"The heroism and gallantry of the Second Virginia Regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honor to any country in the world. It is universally believed they behaved the best of any troops in the field." ~ Virginia Gazette, October 17, 1777
To learn More on William Rhodes and his family, go here: William Rhodes, born 1745, Virginia, died, in Urbana, Champaign County, OH, 1825
In Alexandria, Virginia on September 1st, 1775 William enlisted as a private soldier for the term of one year, into the first company of the 2nd Virginia Regiment. The company was under the command of Capt. George Johnston, and the regiment under Colonel William Woolford. Colonel Woolford, with his men, were ordered to the vicinity of Norfolk, VA to stop the attacks and drive out of Virginia the British forces and loyalists under the command of former Royal Governor Lord Dunmore. The first known battle of the 2nd Virginia was at Great Bridge, VA on December 3, 1775. Col. Woolford, with his men, defeated the British regulars and loyalists of Lord Dunmore. This battle is considered by some to be the "Bunker Hill of the South." The end result was that Dunmore lost his base at Norfolk, and soon left the Virginia area. Later that month the soldiers were given their first uniforms at the campus of William and Mary College. They were issued frontier dress which consisted of purple dyed hunting frocks, with capes and cuffs, fringed down the front, blue shroud leggings, plain linen shirts with cuffs, round hats, and given tomahawks. The following year they received a more military-looking uniform.
On February 13, 1776 the 2nd Virginia was accepted for service into the Continental Line. Early that summer, the 2nd Virginia was ordered to New England to join the Continental Army under George Washington. At Williamsburg in August of 1776, enlistment's in the regiment were up. Pvt. William Rhodes was regularly discharged, and immediately re-enlisted for three years or the war, in contrast to the majority of the Veterans who did not and went home. Some of the battles the 2nd Virginia participated in during the year of 1776 were the battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, and White Planes, NY. In September, Col. Woolford resigned and Lt. Colonel Alexander Spotswood succeeded as commander of the 2nd Virginia.
Around January of 1777, William's company commander Capt. Thomas Tibbs died, Capt. John Peyton Harrison succeeded him. Later in the year, the 2nd Virginia was involved in the capture of Elizabethtown, NJ, the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, PA. The following was printed about William's regiment in the newspaperVirginia Gazette on October 17, 1777: "The heroism and gallantry of the second Virginia regiment I cannot help particularly mentioning; they would do honor to any country in the world. It is universally believed they behaved the best of any troops in the field." During the winter of 1777-1778, the 2nd Virginia encamped at Valley Forge, PA. In December of 1777 at Valley Forge, the regiment had a force of 406 men, but of them 245 were sick. By March of 1778, the 2nd Virginia's total strength had dropped 246 men, a loss of 160 from the previous December. On June 29, 1778, they were involved in the battle of Monmouth, NJ.
Early that year, Washington recommended to Congress that in each battalion there be a company of Light Infantry. The Light Infantry was put in the places of most danger, and as Washington said, "[They were] to be constantly near the enemy and give 'em every possible annoyance." Then, in August of 1778, there was an order to organize the Light Infantry. The men were handpicked from each regiment. "They were to be the best of men, the most hardy and active marksmen and commanded by good partisan officers." Later training would be personally overseen by drillmaster Baron Von Steuben. The Light Infantry troops were the first on the field of battle, and served as scouts and flankers. To be selected as one of the drafts for this elite force was a great honor. Pvt. William Rhodes was recorded as a member of the Light Infantry in September of 1778. In June 1779 the Light Infantry companies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia Lines were combined in two regiments. Adjutant-General Alexander Scammell reported the following: "the above companies almost to the man are composed of proper-sized well-built men from the five feet seven to five feet nine inches high, who have been in actual service two, three, and some almost four years".
