Antebellum Grayson County, Virginia Militia

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Antebellum Grayson County, Virginia Militia

The Militia served a three fold function in the Upper New River Valley, the first and most obvious was to prepare the males of the valley for any military emergency. The second function was a good excuse for socialization in a time and place were social contacts were extremely limited. The ladies of the region would prepare pies and other goodies, and a general picnic lunch to the mustering grounds. In Grayson County the mustering grounds were centered in each militia captain's district, which varied with the shifting population. In Ashe County there were three drill fields, roughly at current day Sparta, Boone and Jefferson, or the three county seats of government. The third and perhaps most practical function of the militia was to function as a constabulary for the region in which it operated. The rank of constable, discussed further along, was primarily responsible for law enforcement within the bounds of a particular militia zone. In March 1807 in Grayson County this was formalized and a constable was appointed for each militia captain's company.

The Militia of the Upper New River Valley were poorly equipped, poorly trained and were considered raw recruits when mustered into the Confederate Army in 1861 and 1862.1 The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was taken very literally in the Upper New River Valley, as well as in the Southern States generally. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."2

The State owned very few of the weapons in the ante-bellum days, for example, a notation on a 1784 Montgomery County, Virginia muster roll indicated that the militia possessed only 16 guns for 61 militiamen.3 This same company noted it had 6 pounds of power and 20 pounds of lead. This amount was hardly sufficient for any military emergency or rebellion, therefore, it is logical to assume that individuals provided their own weapons and supplies at least in the days immediately following Independence.

The strength of the militia was a prime concern in the early days of the republic. On June 2, 1794 the Grayson County militia was composed of 678 free white men and boys above the age of 16. The unit, the 78th Regiment, was assigned to the 17th Brigade and 3rd Militia Division. The Regiment was composed of 10 companies, a full regiment, and included 2 companies of riflemen or sharpshooters. This designation implies that the Grayson boys were expert shots and honored with this designation. No other regiment in the commonwealth had two companies of riflemen. The 17th Brigade was then composed of Lee, Washington, Montgomery, Wythe and Grayson Counties.4

The Calendar of State Papers for Virginia notes that the Adjutant General had implemented the law of the General Assembly on March 30, 1804. This law reorganized the militia of the commonwealth and raised companies of artillery, cavalry, infantry and riflemen. Grayson County was one of the counties authorized to raise a cavalry company, under the command of Thomas Smith at the time. The companies of Grenadiers, Light Infantry and Riflemen from Grayson County remained and the county's designation of the 78th Regiment was not changed, however the county's brigade assignment changed and now was assigned to the 17th Militia Brigade, with Washington and Lee Counties.5

Militia muster drills were primarily consisted of drill and ceremony, and very little emphasis was placed on military theory or practice for actual combat. This is not the fault of the Upper New River mind-set, but was instead a pervasive school of thought through out all late 18th - early 19th century military communities. It is difficult, however, to understand the willingness of the men of the Valley to suffer this type of training. These same men in the 1780's and 1790's militia, had fought a largely successful guerilla war against the British, and now the same men were trained in British tactics.

Militia musters were also mandatory and failure to attend drills was a "court- martial" offense. These court martials invariably resulted in a fine of 75 cents per offense. Any excuse for missing drill was unacceptable, there were no doctor's excuses during this period. A person could be excused from further service by order of the county court, obvious physical infirmities or reaching the age of 50.6 Prior to 1819 musters were held monthly, however, in that year, the Virginia General Assembly only required musters twice per year and delinquency was virtually eliminated.

Rank in the militia follows similar patterns as are currently found. At the top the governor appointed, on the recommendation of the county court, a regimental commander in the rank of lieutenant-colonel or colonel, depending on the size of the militia regiment, which depended on the white male population of the county. The Virginia Militia had a rank associated with it not currently found in military structures, that of constable, as this was the lowest of the commissions available. By 1807 the rank of Ensign was gradually replaced by that of second lieutenant, while lieutenant was redesignated 1st lieutenant. Each county in North Carolina and Virginia generally had its own regimental structure. Grayson County's militia regiment was designated the 78th regiment. The 78th regiment was initially divided into two battalions of four companies each, commanded by a major. The County court reshuffled the militia officers on May 18, 1812.7 The 1st Battalion was in roughly the territory which became Carroll County in 1842. In 1862, after many of the militia men had already joined the Confederate Army, the Grayson County Militia still had 338 men enrolled, many of whom were coerced into joining Company C or G of the 63rd Virginia Infantry.8

