Fredericksburg in Revolutionary Days: Part II

"Fredericksburg in Revolutionary Days: Part II"
The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jan., 1919), pp. 164-175. Parts I and III are also available to read online.

In November, 1775, Harrower tells us of a muster of the minute men of the district, composed of the counties of Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, and Stafford, which was held at "Belvideira," below the town. In the list of members of the Spotsylvania committee of safety chosen by direction of ordinance of convention on November 17th, of this year, by an assembly of freeholders of the county, meeting in Fredericksburg we find the town represented by Fielding LewisCharles WashingtonGeorge Thornton and Hugh Mercer. Throughout the Revolutionary War Fredericksburg was a center of distinction. "There is not one spot in the State so generally useful in our military operations," wrote James Mercer in April, 1781. The spring of 1781 witnessed in Virginia that remarkable campaign of the gallant young Marquis de LaFayette; the wonderfully conducted retreat from Richmond leading Cornwallis away from that important center and attempting a juncture with Wayne, who was on his way from Pennsylvania with reinforcements.

With barely a handful of men, the majority of them raw militiamen, the Marquis was opposed by a veteran leader with "a superior force of veteran troops." Without the slightest idea of the route Wayne would take, but supposing it would be by way of Fredericksburg, LaFayette headed for the Rappahannock. "Cornwallis comprehended the movement," says Charlemagne Tower, "and was advancing to cut him off." The upshot of this brilliant manoeuvre on the part of LaFayette was to land Cornwallis at Cook's Ford on the Northanna [North Anna] River, where he seemed to realize the futility of a longer chase. " 'The boy's’ legs, directed by an exceptional intelligence had outwitted the experienced leader."

LaFayette finally made the juncture with Wayne towards the close of the month at Raccoon Ford. Here in germ, it has been said, was the ultimate victory of Yorktown. Those who wish to follow the campaign of LaFayette should by all means do so in Charlemagne Tower's classic. Fredericksburg was presumably the objective of the Britisher's rampage. The invaluable Iron Works, the manufactory of small arms, many military stores, destruction of them would mean delivery of an irrecoverable blow to Virginia. Panic struck to the heart of Fredericksburg, "Cornwallis is coming, Cornwallis is coming." Through the streets rang the cry, taken up by the surrounding countryside. Forward had gone the order of LaFayette to General Weedon, who held command at this important point: "Collect the militia."

Alert, efficient, his trustworthiness and ability well proved long ere that day, Weedon dispatched his couriers. In several letters from his pen (bearing date from the first of June onward), which have been preserved, he tells the story of these exciting days. Sending forward Spotsylvania and Carolina militia under Colonel Johnston to join LaFayette, he summoned the King George and Stafford men to assemble on Hunter's Heights: the Stafford hills above Falmouth, which are plainly visible from the upper end of the town. In these letters General Weedon graphically describes the distress of fleeing inhabitants, the securing of military stores, of the assembling of the militia. However, the suspense was not for long; the tenseness of the situation seems to have been shortly relieved; the enemy was diverted. In a letter from Camp Hunter's Heights, June 10, 1781, addressed to Colonel Edwin Conway, commanding the Lancaster militia, General Weedon wrote, "Inclosed I send you extract of Marquis's orders, which first induced me to call you. The enemy were then advancing rapidly, and this quarter was judged to be their object. Their operations pointing to another leaves room to suppose we shall not be visited this time." (See Appendix 7.)

Going back several months prior to the great disturbance of the spring of 1781, we discover an incident in Fredericksburg's history of great interest, and of marked significance. In a letter under date of January 4, 1781, to his excellency, Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, Charles Dick writes: "I have just time to acquaint you that the gentlemen of this town and even the ladies have very spiritedly attended at the gunnery and assisted to make up already above 20,000 cartridges with bullets, from which the Spotsylvania militia and the militia of Caroline have been supplied." The movements of Benedict Arnold in lower Virginia were, no doubt, responsible for this hurried call for an increased supply of ammunition. How well does this incident serve to illustrate the vital connection between the people of all ages.

