The Culpeper Minute Battalion:
19 August 1775-17 December 1776
John D. Sinks
Historian, Culpeper Minute Men Chapter
Sons of the American Revolution
October 21, 2008
Third Virginia Convention passed an ordinance on 19 August 17751 that grouped counties into military districts, mandated the districts to raise minute battalions, and also raise a company of regulars. The counties of Orange, Fauquier, and Culpeper were grouped together and required to raise a minute battalion of 10 companies of 50 men each. The regulars were to be a rifle company.2
Officers were appointed by the newly formed Committee of Safety for the District. Lawrence Talifferro of Orange County was appointed colonel, Edward Stevens of Culpeper was appointed lieutenant colonel, and Thomas Marshall of Fauquier major. In proportion to the population of the counties, four minute companies were to come from each of Fauquier and Culpeper, and two from Orange.
At the beginning of September recruiting for all of the companies, including the company of regulars, was under way. Although company of regulars and the minute companies began their existence together with the meeting of the district committee of safety, they very soon parted ways. Regular companies were to rendezvous at Williamsburg whereas minute companies were to rendezvous at a location set the by the District Committee of Safety, in this case, at the town of Culpeper. Records of the Committee of Safety for 18 September 1775 show the regulars under Capt. John Green drawing 15 rifles3, an indication that they were already in Williamsburg. Indeed, of all of the regular companies in Virginia, Green’s was the first to arrive in Williamsburg and pass inspection. He became the senior captain of the Virginia Continental Line and his company assigned to the First Virginia Regiment on October 21st.
The Culpeper Minute Battalion was reported within a few hours march of Williamsburg by Purdie’s Virginia Gazette reported on October 20th and on October 23rd the captains of the Culpeper Minute Battalion were definitely in Williamsburg starting to draw equipment.4 However, there were weapons for only half the Battalion. On October 24th, five companies of the Culpeper Minute Battalion were ordered to Norfolk with the Second Virginia Battalion under Col. William Woodford.
The next day the Committee of Safety received word that British ships are at Hampton threatening the town. Col. Woodford took a company of regulars and 50 minutemen armed with rifles under Capt. Abraham Buford to defend the town. Because the minute companies were armed with both muskets and rifles, volunteer riflemen from other companies of the Battalion replaced some of Buford’s own men who were not equipped with rifles. Buford’s men were stationed in a house and at a breastwork that had been constructed. Their accurate rifle fire soon had an effect. The sailors were unable to man their guns except where protected by netting. A British pilot boat, the Hawk Tender, was captured. The British lost 2 killed, 3 wounded, and 8 captured. 5
By the end of the first week of November it was clear that half the Culpeper Minute Battalion could not be equipped. On November 8th The Committee of Safety ordered the Commander-in-Chief of the Virginia forces, Col. Patrick Henry, to discharge the remainder of the Culpeper Minute Battalion from duty at Headquarters. 6 The married men were discharged and single men joined other companies. 7 Col. Taliaferro led half the Battalion home while Lt. Col. Stevens remained to lead five companies to Norfolk under Col. Woodford of the 2nd Virginia. The companies discharged were those of
Capt. William McClanahan, Culpeper Capt. William Blackwell, Fauquier
Capt. John Williams, Culpeper Capt. James Scott, Fauquier
Capt. William Payne, Orange
The companies remaining in service were those of
Capt. Abraham Buford, Culpeper Capt. John Chilton, Fauquier
Capt. John Jameson, Culpeper Capt. William Pickett, Fauquier
Capt. Joseph Spencer, Orange
By November 15th Woodford’s troops were equipped and on the march.
The land route from Williamsburg to Norfolk had a critical choke point at Great Bridge on the south branch of the Elizabeth River. Governor Dunmore erected a fort here to block Woodford’s approach. Governor Dunmore ordered Capt. Charles Fordyce to attack early in the morning of the 9th.8 The choke point now worked against the British. Fordyce commanded about 120 men, but they could advance only six abreast across the causeway. Most of the defenders held their fire until the British were within 50 yards of the lines. The British were staggered by the volleys that followed. Fordyce was killed with over 14 bullets in his body. The British retreated. Col. Edward Stevens led men of the Culpeper Minute Battalion over open ground in the action. The only American casualty was a Fauquier County private in Capt. William Pickett’s Co., Benjamin Arnold. He was wounded in the wrist. British casualties are more difficult to determine. The British did manage to drag off the bodies of a number of their dead. Col. Woodford initially reported the British casualties at 12 killed and 17 wounded who had been captured, but reported the next day that the British casualties were much higher.9 Leven Powell wrote that the total number of British casualties 102.10 Whatever the number, it was large enough that Dunmore could no longer hold the choke point at Great Bridge. Dunmore retreated to his ships and the fall of Norfolk to Woodford was inevitable. Although it would not be until 9 July 1776 that Dunmore finally was forced from Gwynn’s Island, the British had lost Virginia.
