The Light Infantry Division at Yorktown (1781)

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Light Infantry Division at Yorktown
Active Sept 24, 1781 - Nov 2, 1781
Allegiance Continental Congress of the United States
Branch Army
Type Light Infantry
Part of Yorktown order of battle
Engagements Siege of Yorktown
Major General Lafayette

Light Infantry Division at Yorktown (1781) was a large American military unit that fought in the American Revolutionary War. The unit was formed by detaching the light infantry companies from the Continental Army infantry regiments in September 1781. Its two brigades were made up of three battalions each, though the second brigade was later reorganized into four. The light infantry were regarded as the elite troops of the army. As such they participated in an important assault during the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781.


Major General Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette commanded the light infantry division[1] at the Siege of Yorktown, and it comprised two brigades. These brigades were formed on Washington's orders of 24 September 1781.[2] This division was on the American right flank[3] with the infantry division under Major General Benjamin Lincoln.[4]

The 1st Brigade was commanded by Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg,[5] and consisted of the light infantry brigade that was formed on 1 February 1781[6] and which was initially commanded by LaFayette. Companies of this brigade originally were authorized twenty-five men, but on 16 February 1781 Washington ordered that this become fifty men,[7] making the size consistent with his orders of 1 November 1780 that described the composition of the Army and size of units to take effect on 1 January 1781.[8] The companies that comprised this unit were the designated light infantry companies for their respective regiments as designated in Washington's orders of 1 November 1781.[9]

The light infantry division performed two notable services during the Siege of Yorktown. The first was to participate through fatigues and pickets in the advance of the American lines around Yorktown; this work began on in earnest on 30 September 1781. The second was to capture Redoubt #10 on the night of 14 October 1781.[10]


The 1st Brigade consisted of three battalions:

  • Vose's Battalion, Colonel Joseph Vose (1st Massachusetts Regiment), light infantry companies of the 1st through 8th Massachusetts Regiments;[11]
  • Gimat's Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Joseph Sourbader de Gimat, light infantry companies of the 9th and 10th Massachusetts, the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, and the 1st - 5th Connecticut Regiments;[12] ( The Rhode Island Company under the command of Captain Steven Olney was formed as part of the Rhode Island 2nd Regiment. The so called" Rhode Island Black Regiment" was formed as the second Rhode Island !st regiment as the original 1st and 2nd regiments "merged"as the Rhode Island Regiment. Later as a result of the Battle Of Pines Bridge the "Black 1st' was "merged " into the Rhode Island Battalion or Regiment. Captain Olney's Company never was part of the Black 1st Regiment. Musters reveal however that Olney's Company did have two men who had shown up previously as members of the Black 1st Regiment.Olney's Company in any case had been on detached duty with Lafayette for many months prior to the merger. The Company led the van at Redoubt 10)
  • Barber's Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Barber (1st New Jersey Regiment), light infantry companies of the 1st and 2nd New Hampshire Regiments, the Canadian Regiment,[13] and the 1st and 2nd New Jersey Regiments. Three companies of the New Jersey Line were also attached to the battalion.[14]

The 2nd Brigade was commanded by Brigadier General (brevet) Moses Hazen,[15] and comprised the:

Scammell was wounded and taken prisoner on September 29, 1781, and died on October 4. On October 8, the light infantry companies of the 2nd Brigade were reorganized into three battalions, the first consisting of three New Hampshire and two Connecticut provisional companies (commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens), the second four Connecticut companies (commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ebenezer Huntington), and the third by Hamilton, with the Massachusetts companies exchanged for his former Connecticut companies.


The storming of Redoubt #10, by Eugene Lami.
  1. ^ Johnston, page 113
  2. ^ Washington General Orders of Sept 24, 1781
  3. ^ Bauman
  4. ^ Johnston, pages 113-114
  5. ^ Washington General Orders of Sept 24, 1781
  6. ^ Washington's General Orders Feb 1, 1781
  7. ^ Washington's General Orders Feb 16, 1781
  8. ^ Washington's General Orders of Nov 1, 1780
  9. ^ Washington's General Orders of Nov 1, 1780
  10. ^ Johnston, pages 126-147
  11. ^ Heath Feb 18, 1781
  12. ^ Heath Feb 18, 1781
  13. ^ Heath Feb 18, 1781
  14. ^ Washington to Dayton Feb 16, 1781
  15. ^ Washington General Orders of Sept 24, 1781
  16. ^ Boatner (1994), 1240
  17. ^ Washington's General Orders of May 17, 1781
  18. ^ Washington to Scammell, July 31, 1781