In hours of necessity the loyal, the truly patriotic never fail to do whatsoever their hands find to do: men and women alike. He who created them, male and female, gave to them dominion. One of the strangest paradoxes of war is that in the heart of its wildness and with things innumerable to be done, vision seems to be clearer and the superficial distinctions which have grown with civilization are swept away and we behold the essential oneness of all living human beings. We find a thousand and one things which have been deemed men's work being done most splendidly by women; and many of the pieces of women's work so-called being done by men. Women have strong hands as well as strong and tender hearts, and men have a tenderness in touch and a tone of sympathy in voice, and gentle hearts as well as strong arms.


[From Papers Relating Chiefly to the Maryland Line During the Revolution. Edited by Thomas Balch. Philadelphia; printed for the Seventy Six Society. T. K. & P. G. Collins, Printers. 1857.]

General Weedon to The Marquis De Lafayette
Fredericksburg, June 1, 1781

9 o'clock P. M.

Dr. Marquis:

The inclosed was this moment put into my hands. I intended moving to-night with the small handful of men at this place, but not being able to remove the stores and disperse the tobacco, as mentioned to you this morning, have risked your censure for the completion of this object, well knowing that a few men added to your operating force, could have but small weight in anything decisive, whereas, their assistance in getting out of the way of the enemy such stores and other articles as they now make an object of, might retard their movements, and prove the salvation of this town. I hope I have not displeased you when I add that the Stafford and King George militia are assembling on the Heights at Hunter's works, no one to arrange or dispose of them, no one to direct the supplies for Gen. Wayne, no one to transact the smallest piece of business here but myself. Surrounded with calls of every nature, and under the application of every denomination, I have trusted to your candor till I hear from you again. I shall send out flour in the morning, have laid in a supply of spirits and bacon, which can be drawn occasionally for the troops; I am dispersing the tobacco, and arming in the best manner the militia coming in, have sent parties to press all the horses from before the enemy's advance, and in the very great confusion occasioned by false alarms, am obliged to attend to every department. I am however, ready at a moments warning, and only wait the return of this express.

With the most perfect esteem, I am y'r most ob't Serv't,
G. Weedon

General Weedon to the Marquis De Lafayette
Camp Hunter's Heights June 4th, 1781

Dear Marquis:

I was honoured with yours of 3rd instant, last evening. Colonel Johnston's regiment, consisting of the Caroline and Spotsylvania militia, marches to join you immediately on the receipt of your orders, those were all the men I had from the south of Rappahannoc. The King George and Stafford militia are here, amounting to 250 men. I finished the removal of all the stores from Fredericksburg yesterday except forage and some Indian meal. It will be out of my power to take off the former for want of wagons. I have had parties out to impress, but being composed of nothing but militia, whose exertions may easily be diverted, have not been able, as yet to procure any. Indeed so distressing is the scene displayed by the inhabitants who are flying with their families, that I have in some measure risked the stores rather than add to their calamity. In consequence of the enemy's advance I called in the militia of the lower counties in the Northern neck.

Inclosed is a copy of Colonel Lee's letter in answering. King George Court House, where I think they will rendezvous, is twenty five miles from hence. These men will assemble in a day or two. Be so obliging as to give me your advice on the propriety of ordering them higher up, or holding them at that place. This will no doubt depend on yours and the enemy's movements. I had also ordered down the Prince William men, and yesterday received a letter from the Commanding officer, copy have also the honor to inclose. The men can be armed by moving down, as no doubt all the arms coming from Philadelphia will change their route and cross at Norman's Ford. Would thank you to order all that can be spared from your army to me, to put in the hands of the unarmed men coming in. The next brigade of wagons coming from you for flour had better cross the river at some of the fords and proceed to this place. I was this morning advised of the enemy's falling back.

I have the honor to be with Much esteem and Reg'd Yr Ob't Serv't,
G. Weedon

This will be delivered to you by Col. Willis, whom I sent back to Frederick County for Riflemen. He will inform you of the situation of the back counties, in consequence of the insurgents in Hampshire.

General Weedon to Colonel Lee
Camp Hunter's Heights June 6th, 1781.

