Most people today know Patriot’s Day as September 11th, marking the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001. The American calendar actually has two Patriot’s Days, one of which is much, much older as it commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord which were fought on April 19, 1775, 246 years ago. This Patriot’s Day is a public holiday in both Maine and Massachusetts. In fact, the City of Boston has each year since 1897 organized the Boston Marathon on the third Monday in April to coincide with Patriot’s Day. We too in Culpeper have reason to celebrate Patriot’s Day with patriots of our own.
I would now like to introduce you to General Edward Stevens who, in my opinion, did not get his just due for his service and is well worthy of honor this Patriot’s Day. General Stevens was born in Culpeper in 1745 and joined the Culpeper Minute Men in 1775 after the Virginia House of Burgesses called on all counties to raise militia forces to defend Virginia. In Dec. 1775, Stevens as a lieutenant colonel commanded a battalion of Riflemen with the Culpeper Minute Men at the Battle of Great Bridge. Although this skirmish was small in comparison to other battles during the American Revolution, it had dramatic consequences. By kicking the British out of Virginia, it allowed Gen. Washington to use Virginia. to move men and supplies north or south. Stevens distinguished himself in the battle and was given command as Colonel of the 10th Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army in Nov. 1776. General Washington being his direct commander.
Stevens would serve as Colonel of the 10th Virginia Regiment for a little less than 2 years, resigning in 1778. During that time he received public praise from General Washington for cutting off the British during the American retreat from the Battle of Brandywine as well as his performance in the Battle of Germantown.
This didn’t end Stevens’ involvement in the Revolution. In 1779 he became Brigadier General in the Virginia Militia. He took 700 men to join General Horatio Gates’ army in the south. As a member of this army they fought in the disastrous battle at Camden, South Carolina, where by all accounts they did not fight well. Stevens seriously thought about resigning again but was persuaded to continue his service by the newly appointed southern commander Nathaniel Greene. Greene had Stevens send out a research party to check on river crossings, depth of water, rocks and where boats could be found. This recon of the North Carolina back country allowed for the strategic withdrawal of the American forces from South Carolina which also drew British General Cornwallis further and further from his winter quarters in 1781. The American forces were fortunate that a swollen Dan river ended up stopping the British advance. The Americans were likely in for a confounded drubbing if it wasn’t for the knowledge gained during that recon.
Shortly after the crossing of the Dan River, Stevens led his militia at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. Stevens had positioned his militia behind the North Carolina militia. When the North Carolinians broke, throwing down their weapons and running at the beginning of the battle, the British took chase and ran up into Stevens riflemen who were positioned behind the North Carolina militia. The Virginia Militia held their position, but during the battle Stevens was wounded in his leg. After the battle Stevens returned to Virginia to recover.
General Stevens was in Charlottesville later that same summer as a member of the Virginia State Senate when Jack Jouett rode into town to warn the Virginia legislators that the British under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton were approaching to capture what remained of the Virginia Government. Thanks to Jack Jouett and his ride they all lived to see another day. General Stevens would recover and later lead a brigade of 750 men at the Siege of Yorktown seeing the Revolutionary War to its very end.
General Stevens died on Aug. 17, 1820 and is buried in Culpeper Masonic Cemetery on land he donated. Stevens Street in Culpeper is named in honor of Gen. Stevens. We will honor Gen. Stevens with a new SAR granite Patriot Marker on Sat. Apr. 17, 2021 at 11 am. The excavated soil will be blessed and placed in an urn to be carried to South Carolina. In May that soil will be spread on a mass grave of those Virginia soldiers killed at the Battle of Waxhaws. The Culpeper Minute Men Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored and placed a monument to Gen. Stevens on Oct. 15, 1931 at Guilford Courthouse State park in Greensboro N.C. Mrs. Byrd Leavell, Regent at that time, was in charge of the unveiling program.
One final reflection on General Stevens comes from his very peers in the epitaph on his grave marker: “This gallant officer and upright man served his country with reputation in the field and Senate of his native state. He took an active part and had a principal share in the war of the Revolution, and acquired great distinction at the battles of Great Bridge, Brandywine, Germantown, Camden, Guilford, and the siege of York; and although zealous in the cause of American freedom, his conduct was not marked with the least degree of malevolence or party spirit. Those who honestly differed with him in opinion he always treated with singular tenderness. In strictly his integrity, honest patriotism, and immovable courage, he was surpassed by one, and had few equals.”