The Light Infantry was put to the test on July 15, 1779 by the taking of a British fort at Stony Point on the Hudson River in New York. It was planned that Light Infantry alone would take the fortress. A Corps Light Infantry was organized into four regiments. The companies were pulled from most of the Continental regiments of the various colonies. It was ordered that the officers be armed with spontoons or spears, and the soldiers with bayonets on unloaded muskets. The capture was to take place under the cover of darkness. It began around midnight, under a barrage of heavy cannon and musketry fire from the British fort at Stony Point. The Light Infantry captured the heavily-guarded fort without the Continentals firing a shot, capturing 532, with 80 killed or wounded. The 2nd Virginia was in the First Regiment commanded by Col. Christian Febiger of the Light Infantry Corps. The following is a letter from Col. Christian Febiger to Thomas Jefferson regarding the storming of Stony Point: "To his Excellence, Governor Jefferson, of the State of Virginia July 21, 1779 Sir: You must undoubtedly before this have heard of and seen the particulars of our glorious and successful enterprise at Stony Point, which renders my giving you a detail unnecessary. But as I had the honor to command all the troops from our State employed on that service I think it my duty, in justice to those brave men, to inform you that the front platoon of the forlorn hope, [the phrase "forlorn hope" in modern terms would be a suicide squad ], consisted of 3/4 Virginians, and the front of the vanguard, of Virginians only, and the front of the column on the right of Posey's battalion composed of four companies of Virginians and two Pennsylvanians.
Lieutenant Colonel Colonelled the advance composed of 150 Volunteers, first entered the works. Seven of my men in the forlorn hope who entered first were either killed or wounded. I have the happiness to say that every officer and soldier behaved with a fortitude and bravery peculiar to men who are determined to be free, and overcame every danger and difficulty without confusion or delay, far surpassing any enterprise in which I have had an active part. I request neither reward nor thanks, but I am happy in having done my duty and shared the dangers and honor of the day; but could wish, if not inconsistent, that the citizens of Virginia might know from your authority that their troops deserve their thanks and support. Christian Ferbiger, Col." William Rhodes was one of the soldiers among the six Virginia companies in Col. Christian Febiger's First Regiment. He was among those on the front line, which had captured the fort that night. He was also one of the 29 privates of the regiment that was wounded during the battle. On August 22, 1779, the 2nd Virginia Light Infantry was involved in the battle of Poweles Hook. Of the British, 7 officers and 151 privates were captured, and about 40 of them were killed or wounded by the bayonet, the only weapon used. Not a musket was discharged on the American side. When William Rhodes's term of enlistment was up in September 1779, he re-enlisted for the duration of the war. That month he was promoted to Corporal, with an increase in pay from 6 2/3 dollars to 7 1/3 dollars per month.
In December of 1779, the 2nd Virginia Regiment left Virginia to march south to Charleston, SC. Two companies of the 2nd Virginia were attached to the 3rd Virginia Regiment, belonging to Col. Abraham Buford. The British besieged the American soldiers at Charleston, SC in April 1780. Then, on May 12, the British captured much of the armies of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. It was the worst loss of the American Revolution. The Americans had over two thousand Continentals captured, seven hundred being Virginians, which was nearly all of their Continental troops. Most of the 2nd Virginia Regiment was captured, except for a handful of men who were with Captain Alexander Parker. William Rhodes was in Captain Cattlet's Company, which was one of the two companies of the 2nd VA that was still with Colonel Buford. Buford and his troops, who had been delayed leaving Virginia, had inadvertently missed the siege and the subsequent capture. This would later prove not so lucky.
A few days later, Colonel Abraham Buford and his regiment were within 40 miles of Charleston, SC, when he received the news of the surrender. He then got the order to retreat to Hillsoro, NC. Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banaste Tarleton with his Legion in pursuit of Buford's Continentals. On the 29th , Tarleton's Calvary caught up with Buford's rear guard near a place called Waxhaws. The Virginians formed a line on open ground but it was overrun and encircled by the charging calvary. The Continentals became a helpless mass, many men throwing down their arms. Buford had an Ensign raise a white flag. Tarleton himself charged the flag, then his horse was killed. When Tarleton's men saw that he was down under a flag of truce, his men went mad. Tarleton could not or would not hold back his men. They went sabering left and right, ignoring any cries for quarter. Then, the Tory Infantry came in with bayonets. By now the Americans were utterly helpless. Most had dropped their muskets when the white flag was raised. The Tory Infantry continued the sweep over the ground, plunging their bayonets into any living American; not a man was spared. Out of the massacre, the American battle cries of "Tarleton's quarter!" and "The Waxhaw Massacre" came and became household words. Henceforth, Banaste Tarleton was known as Bloody Tarleton. American casualties were 113 killed and 203 prisoners, but 150 of these were too badly wounded to be moved and thus were parolled where they laid. While Col. Buford was able to escape on horseback, William Rhodes's company commander Captain Thomas Catlett was killed. William was among the wounded receiving two bayonet wounds to the abdomen. James Keep who was with William at Waxhaw was captured.
About June 1781, the American captives at Charleston were exchanged, or paroled, and warned not to be within forty miles of a British camp. Most of the men went home, but some of the soldiers did not heed the warning, and private James Keep and Corporal William Rhodes where put under command of Captain Alexander Parker at Yorktown, Virginia. Parker's Company was made up the few veterans left in Virginia's Continental Army since the fall of Charleston SC. On October 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia, Captain Alexander Parker's company was given the post of honor, the front line-right flank of Anthony Wayne's Brigade on the attack force against the British. In the late fall of 1781, Captain Alexander Parker's company of old soldiers were included in a newly formed Virginia Battalion, commanded by Lieut. Col. Thomas Posey. His battalion consisted of nine companies from various Virginia regiments, and Captain Parker's company was its Light Infantry. The Battalion was sent south under General Arthur St. Clair during the winter of 1781 to aid General Greene, and they where put under the command of General "Mad" Anthony Wayne in an attempt to recapture Charleston, SC and Savannah, Georgia.
In the spring of 1782, Captain Parker's company Light Infantry Company involved in skirmishes with Loyalists and Indians. The following is accounts of a skirmish that took place on the Ogeechee Road near Savannah Georgia. These accounts where from General Anthony Wayne, and Captain Alexander Parker. General Anthony Wayne: "On the 21st instant I received intelligence of the enemy being out in force from Savannah, in consequence of which White's dragoons and Posey's infantry were put in motion, and at 5 o'clock in the evening arrived at Mrs. William Gibbon's, six miles northwest of Savannah. At six, an express from Lt. Col. Jackson announced the enemy in force of Harris's bridge on the great Ogecbee [Ogeechee] road seven miles from town, and that a small party were at Ogechee Jersy which he intended to attach as his Corps. Upon inquiry I found that the only route to the enemy's position was through a thick swamp of near four miles extent, with enemy deep and dangerous morasses to pass, and to intercede the Ogechee [Ogeechee] was of an intermediate distance from Savannah and the bridge. I was properly informed that with the difficulty attending a night march over such ground, as well as the delicacy of a maneuver that placed me between the whole of the enemy's force in Georgia". The enemy force consisted of British Cavalry and a large body of infantry picked from the Seventh Regiment, the Hessians, Tanning's and Brown's regulars, with the Choctaw Indian, the whole commanded by Colonel Brown.
Captain Alexander Parker: The [our] van consisted of one company of light infantry and a section of dragoons, under the orders of Captain Alexander Parker. This officer was directed to hasten his march through woods and swamps, and to seize a causeway on which Browne must necessarily pass. Parker was ordered, whenever he met the enemy, to reserve his fire, and to fall back upon him with sword and bayonet. Wayne followed with the main body, to support his van. About ten in the forenoon Captain Parker reached the causeway, when he discovered a small patrol of cavalry in his front. Each advancing, the two parties soon met, when Captain Parker accosted the leading file, and demanded the countersign. Confounded or deceived, the British officer, instead of falling back upon Browne, approached Parker in the attitude of friendship. He now discovered his mistake, but too late to extricate himself, and was with his patrol taken, except one dragoon, who got back to Colonel Browne, moving in column to sustain his van, with cavalry in front. Lieutenant Bowyer, who commanded our horse, was ordered to charge, which was executed with decision. Bowyer was supported by Parker with his infantry. The British cavalry were thrown into confusion; and as Browne's whole force was in column on the causeway, from whence there was no moving, to the right or left, the substitution of his infantry for his cavalry became impracticable, and the British colonel was obliged to fall back.
Captain Alexander Parker: This was accomplished without loss, as General Wayne did not get up in time to improve the advantage gained by Parker. Two of our van were killed and three were wounded. We took Major Alexander, second in command, and eighteen dragoons, with their horses and furniture. Wayne had been delayed by the swamps, which in the South invariably presented stubborn difficulties to the march of troops. As soon as he reached Parker he pursued the enemy; but all his endeavors to renew the action proved abortive, and Browne made good his retreat to Savannah.