Dear Sir,

So soon as the troops from the lower counties assemble at the place of general rendezvous, they are to be consolidated and formed into regiments, viz: 1 Captain, 2 Subs; 5 Sergeants, 50 rank and file comprising a company. Four companies to each Battalion to be commanded by a Major. Two Battalions make a Regiment to be commanded by a Colonel.  By this establishment a regiment consists of one Colonel, two Majors, eight Captains, sixteen Subs one to act as Adjutant to each battalion, forty Sergeants and four hundred rank and file. Any supernumerary officers after completing the arrangement might, if you think proper, have permission to return home.

The men over and above a regiment, must be completed to companies as far as this will go. After making this arrangement you will please encamp your men and hold them ready to move at a moment's warning advising me of your place of rendezvous and operating strength. I must earnestly entreat you to lose no time in getting into condition, as perhaps you may be immediately called on. You will please appoint an Adjutant to each battalion, who must be a commissioned officer. You will also appoint a Commissary and Quarter Master to each battalion till further directions. I would recommend it to the troops to take as little baggage as possible, the greatest difficulty attends procuring wagons to move them.

I am, Sir your obed't Serv't
G. Weedon,
B. G. P. S. Captain Joel will have the honor of delivering you this. I have sent him down to assist you in arranging the troops, and beg the liberty of introducing him to your cirtities. [Endorsed]

Copy to Col. Richard Henry Lee or the officer Commanding the Militia from the lower Counties.

General Weedon to Colonel Moylan
Camp Hunter's Heights
June 8, 1781

Dear Colonel:

I am just from the Marquis' camp, who labors under the every disadvantage for want of horse. He is informed 60 of your regiment is ordered to the southward and requested me to drop you a line with his compliments, well knowing that a knowledge of his situation would be a sufficient inducement to hurry you on. Indeed he is to be pitied. The enemy have near 400 cavalry, he has only 40 that can be called established dragoons; this superiority of horse gives the enemy a decided advantage and subjects his parties to every evil. In short, if he is not speedily reinforced they must over run our country.

Understanding you are in Philadelphia, I refer you to my friend Grayson for news and am with perfect esteem. Yr Ob'd't Se'v't
G. Weedon
[Endorsed] Col. Moylan

General Weedon to Col. J. A. Washington
Camp Hunter's Heights
June 8th, 1781

My Dear Colonel:

I am this evening advised by letter from Colonel Richard Henry Lee of an hostil appearance in the Potomac. Under these considerations I cannot think of drawing you from your own County, nor indeed any of the Colonels from below. I have therefore sent a regular officer (Col. William Nelson) to take command of all troops in motion from that quarter and must request you and the other Colonels to return to their different Counties for the purpose of drawing out and arranging the other half your armed men should the report be of a serious nature. I have sent down to halt the men marching to this place till we can more clearly ascertain the truth of this account for which purpose I have ordered down an officer to get full information.

With perfect esteem Your Ob'd't Serv't
G. Weedon.

To Col. Jno. A. Washington

General Weedon to Col. Edwin Conway
Camp Hunter's Heights
June 10, 1781

Dear Sir:

In consequence of your favor I have sent an express to the Marquis describing the situation of the lower counties, and have no doubt but the troops will be counter marched. I must however request you to halt on the receipt of this till you hear further from me. Inclosed I send you extract of the Marquis' orders which first induced me to call on you. The enemy were then advancing rapidly and this quarter was judged to be their object. Their operations pointing to another leaves room to suppose we shall not be visited this time. You shall hear from me the moment the express arrives.

I am with perfect esteem Your ob'd't Serv't
G. Weedon
B. G. Col. Edwin Conway, Lancaster Co. [Endorsed]
Copy of a circular letter to the County Lieutenants in the lower Cos. of the Northern Neck.

General Weedon to Mr. John Richards June 14th, / 8i

To Mr. John Richards,

Sir You will take charge of five wagons, impressed by the D. Q. M. G. and with them proceed to Fauquier Court House, where are seven hundred and fifty stand of arms left there by some wagons from Philadelphia contrary to orders. You will load your wagons with those arms and proceed by the nearest route to the Honorable Major General the Marquis le Fayettes Quarters to whom you will communicate your charge and after delivering them agreeable to his order, you will return to this place. All officers civil and military, are requested to be aiding and assisting in this important business.

