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Who Were The Maryland 400?

 

On July 4, 1776, our fledging young country, then calling itself the United Colonies, declared its independence from England, one of the greatest military forces in the world at that time. England, for her part, was determined to squelch these rebel upstarts once and for all.

 

Feelings ran high all over Maryland. The citizens of Charles County posted the following notice to their representatives at the Maryland Convention, undoubtedly written some days or weeks before, that appeared in the July 4, 1776 edition of the Maryland Gazette:

 

To: Josias Hawkins, Thomas Stone, Robert T. Hooe, Joseph D. Harrison, and William Harrison, Esqrs.

 

WE, the subscribers, freemen of Charles county, in the province of Maryland, taking into our meritorious consideration, the present state of the unhappy dispute between Great Britain and the United Colonies, and the great distress and hardships they have brought upon us, thereby, think proper to deliver to you our sentiments, and to instruct you in certain points relative to your conduct in the next convention, as representatives of this county. Reasons for the mode of voting and determining questions by a majority of counties have not appeared to us to exist since the last general election; therefore, we charge and instruct you to move for and endeavour to obtain a regulation for voting individually, and determining questions by a majority of members, and not of counties, in (the) future.

 

And we know we have a right to hear, or be informed what is transacted in convention, we instruct you to move for and endeavour to obtain a resolve for the doors of the house to be kept open in (the) future, and that, on all questions proposed and seconded, the yeas and nays be taken, and together with every other part of your proceedings, published except such only as may relate to military operations, questions on which ought to be debated and with the doors shut, and the determinations thereon kept secret.

 

The experience that we have had of the cruelty and injustice of the British government, under which we have too long borne oppression and wrongs, and notwithstanding every peaceable endeavor of the United Colonies to get redress of grievances, by decent, dutiful, and sincere petitions and representations to the king and parliament, giving every assurance of our affection and loyalty and praying for no more than peace, liberty, and safety, under the British government, yet have we received nothing but an increase of insult and injury, by all the colonies being declared in actual rebellion; savages hired to take up arms against us; slaves proclaimed free, enticed away, trained and armed against their lawful masters; our towns plundered, burnt, and destroyed; our vessels and property seized on the seas, made free plunder to the captors, and our seamen forced to take arms against ourselves; our friends and countrymen, when captivated, confined to dungeons, and as if criminals, chained down to the earth; our estates confiscated, and our men, women, and children robbed and murdered.

 

And, as at this time, instead of commissioners to negotiate a peace, as we have been led to believe, were coming out, a formidable fleet of British ships, with a numerous army of foreign soldiers, in British pay, are daily expected on our coast to force us to yield the property we have honorably acquired, and fairly own, and drudge out the remainder of our days in misery and wretchedness, leaving us nothing better to bequeath to posterity than poverty and slavery.

 

We must, for these reasons declare that our affection for the people, and allegiance to the crown of Great Britain, is readily and truly acknowledged till of late, is forfeited on their part. And as we are convinced that nothing virtuous, human, generous, or just, can be expected from the British king, or nation, and that they will exert themselves to reduce us to a state of slavery, by every effort and artifice in their power, we are of (the) opinion that the time is fully arrived for the colonies to adopt the last measure, for our command good and safety, and that the sooner they declare themselves separate from, and independent of the crown and parliament of Great Britain, and establish their liberties on a firm and permanent basis.

 

We therefore most earnestly instruct and charge you to move for, without loss of time, and endeavour to obtain positive instructions, from the convention of Maryland to their delegates in congress, immediately to join the other colonies in declaring, that the United Colonies no longer owe allegiance to, nor are they dependent upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain, or any other power on earth, but are, for time to come, free and independent states; provided that the power of forming government, and regulating the internal concerns of each colony, be left to their respective legislatures; and that the said delegates give the assent of this province to any further consideration of the colonies for the support of their union; and for forming such foreign commercial connections as may be required and necessary for our common good and safety.

 

And as the present government under the king cannot longer exist with the safety to the freemen of this province, we are of (the) opinion a new form of government, agreeable to the late recommendation of the honourably continental congress to all the United Colonies, ought immediately to be adopted.”

