Revolutionary War

Fann Familiy in the Revolutionary War:

The Fann family served faithfully during the war in the 8th VA Regiment(also known as the German Regiment). They were living in Hampshire County, VA(now WV) when two Fanns, Phillip and George, both enlisted. The story behind the formation of the 8th VA Regiment is very intriguing, especially considering most Germans who came to the US during this time left because of war or other political reasons and felt they should not be involved in this conflict either, and preferred to stay out of it. But that was until one sermon that changed it all. Phillip and George Fann, both sons of John Fann were members of this unit in the Revolutionary War. Phillip enlisted for 2 years February 24th, 1776, but reenlisted for the length of the war. George enlisted April 1st, 1777 for 3 years. According the pay records, muster rolls, and partial pension papers I have, their movement with the unit throughout their service is well documented. On the muster and pay rolls the last name is first spelled Feint but once merged into the 4th Brigade and later absorbed into the 4th VA, the last name was spelled Faint. Makes sense since the unit was mixed with non-German soldiers but spelled the name as it sounded. In later pension claims and land claims the last name was spelled Fant, Fint, Fan, and Fann. The only question I have is whether George was also a prisoner after the Siege of Charleston. Phillip is well documented being there and later at the Battle of Yorktown. George if stayed for 3 years, and appears to according to records I have, would have been in Charleston on his date of expected discharge. Hopefully when I get their full pension files if available I will know for sure. Either way it is amazing the time these two brothers spent through major engagements, through a rough winter at Valley Forge, and fourteen months on a prison barge in Charleston, that they were able to live long lives afterwards.

History of the 8th Virginia

On a mid-January day in 1776, the pastor of Beckford Parish in the northern Shenandoah Valley took the pulpit before his congregation and became the catalyst for uniting the Germans in that part of Virginia behind the cause of freedom. After preaching a rousing sermon from Ecclesiastes to a packed house, he flung off his robes to reveal his Colonel’s uniform in the Continental Army and strode the length of the church to the sound of drummers and coaxed his flock to war. The congregation rose and burst into an enthusiastic rendition of “Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God). When the recruitment drive was finished, somewhere in the neighborhood of three hundred men had joined the cause. The sequence of events which led to that moment is the story of many German immigrants in America.(1)
There is scarcely a more compelling image from the early days of the Revolution which embodies the fervor with which the citizenry was called to service. On that day, the Reverend John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg united the Shenandoah Germans behind the fight for independence. The German populace in the Shenandoah had grown steadily from its origins in Pennsylvania and Western Maryland. They numbered in the tens of thousands by the mid-eighteenth century. The promise of fertile lands, ample space for settlement and economic opportunity were a strong enticement for the southern migration. This migration was further driven by geography. The Shenandoah Valley is bordered to the east by the Blue Ridge mountains, and to the west by the Allegheny mountains which form a natural funnel running north to south. The English Crown had forbidden settlement west of the Blue Ridge in the early colonial days, which stemmed the tide of settlement from the east. However, ease of access to the Shenandoah Valley from the north created a natural trade route, and early traders and explorers brought word of the Valley’s bounty back into Maryland and Pennsylvania.(2)
The German population of the Shenandoah Valley had initially been hesitant to rally behind a cause which was leading to war; many were either pacifists who objected to war on religious grounds or were culturally opposed to a disruption of the established order. The increasingly repressive actions taken by the Crown were hard to ignore in any language, however. A German language paper called “der Staatsbote” (The State Messenger) being published in Philadelphia had many readers among the Shenandoah Valley Germans, also spread the message of the Patriot cause. Peter Muhlenberg was the most prominent German speaking delegate at the Conventions, and therefore represented the key to enlisting the Germans in the Valley to the fight. Their numbers were so significant that when the Convention resolved to raise 7 Regiments for the Continental line, it specifically called for one Regiment to be raised among the Germans and commanded by German officers. On January 12, 1776, Peter Muhlenberg was given this task, along with fellow delegates Abraham Bowman and Peter Helphinstein, both Elders in his church in Woodstock. Muhlenberg was to receive a Commission as Colonel, Bowman as Lieutenant-Colonel and Helphinstein as Major of this Regiment, to be named the 8th Virginia Regiment of Foot—also known as “The German Regiment."(3)
With his orders in hand, Peter Muhlenberg wasted no time returning to Woodstock to make the necessary arrangements. In a calculated move, he had called for 3 days of fasting and prayer in support of the residents of Boston, who were enduring the British blockade of their harbor. To show their support for their fellow citizens, the Germans and Scotch-Irish of the Valley had sent wagons with supplies of flour and other food stuffs to the beleaguered residents of Boston. By calling for 3 days of fasting and prayer, Muhlenberg was effectively summoning his flock to Woodstock to hear both his farewell sermon and a call to arms. On January 23rd, 1776, the Reverend Peter Muhl enberg took to his pulpit and preached his sermon from Ecclesiastes. With a packed house, he ended his sermon with the words “to all things there is a time...a time to pray and a time to fight—and now is a time to fight!” At that moment, Peter Muhlenberg cast off his robes to reveal his Colonel’s uniform and called for his congregation to join him in the fight. The scene was such that he managed to enlist 162 men to the 8th Regiment on that day. Over the next few weeks the Regiment’s number had risen to nearly 300. The task, now undertaken, was to begin drilling, outfitting and arming his men. On that day Muhlenberg enlisted not only the men needed to fight, but the entire German community and its vast resources of supplies and craftsmen. The German community contributed in every way they could to prepare their men for war. They contributed food stuffs including wheat, oats, and beef. They provided hay, iron, clothing, and blacksmiths. They called their friends and family from Pennsylvania to the cause. This defining moment illustrates why the Germans were singled out by the Convention delegates when they called for a German Regiment to be raised in the Valley. Their close-knit communities, their tradesmen, their manpower, and the resources their farms provided represented a considerable contribution to the Patriot cause. (4)
Fort Moultrie
In March of 1776 they were ordered South to Suffolk to join the Command of Major General Charles Lee, where Colonial forces were engaged in skirmishes with remnants of Dunmore’s forces. Colonel Muhlenberg, Lieutenant-Colonel Bowman, and Major Helphinstein received their official commissions in Williamsburg on April 3rd. Rejoining their Regiment at Suffolk, they were ordered South to Charleston, South Carolina on May 8th when it became apparent that British General Henry Clinton was sailing for the southern port city. Arriving there on June 3rd, the 8th participated in the defense of Charleston. They were deployed on June 28th, with the South Carolina Rangers to defend Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. Clinton’s forces were supported by 3 frigates and 2 Men-of-War which bombarded the island. The result of the battle was Clinton’s force being repulsed and suffering heavy casualties including the loss of 3 ships.

