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On this ground 225 years ago, was encamped the Continental Light Infantry, under the command of Major General Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. This newest incarnation of the american light corps was formed on August 1st 1780. The light infantry was formed from about 2,000 men organized in six battalions, drawn from all the infantry regiments in Washington’s army. These troops were the best the United States had to offer and were to spear point the intended attack upon the british in New York City.
Their commander, the Marquis de Lafayette, was the personification of the French-American alliance. At the age of just nineteen, the young French nobleman travelled to America and made a tender of his service to congress, which conferred upon him the rank of Major General. He soon became a favorite of Washington, entrusted with important commands, which ultimately led to his appointment as head of this elite corps.
Lafayette had been dispatched to France in 1779 to facilitate french cooperation in Washington’s long desired goal of attacking New York City. When he returned the following year, like so many travelers since, he brought back gifts from Europe for his friends. To each of his officers he presented an elegent gold gilt sword, a gold epaulette, a cockade and a red and black feather.
The troops undoubtedly enjoyed being in what one described as “a delightful and plentiful country.” Short on provisions of all sorts, the soldiers were forced to forage the countryside, gathering supplies simply to subsist from day to day.
Not all the soldiers left here. Private david hall of the seventh Pennsylvania regiment was executed in this camp on september 12th for plundering an inhabitant of silver and plate. Then there was the unlucky Mr. Young of the continental artillery, attached to the light infantry. His fate was described by his commanding officer, Captain Fleming:
“I have been so unlucky as to lose poor young; he died suddenly in camp, by drinking a draught of cold water at a spring; in half an hour after he drank it, death discharged him from me. His widow is here, and i suppose will soon get a husband, if her apparent grief is any sign.”
As circumstances played out, Washington never achieved his goal of attacking New York City. Lafayette would play a principal part in defending virginia the following year against an aggressive british invasion. The continental light infantry, many of the same men that were here on Soldier Hill in 1780, took a pivitol role in the final victory at Yorktown, leading to american independence. It is their memory we honor here today.