 

We were at war, and the Continental Congress had set quotas for the colonies. Maryland was scrambling to raise, arm, and equip 3,400 troops. Recruiters, often accompanied by fifers and drummers, were everywhere. Young boys from all over Maryland were heeding the call. Most of them were farm boys and watermen who could neither read nor write, but they knew this was something worth fighting for and they wanted to be a part of it.

 

The streets of the towns and cities were alive with activity. Many clergymen were encouraging their parishioners to join the fray. The boys could envision themselves in the beautiful buff and red uniforms they had seen some of the officers wear. Some simply joined for the promised bounties because their families needed the money. For most, though, it was the most exciting time of their young lives and they were going to be heroes and drive these hated British back to England where they belonged. They were sure of it!

 

Maryland was the first colony to meet her quota of soldiers, but was having great difficulty providing logistical support. There were not enough uniforms, guns, ammunition, blankets, tents, haversacks, and medical supplies. In many cases, soldiers could not march because they simply had no guns. In several instances, militia from one county borrowed from the other to be able to march on to New York.

August 6, 1776: Council to Colo Thomas Ewing. Sir. We have ordered Captn Young's Company up to Balto County to be subject to your command, and we have advanced him the sum of 125 Curry to purchase necessaries, you'll be pleased to apply to the Committee for Blankets with the inclosed order, were you to march one of yr Companies unarmed to Philadelphia, we doubt no arms can be got, we have not more due to us than will arm one Company — we have applied several times by our Deputies and cannot get them — if you can satisfy us that we stand any chance of succeeding in our application, we will cheerfully give an order —to do it would only expose you and ourselves — the hunting shirts you cannot have, we want them for that Part of the Flying Camp, that is to supply the place of Colo Smallwood's Battalion. As your companies march forward they shall be supplied with every thing we can spare, but an unlimited order [we do not care to give]. (Archives of Maryland, Vol. 12, p. 176).

August 11, 1776. Baltimore. Capt Posey with his company arrived here 9th & I expect Capt Forrest this day or to morrow. You will please send an order for things to equip Capt Forrest out. Capt Posey will write you for some money, which please send, the gunsmith wrought all night and works all this day. I am as industrious as I can but can do but little without your assistance, for God sake if any way possible, let me have some arms. (Thomas Ewing to the Council). (Archives of Maryland, Vol. 12, p. 193-194).

August 12, 1776. Council to Col. Thomas Ewing …the three Companies viz': Posey's, Lowe's, and Young's. Captn Forrest we have ordered to remain in St Mary's County to supply the place of Thomas's Independent Company — he will be obliged to borrow arms from the militia. (Archives of Maryland, Vol. 12, p. 197).

August 16, 1776. To the Deputies in Congress. Sir. We received yours of the 13th and have seen what you wrote to Major Jenifer on the State of Publick Affairs, in Con-sequence of a Resolve of the Convention we have given orders to all the Independant Companies four in number to march. Colonel Carvell Hall and Colonel Ewing, and six orseven Companies on the Eastern Shore have like orders toMarch, so that with Griffith's Battalion, we shall have near four thousand men with you in a short time — this exceeds our proportion for the flying. Camp, but we are sending all we have that can be armed and equipped, and the people of New York, for whom we have great affection, can have no more than our all. Inclosed you have a list of the several Battalions & Companies.

P. S. These Companies are not all fully armed and equipped, but we hope soon to Collect enough.

List of the Troops from Maryland

Smallwood's Battalion 9 Companies 76 each................ 684
Captain Veazey 100, Captain Hindman 100, Captain Thomas 100...................300
Captain Beall 100, Captain Gunby 100...................... 200
Captain Woolford 100, Captain Watkins 100................ 200

Griffith's Battalion 9 Companies 90 men each............ 810
Colonel Carvell Halls ditto ditto ............ 8 10
3 Companies of Colonel Ewings............................... 270
7 Companies of Eastern Shore Battalion ..................... 644

The remaining Companies of Ewings and the Eastern Shore Battalion must borrow Arms from the Militia to do duty here they can get Arms on no other Terms. (Archives of Maryland, Vol. 12, p. 211-213).