G. Weedon, B. G. Given at Fredericksburg, 14th June, 1781.

General Weedon to (probably Gov. Nelson.)
Fredericksburg, June 15, 1781.

My Dear Sir,

I am honored with your gen'l report of yesterday's date and most perfectly approve every measure you have adopted. The whole is truly military and deserves my warmest thanks. The distresses our country men feel where the enemy penetrate and the propriety of affording every opportunity of cultivating their fields to the more peaceable quarters induced me to send an express to the Marquis to know his pleasure with respect to sending the troops in the Neck to their different Counties. Under certain restrictions he seems to think that while Potomac is only threatened with plundering parties it is better to do so. I would therefore request you to send the Richmond and Westmoreland troops home on furlough; writing to the Lieutenants of Northumberland and Lancaster to take the same steps with their men keeping at the same time the best look out, and on any appearance of a hostil nature that may be considered in force the whole must assemble at one point and act as occasion may require.

I should think it of the greatest importance could you establish (previous to your sending the men home) a compact Legion of Volunteers young men who have no families to act as a party of observation and afford their general assistance to any of the lower counties that may be invaded by plundering parties this command both of horse and foot, given to a discreet active officer and one of a thorough knowledge in the different counties and shores. He should be directed to change his ground often and never to act on a local principal, but to attend to the protection of the four lower counties while the farmers in their exposed ports are getting in their harvest and cultivating their corn fields. The four counties ought to send a proportion of volunteers to this corps.

As the men now sent home on furlough are ready for duty in the shortest warning they should have every indulgence from the officers commanding in the counties; and never be called on but when danger of a serious nature appears. Before you break up your camp, I beg you to thoroughly investigate the conduct of Joel's prisoners and carry the laws in such cases into full execution. The enemy lay opposite Elk Island; a part of their army were on the 12th at Byrd's Ordinary 13 miles below the Marquis who had thrown himself between the British and our stores and now commands the upper counties. I wrote him for permission to join his army myself if he approved sending the troops home. He will not agree to it, nor can I in that case agree to your leaving me. I shall be glad however to see you soon after arranging your military matters below.

I am with perfect respect and esteem. yr Ob'd't Serv't
G. Weedon

(I send my compliments to Joel.)

General Weedon to Col. Skinker

Fredericksburg June 15, 1781.

Dr. Colo:

On the enemy's pointing to James River, I wrote the Marquis on the propriety of sending the troops drawn out in the Northern Neck to their different counties under certain restrictions till danger might again threaten this quarter and have this morning received his approbation. You will therefore be so good as to permit your five divisions to return to their fields on furlough holding every thing in perfect readiness to act on the shortest warning. I am made happy at having it in my power to grant this indulgence in a regular manner, and hope you will so arrange your defences as to give such future assistance as the calls of your Country may require.

The enemy are opposite Elk Island, a part of them were at Birds Ordinary the 12th inst. 13 miles below the Marquis who has thrown himself between them and our stores and now commands the upper country.

I am, With esteem and respect, Your Ob't Serv't
G. Weedon, B. G.

To Colo. Skinker.
General Weedon to Col. Hendriques
June 16, 1781

Dr. Colo:

Inclosed is a copy of a letter from our friend Grayson; I must request you will send one of your assistance immediately to Noland's Ferry and order him to conform to the enclosed instructions. The enemy are falling down towards Richmond. The Marquis pressing forward with a good countenence. Be so good as to forward the letter to Col. Grayson by the chain of expresses. I am with much esteem and regard,

Your Ob't Serv't, G. Weedon, B. G.

To Col. Hendriques.

General Weedon to Fredericksburg June 17, 1781.

Dear Sir:

The situation of the Marquis La Fayette makes it absolutely necessary he should be speedily and powerfully reinforced with cavalry. I must therefore request you to push forward your detachment with all possible expedition as much depends on his being succored with horse.

I am Sir Your most ob't Serv't G. Weedon, B. G. [Endorsed]

To Officer commanding Horse from Maryland.

General Weedon to Marquis La Fayette
Fredericksburg, June 18, 1781.

