Thomas William Gaines was born in 1738 in Orange County, Virginia. On June 17, 1776, Congress directed Maryland and Virginia to raise six companies of riflemen. These soldiers were equipped with rifles, not muskets, and specialized in long-range marksmanship. On August 30, when Thomas enlisted for three years in Captain Long’s Company, Maryland & Virginia Rifle Regiment, he was a 38-year-old farmer, married to Susannah Strother, with two small children and one on the way.
Fortunately for Thomas, the majority of Long’s company was slow to muster and depart Virginia to join Washington's army in New York. Because of this, he missed the regiment’s participation in the defense of Fort Washington, where all present were killed or taken prisoner.
Private Thomas Gaines caught up with the army during its retreat Elizabethtown, and took part in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. At Trenton, Thomas was part of General Hugh Mercer's Brigade. At Princeton, again part of Mercer's brigade leading one wing of the army's advance, Thomas and the Maryland & Virginia Rifle Regiment were among the first to encounter British resistance.
While the main army wintered at Morristown, Thomas Gaines was stationed at Bound Brook, one of many camps set up in northern New Jersey to monitor and skirmish with British foraging parties who were constantly probing the countryside.
Washington delayed his planned integration of the riflemen into the main army, because he needed those marksmen and their long rifles to deny the British much needed supplies. Daniel Morgan took command of the riflemen, and, selecting the best frontiersman, immediately headed for Saratoga to help defeat Burgoyne's army. The remaining riflemen, including Thomas, were transferred permanently to the 11th Virginia, which subsequently fought at Brandywine and Germantown.
After Germantown, Washington's army retreated Valley Forge. Thomas Gaines was there, and during that winter when the American army was transformed, Private Gaines was promoted to Corporal, and his pay was increased to $7-1/3 per month. Records show that Thomas was at Valley Forge throughout the winter of 1777-78, while many other soldiers left camp to escape the incredible hardship.
A new army left Valley Forge, and met the British at Monmouth in the last battle of the Revolution between the main armies. Nathaniel Greene, in charge of the battle's right, ordered Woodford's Brigade, which again included Thomas's 11th Virginia Regiment, to take possession of Comb's Hill on the enemy's left and fire on the British with their four six-ponder cannon.
That winter, 1778–9, Washington again used Middlebrook for camp, but Corporal Thomas Gaines was given a well-earned furlough, and wintered at home in Virginia, returning to the army to the army's camp before May 1, 1779.
Thomas Gaines was discharged at Smith's Clove, New York, on August 29, 1779. At 41, after three years of some of the darkest days of the revolution, he had done enough for his country and returned home to his family and farm.