 

New York was to be the first battle front, involving troops for almost all of the colonies. Both sides of this conflict knew the strategic importance of the port of New York. By taking New York, the British, in theory, could divide the colonies by isolating New England and blockading shipments to the southern Colonies.

 

By the middle of August, the British had a fleet larger than the Spanish Armada lying in the harbor at New York. British land and naval forces are said to have numbered almost 30,000 men. The colonies were sending every man they could find. It is estimated that there were approximately 20,000 Americans there. While most of them may have been untrained and ill equipped, they were willing to fight! Wives, sweethearts, parents and siblings undoubtedly cried many tears for their departing loved ones, but there was pride as well. This humorous notice appeared in the Maryland Gazette on August 22, 1776:

 

New York, August 12. We hear from Elizabeth-town, that on a late alarm there, when an immediate attack was expected, and every man capable of bearing arms, was summoned to defend it, there were three or four young men, brothers, going out from one house, when an elderly lady, mother or grandmother to the young men, who, without betraying the least signs of timidity, had, with a resolute calmness, encouraged and assisted them to arm, when they were ready to go, and just setting out, addressed them thus: “My children I have a few words to say to you: You are going out in a just cause, to fight for the rights and liberties of your country—you have my blessings and prayers, that God will protect and assist you—but if you fall—his will be done. Let me beg of you, my children, that if you fall, it may be like men; and that your wounds may not be in your back parts.”

 

George Washington was also concerned about the soldiers being shot in their “back parts.” “If I see any man turn his back today, I will shoot him through,'' one unidentified private later claimed to hear Washington shout at his men. “I have two pistols loaded, but I will not ask any man to go further than I do. I will fight so long as I have a leg or an arm.'' The stage was set, the soldiers were in place, and on August 27, 1776, the first major battle of the American Revolution took place. It was a rout. In a short period of time, the British had outflanked and surrounded the American soldiers. Brooklyn had become a killing field.

 

“All over the field, many who tried to surrender were slaughtered and stragglers were shot down or bayoneted when they could not escape. Hessians with leveled bayonets formed circles around terrified groups of Americans in the woods; methodically these rings would close until all life within them was extinguished. Earlier, the British had made a point to spread the rumor in the Hessian ranks that the Americans practiced cannibalism on defeated enemies, noting, as evidence, the tomahawk each man carried.” (Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 by John J. Gallagher)

 

Some of the soldiers, at first so eager to fight, now faced reality. The battlefield was littered with dead and dying men, some of whom were their neighbors, friends, and even relatives.

 

Colonel Smallwood would later report to the Maryland Council:

 

“I could wish the Transactions of this Day blotted out of the Annals of America,—nothing appeared but Flight Disgrace and Confusion, let it suffice to say that 60 Light Infantry upon the First Fire put to flight two Brigades of the Connecticut Troops—Wretches, who, however strange it may appear, from the Brigadier General down to the Private Sentinal, were caned and whip'd by the Generals Washington Putnam & Miflin, but e'ven this Indignity had no Weight they could not be brought to stand one Shot—Genl Washington expressly sent and drew our Regiment from its Brigade, to march down towards New York, to cover the Retreat and to defend the Baggage, with direction to take Possession of an Advantageous Eminence near the Enemy upon the Main Road, where we remained under Arms the best part of the Day, till Sergant's Brigade came in with their Baggage, who were the last Troops coming in, upon which the Enemy divided their Main Body into two Columns, one filing off on the North River endeavored to Flank and surround us, the other advancing in good order slowly up the Main Road upon us, we had orders to retreat, in good order which was done, our Corps getting within the Lines a little after Dusk—.” (Archives of Maryland, Vol. 12, p. 338-343).

 

Colonel Smallwood was not at the battle that morning. He had been ordered to remain in New York City to serve on a court-martial board, so Capt. Mordecai Gist was acting in his absence. He did, however, arrive after the battle was underway.

