Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Gabriel Neville
Most of the enlisted men of the Revolutionary War are faceless and forgotten—just names on lists. Biographies and painted portraits are honors that were reserved for officers. Even so, it is possible to trace the lives of some common soldiers using original sources. Many of them applied for pensions after 1818, which required them to provide (usually brief) narratives of their service. Some gave similar attestations when they applied for military bounty land. A small number left detailed accounts of their experiences in interviews, letters, or diaries. Finally, and very rarely, we have photographs taken in the last years of some veterans’ lives. Virginian John Cuppy may be the only Revolutionary War soldier to leave us an artifact in each of these categories.
Cuppy was born near Morristown, New Jersey on March 11, 1761. While still an infant, he was brought to Hampshire County, Virginia by his German parents. Their new home was on the South Branch of the Potomac River near the town of Romney, which is now in West Virginia. About forty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley, this was the very edged of settled Virginia territory. John was just fourteen years old when the war began—too young to be a candidate for service when Hampshire was directed to raise a rifle company in July of 1775. He was still too young when Dutch-descended Capt. Abel Westfall recruited a company there that winter for Col. Peter Muhlenberg’s new 8th Virginia Regiment.
When Benedict Arnold’s troops departed in January, 1781, Richmond had not seen the last of redcoats. That spring British troops returned to the area, occupying Petersburg. Then Lord Charles Cornwallis arrived in the state with a larger British force, having marched north from Wilmington, NC.
Cornwallis’s army marched far and wide across the Commonwealth that summer, reaching Ox Ford on the North Anna (scene of a Civil War battle in 1864), and west towards Charlottesville. Returning to the east, Cornwallis’s forces marched into Richmond in June on the Three Chopt Road, now a major US Highway. That summer General Lafayette led American troops in Virginia, but his force was too small to directly challenge the British, and he stayed out of striking distance.
Over 5,000 Redcoats, Germans, and Loyalists marched down Main Street, all of the troops who eventually ended up at Yorktown. From June 17-20, redcoats again patrolled the dusty streets of the state capital. During those four days they destroyed some homes (under what circumstances it is not clear), piled up tobacco in the streets and set fire to it, and destroyed valuable supplies like salt, harnesses, muskets, and flour. The streets that were once the scene of illuminations to celebrate the Declaration of Independence were now lit by the fires of destruction.
Various accounts noted the poor condition of troops: uniforms being tattered and many lacking good shoes. The weeks of hard marching were taking their toll. British officer John G. Simcoe wrote, “the army was in the greatest need of shoes and clothing due to the constant marching.”
Civilians peering out their windows would have seen a variety of troops: Scottish Highlanders, English Regulars from England and Ireland, Carolina Loyalists, Hessians, and runaway slaves who had joined them.
Cornwallis’s forces began their march early on June 20, moving down Main Street to the Williamsburg Road, heading east towards Bottoms Bridge. In so doing, they passed by the future site of the Civil War battle of Seven Pines, and the Richmond Airport. Traces of the old Williamsburg Road run parallel to Route 60 from Sandston to Bottom’s Bridge.
Lafayette’s pursing troops entered the town from the west on June 22nd, continuing on towards Bottoms’ Bridge the next day. We have only three brief descriptions of the American army’s pursuit through Richmond. They are all tantalizing, leaving us wishing for more details.
Lieutenant John Bell Tilden of the 2nd Pennsylvania Battalion described the unfinished canal and ruins of the Westham Foundry: “This day I went to see the curious work of Mr. Ballertine- he had made a canal one mile in length, and about twenty feet wide, alongside of James River, in the centre of which he had built a curious fish basket, and at the end of the canal was a grist mill, with four pair of stones. Bordering on which was a Bloomery, Boring mill and elegant manor house, which was destroyed by that devlish rascal Arnold.”
Virginia militia Colonel Daniel Trabue wrote, “Our militia was called for, and all other counties, also, and we all joined Gen. Lafayette. As he neared Richmond, Lord Cornwallis left the city in the evening. The next morning a little after sunrise. General Lafayette marched through the town with his army, each man’s hat contained a green bush. I thought it was the prettiest sight I had ever seen. Lord Cornwallis had retreated, and our army advanced after them, passing through the city some 3 or 4 miles and then halted on the river road.”
Captain John Davis of the 3rd Pennsylvania Battalion wrote, “This day passed through Richmond in 24 hours after the enemy evacuated it- it appears a place of much distress.”
Another Pennsylvanian, Lieutenant William Feltman of the 1st Battalion, noted that the British had “destroyed a great quantity of tobacco, which they threw into the streets and set fire to it.” Feltman had the opportunity to break away from the camp and enjoy some leisure in the town, writing, ‘spent the afternoon playing billiards and drinking wine.” The Continental troops camped that night at Gillies Creek, just east of the city, where the battle in January had begun. They rose at 2 o’clock in the morning to resume their pursuit.
The troops moved on to Williamsburg and Yorktown, where a two-week siege in October resulted in the British surrender. The Yorktown campaign was the culmination of the Revolutionary War.
Richmond recovered and grew quickly after the war. Today there are few reminders of the Revolution in Richmond. A few tangible places to visit include Wilton Plantation, the First Freedom Center, St. John’s Church, the Washington Monument on Capitol Square, and the site of the skirmish on Chimborazo Hill.