General Anthony Wayne: Even Col. Brown and Lt. Col. Ingram did not find the way to town til the second night after the action, and then unattended. After refreshing the troops at Mrs. Gibbon's, we advanced within view of their lines, yesterday [May 23rd] morning detaching a few infantry and dragoons to draw the enemy out, but they declined the invitation, contenting themselves with advancing a few Indians and regulars to the skirt of a swamp, from whence they commenced a scattering and ineffectual fire. Finding that General Clarke was not to be enticed from his Redoubts, I returned with the troops to this place, where the last arrived this morning with the news of only five privates killed and two wounded. We had also two dragoon horses killed and three hurt, but these we shall replace with part of the cavalry taken from the enemy. I feel myself under the highest obligation to every officer and soldier for their good conduct, zeal, and perseverance during a very fatiguing march of near forty miles performed in a few hours to effect this enterprise.
Captain Alexander Parker: The Indians, whom Lieutenant-Colonel Browne expected to meet, would have rendered his corps superior to that under Wayne, when the encounter might have terminated differently. General Wayne seems either to have unapprised of this intended junction, or to have disregarded it; for he pressed forward to strike his foe, regardless of ground or number. The fortuitous success of such conduct, encourages the ardent soldier to put himself upon his fortune and his courage, -- overlooking those numerous, sure, and effectual aids to be drawn from accurate intelligence and due circumspection. Fortune at length forsakes him, no prop remains to support him but his courage, and he falls a victim of his own presumption; honored for his bravery, but condemned for his temerity.
Some weeks before General Clarke made this attempt to secure the safe entry of his Indian friends into Savannah, Wayne had intercepted a trading party of the Creeks on their way to the British garrison. Of these, the American general detained a few as hostages, and permitted the rest to return to their own country. This generous treatment seems to have inspired apprehensions in Savannah, that its effect would diminish the British influence among the Creeks; an event deprecated by the enemy in case of continuance of the war, which, through improbable, might nevertheless happen. Therefore it was throught proper to prevent, by suitable succor, the interruption of this second visit. To that end Browne had been detached. Not only, as has been seen, did the effort fail, but it was followed by a disaster very unpleasant to the enemy, and in its conclusion pregnant with cause of regret to ourselves.
Guristersigo, a principal warrior among the Creeks, conducted the party of Indians lately expected by Clarke. Althrough he did not arrive at the appointed rendezvous so as to meet Browne, he reached in the latter part of the succeeding month. This warrior, accompanied by his white guides, passed through the whole State of Georgia unperceived, except by two boys, who were taken and killed; and having reached the neighborhood of Wayne on the 23rd of June, he determined to strike at a picket of the requisite intelligence, with negro Negros for the execution of his purpose. Wayne, in pursuance of a system adopted to avoid surprise (of which the Indian chief was uninformed), moved every night; and consequently the calculation that he would be on the 23rd where he had been on the 22nd, was unfounded. The reverse was the fact, which would undoubtedly have been perceived by Guristersigo had he been acquainted with the custom of the American general, and his plan of attack would have been modified accordingly. Decamping from Gibbons's late in the evening of the 22nd, Wayne exchanged positions with his picket, and thus fortunately held the very post against which the Indian warrior had pointed his attack.
Here the light infantry under Parker (who had been for several days close to Savannah) joined, and being much harassed by the late tour of duty, was ordered by the brigadier to take post near his artillery, in the rear. Knowing but one enemy, the garrison of Savannah, Wayne gave his entire attention to that quarter; and conscious, from his precautions, that no movement could be made by the enemy in Savannah without due notice, he forbore to burden his troops with the protection of his rear, because in his opinion unnecessary. A single sentinel only from the quarter-guard was posted in the rear, on the main road leading through the camp to Savannah, and the very road, which Guristersigo meant to take.
Soon after nightfall the Indian chief at the head of his warriors emerged from the deep swamps, in which he had lain concealed, and gained the road. He moved in profound silence, and about three in the morning reached the vicinity of our camp.; here he halted, and made his disposition for battle. Believing that he had to deal with a small detachment only, his plan of attack was simple and efficient. Preceded by a few of the most subtle and daring of his comrades, directed to surprise and kill the sentinel, he held himself ready to press forward with the main body upon the signal to advance. This was not long delayed. His wily precursors having encompassed our sentinel, killed him, when Guristersigo, bounding from his stand, fell with his whole force upon our rear. Aroused from sleep, the light infantry stood to their arms, and the matrosses closed with their guns. But the enemy was amongst them; which being perceived by Parker, he judiciously drew off in silence and joined the quarter-guard behind Gibbons's house at headquarters.
The general had about this time mounted, and, concluding that the garrison of Savannah was upon him, he resorted to the bayonet, determined to die sword in hand. Orders to this effect were given to Parker and dispatched to Lieutenant-Colonel Posey, commanding in camp, distant a few hundred yards. Captain Parker, seconded by the quarter-guard, advanced upon the foe; and Posey moved with all possible celerity to support the light troops, but did not arrive in time to share in the action. Wayne, participating with his light corps in the surrounding dangers, was now dismounted, his horse being killed; the light troops, nevertheless, continued to press forward, and Parker drove all in his way back to our cannon, where the Indian chief with a part of his warriors was attempting to turn our guns to his aid. Here Guristersigo renewed the conflict, and fought gallantly; but the rifle and tomahawk are unavailing when confronted by the bayonet in close quarters. We soon recovered our artillery, and Guristersigo, fighting bravely, was killed. Seventeen of the warriors and his white guides fell by his side, and the rest fled.
Th Battle account through Leutenant Colonel Thomas Posey: "The whole of the troops had for several weeks been doing hard duty, every night lying down in their rank with clothes and accoutrements on, and their arms by their sides, and almost worn out with fatigue in watching and loss of rest, in constant expectation that the British would either come out of Savannah in force for action, or that we might have an opportunity of falling in with foraging parties. When the attack was made, it was with such fury and violence, at a dead time of the night when the men were in profound sleep (except the guards), with yelling and the use of their tomahawks, spears, scalping-knives, and guns, that our men were thrown into disorder. Wayne and Posey had thrown their cloaks about them and lay close to each other. The alarm soon roused them, and they had proceeded but a few steps hen Capt. Parker met Col. Posey, and informing him that the suddenness of the attack had confused his men, wished to know if the colonel had any particular orders. Posey immediately ordered that the Light Infantry should be rallied behind the nearby house, and his exertions, united with Parker's, in a short space of time collected the men. Posey then placed himself with Parker at their head, and ordered a charge through the enemy to the regiment; the charge was made with celerity and firmness; through the conflict was severe, many of the Indians falling by the force of the bayonet.
One or more of the enemy fell by Posey's own arm, and unfortunately for Sgt. Thompson of Parker's Light Infantry (who, contrary to orders had taken off his coat and tied up his head with a handkerchief who manfully engaged and had immediately next to Posey fired at an Indian), Posey took him, from his appearance with his coat off and his head tied up, for an Indian and thrust his sword through his body and laid him at his feet. But he greatly lamented the circumstance when he visited the hospital the next morning, and learned from the brave but incautious sergeant the particulars of his wounds. General Wayne with the calvary followed by Posey, who had filed off to the right to gain his regiment, which he had met on its march to the scene of action, and placing himself at the head, charged immediately upon the rear of the enemy and put them to flight. General Wayne filed off to the left, where he fell in with a considerable body of Indians, and compelled them to retreat after a severe conflict. Thus, with the untied force and much bravery of both officers and soldiers, the whole of the Indians were defeated and routed." Chief Guristersigo was killed by bayonet. Corporal William Rhodes was once again a casualty of war and was one of Parker's Light Infantry men wounded that night. He received a gunshot wound through the shoulder that which would affect his mobility over the rest his life.
In October of 1782 Posey's regiment was ordered to return to Virginia. Though, William, still wasn't physically able to join them in the several houndred mile trek home, so was left behind in South Carolina. His regiment arived in Virginia, where around July 3rd 1783,the men were dischared from the army, and the regiment was disbanded. A while later William was fit enough to return home which he did, where he was discharged in Richmond, Virginia. William served for nearly eight years, the scars he bore, were testimony to the hard fought battles he served in from New York, to Georgia.
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