Virginia Line

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Virginia Line

VIRGINIA LINE. Along with Massachusetts, Virginia was one of the most populous of the original thirteen states and, as such, both Massachusetts and Virginia each furnished the largest of the state Lines. While the first Virginia Continental units were the two rifle companies formed in June 1775, these were never part of the Line. The state's infantry force began on 21 August 1775 as two full-time regiments, created by the Virginia Convention as part of a comprehensive defense program. This program also included independent frontier guard companies, minutemen, and a reorganized militia. These units were transferred to the Continental army on 1 November. On 28 December the Continental Congress asked Virginia to increase the force to six regiments, but the Convention actually voted instead to raise a total of nine regiments on 11 January 1776. This brought the first two up to a uniform strength and added seven new ones, including one (the Eighth) recruited primarily from the ethnic German settlers in the northwestern part of the colony, and another (the Ninth) raised mostly in the Delmarva Peninsula ("Eastern Shore"). The Continental Congress accepted all nine into their service. A final six regiments were added when the Army was expanded for 1777, producing four Virginia brigades formed into two divisions.

Although Virginia raised the regiments with relative ease, the state had a much harder time keeping them up to strength and making good the losses from combat and by the expiration of the original enlistments. Two consecutive temporary consolidations took place in 1778 in an effort to keep all active units at effective strength for combat, with surplus officers returning home to try to recruit. The state government even loaned its own two infantry battalions to General George Washington to help offset the losses. Finally, on 12 May 1779, Washington faced the fact that his native state just could not provide all the troops he needed, and he reluctantly reorganized and renumbered the Line's regiments to a total of eleven units. When the Line was sent in December of that year to reinforce the Southern Department, it carried out another temporary reorganization by transferring the enlisted men into the three senior regiments and promising to organize contingents of new men or veterans who would reenlist if given a furlough to follow.

The first two of those detachments joined the regiments in Charleston in time to be captured; the third was destroyed by Banastre Tarleton at the Waxhaws soon thereafter. Major General Frederick Steuben accompanied Nathaniel Greene to the south at the end of 1780 and remained in Virginia to organize the efforts to rebuild a semblance of a Line. More provisional battalions were formed in time to either join Greene in the Carolinas or help at Yorktown; and for the remainder of the war only provisional formations remained. There was one exception to this provisional approach—the Virginia contingent at Fort Pitt. In May 1778 the Thirteenth Virginia Regiment (which came from the frontier) was sent there, and the regiment remained there despite being renumbered first as the Ninth and then as the Seventh, until it was disbanded on 1 January 1783. The official Virginia quota of regiments dropped to six in 1781 and to two in 1783 before being disbanded on 15 November 1783.

In addition to the Line itself, Virginia also contributed half of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, the majority of the First Continental Artillery Regiment, the First and Third Continental Light Dragoons, most of Henry Lee's Second Partisan Corps, and a special unit to guard the prisoner of war facilities in Charlottesville (the Regiment of Guards). It also recruited large elements of Grayson's, Gist's, and Thruston's Additional Continental Regiments.

SEE ALSO Southern Campaigns of Nathanael Greene.


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"Virginia Officers and Men in the Continental Line." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 2 (January, April 1895), pp. 241-258, 357-370.

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