Battle of Trenton
The regiment had been called to join the northern Army under General George Washington, who was camped at Morristown, New Jersey. Their first engagement was December 26th, 1776, where the 8th captured the Hessian forces at the Battle of Trenton. January 21st, 1777 the 8th was assigned to the main army under General Washington. In February of 1777, Colonel Peter Muhlenberg was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of a brigade which included the 1st, 5th, 9th, and 13th Virginia Regiments. Lieutenant-Colonel Bowman was promoted to Colonel and given command of the 8th Regiment, which fell under the Brigade of Brig. Gen. Charles Scott who was part of Maj.Gen. Adam Stephen's Division. The Muhlenberg Brigade was placed under the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene.

Chadd's Ford
The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777 saw the 8th Virginia join in one of the more significant battles of the war. In September of 1777, British General Lord Cornwallis took a force of 18,000 up the Chesapeake Bay and landed at Head of Elk, Maryland with the intention to capture the Colonial capitol of Philadelphia. Splitting his force in two, he hoped to encircle General Washington's forces gathered around Chadd's Ford on the Brandywine creek. Brigadier General Maxwell's brigade was deployed in the area around Chadd's Ford where they encountered Cornwallis' Right Division under Hessian General von Knypphausen. This initial engagement resulted in a sharp firefight lasting for several hours until Maxwell was driven back by artillery fire and the main force of von Knypphausen's Division. When General Washington became aware of Cornwallis' second division attempting to outflank the Colonial Army, he countermanded the attack on Knypphausen's division and shifted his force toward Cornwallis, leaving Maxwell and two other brigades to hold their position at Chadd's Ford. Facing overwhelming numbers, the two brigades fought a delaying action until they withdrew at sundown. The Battle of Brandywine ended after a long and exhausting fight for both armies, but the end result was that the road to Philadelphia was left open for Cornwallis as Washington withdrew his army across the Schuylkill River to safety.

Hessian German Map of Mud Island

Following the action at Trenton, the 8th VA stayed in the area with General Washington's Army to hopefully hinder any advancement from the British. Colonel Lewis Nicola held Fort Mifflin with a party of Pennsylvania militia, mostly men unfit for field service. Among the approximately 60 militiamen present for duty, not a single one knew how to operate the cannons. On 23 September with Philadelphia about to be captured, Washington sent Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith of the 4th Maryland Regiment with a detachment of Continentals into the fort on Mud Island. Smith's force numbered 200 soldiers plus Major Robert Ballard of Virginia, Major Simeon Thayer of Rhode Island, and Captain Samuel Treat of the Continental Artillery. The Siege of Fort Mifflin or Siege of Mud Island Fort from September 26 to November 16, 1777 saw British land batteries commanded by Captain John Montresor and a British naval squadron under Vice Admiral Lord Richard Howe attempt to capture an American fort in the Delaware River commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith. The operation finally succeeded when the wounded Smith's successor, Major Simeon Thayer, evacuated the fort on the night of November 15 and the British occupied the place the following morning. (Even though I have not seen actual unit records showing the 8th Virginia defending the fort I do have an official record showing George Fann at the fort, along with it being mentioned in his pension application.)