 

The Marylanders under Gist, along with troops from Pennsylvania and Delaware, were called upon to cover the retreat of the American forces under the command of General William Alexander (also known as Lord Stirling). Blocking the retreat was a stone house, then held by the British.

 

“Cornwallis had taken possession of the Cortelyou house, in the rear of Stirling’s line, and the latter saw that if he could not drive him back, or at least hold him where he was, his whole command would suffer death or capture. He resolved upon a costly sacrifice to save his retreating columns, which were now toiling through the salt marshes and across the deep tide-water creek in the rear. Changing his front and taking with him less than 400 of the Maryland regiment under Major Gist, Stirling ordered the rest of his force to retreat across the Gowanus marsh and creek, which the rising tide was making every moment less and less passable. Smallwood’s regiment, composed in a large part of the sons of the best families of Maryland, nicknamed the Macaroni by the Tories of New York—was now to have its courage, self-devotion and discipline proved. (The heroes of the American Revolution and their descendants: Battle of Long Island Brooklyn: Heroes of the Revolution Pub. Co., by Henry Whittemore,1897-1899, preface vii and viii ).

 

There was only one way for Stirling to stop the inexorable British tide, and that was to attack. Into a rain of British fire, the Marylanders charged, and Cornwallis recoiled, stunned by the unexpected rebel onslaught. Though the ground became littered with dead and dying Maryland militia, Stirling formed them up again. Again, they attacked, closing up the line when comrades fell, reforming and attacking again, their numbers diminishing by the minute. Six times Stirling charged and twice the assaults drove the British from the stone house. (Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 by John J. Gallagher).

 

Each attack was met with the withering counterfire as the British masses swelled against this fanatically determined American rearguard. As Stirling launched his last assault, with a remaining handful of men, even more British reinforcements arrived. At last, the remnant of the Marylanders broke into small parties to fight their way to safety. In the last attack Stirling himself was captured by some Hessians who had outrun their unit. He refused to give up to Cornwallis. He surrendered instead to deHeister, the Hessian commander. Cornwallis later said, “General Stirling fought like a wolf.” (Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 by John J. Gallagher).

 

Stirling’s and Marylanders’ gallant action allowed the rest of the Americans remaining in the field to escape across the Gowanus Creek and survive. Only seven men crossing the Gowanus were lost through drowning. But the Marylanders had sacrificed themselves for the sake of the army. Out of barely 400 men, 256 lay dead in front of the Old Stone House. Over 100 others were wounded and/or captured. Only Gist and nine others managed to regain the American lines. This sacrifice was to be remembered throughout the war. ‘The Declaration of Independence that was signed in ink in Philadelphia was signed in blood in south Brooklyn.” (Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 by John J. Gallagher).

 

Private John Plumb Martin, a young Connecticut soldier, said: “There was in this action a regiment of Maryland troops (volunteers), all young gentlemen. When they came out of the water and mud to us, looking like water rats, it was truly a pitiful sight. Many of them were killed in the pond and more were drowned. Some of us went into the water after the fall of the tide, and took a number of corpses and a great many arms that were sunk in the pond and creek.”

 

Washington, along with Putnam and some other generals, was watching from an observation post on Cobble Hill. An American rifleman wrote: “Most of our generals on a high hill in the lines, viewed us with glasses, as we were retreating, and saw the enemy we had to pass through, thought we could not. Many thought we would surrender in a body without firing. When we began the attack, Gen. Washington wrung his hands and cried out “Good God! What brave fellows I must this day lose!”

 

Col. Smallwood’s report to the Maryland Council continues:

 

“The Place of Action upon a direct Line did not much exceed a Mile from a part of our Lines towards the Head of which Creek there was a Mill and Bridge across which a certain Col. Ward from New England, who is charged with having acted a Bashful part that Day, pass'd over with his Regiment and then burnt them Down, tho' under cover of our Cannon, which would have check'd the Enemy's Pursuit at any Time, otherways this Bridge might have afforded a secure Retreat, there then remained no other Prospect but to surrender or attempt to retreat over this Marsh and Creek at the Mouth, where no Person had ever been known to Cross.