On March 19, 1819 the Virginia General Assembly passed the following law regulating the militia:

Whereas a well regulated Militia constitutes the great defense of a free people, and it is expedient to carry into effect the laws of the Congress of the United States, providing for the national defense by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the Untied Sates: 1. Be it therefore enacted that the counties of Washington, Russell, Lee, Scott, Grayson and Tazewell shall compose one Brigade... 2. The several counties and corporations within this common- wealth, shall constitute the battalion, portion of Battalion, Regiment, or portions of Regiment, as now established: Provided that it shall be lawful for the executive to divide or alter the regimental districts in the several counties, as circumstances may require, etc. 3. And every Battalion shall, if convenient, be formed into five companies, each company to consist of not less than sixty men, including non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates, nor more than one hundred and eight, officers, included. 4. There shall be a (sic) Adjutant General for the Militia of the state, a Major General to each Division, and a Brigadier General to each Brigade, to be appointed by the joint ballot of both houses of the General Assembly, who shall reside within the limits of their respective commands; and there shall be a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Major of each Regiment, and a Captain, Lieutenant and Ensign to each Company, who shall be appointed and commissioned agreeable to the constitution and commissioned agreeable to the constitution and laws of the Commonwealth. 44. There shall be a muster of each troop of Cavalry and company of Artillery in the months of April and October of every year, at such places as a majority of the members constituting the said troop or company, shall, from time to time, fix upon; and it shall be the duty of the commanding officer of any such troop or company, and he is hereby required, at each and every muster, to call his roll, examine every person belonging thereto, and note down all delinquencies occurring therein, and make return thereof, to the Commanding Officer of the Battalion. 45. There shall be a muster in each company of Militia, including the light companies, in the months of April and October in every year... And there shall be a muster of each Battalion in the month of October or November in every year. 48. It shall be the duty of every Commanding Officer of a Regiment, Battalion or Company, at their respective musters, to keep their respective corps under arms for a period of at least two hours, and to cause them to be trained and exercised, agreeably to the mode of discipline prescribed by congress.9

The Virginia system in the late ante-bellum period was similar and county militia regiments were combined under the overall command of a senior colonel or brigadier general. Grayson County was included in the 25th Brigade, with Wythe, Smyth and Carroll Counties, and the Town of Wytheville.10

Service as a militia officer was considered a high honor. Titles obtained while in militia service were used long after the affiliation ceased. Some of these titles may have been honorary, while others may have been fictions used for personal aggrandizement and to gain social stature in a community. The latter was particularly true when a person traveled from one community to another. The Militia was abolished after Civil War, as a possible source of further rebellion. In modern society it has been replace by the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, which serve similar functions as the ante-bellum militia.

The following chart lists the known Militia Commissions held by men in the Upper New River Valley.

GRAYSON COUNTY - MILITIA OFFICERS 1793 - 181211

Grayson County - Militia Officers 1793 - 1812
NAME RANK/UNIT12 Term of Service 13
Adkins, James Ensign Aug. 29, 1810
Anderson, James Captain Oct. 26, 1811
Anderson, James Captain, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793-Aug. 25, 1793
Anderson, Peter, Jr. Constable, 2nd Battn. Jan. 4, 1810
Anderson, Thomas Lieutenant Aug. 29, 1810
Anderson, Thomas Ensign Aug. 1806
Baker, Joseph Constable, Hash's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Baldwin, _______ Captain Mentioned Oct. 1806
Baldwin, Thomas Captain Oct. 1807
Ballard, Amos Captain, Cavalry Co. Aug. 1806-Mar.24, 1807
Blakly, Aquilla Constable, Cornelius' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Bobbitt, Caleb Lieutenant, 1st Co., 1st Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Bourn, Stephen Captain Aug. 29, 1810
Bourn, Stephen Lieutenant Mar. 28, 1809-Promoted
Bourn, Stephen 2nd Lieutenant, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Mar. 24, 1807
Boyd, William, Jr. Constable Feb. 25, 1812
Burton, John Constable, 2nd Battalion May 21, 1793
Byrd, John Ensign Oct. 26, 1811
Chaffin, William Ensign, Rifle Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-May 27, 1794
Cloud, Jeremiah14 Captain Aug. 29, 1810
Cock, John Ensign Oct. 1806
Cock, John Constable June 28, 1809
Cole, James15 Lieutenant Mar. 28, 1809
Cooley, Benjamin Captain, Cavalry Co. Oct. 1806
Coplin, Charles Captain, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Aug. 25, 1793
Cornelius, George Captain, Mar. 24, 1807-Mar. 27,1810
Cornett, David Major, 2nd Battalion Oct. 15, 1793
Cornett, James Constable, 2nd Battalion Oct. 26, 1809
Cox, Alexander Ensign Aug. 29, 1810
Cox, Andrew16 Lieutenant Mar. 28, 1809
Cox, Andrew Ensign Promoted
Cox, David Lieutenant Oct. 26, 1811
Cox, John Lieutenant, 1st Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793-Mar. 25, 1794
Cox, John Constable, 2nd Battalion May 21, 1793
Cox, Joshua Constable, Fields' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Curren, George Captain Oct. 1806-Promoted
Currin, George Major, 1st Battn. Oct. 1809
Currin, Hugh Captain Oct. 1806
Dalton, John Lieutenant Oct. 1806
Dalton, John Constable, Mayberry's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Dalton, John Lieutenant, Baldwin's Co. Aug. 1807-Oct. 25, 1809
Dalton, Timothy Lieutenant, Edward's Co., 1st Battn. Oct.26, 1811
Dickenson, Martin Lieutenant Colonel Mar. 27, 1810
Drope, William Captain, Rifle Company, 1st Battn. Mar. 25, 1794
East, William Ensign Sep. 21, 1811
Edwards, Henry Constable, Cornelius' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Edwards, Samuel Captain Mar. 27, 1810
Eller, George Ensign Mar. 25, 1794
English, Robert Ensign, 1st Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
English, Robert Constable, 1st Co., 2nd Battn. Dec. 17, 1793
Farmer, David Constable, 2nd Co., 2nd Battn. Dec. 17, 1793
Farmer, Elijah Constable, 2nd Battalion Oct. 26, 1809
Fielder, Enos Constable, Jones' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Fielder, John Ensign, 2nd Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
Fields, William Captain Mar. 28, 1809-Oct. 26, 1811
Freeman, Robert Ensign, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 26, 1794
Frost, John Ensign, 2nd Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793
Gaines, Phillip Captain, 1st Co., ___, Battn. Mar. 25, 1794-Promoted
Gaines, Phillip Major, 2nd Battn. Aug. 29, 1810
Gallimore, James Constable, Mayberry's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Goest, Stephen Captain Mar. 25, 1794
Green, Isaac Captain Mar. 28, 1809
Greer, Aquilla Captain Aug. 1806
Greer, Shadrack Lieutenant, 3rd Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793-Mar. 25, 1794
Hale, Francis Lieutenant, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Aug. 1806-Oct. 26, 1811
Hale, Francis Ensign, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Promoted
Hale, John Constable, 2nd Battalion May 21, 1793
Hale, Lewis Lieutenant Mar. 28, 1809
Hale, Richard Lieutenant, 2nd Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
Hale, Stephen Ensign, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Oct. 1806
Hale, Stephen Ensign, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Aug. 1806
Hash, John Lieutenant Promoted
Hash, John Captain Aug. 1806-Mar. 28, 1809
Hays, Jacob Captain, __ Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 1806-Oct. 26, 1811
Hays, Thomas Ensign Removed Oct. 1806
Herrick, Avery Captain, Rifle Company, 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Mar. 25, 1794
Howell, George Captain, 3rd Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
Johnson, Jabez Lieutenant, Cloud's Co. Aug. 29, 1810
Jones, Abner Major, 2nd Battalion Aug. 29, 1810
Jones, Abner Captain, 2nd Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
Jones, Churchwell Lieutenant Aug. 29, 1810
Jones, Churchwell Ensign Mar. 28, 1809-Promoted
Jones, Isaiah Lieutenant Mar. 28, 1809
Jones, Minitree Major, 1st Battalion May 21, 1793
Keith, George 1st Lieutenant, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Mar. 24, 1807
Kenney, William 2nd Lieutenant, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 1806.-Mar.24, 1807
Leonard, Obediah, Jr. Cornet, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 29, 1810
Levesy, George Ensign, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
Levesy, James Constable, 2nd Battn. Dec. 27, 1808
Levesy, Peter Ensign Mar. 28, 1809
Lindsey, Henry Ensign, Baldwin's Co. Aug. 1807-Mar. 27, 1810
Lundy, Daniel17 2nd Lt., Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Mar.24, 1807-Mar. 10,1810
Martin, George Lieutenant, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Aug. 25, 1793
Martin, George Lieutenant, 4th Co., 1st Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Mayberry, Charles Captain Men. Mar. 24, 1807-Oct.1807
McBride, Daniel Ensign Sep. 24, 1811
McClain, William Lieutenant, Edward's Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 29, 1810-Oct.26,1811
McClain, William Constable, 1st Battn. Aug. 1807
McClure, John Ensign, 1st Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793
McCoy, John Captain, 2nd Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793
McKenzie, Greenberry Captain, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Oct. 1806
McKenzie, Greenberry Captain, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Mar. 24, 1807
McKenzie, Greenberry Lieutenant, 2nd Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Promoted
Meredith, Isaac Constable, 1st Co., 1st Battn. Dec. 17, 1793
Mitchell, William Ensign, Mar. 27, 1810
Moseman, Archibald18 Constable, Currin's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Noblett, Abraham Ensign, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. Dec. 17, 1793-Promoted
Noblett, Abraham Lieutenant, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 26, 1794-Promoted
Noblett, Abraham Captain, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. Oct. 26, 1811
Noblett, Isaac Ensign Oct. 1806
O'Neal, John Ensign, Cloud's Co. Aug. 29, 1810
Osborn, Enoch, Jr. Captain Mar 28, 1809
Osborn, Zachariah Constable, Fields' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Osborne, Enoch, Jr. Ensign, 3rd Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793
Parker, Arthur Ensign Aug. 1807
Parker, Arthur Lieutenant Oct. 26, 1811
Parsons, Solomon Constable, Hash's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Patton, Thomas Lieutenant, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Aug. 26, 1794
Peace, Silas Ensign Mar. 28, 1809
Perkins, Timothy Ensign Aug. 29, 1810
Phipps, Joseph Ensign Promoted
Phipps, Joseph Lieutenant Mar. 28, 1809-Aug. 29, 1810
Pickerell, John Captain, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Aug.26, 1794
Poole, John Ensign, 4th Co., 1st Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Pope, Nathaniel Captain, 1st Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Mar. 25, 1794
Porter, Adam Ensign, 4th Co., 1st Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Reeves, George Captain Mentioned Mar. 24, 1807
Reeves, George, Jr. Constable, Reeves' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Reeves, Jesse Lieutenant, 1st Co., 2nd Battn. Mar. 25, 1794
Rider, Bennet Ensign, __ Co., 1st Battn. Oct. 26, 1811
Roark, Charles Lieutenant, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Oct. 26, 1811
Roark, Timothy, Jr. Ensign, Stone's Co., 2nd Battn. Aug. 29, 1810
Roark, Timothy, Jr. Constable Aug. 25, 1810
Robertson, John Captain, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 26, 1794
Robinson, John Major, 2nd Battalion Oct.1806
Robinson, Thomas Ensign, __ Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 1806-Oct. 26,1811
Scott, James Ensign Mar. 28, 1809
Smith, George Lieutenant Mar. 27, 1810
Smith, George Lieutenant Oct. 1806
Smith, George Lieutenant Oct. 25, 1809
Snider, Henry Ensign Oct. 26, 1811
Snyder, John 2nd Lt., Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Mar. 10, 1810
South, Joseph Constable, Hay's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Spencer, John19 Lieutenant Aug. 1806-Mar. 28, 1809
Spencer, John Ensign Promoted
Stamper, William Constable, Hash's Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Stone, John Major, 2nd Battalion May 21, 1793-Oct.15, 1793
Stone, Stephen Ensign, 2nd Co., 2nd Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Stone, Stephen Captain Mar. 28, 1809
Stone, Stephen Constable, 2nd Co., 2nd Battn. Dec. 17, 1793
Stone, William Constable, Jones' Co. Mar. 24, 1807
Swift, Elisha20 Lieutenant Oct. 26, 1811
Swift, Flower Lieutenant Colonel, Regiment May 21, 1793-Mar. 27, 1810
Swift, Thomas Captain, Cavalry Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 1806
Terrell, William Ensign Mar. 28, 1809
Thomas, Jonathan Lieutenant, 4th Co., 1st Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Thomas, Moses Constable, 1st Battn. Aug. 1807
Thomas, Owen Ensign Oct. 26, 1811
Tremble, John Captain Mar. 27, 1810
Trimble, John Ensign, Nuckolls' Co. Aug. 1807
Trimble, John Constable, 1st Battn. Mar. 24, 1808
Vaughn, Archilous Ensign, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Oct. 1806
Vaughn, David Lieutenant, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Mar. 25, 1794
Vaughn, David Captain, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Aug. 1806
Vaughn, Nathaniel Ensign, 1st Co., 2nd Battn. May 27, 1794
Vaughn, William Lieutenant, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793-Promoted
Vaughn, William Captain, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Aug. 1806
Vaughn, William Captain, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Mar. 25, 1794-Oct.28,1794
Ward, Jonathan Captain, 1st Co., 2nd Battn. May 21, 1793-
Waugh, William Captain, Rifle Co., 2nd Battn. Oct. 28, 1794
Webb, James A. Constable, 1st Battn. Mar. 24, 1808
Welborne, Isaac Lieutenant, 3rd Co., 2nd Battn. Mar. 25, 1794
Welch, Andrew Constable Jun. 28, 1809
West, William Ensign, Edward's Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 29, 1810
Williams, John Ensign, 2nd Co., 1st Battn. Apr. 23, 1794
Williams, William Captain, 3rd Co., 1st Battn. Aug. 25, 1793
Williams, William Lieutenant, 1st Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793-Promoted
Williams, William Ensign, Rifle Co., 1st Battn. May 27, 1794
Wilson, John Lieutenant, Rifle Co., 1st Battn. May 21, 1793
Worrell, _______ Captain Mentioned Dec. 17, 1793
Young, Thomas Captain Oct. 26, 1811
Young, Thomas Lieutenant Aug. 29, 1810-Promoted

Endnotes

  1. Weaver, Jeffrey C. 63rd Virginia Infantry
  2. Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution
  3. Muster rolls, Newell's Company, Montgomery County, Virginia Court Records, Christiansburg, Virginia.
  4. Calendar of State Papers, Vol. VII, pp. 164-7.
  5. Calendar of State Papers, Vol. VIII, pp. 404-406.
  6. Hennings, Statutes at Large.
  7. Mintues, Grayson County Court, May 18, 1812.
  8. Weaver, Jeffrey C. 63rd Virginia Infantry
  9. Harman, John Newton, Sr.Annals of Tazewell County, Virginia from 1800 to 1922. W. C. Hill Printing Co., Richmond. pp. 29-30.
  10. Wallace, Lee A., Jr. A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations 1861-65 pp. 273-274.
  11. Fields, Bettye-Lou. Grayson County: A History in Words and Pictures. pp. 61-63.
  12. Grayson County Court Records for the period from 1794-1806 are missing. It, therefore is not possible to track the military succession in each company.
  13. May 21, 1793 was the date these men were recommended by the county court. By August 25, 1793, most had received their commissions from Governor Henry Lee.
  14. Vacancy made when part of Patrick County was annexed to Grayson County in 1810.
  15. Removed.
  16. Removed on August 29, 1810.
  17. Removed.
  18. Moseman was accused of beating and abusing James. Lee, a laborer, by word of Lee. Disposition of this case of police brutality is unknown, but Moseman retained his position as constable.
  19. Removed from office.
  20. Removed.