Lyman Copeland Draper from the Fronts-pieceof his book, King’s Mountain and its Heroes, 1881 (Wikimedia Commons)
For the last century, everyone studying the frontier in the American Revolution has owed a debt to Lyman C. Draper. Not many people are familiar with him, but he compiled one of the deepest and most extensive collections of original material related to the Trans-Appalachian Frontier, particularly during the American Revolution. His hard work and extensive efforts represent a life dedicated to history that enabled his successors to continue his remarkable work .
Born in western New York in 1815, Draper’s grandfathers were both veterans of war with the British, either during the American Revolution or the War of 1812. Given the number of veterans moving west to start farms after the war, a young and impressionable Draper heard their stories. Draper’s family eventually settled in Lockport, NY on the Erie Canal and that is where he attended Continue reading →
In Part I we learned how the British under General Arnold captured Richmond. In the meantime Governor Thomas Jefferson had fled, along with members of the legislature. The British occupied the town for 24 hours, destroying supplies and wrecking the Westham iron foundry, west of the village.
It was New Years’ Eve, 1775. An American army, divided into two wings, assaults the lower town outside the walls of British-held Quebec, Canada. Through a blinding snowstorm, Col. Benedict Arnold led 600 men along the northern edge of the city’s walls, while Gen. Richard Montgomery advanced to the southeast with roughly 300 Continentals. The attack was a disaster. Outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, the Americans were cut to pieces and close to 400 men, including Capt. Daniel Morgan, were taken prisoner. Arnold was wounded early in the offensive, his left leg (the same that would be shattered at Saratoga less than two years later) struck by an enemy ball. Montgomery, the commander of the expedition, was cut down at the head of his column by a blast of grapeshot at near point-blank range. With his heroic death, Montgomery would become one of the first high-profile martyrs of the American cause, and the Continental Congress would memorialize him by commissioning a monument in his honor less than a month later. This monument, now situated at the front of St. Paul’s Chapel along Broadway in New York City, was the first ever commissioned by the American government.
General Richard Montgomery (nypl)
Following the news of his death, the public was quick to eulogize Montgomery through orations, sermons, songs, and poems. He became a symbol of American service and sacrifice in the great struggle for liberty. On January 25, 1776, the Continental Congress approved appropriations for a monument to be built in his memory to “transmit to Prosperity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism conduct enterprize & perseverance of Major General Richard Montgomery.” This monument would not be placed above the general’s grave as it is today—Montgomery’s body was still buried in Quebec. In fact, his remains would not be disinterred and transported to New York City until 1818.
Montgomery Monument and Tomb, St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City
The story of the Montgomery monument does not end yet. Jean-Jacques Caffieri, King Louis XVI’s personal sculptor, was commissioned by Benjamin Franklin in Paris on behalf of Congress to make the idea a reality. Upon its completion, the finished product was set to be shipped to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Departing from the port in Le Havre, it journeyed to Edenton, North Carolina, where it was placed in storage. The war made its transfer to Philadelphia almost impossible, and the stone was seemingly lost and forgotten until after the conflict ended.
Close-up of the Continental Congress’s Inscription
With peace came a renewed resolve to have one of the nation’s “first” heroes memorialized. Rediscovered, the Montgomery monument (after a long campaign of letter writing by both Franklin and the general’s wife, Janet) was installed in St. Paul’s Chapel in June 1788, over twelve years since it was first commissioned. Thirty years later, the New York State legislature approved to transport Montgomery’s remains to New York City and entomb them beneath the monument. On July 4, 1818, the general lay in state in the capital building in Albany, and four days later he was finally interred on American soil, his adopted home he had died in the service of.
1818 Tomb of General Montgomery Underneath the Monument
Richmond, Virginia was a village of 300 homes during the Revolution. Its residents were concentrated in the modern neighborhoods of Shockoe Bottom and Church Hill. Most of its few houses lined Main Street, with warehouses and workshops along the waterfront where the James River is very shallow. Williamsburg was still the capital when the war broke out.
Although best known for its Civil War history, Richmond has many important sites related to the Revolution that are overshadowed by that later conflict. Foremost among them is St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his “Liberty or Death” speech in 1775.
Although both states were involved in the Revolutionary effort, Virginia and Pennsylvania were also at war with each other over land west of the Alleghenies. This territory had been claimed by both since the days of their early charters in the 1600s.
During the Revolution, the land claimed by both states had rival governments, courthouses and militias. Pennsylvania’s Hannas Town was the seat of its Westmoreland County, while Virginia’s West Augusta County was headquartered at Fort Pitt.
Throughout the 1770s, rival justices and other county officials were arrested and held in prison at either Hannas Town or Fort Pitt. Each claimed jurisdiction over the other, and saw the other as illegal.
At one point, Pennsylvania Governor John Penn wrote to Lord Dunmore of Virginia that he was “surprised” at Dunmore’s claim on the land, enclosing a map showing it firmly in Pennsylvania. Dunmore responded by denying the claim and explaining it was part of his colony. Penn then wrote that he “request your Lordship neither grant lands nor exercise the government of Virginia within these limits.”
Going in person to Fort Pitt, Dunmore issued a proclamation that, “whereas the Province of Pennsylvania has unduly laid claim to … His Majesty’s territory…. I do hereby in His Majesty’s name require & command all of His Majesty’s subjects West of Laurel Hill to pay a due respect to my Proclamation, strictly prohibiting the authority of Pennsylvania at their peril.”