 

In the Interim I applied to Genl Washington for some Regiments to march out to support and cover their Retreat, which he urged would be attended with too great Risk to the Party and the Lines; he immediately afterwards sent for and ordered me to march down a New England Regiment, and Capt. Thomas's Compy which had just come over from York, to the Mouth of the Creek opposite where the Brigade was drawn up, and ordered two Field Pieces down, to support and cover their Retreat, should they make a push that Way.

 

Soon after our march, they began to retreat, and for a small Time the Fire was very heavy on both sides, till our Troops came to the Marsh, where they were obliged to break their order, and escape as quick as they could to the Edge of the Creek, under a brisk Fire, notwithstanding which they brought off 28 Prisoners—The Enemy taking advantage of a Commanding Ground kept up a continual Fire from Four Field Pieces, which were well served & directed, and an Heavy Column advancing on the Marsh must have cut our People off, their Guns being wet and muddy not one of them would have fired, but having drawn up the Musquetry and disposed of some Rifle Men conveniently, with orders to fire on them when they came within Shot, however the Latter began their Fire rather too soon being at 200 yards Distance, which notwithstanding had the desired Effect, for the Enemy immediately retreated to the Fast Land, where they continued parading within 800 yards till our Troops were brought over, most of those who swam over, and others who attempted to cross before the Covering Party got down, lost their Arms and ccoutrements in the Mud & Creek, and some Poor Fellows their Lives, particularly two of the Maryland, two of the Delaware one of Attleys Pensylvania and two Hessian Prisoners were drowned. Thomas's Men contributed much in bringing over this Party—have enclosed a List of the Kill'd & Missing amounting to 256 officers inclusive (Note: This list is not known to now exist), it has been said the Enemy during the Action, also attacked our Lines, but this was a Mistake, not knowing the Ground one of their Columns advanced within Long Shot, without knowing they were so near and upon our Artillery & part of the Musquetry's Firing on them, they immediately fled.” (Note: Col. Smallwood is referring to Capt. John Allen Thomas and the 5th Independent Company from St. Mary’s County).

 

On part of the land where the Marylanders made their stand is a plaque that reads: “New York/Maryland Heroes/Here Lie Buried 256/Maryland Soldiers/Who Fell in the/Battle of Brooklyn/August 27th, 1776.

 

The men, whose names we don’t all know at this point, lie in a mass grave on Third Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets, and despite stipulations in deeds to the contrary that this place is hallowed ground, the site is now occupied by an automobile repair shop that is not marked.

 

I realize that I have told you what the Maryland 400 did, but I haven’t told you who they were. Lists have been made at various times over the years, but there is not one accurate, complete list that I have been able to find. The names of the men are often misspelled, the companies in which they served are identified incorrectly, and further research indicates, in some cases, that although a soldier was listed he was not present that day. For instance, Captains Barton Lucas and Peter Adams were not on the battlefield that day based on this reference:

 

“Major Guest (sic) commanded the Maryland battalion (the col. and lt. col. being both at York). Capts. Adams and Lucas were sick. (Onderdonk, Revolutionary Incidents, p. 147-148, from The Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six: the story of the American Revolution as told by participants”, Edited by Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, DeCapo Press, New York, 1995).

 

For further information, I strongly suggest you read “The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776” by John Gallagher. If you have any information about the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn, whether they were a part of the Maryland 400 or not, please contact me.

 

The following is the hyperlink for the Old Stone House. Kim Maier, the Executive Director, and Joe Ferris, along with a host of other good Brooklyn folks, are doing their best to keep the memory alive. Notice that the Maryland flag flies in the front of the house. Your membership and support would be most welcomed.

 

http://www.theoldstonehouse.org/

 

The photo at the beginning of this article is provided courtesy of the Old Stone House. It’s from a display in the house that depicts the battle where the Marylanders made their stand.

 

Linda Davis Reno, August 29, 2005.

 

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Copyright 2002 Linda Reno, Charlotte Hall, Maryland and Marcella Jehl Dawson, Houston, Texas. All rights reserved.. No part of these pages may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without written permission of the author(s).

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