were reinforcements who arrived too late to help the Charleston garrison, and were caught by Banastre Tarleton's dragoons while retuning to Virginia. In the "Waxhaws Massacre," Tarleton's men killed over 100 while they apparently tried to surrender. However, there's another perspective:

"As Tarleton came forward to discuss surrender, his horse was shot from under him and he was pinned under it while his dragoons, thinking he had been killed under a flag of truce, gave the Virginians no quarter. There is a monument a half a mile from the battle site, which is now known as Buford Crossroads and surrounding community known as Buford"

Some of the original service records for the Revolutionary War were destroyed by fire. Those remaining are on file at the National Archives, compiled primarily from rosters and rolls of soldiers serving in Virginia’s militia units, with additions from correspondence and field reports of military officers. However, there is no comprehensive list of Virginia veterans of this war.

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