G. W. Trotter, Revolutionary War Journal, Thomas Wright
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THOMAS WRIGHT (1755-1836)

Morgan's Rifle Regiment - Continental Troops


When 21-year-old Tom Wright left his Culpeper County, Virginia, farm in 1776 to enlist as a private in the American Army, he began a military career that was to lead him across the icy Delaware River with George Washington to the Battle of Trenton, through the decisive Saratoga Campaign, and the long, cold winter with Washington at Valley Forge.

During his three-year enlistment Tom served in one of the country's most colorful and famous fighting units - Colonel Daniel Morgan's Rifle Regiment.

Morgan, tested and tempered as a frontier fighter, had been selected in the fall of 1775 to head one of the two companies of light infantry from Virginia, which had been authorized by the Second Continental Congress.

The legislators were not thinking of the traditional European light infantry of the eighteenth century. They desired, said Richard Henry Lee, men who were known for their "amazing hardihood" gained through "living so long in the woods."

Morgan schooled his men in wilderness warfare. They were armed with the famous Kentucky long rifles. These long, slender weapons, designed by German gunsmiths, allowed the sharpshooters to hit targets 200 yards away. Musketmen were ineffective at half that distance. The Kentucky rifle, as it was called, was a deadly weapon in the hands of an expert. Spiral grooves inside the barrel, making the bullet rotate in flight, gave it range and accuracy. And since it was not possible to attach bayonets to the rifles, Morgan's tactics were to fire, fall back, reload, then fire again. The sharpshooters often fought from trees or ambush, scoring many hits on officers by sighting for soldiers who wore emphalets.

Their dress was distinctive. Their outside garment was a hunting shirt, or loose open frock, made of earth-colored cloth or dressed deerskins. Leggings of the same material covered the lower extremities, to which was appended a pair of moccasins for the feet. The collar of the shirt and the seams of the leggings were adorned with fringes. Undergarments were of coarse cotton. A leather belt encircled the body; on the right side was suspended the tomahawk, to be used as a hatchet; on the left the hunting knife, powder horn, bag and other appendages indispensable for the hunter.

On December 26, 1776, the two Virginia rifle companies were among the 3,000 American troops who crossed the Delaware with Washington and participated in the Battle of Trenton.

Since he had arrived from Boston in April, Washington had lost skirmishes and battles, forts and cities. His army was down to 3,000 and they were on the run. Five thousand of his men were prisoners. He needed a victory.

Washington's plan included a Christmas night crossing of the icy-choked Delaware River, and an attack on the town of Trenton, New Jersey; which was held by Hessian troops.

A regiment of blue-jacketed fishermen from Marblehead who had rowed the American Army to safety after the defeat on Long Island was again at the oars. Once across the Delaware River, despite raw cold and wild snow storms, the troops, as General Knox wrote his wife, "marched with the most profound silence and good order."

The Hessian colonel, Johannes Rall, and his men had been over-celebrating Christmas with rum and wine. The American attack roused their sentries from drunken sleep. Rall was killed. In 45 minutes almost 1,000 prisoners were taken. There were only five American casualties. The victory at Trenton had an electric effect on all America.

In June 1777 Colonel Morgan built his 11th Virginia Regiment around the five Virginia companies from the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. Tom was in the company commanded by Captain Gabriel Long.

In September and October 1777, Morgan's rifle corps played a critical role in the Saratoga victories. Here, Morgan's Rifle Regiment was part of the American force defending Albany, New York, from advancing General Burgoyne's British army.

Morgan's sharpshooters attacked Burgoyne's flanking division near a place called Freeman's Farm on September 19, 1777, where a furious fight developed.

The first half of the battle ended with the Americans suffering only half as many casualties as the British.

Morgan's Virginia rifleman

Two weeks later Burgoyne struck again. Morgan's riflemen and General Enock Poor's brigade threw themselves against the British column. Both ends of the British line were thrown back. A week later, Burgoyne surrendered.

Saratoga is one of the decisive battles of history. After it, the British gave up hope of a successful invasion of the colonies from Canada. More important, France, who had been helping America secretly, now came openly to her aid.

THE WINTER AT VALLEY FORGE

The coming winter of 1777-1778 was a historic one for Tom and other members of Morgan's rifle corps. They were among the ranks of Washington's army that wintered at Valley Forge.

Valley Forge became a legend -- an incredible tale of not only physical suffering but of mental heroism. Since the camp had to be fortified before huts could be built, the men froze in tattered tents until well into January.

As Washington wrote to Congress, they "occupy a cold, bleak hell and sleep under frost and snow."

Most serious however, were the ravenges of disease, particularly typhus. During that terrible winter nearly 3,000 soldiers died of starvation, exposure, or disease. It is amazing that the army held together at all under these dreadful conditions. That it did was due solely to the influence of Washington's strength of character, will and determination and the affection that bound officers and soldiers to this austere man.

Remarkably, by the end of February, despite deaths and desertions, Washington still had 6,000 troops in the Valley Forge encampment. Of these, some 4,000 were fit for duty.

