Outline of the German role in the Revolutionary War

Outline of the German role in the Revolutionary War

(The following are notes prepared by Edward Spannaus for his presentation in the September 11, 2011 lecture on “The German Settlement in the Revolutionary War.”)

On June 14, 1775 – and remember, this is more than a year before the Declaration of Intdependence – the Continental Congress undertook the organization of a Continental Army. On this date (regarded as the date of the founding of the U.S. Army), Congress took two decisive steps: (1) it adopted the New England army as part of the Continental Army, and (1) it directed the raising of the first forces from outside of New England, the Pa-Md-Va rifle companies. On the next day, June 15, Congress appointed a southerner, George Washington, as C-in-C, and also eighty major generals and brigadeers to serve under Washington; it set up staff offices, and adopted Articles of War to govern the military establishment.

In its June 14 resolution, the Continental Congress specifically directed the raising of ten rifle companies – six from Pa., two from Md., and two from Va.,– who were to rush to Boston to join those patriots confronting the British, in and around Boston. After Lexington and Concord, the alarm had spread throughout the colonies, and the Second Continental Congress, meeting on May 10 in Philadelphia, had begun to take responsibility for organizing, directing, and supplying military resistance to the British. While this was underway, the newly-organized New England forces fought the battle on Bunker and Breed’s Hill, the bloodiest single engagement of the entire war, on June 17.

The ten (eventually 13) rifle companies were to be recruited in the frontier counties of Pa-Md-Va . Why were these areas – in which first and second-generation German immigrants predominated — selected to provide the first Continental soldiers outside of New England, rather than the seaboard cities and towns?

  1. GW [George Washington] had experience with fighters from these areas in the French-Indian War, and knew very well their skill with the rifle. Rifled weapons unknown to British. Brought to American by German Palatine and Swiss immigrants. Only places in world where rifle was used were Central Europe, and the American frontier from Pa. to the Carolinas. German areas of Reading and Lancaster most important centers of rifle production. Spread terror among British troops, known as the “widow and orphan maker.” 2-3x range of musket (although had its disadvantages).

  1. Frontier areas populated by Germans, Scotch-Irish and Welsh – no loyalty to England or to British crown, no desire to return there as many Tory loyalists did. America was their country, their only country. Historian Bancroft pointed out that G’s were ___ of population, but 1/8 of Rev. Army. (Berks Co. claims higher portion of its population in army than any other comparable area in the 13 colonies.) Pa Dutch country was the arsenal, the commissary, and the hospital of the Cont. Army.

  1. Germans were treated as second-class citizens, oppressed both by British and the “eastern establishment.” Pennsylvania dominated by Quaker and conservative Anglicans; Germans and Scotch-Irish grossly underrepresented. June 8, 1776, Pa. delegates to Cont. Congress voted 5-12 against declaring independence. Germans and S-I revolted, called for a new provincial gov’t. Finally, Pa. 12 opposing delegates agreed to absent themselves so that Pa. could break the 6-6 tie, and cast the deciding votes for independence. The Germans, many writers will tell you, held the balance of power, and all voted for independence.

  1. Maryland – Germans very quick to take up the banners of Revolution. Resentment over state church & church taxes. No ties to England. Not political or politically represented. But this “disadvantage” of not being English, now became an advantage. Germans came into their own, and indeed were “one step ahead” in the western counties. First Maryland court to openly rebel against Stamp Act in 1765, Stamp collector burned in effigy, court declared it unconstitutional. Celebrated by public parade in Frederick


In 1774 forerunner of Boston Tea Party; Frederick County Committee prevented a tea ship from landing in Georgetown, forced to sail back to England with its cargo of tea.

By this 1774-75, Germans politically active, Committee of Observation was half German, including Stull, Ohrendorff, Hager, Schnebley, etc. Germans are judges, etc. in Frederick County and the newly-created Washington County.

Military – Germans stepped forth. Large percentage of two 1775 Rifle Companies were German. 1776 Flying Camp. 1776 German Regiment of Pa. and Md. (2 companies each from Frederick and Baltimore Counties). Also important in manufacture of munitions, and gunpowder along Potomac and Monocacy Rivers.

The German Regiments in the Revolutionary War

1775 Rifle Companies

14 June 1775 – Congress undertook to raise ten companies of expert riflemen, from Pa (6, then 8 companies), Maryland (2), and Virginia (2) – the first units to be raised as “Continentals,” with a one-year enlistment, expiring July 1, 1776.

The Virginia Rifle Companies:

Daniel Morgan – Frederick County (Winchester) (included present-day Clarke County). Welsh, from New Jersey, wagoneer in French-Indian War; altercation with British officer, 500 lashes

Hugh Stephenson – Berkeley County (Shepherdstown) (Berkeley County formed in 1772 from Frederick Co. Va., included present-day Jefferson Co.)

Both Frederick and Berkeley Counties at that time were contiguous to Loudoun.

(Many in Michael Cresap’s company also came from across the Potomac in Virginia. Ultimately, seven companies from Shepherdstown area.)

Hugh Stephenson had been a captain under GW in French-Indian War, GW recommended to Congress along with Daniel Morgan.

Bedinger family of Jefferson Co.: came from Alsace, 1737, friend of H. M. Muhlenberg; settled in York, Pa. Moved to Mecklenburg 1762, but had been there earlier. Lutherans, became Episcopalian over language issue. Henry and Michael joined Stephenson’s Company. Henry made a sergeant; then captain, promoted to Major in 1792. George Michael Bedinger also later rose to Major. Henry re-enlisted as 3rd Lt. in Capt. Abraham Shepherd’s Company in 1776, part of Stephenson’s (later Rawling’s) Battalion. Was a Captain in 8th Va. (German Regiment). Daniel made Captain. Three brothers all fought in RevWar, two were members of Society of Cincinnati.

Morgan got the jump on Stephenson, arranged to meet in Frederick, but told Stephenson to tarry a few days longer so they could march together. Morgan left Winchester on July 14, crossed at Harper’s Ferry and hurried his company on to Lancaster, Reading, Bethlehem, etc. Arrived Cambridge on August 6.

Stephenson’s Co. left July 17, arrived in Cambridge on August 11. Treated well by people along the way, gave shooting demonstrations.

The Maryland Rifle Companies:

Michael Cresap – Frederick County

Thomas Price — Frederick County

The Maryland Companies were recruited almost entirely among Pennsylvania Germans who had moved to western Maryland.

The Pennsylvania Rifle Companies Regiment: The six 1775 companies of Pennsylvania riflemen were redesignated as the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment on 22 June 1775, and was re-organized in June-July 1775 with nine companies as Col. William Thompson’s Battalion.

The Pennsylania rifle companies were:

Cumberland County – Capt. James Chambers

Cumberland County – Capt. William Hendricks

York (now Adams) County – Capt. Michael Doudel

Lancaster County – Capt. James Ross

Lancaster (now Dauphin) County – Capt. Matthew Smith

Northumberland County – Capt. John Lowdon

Bedford County – Capt. Robert Cluggade

Berks County – Capt. George Nagel

Northampton County – Capt. Abraham Miller

[County description, HMMR, p. 234]

Capt. Nagel’s company from Reading was the first to arrive at Boston, on July 18 (34 days later) — thereafter known as “the first defenders of the Revolution.”

Description: “They are remarkably stout and hardy men; many of them exceeding six feet in height. They are dressed in white frocks or rifle shirts and round hats. These men are remarkable for the accuracy of their aim; striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance. At a review, a company of them, while on a quick advance, fired their balls into objects of seven inches diameter, at the distance of two hundred and fifty yards. They are now stationed in our line, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose themselves to view, even at a more than double the distance of common musket shot.”

In recognition of their being the first Continentals, the Pa. Rifle Regt was designated the 1st Continental Regiment in the Spring 1776 re-organization. Washington used them as a special reserve force. (Wright) They were assigned to Sullivan’s Brigade in April 1776, then to Greene’s Brigade, then Nixon’s Brigade, then Mifflin’s Brigade – all units of the Main Army, all this in 1776. 1 January 1777, reorganized as the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment. Consolidated 17 January 1781 with the 10th Pennsylvania Regiment.

The Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment:

On 17 June 1776, Congress authorized the creation of a joint unit, the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment , whose cadre were drawn from the rifle companies of 1775. (Morgan’s had been captured in New York at Fort Washington.) Four additional companies were raised in Virginia and three in Maryland.—all from the northwestern sections of each colony. New companies were raised in Frederick and Harford Counties, Md., and in Facquier, Berkeley, Frederick, and Culpeper Counties, Va. Regimental field officers were Capts. Hugh Stephenson, Moses Rawlings, and Otto Holland Williams. A good part of the regiment was captured at Fort Washington, New York, in November 1776, and the regimental organization was disbanded. The Virginia portion was transferred to the 11th Virginia Regiment. The Maryland portion was provisionally reorganized as a single company under Capt. Alexander Lawson Smith as attached to the 4th Maryland Regiment.

In late 1776, Daniel Morgan built the new 11th Virginia Regiment around the five Va. companies from the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment and the survivors of his 1775 Rifle Company.

In June 1777, GW formed a provisional rifle corps under Col. Daniel Morgan, formed of men from the Virginia and Pennsylvania regiments selected for their marksmanship and woodcraft. They served as a light infanty and skirmishing force in the Northern Department.

It was then reorganized 21 March 1779 as Rawlings’ Independent Corps, consisting of three companies, and assigned to the Western Department. Disbanded 1 January 1781 at Fort Pitt. (Wright)

“Morgan’s Virginians,” through their successful exploits as marksmen, scouts and soldiers on the battlefield, were considered amongst the Elite of the American forces. When Morgan was once asked which race of those composing the American armies, made the best soldiers, he replied: “As for the fighting part of the matter, the men of all races are pretty much alike; they fight as much as they find necessary, and no more. But sir, for grand essential composition of a good soldier, give me the ‘Dutchman’ –he starves well.”

Records show that two-thirds of Morgan’s men were actually Pennsylvanians, and a very large percentage of the whole were Pennsylvania-Germans.

8th Virginia Infantry Regiment (The “German Regiment”)

Authorized 11 January 1776 in the Virginia State Troops as the 8th Virginia Regiment (German Regiment). Adopted into the Continental Army 25 May 1776.

Consolidated 12 May 1779 with the 4th Virginia Regt.

The 8th Va. was unique in that it was raised from the German-Americans of the Shenandoah Valley, and therefore it was exempt from the requirement to have a fixed ratio of riflemen to musketmen. (Wright)

The Rev. Peter Muhlenberg (background: sent to Halle, indentured to druggist, ran away, joined British regiment, etc.) Under pressure from his father, went into the Lutheran ministry, had to go to London be cross-ordained as an Anglican, served on the Dunmore County Committees on Safety and Correspondence, and was a delegate to the Virginia Convention. The Convention called for one regiment to be raised among the Shenandoah Valley Germans, to be commanded by German officers. Muhlenberg was appointed Colonel of the Regiment, and two Elders in his parish, Abraham Bowman and Peter Helphenstine, were appointed Lt. Col. and Major of the Regiment.

In mid-January, Muhlenberg returned to Woodstock and called for three days of fasting and prayer in support of Boston. Valley Germans and Scotch-Irish had already sent wagons of flour and other provisions to Boston. On Jan 23 (? open to question), Muhlenberg preached his famous farewell sermon and recruited 162 men to his regiment that day. Over the next few weeks, he had recruited over 300, and began drilling, training, and arming his troops. The entire German community in the Valley, and Germans in Pennsylvania, were mobilized in this effort.

In January of 1776, Muhlenberg sent word for his congregation to gather for his farewell sermon. Ascending his familiar pulpit, he preached from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The sermon glowed throughout with devoted patriotism as the man of God told his people of his own resolve to fight and, if need be, to die for his country. He closed his message with these words: “In the language of holy writ, there is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but the time for me to preach has passed away. And there is also a time to fight, and that time has now come.”

After pronouncing the benediction, Muhlenberg threw off his clerical gown and stood before his people in full military uniform. Stepping down the aisle, he ordered the drums at the door to beat for new recruits. The whole village gathered at the church to learn what strange event had turned a quiet church meeting into a scene of bustle and excitement. Before the day’s end, nearly 300 men had joined Muhlenberg’s standard.

In March they were ordered to to Suffolk to join the Command of Maj.Gen.Charles Lee, who had some concerns about the Germans, and also the Scotch and Irish. On May 8, they were ordered south to Charleston, and they participated in the defense of Charleston and of Fort Moultrie. They took some combat casualties, but suffered much more due to disease, being unaccustomed to the swampy climate, and losing 147 men to sickness. Muhlenberg, himself sick, was ordered to take his troops back to the Valley to recover and rebuild the regiment.

Again, Muhlenberg mobilized the people of the Valley and the Pennsylvania Germans, who helped the sick back to health; this included a contingent of Moravians from Lancaster County, Pa. Everytime Muhlenberg succeeded in assembling a full company, it was sent north, where the regiment was now attached to the northern Army under Washington. In Feb. 1777 Muhlenberg was promoted to Brigadier General; Bowman was promoted to Colonel and given command of the 8th Regiment. In September 1777, the Regiment participated in the campaign to head off Cornwallis’s approach to Philadelphia, and they saw action at Brandywine. They then wintered at Valley Forge.

In June 1778, Washington’s Army left Valley Forge when Cornwallis evacuation Philadelphia, and Washington’s forced engaged the British at Monmouth, New Jersey, where the German Regiment again saw major action.

In September1778, the 8th Virginia was merged into the 4th Va. Regiment, effectively eliminating the German Regiment, but Germans continued to serve with the other Virginia Regiments.

(After the war, Peter Muhlenberg was elected to the Supreme Executive Council in 1784 and served as Pennsylvania’s vice president from 1785 to 1788. He was elected to the First United States Congress (1788-1789), of which his brother Frederick Muhlenberg was Speaker, and served in several successive (3rd, 6th) Congresses. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1801, he resigned shortly thereafter to accept the appointment of supervisor of internal revenue for Pennsylvania. He served in this post until his death on October 1, 1807.)

12th Virginia Regiment (Col. James Wood)

Consisted of the five state frontier companies.

Other Virginia Regiments recruited specifically from Loudoun County as well as other Va. counties:

3rd Va.

5th Va. – consolidated with 3rd Va. in 1779

11th Va. – four county companies including Loudoun and Frederick, plus Morgan’s Rifle Co., and 5 companies from the Va. portion of the Md & Va. Rifle Regiment. 1779 reorganized as 7th Va. Reg’t.

The German Regiment (aka German Battalion) of Pennsylvania and Maryland (1st Continental Regiment)

26 May 1776 Congress authorized the German Battalion to consist of four companies each from Maryland and Pennsylvania, to be recruited among German-Americans and German immigrants for three-year terms. Md.: two from Baltimore County and two from Frederick County.

Congress appointed Nicholas Hausegger of the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion as Colonel, Capt. George Stricker of Smallwood’s Maryland light company as Lt. Col., and Ludowick Weltner of Maryland as Major. All were leaders in the German community.

On 17 July Congress authorized a ninth company to be raised in Pennsylvania as a result of GW’s recommendation of John David Woelper, a Lt. in the 3rd Pennsylvania Battalion who had served in the French-Indian War.

Partisans and Independent Corps

5 December 1776, Congress ordered Maj. Nicholas Dietrich, Baron de Ottendorf, a Prussian veteran, to recruit one company of chasseurs (light infantry) and two companies of jaegers (riflemen); a fourth company was added in April 1777. The enlisted men were German-Americans. When Ottendorf deserted, Congress placed Col Charles Armand Tuffin in command.

Congress directed Gen. Casimir Pulaski, who had been training cavalry, to raise an “independent corps” in March-April 1778, with the cadre coming from light dragoons he had trained at Trenton. Congress authorized another independent corps in April 1778 for Capt.Henry Lee, who was promoted to Major.

Armand recruited his Free and Independent Chasseurs after Congress approved it in June 1778, consisting of three companies.

At the end of 1778 the Main Army had three partisan corps: Lee’s, an American force, entirely mounted; Pulaski’s, with the remains of Ottendorf’s companies, a combined arms unit; and Armand’s, consisting entirely of infantry. Washington and Congress later concluded that the most efficient partisan organization consisted of balanced numbers of mounted and dismounted troops, so Congress annexed Capt. Allen McLane’s infantry company (formerly of Patton’s Additional Regiment ) to Lee’s corps in July 1779.

On 23 February 1780, Congress rescinded an earlier directive disbanding Pulaski’s corps, and consolidated it with Armand’s.

Congress authorized a special mounted police unit, the Marechaussee Corps, on 25 May 1778, which assisted the provost marshal. Capt. Bartholomew Von Heer, a Prussian veteran, recruited in the Pennsylvania-German communities of Berks and Lancaster Counties.

The Loudoun Germans in various histories:

A number of histories – all of which seem to have been written around the same time — say that many of the Germans from Loudoun served in Armand’s Legion – although we haven’t been able to document this yet, there is likely some truth in it.

H.M.M. Richards of Pennsylvania, in his 1908 work The Pennsylvania German in the Revolutionary War 1775-1783, notes at p. 80, that, von Ottendorf’s Corps, Capt. John Paul Schott’s Company, and Pulaski’s Corps, were eventually merged into Armand’s partisan corps. He says “it was composed, nearly altogether, of Pennsylvania Germans, from Pennsylvania itself, and from Loudoun County, Virginia.

Briscoe Goodhart’s “Early History” of the German Settlement, (1900?) writes:

“The Germans of Loudoun, like those in the other American colonies, were intensely loyal during the Revolutionary War, and did not hesitate to show their faith by their works. Armand’s Legion, recruited by authority of Congress during the summer of 1777, was composed of men who could not speak English, and contained many of the Germans of Loudoun. Many of the Germans of the Shenandoah Valley also belonged to this command…”

Which may be the source for James W. Head’s History of Loudoun County (1908) which says:

“The Germans of Loudoun were intensely loyal to the cause of freedom, many serving in Armand’s Legion, recruited by authority of Congress during the summer of 1777, was composed of men who could not speak English.”

(From LoudounHistory.org)


When the Revolutionary War broke out, there was a divided home front in the Colonies. Where the population was primarily made up of British subjects, all did not support the cause of liberty. Many Englishmen went home, thousands fled to Canada, and others like the Quakers simply withdrew as much as possible and kept quiet. In contrast, there was little division of sympathy in The German Settlement. Almost every man of military age volunteered to fight on the side of the patriots, for they remembered the reasons for their ancestors having left the Rhine River Valley. Most of them served valiantly in Colonel Charles Armand’s Legion. Colonel Armand was a French nobleman, who volunteered to help the Colonies in their struggle. He spoke German fluently and was highly respected by his men.

One who did not serve under Colonel Armand was Johannes Lorenz Eberhardt, called Laurence. The story of his heroism, while serving in the Continental Army, is told in a subsequent chapter, “The Everhart Family.”

(From: Loudoun County Virginia in the American Revolution 1774 – 1783:


The German Palatines who had immigrated to Loudoun County had settled a town called Lovettsville at the northern most point of the county near the Potomac River directly across from Brunswick, MD. The memories of their repression in their former homeland caused them to become intensely loyal to the cause of freedom, and it is said that almost every man of military age volunteered unhesitantly. Because a vast number did not speak English, most signed on to serve in Armand’s Legion, recruited by authority of Congress during the summer of 1777 when it commissioned the French nobleman, Charles Trefin Armand, Marquis de la Rouaire, as a Colonel in the American Army. Fluent in French, German, and English, he was the ideal candidate to command the German born ranks, and reportedly was highly respected and loved by the men under his command. This legion, with it’s ranks of Loudoun County soldiers, saw action in a number of battles, including the Siege at York.