Dr. Marquis:

The want of wagons prevents my sending off the supplies so soon as mentioned to you in my last. I am flattered with the expectation of a considerable quantity of them and to procure a still further supply have written a circular letter to the counties as per annexed and would have extended it to others had I a probability of conveyance. Mr Harvey who will have the honor of handing you this wishes to employ a fine brig he has in this river as a flat and should the executive grant him this privilege shall esteem your friendly attention to him as a particular favor. Colo. James Innes writes me this evening from the Bowling Green that he will be here tomorrow morning with a fine troop of horse raised in Gloucester; he will join you so soon as his horses are shod.

His troop consist of thirty-six. I am happy to hear the horse from Maryland were yesterday at Georgetown where they will meet my express and hurry them on, these two corps will I expect amount to near a hundred horse and will join you immediately.

General Weedon's Circular Mentioned in the foregoing letter:

Fredericksburg, 18 June, 1781


The Marquis la Fayette's army is greatly distressed for want of bacon, salt, fish, rum, whiskey or brandy, vinegar and shoes. Any of those articles which may be already collected under the specific tax (except those in the hands of the County Lieutenant for the eighteen month's men) must be forwarded as directed below; but such as are not included or raised by that tax you will endeavor to obtain from the inhabitants by reasonable purchase granting your certificates but on their refusing in the present exigency I am compelled to desire you will procure them by military impress without injuring individuals materially which your own good judgment will direct.

You will immediately after the collection forward them on by wagon to the Marquis' camp by safest route under a careful conductor.

Circular letter from Gen. Weedon to Commissioners of Spotsylvania, King George, Prince William, Westmoreland, Stafford, Caroline, Fairfax, Middlesex, Loudon, Fauquier Counties.

General Weedon to Marquis La Fayette
Fredericksburg 26 June, 1781

Dear Marquis:

I only this moment received yours of the 21St instant; have the honor of transmitting some papers that lead to a discovery of very great [villainy?] carrying on the counties of Essex and Middlesex. The principal characters are ascertained; their conduct, with the original papers, I have reported to the Executive in hope of rigerous measures being directed and exemplary punishment inflicted on such notorious offenders. I should not have troubled you with the tedious perusal of the inclosed documents, but thinking you might probably take measures to intercept General Leslie's letter to Lord Cornwallis, of which Carre makes particular mention as being sent by a trusty person as per No. 2. This Carre is the same fellow Captain McClane took up; who returned up the Bay in your Barge and whom I had sent from Williamsburg to Richmond for trial. Mr. Willis' letter needs no explanation; for it points to us the source from whence those rascals get supplied. Something further may transpire in your camp.  

Any papers falling into the hands of your parties may be worth examination* Captain Joel, whom I had sent down to Gwin's Island, in consequence of Colonel Lee's intelligence, has through his activity made the discovery. I have ever been of opinion they would finally settle in Williamsburg. The advantages of the position -the principal country from thence to Hampton covered by a few redoubts; the advantages of navigation on both banks, added to the idea of setting up their temporary government, were reasons that led me to think they would endeavor to sit down at that place.

However, if we can prevent a chain from Queen's to College Creeks I think his Lordship will find us very troublesome subjects. Still I don't think our time has come to risk anything of a serious nature. Close skirmishing may be proper but a general rout to us would be ruinous. The events of war turning on so nice a pivot will naturally check military ardour when so much is at stake. And to frustrate those mighty champions and circumscribe their depredations is, and will be considered a victory to this country. Colonel Grayson writes me of the 18th, dispatches were handed to the minister, announcing the arrival of a six gun ship, two frigates, with several transports, at Boston, having on board 1200 recruits and military stores, for the French army at Rhode Island. He further adds that General Smallwood is almost ready to march with five hundred new' levies, and Morgan will certainly set out the beginning of next week with 60 horse.

P. S. Should the enemy establish at Williamsburg, will it not be necessary to turn out the defences at Gloucester against * * * to prevent penetration from that place.

(To be continued) editor's note: additional spacing has been added to facilitate readability.  Those wishing to consult the original article should see:
"Fredericksburg in Revolutionary Days: Part II"
The William and Mary Quarterly , Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jan., 1919), pp. 164-175
Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture