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Act for Raising Army Volunteers

  • Act for Raising Volunteers to Join the Grand Army, May 1778
  • Act for Raising Volunteers to Join the Grand Army, May 1778
The 1778 "Act for Raising Volunteers to Join the Grand Army" was widely circulated to publicize the terms of enlistment.
Related documents:
  • Washington Commission
    Commission to George Washington as Commander in Chief, June 19, 1775
  • Land Office Warrant
    Land Office Military Warrant, Issued to Moses Wade, June 12, 1783
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Act for Raising Volunteers to Join the Grand Army, May 1778

The "Act for Raising Volunteers to Join the Grand Army," passed at the General Assembly's May 1778 session, provided for recruitment of 2,000 volunteers for the Continental army. This broadside copy of the act was widely circulated to inform recruitment officers and men who contemplated joining the army of the terms of enlistment. Volunteers were to receive a $30 bounty for enlisting plus a set of clothing and exemption from paying taxes and performing military service for one year after their discharge from the army. Most of the men who served in the war during the American Revolution had some military training. Each county in Virginia had several companies of militia, in which free, white men between the ages of eighteen and sixty had to serve. The companies were intended to serve in emergencies, such as invasions or insurrections of slaves, but the training was often not systematic or adequate. The performance of Virginia militia units during the war was uneven, and some units refused to march outside of Virginia and leave their home counties undefended. Militia from southwestern Virginia participated in the Battle of King's Mountain, in 1780, one of the more important American victories of the war in the South, and other militia units took part in the siege of Yorktown in 1781 that forced the British to surrender.

During the war, the General Assembly passed several recruitment acts to raise the quota of troops that Congress requested from each state. The acts usually offered cash bounties for enlistment, and some provided for western land after the conclusion of the war. The United States Constitution of 1789 authorized Congress to create an army, but it limited all appropriations for the army to two years to prevent the army from becoming a strong tool that could be used against either the people or the states. The Constitution also preserved the state militias and authorized the president to call the militia into federal service in time of danger. Both the creation of a national army and the role of the militia were hotly debated topics during the state ratification conventions as men debated the roles of each state in the proposed new government.

For Educators


1. What kinds of incentives did the assembly offer to men volunteering in the army?

2. How many volunteers did the General Assembly request?

3. How many officers were requested from Loudoun County?

Further Discussion

1. Why do you think there were so many different kinds of troops during the American Revolution? And what did the founders learn from coordinating those soldiers?

2. Why is defense such an important issue in planning a national government? Why was it important to keep the military strong, but in check?


This broadside was printed in Williamsburg by Alexander Purdie, the printer of the Virginia Gazette. It was dated from the act printed in William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large, Richmond: 1821, 9:145–149.


Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Act for Raising Army Volunteers

Suggested Reading

“Military Recommendations to the Governor and Council, May 15, 1778.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 30, no. 3 (1922): 286–289.

Sanchez-Saavedra, E.M. A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774–1787. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1978.

Wright, John W. “Some Notes on the Continental Army.” William and Mary Quarterly, 2d ser., 11, no.2 (April 1931): 82–105.

An ACT for raising* VOLUNTEERS to join the GRAND ARMY.