While at Valley Forge, the army became a more formidable instrument, thanks to the labors of Prussian drillmaster Baron von Steuben and Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene.

During 1778, Morgan's rifle corps stayed with the Northern Army and participated in several skirmishes with the British, who changed their grand strategy. They decided to hold New York City but attack in the South, conquer the Carolinas, then move into Virginia.

The 1lth Virginia Regiment was reorganized and redesignated May 12, 1779 as the 7th Virginia Regiment.

After Tom's discharge August 10, 1779 at Pumpkin Plains, New Jersey, he went back to Virginia. In December, 1784, he married a 19-year-old Culpeper County girl, Mary Story.

Like many other young Virginia men who returned home after the war, Tom found that little opportunity awaited him. Many were migrating west to a new land.

George Rogers Clark's campaign through the county called Kentucky had opened up this new land for settlement. By 1780 immigration from Virginia and other colonies was far greater that it had ever been before. (Kentucky became a independent state in 1792).

Virginia land surveyors aided the flow of immigration by laying out a new road over the Cumberland Mountains, leading toward "the open country of Kentucky, "so as to give passage to pack horses." Over it, or down the Ohio River, population poured in at a rate of from 8,000 to 10,000 a year.

As a reward for his three years of service in the Virginia Continental Line, Tom received a bounty land warrant for 200 acres of land in Kentucky in 1784.

TOM MOVES TO KENTUCKY

Before their first child, Nancy, was born in 1787, Tom and Mary moved to Kentucky. Their choice -a farm on the waters of Pitman Creek in the Saloma section of what is now Taylor County.

There, they had six other children. Sampson was born in 1788, Sarah in 1793, Elizabeth in 1796, Eleanor in 1801, Washington in 1804 and Louisa in 1816.

Tom and Mary's third daughter, "Betsy" would grew up to marry Thomas Shipp of Taylor County on November 10, 1814, and become the ancient grandmother of the compiler of this journal.

Elizabeth Wright Shipp died at the age of 89 in April 1885 and was buried with other members of her family in the Palestine Cemetery in Taylor County.

Two years after his last child was born, Tom applied for a military pension, which he drew, at the rate of $8 per month, until his death in 1836 at the age of 82. After Tom died his widow applied for his pension. She lived to be 88 years old and died May 18, 1864 in Taylor County. Both she and Tom are buried there.

THE WAY THEY LIVED

When Tom and Mary migrated to Kentucky over 200 years ago, their home life was quite different to that which we enjoy today.

All of their cooking, baking and heating was done by means of a fireplace. Their illumination came from tallow candles, often made by themselves. They raised corn and hauled it to a mill where it was ground into meal for making bread and mush.

They raised a few sheep, sheared them of their wool, then washed, carded, spun and wove it into cloth or blankets, and used the yarn for knitting stockings for the entire family.

Their house was made of logs. They kept a few cows, which provided them with milk and butter. They grew corn, sweet potatoes, tobacco and sugar cane. They kept a few hogs to kill or sell, and tapped the trees for molasses when the sap was running.

They made their own hats of a straw that was native to the country, raised broom corn and made their own brooms, dyed their own cloth by gathering roots and berries, and made preserves from wild fruits. The water they used was usually carried in buckets from a spring. This is the way they lived.

ADDITIONAL NOTES ON THOMAS WRIGHT


Nothing is known of Thomas Wright's parents or ancestors.

One military document from Culpeper County, Virginia, states that Mary Story was Tom's second wife. This cannot be verified.

Nothing is known of Mary Story's parents or ancestors. Her brother, John, made an affidavit in 1839 in Anderson County, Kentucky, in conjunction with Mary's application for her late husband's military pension.

Morgan's Rifle Regiment, known as the "elite" unit of the American Army, was considered an independent unit (not attached to any state line) and was excused from all regular duties of the camp.

Morgan used a wild turkey call to summon his sharp shooters and give directions. Here is how one historian describes an incident of the Battle of Saratoga:

A strong infantry picket in faded scarlet coats poured Out of the woods, took open order near the Freeman cabin, and nosed eagerly ahead. There was motion under the trees to the south where vaguely seen men in fur caps and long rifles were gliding.

Somewhere among the dense boles an unearthly, horrible gobbling sound broke out, thick, throaty, and yet somehow carrying. Then the south woods echoed to the sharp crack of rifles. Every officer in the picket was struck down. Sergeants and privates toppled and the clearing was suddenly dotted with lithe men in hunting shirts, rifles ready. Daniel Morgan's men had struck the first blow."

In his letters published after the war, Richard Henry Lee stated of Morgan's sharpshooters: " In shooting matches they desired targets at least 200 yards distant, preferably no larger than an orange."

Introductory Notes Thomas Wright Richard Shipp Shipp Nephews Martin Hawkins
John Hawkins John Hazard Martin Hazard John Hogshead William Hogshead
Robert McNair James Colvin Bibliography Trotter Family Tree E-Mail