Saturday, February 25, 2017

Military Monday: 1 May 1781 – Pierce Butler Pennel and the Militia’s Rendezvous

A "Brown Bess" flintlock musket
By Antique Military Rifles (Originally posted to Flickr as Brown Bess) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Staunton River splashed against its banks by Ward’s Ferry. Birds chirped in the trees. Spring flowers peeped up from the ground here and there, with the promise of more to come. Off in the distance a new sound broke through the natural stillness: a sound of footsteps approaching. Louder and clearer they became, and were joined by other footsteps, and voices. Animals vanished into the underbrush. Soon the splashing of the river was drowned out by the arrival of the numerous voices and footsteps of men. There were about a hundred of these men, some, perhaps, attended by their families who assembled there to wish them a hearty or a tearful farewell. “Ragtag” is a term often applied to these men and their peers, with their piecemeal attempts at a uniform, their spotty training, and their diversity of arms. Most provided their own weapons: fowling pieces or muskets, the latter usually equipped with bayonets, and perhaps a flintlock “Brown Bess” captured from the enemy in a previous engagement. Knives and swords, and perhaps even tomahawks, were also represented among these men’s accoutrements.

These men belonged to the Bedford county militia; they were the latest company under the command of Capt. Adam Clements. Many of these men were already battle-hardened, having returned to their homes from their previous tour of duty within the past month. Some had fought against General Corwallis’ troops at the recent patriot defeat at the Guilford Courthouse, only a month and a half before, where they saw what appeared to be the British artillery firing on their own men in their zeal to drive away the American rebels. And now these American rebels were returning to action, once again leaving their homes, their families, and their farms neglected.

It must have been hard to do. Although the call to duty was in defense of their liberty, if their crops were ruined, they may end up in an even worse position than if they were forced to remain under British rule. A few of those called up could ill afford the time away and sought replacements. Some were fortunate enough to have a brother willing to serve in their place. Sometimes a substitute could be hired, but there is no evidence that any of the men meeting at Ward’s Ferry that day were hired. Most men heeded their own call to duty.

One of these Bedford county militiamen was Pierce Butler Pennel. Whether he was one of those who had recently returned from action is unknown, but it is certainly possible and even probable. Of his fellow militiamen in this company who later applied for pensions, all but one (John Lambert) declared prior service. The muster rolls for many of these previous companies no longer exist, so the declarations of pensioners must be relied upon as evidence.

In May of 1781, the War of the American Revolution had already been dragging on for many long years. A few of the older men, true patriots, had been serving on and off for half a decade or so. Now this company was headed south into the Carolinas to come to the aid of General Nathanael Greene and his forces in their campaign to drive the British from the south.

Ward’s Ferry was probably the most logical and convenient location for this rendezvous of the militia. Not only could it provide for the necessary crossing of the Staunton River in the men’s impending march south, but the proprietor was Maj. John Ward, who was to be one of the commanders of their regiment. He lived in “the Mansion” nearby, and could easily join his men from there.

With the forces assembled, and the leaders prepared, it was time to begin the long march to the south.


Pierce B Pennell, muster rolls of Co. Capt. Adam Clement's Militia, 1 May 1781; U.S., Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783; digital images, Operations, Inc., "Virginia: Western Battalion, 1781-1782 (Folder 341) - Various Organizations (Folder 364)," Ancestry ( : accessed 12 Jan 2017).

Will Graves & C. Leon Harris, Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters ( : accessed 14 Jan 2017), pdf numbered B57 "Militia List –Capt. Adam Clements"; pdf numbered W5635 "Pension Application of John Arthur W5635"; pdf numbered W5636 "Pension Application of Thomas Arthur W5636"; pdf numbered W345 "Pension Application of William Caldwell W345"; pdf numbered S30387 "Pension Application of Thomas Dixon S30387"; pdf numbered S8567 "Pension Application of Archelaus Gilliam S8567"; pdf numbered S16403 "Pension Application of Robert Hall S16403"; pdf numbered W7648 "Pension Application of Edward Hancock W7648"; pdf numbered X916 "Pension Application of Samuel Hancock X916"; pdf numbered S16445 "Pension Application of John Lambert S16445"; pdf numbered W8071 "Pension Application of PatrickLynch W8071"; pdf numbered S6299 "Pension Application of Luke Valentine S6299"; pdf numbered S7802 "Pension Application of Charles Walker S7802"; pdf numbered S16583 "Pension Application of Joseph Wood S16583"; pdf numbered W2506 "Pension Application of George Woodard W2506"; pdf numbered S17208 "Pension Application of Jacob Woodard S17208."

Other Works Consulted:

Ivy Kenneth Blecher, Three Centuries of American Wars: History of American Wars (accessed 20 Feb 2017), "Revolutionary War Weapons." 

Janice Poole, "Rose Dove Dalton and Albert Lee Dalton Homeplace," Genealogy: Our Astounding Past, 16 Mar 2010 (accessed 20 Feb 2017).  

J. D. Lewis, Carolana ( : accessed 20 Feb 2017), "The American Revolution in North Carolina: The Battle of Guilford Court House." 

J. Lloyd Durham, "Outfitting an American Revolutionary Soldier," Tar Heel Junior Historian (Fall 1992); reprinted online, North Carolina Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina, NCpedia (accessed 20 Feb 2017). 

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, "North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program," database and images, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program (accessed 20 Feb 2017); Marker ID=J-3: Guilford Courthouse

R. H. Early, Campbell Chronicles and Family Sketches: Embracing the History of Campbell County, Virginia 1782-1926 (Lynchburg, Virginia: J. P. Bell Company, 1927), "Ward Family," transcribed and contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives by Joy Fisher .

Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey (hosts). "The Battle of Guilford Courthouse." Podcast audio. Stuff You Missed in History Class., 31 Aug 2015. Web.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

 A Valentine from my grandfather Jack Hoyt to my grandmother Rose. Unknown date.