Crawford’s Service with Washington in the Revolutionary War

While researching William Crawford, I found another area that was somewhat confusing: his service in the Continental Army under Washington during the American Revolution. I found some historians placed him at the battles around New York in 1776 as well as crossing the Delaware to fight the Hessians at Trenton later that same year. In addition, he was shown as only being associated with the 5th and 7th Virginia Regiments, but not the 13th Virginia, which would have placed him at two other major battles.

I set about researching this and I could see why some historians had made certain assumptions regarding his wartime service. The problem was that one had to connect the dots via a variety of sources to come up with a more complete picture, and I think I came pretty close to that.

William Crawford started his military service during the war as a Lt. Colonel of the Continental Line with the newly formed 5th Virginia Regiment in February 1776. He travelled to Williamsburg where most of the new Virginia regiments were being mustered in and trained. The 5th Virginia did head north to join Washington’s army during the summer of 1776, and they fought under him at New York. But William Crawford was not there. Just as they were leaving, he was promoted to colonel and made commander of the 7th Virginia, which was training in Williamsburg. In fact, on September 23, he wrote Washington from Williamsburg saying, “I should have been glad to have the honor of being with you at New York.”

However, William’s work with the 7th Virginia was relatively short lived. Just as with the 5th Virginia, Crawford was transferred just as the regiment moved north, where they fought with Washington at Trenton. In November 1776, he was made commander of another new regiment, the 13th Virginia, which was being formed with men enlisted around Fort Pitt. Given his familiarity and popularity in the Fort Pitt region, Crawford was a natural choice for the job. On November 22, William published his farewell address to the 7th Virginia and headed for Fort Pitt.

Soon after he arrived, Washington ordered Crawford’s new regiment to join his army in New Jersey. However, two issues delayed the move. First, the regiment, while almost fully manned, had no weapons for two-thirds of its soldiers. Second, however, William’s brother, Valentine, and his half-brother, Hugh Stephenson, died in January 1777. He requested a leave of absence to attend to matters involving their estates, which Washington approved. Finally, while still ill-equipped, he moved the regiment over the mountains to join Washington’s army outside New York in May 1777.

As a result, Crawford and the 13th Virginia fought with Washington at both Brandywine Creek in September 1777 and Germantown in October 1777. At Brandywine Creek, his regiment was a key part of the rear guard action that saved the Continental Army from complete destruction. But at Germantown, things did not go so well. Caught in a swirling, dense fog, his men simply refused to advance, leaving other regiments exposed to flanking counterattacks by British forces.

Not long after Germantown, Washington moved Crawford to take command of a new brigade composed entirely of militia units. Again, Washington intended to make use of William’s long experience serving with militia forces, hoping he could train and organize them into a reasonable semblance of a fighting force. But just as he took command, Congress ordered him to return to Fort Pitt where he was to command all troops in the Western Department.

This is where some of the confusion about Crawford’s service comes into play. As he headed west, Washington moved his army to its winter quarters at Valley Forge. Lt. Colonel William Russell took command of the 13th Virginia and, for some reason, many records show him as being the first commander of the regiment. But a review of Washington’s correspondence clearly shows that William was its first commander. In fact, he was never officially replaced as commander, which would create some controversy later when the 13th Virginia was sent to Fort Pitt.

But that’s a story for another time.


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