 WHEREAS it is of the greatest importance to the interest and freedom of America, that a speedy reinforcement should be sent out of this commonwealth to his Excellency General Washington, to render the operations of the present campaign more decisive and honourable to the American arms.
 BE it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that two thousand volunteers rank and file, be raised, who are to join the commander in chief of the American army, when ordered by his Excellency the Governour or chief magistrate of this commonwealth.
 AND be it farther enacted, that as an inducement to engage volunteers at this important and critical period, a bounty of thirty dollars and a complete suit of regimentals, to consist of a coat, jacket, a pair of breeches, two pair of shoes, two pair of stockings, two shirts, and a hat, shall be given to every soldier who obliges himself to serve till the 1st day of January, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Nine, unless sooner discharged by the commander in chief, the bounty to be paid on the volunteers receiving orders to march out of their county, and the regimentals to be delivered at the place of general rendezvous; and that for the farther encouragement of such volunteers, they shall be exempt from all draughts and military duty, except in case of an actual invasion of this commonwealth, or insurrection therein, and from payment of any tax on their persons for the space of twelve months, to commence from the day of their obtaining their discharge from the commanding officer in chief of the American army; that their pay and rations be the same of the soldiers in the continental army, and that while in camp, they shall be supplied with a gill of spirits per day gratis, if to be procured, and all such articles as they may actually want, in the opinion of their brigadier general, or commanding officer of the brigade, shall be furnished them on the terms such articles were usually sold on in the year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Four.
 AND for the more speedy carrying this act into execution, two copies thereof shall be forthwith printed for each county hereafter named, and shall be despatched by messengers express, or otherwise, to the county lieutenant, or the commanding officer in the said counties, who shall call together the militia of his said county, within ten days after receiving the same, and shall then with his field officers and captains attending, appoint the most proper man or men in the county, as officer or officers for the volunteer service. The proportion of officers to the several counties hereafter named is as followeth, viz. Albemarle, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Amelia, one captain, one lieutenant, two ensigns; Augusta, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign, Amherst, one captain, one lieutenant; Bedford, two captains, two ensigns; Berkeley, two captains, one lieutenant, one ensign; Brunswick, two captains, one lieutenant, one ensign; Buckingham, one captain, one ensign; Caroline, one captain, one lieutenant; Culpeper, two captains, one lieutenant, two ensigns; Cumberland, one lieutenant; Dinwiddie, one captain, one lieutenant; Shenando, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Essex, one captain, one ensign; Fairfax, one captain, one lieutenant; Fauquier, one captain, one lieutenant, two ensigns; Fluvanna, one lieutenant; Frederick, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Gloucester, one captain, one lieutenant; Goochland, one lieutenant, one ensign, Halifax, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Hampshire, one captain, two ensigns; Hanover, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Henrico, one captain, one ensign; Henry, one captain, one ensign; King & Queen, one lieutenant, one ensign; King George, one lieutenant; King William, one lieutenant, one ensign; Lancaster, one ensign, Loudoun, two captains, two lieutenants, one ensign; Louisa, one captain, one ensign; Lunenburg, one lieutenant, one ensign; Middlesex, one ensign, Mecklenburg, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; New Kent, one lieutenant; Northumberland, one captain, one lieutenant; Orange, one lieutenant; Pittsylvania, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Powhatan, one lieutenant; Prince Edward, one captain, one ensign; Prince George, one lieutenant, one ensign; Prince William, one captain, one lieutenant; Richmond, one lieutenant, one ensign; Rockbridge, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Rockingham, one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign; Spotsylvania, one lieutenant; Stafford, one lieutenant; Sussex, one captain, one lieutenant; Westmoreland, one captain, one ensign.
 THE officers being so appointed, shall immediately proceed to enlist volunteers to make up their respective quotas; a captain twenty four, a lieutenant sixteen, an ensign ten. And if any person so appointed should refuse to act, or if any one who shall act, fails to complete his quota, within twenty days after his appointment, the said field officers and captains, or a majority of them, may appoint any other person they may judge most likely to complete the said quota, provided they should think the service would be benefited by the new appointment; and all volunteer officers appointed under this act shall have full liberty to recruit any where within this commonwealth. The captains, besides their quotas, are to recruit two serjeants, one drummer, and one fifer, the subalterns one serjeant each.
 AND be it farther enacted, that from and after the first day of August next, all enlistments under this act shall cease; and where it may be the case that the full quota of men is not raised in any by the time aforesaid, the Governour and Council may join together the parts of companies in the several counties; so as to form them into complete companies. The county Lieutenant, or commanding officer in the respective counties, is hereby directed to transmit to the Governour and Council on or before the tenth day of August next, by express, to be paid by the Treasurer on a warrant from the Governour, a just and accurate return of the number of men raised in his county; and for the farther encouragement of the officers recruiting volunteers, the sum of five dollars shall be paid for each man recruited.
 AND be it enacted, that the said volunteers shall be formed into four distinct battalions, to consist of ten companies of fifty men each rank and file, to be under the command of one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign, and four serjeants, and allowed a drummer and fifer; each battalion to be under the command of a lieutenant colonel commandant and major, and be allowed a chaplain, adjutant, quartermaster, surgeon, one surgeon's mate, and a quartermaster serjeant, and the whole shall be under the command of a brigadier general, who shall be appointed by the Governour, with the advice of the Council, and commissioned by the Governour. The Governour and Council shall appoint the field officers, who, with the captains and subalterns, shall be commissioned by the Governour.
 AND be it farther enacted, that every officer appointed in the manner before directed, shall, on the enlistments of the volunteers under him, obtain their subscription in the following terms, to wit: We do severally enlist to serve in the corps of volunteers now raising to reinforce the continental army, for the time and upon the terms directed by an act of Assembly intituled An act for raising volunteers; and that the volunteers so raised, when they join the grand army, are to be governed by the like rules, regulations, and articles of war, as govern continental officers and soldiers. The said volunteers when raised, shall, during the time they remain in the commonwealth, be subject to the orders of the Governour and Council, who shall, from time to time, as they may see cause, fix their place of rendezvous, and adjust all disputes about rank, paying proper regard to priority.
 THE brigadier, field officers, captains, and subalterns pay and rations to be the same of officers of equal rank in the continental army, and to commence from the time of their being called into service.
 AND be it farther enacted, that the Governour with the advice of the Council, is hereby authorised to use the most expeditious and effectual means for furnishing the said volunteers with proper tents, arms, and accoutrements, and moreover to appoint one or more paymasters, commissaries, or contractors, for the more regularly and punctually paying and providing necessaries for the said troops.
 THAT the acts of General Assembly heretofore passed for the relief and support of the distressed wives and families of such soldiers as have hitherto enlisted into the service of this commonwealth, extend to the distressed wives and families of all such volunteer soldiers as may engage under the terms aforesaid.
 THE treasurer shall, from time, to [t]ime on warrants from the Governour and Council, pay all such sums of money as may be requisite for the purposes before mentioned, such warrants being previously entered at the auditors office and certified by them to be so entered; the sum so certified by the auditors shall by them be charged in account to those to whom they are payable, and due credits be given them for all expenditures authorised by their instructions from the Governour and Council, and properly vouched; all sums not so expended shall be repaid to the treasurer, whose receipt being delivered to the auditors, they shall give to such person a discharge in full. If any such person shall fail to render account of the application of any such money, or to repay to the treasurer the unexpended balance, and produce his receipt for the same when called on by the auditors, such proceedings shall be used against him as are prescribed by an act of General Assembly passed in the year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Seven, for the recovery of monies due to the publick.

* The printer of this document used the long or leading s, a character that looks similar to an "f" but is used as an "s."