Woodford quickly moved to Norfolk and intermittent fighting occurred between the American forces on land and the British forces on ship. On January 1st the British landed soldiers who set fire to Norfolk. Virginia troops burned most of the remaining houses.11 On January 2nd some of the Battalion was discharged to return home. Two of Capt. Buford’s men were killed on January 21st by a cannonball.12 The balance of the regiment was sent home in late March. Capt. William Pickett’s Company from Fauquier were paid through April 2nd, 1776.13
The Council of the State of Virginia called two battalions of minute men into service on August 10th, 1776. Unlike the order of 1775, the call was made for companies from six different districts. Culpeper was required to provide two companies.14 One was a company commanded by Capt. James Nash and was in service at least from August 19th to August 22nd.15 The other company appears to have been under Capt. Abraham Buford. 16 The men were stationed near Jamestown, where many of the men became sick and some died. 17 The last date of documented active service for the Culpeper Minute Battalion was when Lt. Elijah Kirtley drew rations and forage from October 3rd to November 20th, 1776. 18
Minute battalions throughout the state lost officers and men to the newly forming continental regiments as well as the Virginia State Line in 1776. On 17 December 1776 the House of Delegates passed an ordinance abolishing the minute battalions. 19
Although in existence for only about a year and a quarter, the Culpeper Minute Battalion had a major impact on the American Revolution. It was involved in engagements at Hampton, Great Bridge, and Norfolk and did garrison duty at Jamestown. The engagement at Great Bridge was a strategic victory making it inevitable that Lord Dunmore would have to abandon Virginia. Virginia was free to provide critical troops and provisions both to the North and South until 1781, when the enemy returned to Virginia. Without this support from Virginia, the outcome of both northern and southern battles of the Revolution could have been very different.
1 Scribner, Robert L. and Brent Tarter: Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. III, Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1977, p. 466.
2 Hening, William Waller, Statutes at Large, Vol. 9, Richmond, 1821, pp. 9-34.
3 Scribner, Robert L. and Brent Tarter: Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. IV, Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1978, p. 123.
4 Ibid., p. 263.
5 John Page to Thomas Jefferson, 11 Nov. 1775, in Boyd, Julian P. (ed.): The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Vol. 1--1760-1776. Princeton University Press; Princeton, N.J. 1950.
6 John Pendleton Jr. to Patrick Henry, 8 Nov. 1775, in Scribner, Robert L. and Brent Tarter: Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. IV, Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1978, p. 344.
7 Pension affidavit of David Jameson, 16 Aug, 1832, S-5607, National Archives, Washington, DC; Pension affidavit of William Butler, Nov., 1832, S-15024, National Archives, Washington, DC.
8 For an excellent, well-documented account of the Battle of Great Bridge, see Scribner, Robert L. and Brent Tarter: Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. V, Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1979, pp. 7-9.
9 Woodford to the President of the Convention, 9 Dec., 1775 & 10 Dec. 1775, in Scribner, Robert L. and Brent Tarter: Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, Vol. V, Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 1979, pp. 90-91, 98-103.
10 Leven Powell to Sarah Powell, 18 Dec. 1775, The Leven Powell Papers, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA.
11 John Marshall: The Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the American Forces, During the War which Established the Independence of His Country, and First President of the United States, Compiled under the Inspection of the Honourable Bushrod Washington, from Original Papers Bequeathed to Him by His Deceased Relative, and Now in Possession of the Author Volume II. The Citizens Guild of Washington’s Boyhood Home, Fredericksburg Virginia: 1926, p. 133. (Originally published 1832). Marshall was a lieutenant in Capt. William Pickett’s Co. of the Culpeper Minute Battalion and an eye witness.
12 Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette, 27 Jan. 1776.
13 The roll was published in a newspaper article. A clipping of the article, bearing neither date nor the name of the newspaper, is in the National Archives, Record Group 93, Jacket 364-4. The Archives notation states that the clipping appears to have been taken from an original manuscript and does not appear to be that old. The record was deemed not official and not carded, and as a consequence this service is not indexed or abstracted in the National Archives military service records. The notation bears a date of December 7, 1905.
14McIlwaine, H.R. (ed.): Journal of the Council of the State of Virginia, Vol. 1, Virginia State Library, Richmond, 1931, pp. 115, 116.
15 Ibid., p. 232.
16 Ibid., p. 237. Pension affidavit of William Taylor, 27 Sep. 1832, W-6238, National Archives, Washington, DC. Benjamin Martin testified that he served in the minute men in from August of 1776 to November 1776 under Capt. James Winn. Pension affidavit of Benjamin Martin, 25 Mar. 1832, R-6965, National Archives, Washington, DC.
17 Pension affidavit of William Taylor, 27 Sep. 1832, W-6238, National Archives, Washington, DC. Petition of Benjamin Bohon of Orange Co. to House of Delegates, 30 Oct. 1777, Virginia State Library, Richmond. Petition of Ann Boling of Orange Co. to House of Delegates, Oct. 1777, Virginia State Library, Richmond.
18 McIlwaine, H.R. (ed.): Journal of the Council of the State of Virginia, Vol. 1, Virginia State Library, Richmond, 1931, pp. 237.
19 Hening, William Waller, Statutes at Large, Vol. 9, Richmond, 1821, pp. 198. Journal of the House of Delegates Anno Domini, 1776, Richmond, 1828, p. 99.
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