Battle of Germantown Map
At the Battle of Germantown on 4 October 1777, the 8th VA, part of Scott's brigade in Stephen's division,  accompanied Nathanael Greene's column. Washington planned a pre-dawn attack on Germantown, where thousands of British soldiers were camped in the fields, living off the crops and livestock of the local residents. Homes were commandeered as headquarters for the British officers, including General William Howe at Stenton. Nearly 12,000 Continental troops were marshaled for the attack, yet 120 British infantrymen proved unbeatable as they barricaded themselves inside the thick stone walls of Cliveden, the summer house of the wealthy Loyalist Benjamin Chew. Washington planned for this body of troops to assault the British right flank while Sullivan and Stirling attacked the enemy left Sullivan's and Anthony Wayne's divisions attacked first and made some progress, but Greene's wing was late in arriving. The deployment of Greene's column was confused. The divisions of Greene and Stephen advanced so quickly that Alexander McDougall's Connecticut Brigade lost sight of them. Meanwhile, Stephen accused Scott of separating his brigade from the division. One observer believed that the brigades of Scott and Muhlenberg (in Greene's division) attacked together. Part of Woodford's brigade and its supporting artillery stopped to fire on 100 British troops at the Chew House. As Stephen's division went forward, it encountered some of Wayne's troops in the fog and a friendly fire incident resulted which caused Wayne's men to retreat.

The German Regiment went into winter Camp with the rest of the Army at Valley Forge in December 19th, 1777. While in camp at Valley Forge, The German Regiment suffered the deprivations that were the hallmark of that winter; the lack of adequate uniforms, rations, and more disease and sickness. Desertions and extended furloughs were the norm and took a heavy toll on the 8th Regiment.

Battle of Monmouth
In June of 1778, Gen. Washington took his Army out of Winter camp at Valley Forge when British General Henry Clinton evacuated Philadelphia. The Continentals marched to intercept the British and, on June 18th, engaged them at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey. The German Regiment was once again involved in one of the major engagements of the war.

Siege of Charleston
After spending the winter at Middlebrook  the 8th VA was absorbed by the 4th Virginia on May 12th, 1779. Their next major campaign would be to move south to protect Charleston, SC from British troops under the command of General Henry Clinton. The 4th VA marched( 4 weeks) the beginning of March 1780 and arrived on March 29th. On May 12th, 1780 the city was captured and all continental troops were taken prisoner and placed on prison ships for a period of 14 months until a prisoner exchange took place June 1781. Over one third of all prisoners died among their captivity. Shortly after the regiment was once more involved in another major conflict of the war, the Battle(Siege) of Yorktown, which General Cornwallis surrendered.
Battle of Yorktown


Notable Engagements and Moments for the 8th Virginia (4th after May 12th 1779)

  • January 11th, 1776                8th Virginia was raised

  • May 25th, 1776                     Became part of the Continental Army

  • June 28th, 1776                     Defense of Charleston, SC Fort Moultrie

  • December 26th, 1776            Battle of Trenton (Hessians Captured)

  • January 21st, 1777                Joined General Washington's Main Army

  • September 11th, 1777           Battle of Brandywine

  • September 26th, 1777           Siege of Mud Fort Island(Fort Mifflin)

  • October 4th, 1777                 Battle of Germantown

  • December 19th, 1777           Camped at Valley Forge for 6 months

  • June 18th, 1778                    Battle of Monmonth

  • May 12th, 1779                    Absorbed into the 4th Virginia Regiment

  • March 29th, 1780                 Siege of Charleston

  • May 12th, 1780                    Captured(served 14 months on prison barge)

  • October 14th, 1781              Battle of Yorktown(Surrender of Cornwallis)

Notable Commanders

  • Colonel Peter Muhlenberg
  • Colonel Abraham Bowman
  • Colonel John Neville
  • Colonel James Wood

1 Klaus Wust, “The Virginia Germans,” University of Virginia Press 1969, pgs. 27-42
2 John Wayland, “The German Element of the shenandoah Valley,” C.L. Carrier 1978, pgs.20-21
3 reportson the for Conventions; Virginia Gazette
4 Shuricht, pgs.129-130

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