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Battleoflongisland

The American stand led by Lord Stirling at the Battle of Brooklyn, which included the men of the Maryland 400. Detail, Battle of Long Island, by Alonzo Chappell (1858)

Welcome to Finding the Maryland 400, an effort to discover and explore the lives and stories of Maryland’s first war heroes, led by the Maryland State Archives in partnership with the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Raised in early 1776, the First Maryland Regiment joined the rest of the American troops that made up the Continental Army in New York City in August, on the eve of the Battle of Brooklyn. That battle, also called the Battle of Long Island, was the first major engagement of the war, and was an overwhelming British victory. Only the heroic stand by a small group of Marylanders–now known as the Maryland 400–held the British at bay long enough to allow the Continental Army to escape total destruction, at the cost of many Maryland lives.

Learn more about the Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn, beginning with the British landing on Long Island a few days before the battle, and moving forward.

There are many ways you can learn more about the First Maryland Regiment:

You may support this project through a donation to the Friends of the Maryland State Archives; indicate “Maryland 400″ under Additional Comments. If you have questions or suggestions, please get in touch with us at msamaryland400@gmail.com.

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In Their Own Words, Postscript: The Marylanders Retreat From Brooklyn

Most of the first-hand accounts that we have from the Battle of Brooklyn end on the afternoon of August 27, when the Americans were able to retreat to their encampment in Brooklyn. The fighting had paused, but the danger had not receded, and the British still loomed close by. The only chance the Americans had was to retreat across the East River back to Manhattan.

The only Marylander who left a description of the retreat was Samuel Smith, captain of the 8th Company. When Smith and his men arrived at the American lines, they were stationed outside a small American outpost. As Smith recounted,

About midnight, one of the Corporals informed me that he had been up and down the [encampment], and not a man was to be seen. In consequence of which I sent my two Lieutenants…[who] reported that all the troops had gone, where they knew not…I presumed that we had been left as a forlorn hope [to cover the retreat].

I was…greatly relieved by the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Ware, who told me that the [rest of the Maryland] Regiment was, by that time, in [Manhattan], and ordered us to march to the ferry.

I passed General Washington, who asked him how it happened I was so late; and I answered we had received no order [to leave] until a few minutes past. We arrived in time to embark in the last boat; and had scarcely got off from the wharf, when the British…appeared on the hill and fired their carbines, without doing any injury.

To read more about the American retreat on August 28, 1776, see The Rain and the Retreat.


Source:
“The Papers of General Samuel Smith. The General’s Autobiography. From the Original Manuscripts.” The Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., vol. 8, no. 2 (1870): 82-92. Note: Smith wrote his autobiography in the third person. It has been converted to first person here for clarity.

Becoming the Maryland 400

By the afternoon of August 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn had rapidly become a life or death struggle for the American army. After distracting the American forces with an auxiliary diversion that morning, the British sprung their trap. The night before the battle, Generals Howe and Clinton had led 10,000 troops to the rear of the Americans in a flanking maneuver. After the Americans had fought off the British diversion to their front, the 10,000 British descended upon the Continental troops from the north. According to one American soldier, the Americans were entirely unaware of the presence of the large force to their rear, until “the main body of their army, by a route we never dreamed of, had entirely surrounded us, and drove within the lines, or scattered in the woods, all our men, except the Delaware and Maryland battalions, who were standing at bay with double their number.

Read more…

The British Diversion

The Marylanders were called to battle before sunrise on August 27, 1776. Lord Stirling, the temporary commander of the Maryland troops, was awoken at around three o’clock in the morning and given the news that the British had begun their advance. During the night, the British had surprised the American guard posted near the Red Lion Inn, and in the confusion, a number of Americans had been taken captive. General Israel Putnam ordered Stirling to take the two regiments “nearest at hand” and engage the British on the road near the Red Lion Inn.

Early in the morning on August 27, the alarm guns of the American lines sounded and the troops set to preparing the defense. Under General Putnam’s orders, Lord Stirling marched the First Maryland Regiment and Haslet’s Delaware battalion to meet the British. They were joined by Colonel Atlee’s Pennsylvania troops, Huntington’s Connecticut Continentals, and Kachlein’s Pennsylvania riflemen.

Read more…

The Marylanders Arrive

On August 26, 1776, the Marylanders arrived at Long Island on the eve of battle. Once it became clear that a major engagement was imminent, Washington sent the regiment to reinforce the American defensive line. The men who would become known as the Maryland 400 were posted on the Heights of Guana, a wooded, ten-mile ridge near the British encampment at the town of Flatbush. They joined with the force already there, which had fought a number of skirmishes with the British, and the small engagements served to boost the confidence of the inexperienced Continental soldiers. An intelligence report from New York mentioned the recent encounters with the British, “We have had only four men wounded since the enemy landed; but we are certain many of them [the British] fell.”

Read more…

“They Must Be Well Watched”

After the British landed on Long Island they advanced to within three miles of the American lines, and then they stopped. On August 23, 1776, the tension grew in New York as the American leadership tried to determine the enemy’s next move. The standoff that began on August 22 reinforced the Americans’ belief that the British were using Long Island as a diversion, and the main attack would come to Manhattan.  General William Heath of Massachusetts captured the Americans’ uneasiness on the 23rd when he wrote to Washington, “I hope soon to hear good news from Long Island. I have never been afraid of the force of the enemy: I am more [afraid] of their arts. They must be well watched.”

Read more…

The British Come Ashore

On August 22, 1776, the British began setting the stage for battle by landing troops on Long Island. The Continental Army had been present in varying numbers on Long Island for nearly four months, since General Nathanael Greene was ordered to encamp there on May 1, and with the arrival of additional Hessian troops to aid the British on August 25, only five days remained until the forces would finally clash at the Battle of Long Island on August 27.

Read more…

In Their Own Words: An Oral History of the Battle of Brooklyn, Part II

This is Part II of our compilation of personal accounts of the Battle of Brooklyn by members of the First Maryland Regiment. If you missed Part I, you can read it here.

Around midday on August 27, 1776, the British troops who had been firing on the Marylanders pulled back. Major Mordecai Gist, the commander on the ground, judged that “Our men behaved well, and maintained their ground.” As the British withdrew, the Marylanders felt the had weathered their first test as soldiers.

In truth, however, the attack the Maryland troops had faced was only a diversion. The rest of the British army, including a large number of Scottish troops, was in the process of slipping around the left end of the American lines, attacking them from the rear.

Unnamed Soldier, 5th Company
The main body of their army, by a route we never dreamed of, had entirely surrounded us, and…scattered all our men, except the Delaware and Maryland battalions.

William McMillan
We were surrounded by Healanders [Scottish Highlanders] on one side, Hessians on the other.

Mordecai Gist
Being thus surrounded, and no probability of a reinforcement, his Lordship [Lord Stirling, American general] ordered me to retreat with the remaining part of our men, and force our way through to our camp.

Unnamed Soldier
We were ordered to attempt a retreat, by fighting our way through the enemy, who…nearly filled every field and road between us and our lines. We had not retreated a quarter of a mile before we were fired upon by an advanced party of the enemy, and those upon our rear were playing upon us with their artillery. Our men fought with more than Roman courage, and I am convinced would have stood until [we] were shot down to a man. We forced the advanced party, which first attacked us, to give way.

Samuel Smith
Captain, 8th Company, 24 years old
When the Regiment mounted a hill, a British officer appeared…and waved his hat, and it was supposed that he meant to surrender. He clapped his hands three times, on which signal his company rose and gave a heavy [fire].

Gist
We soon fell in with a party of the enemy, who clubbed their firelocks [turned their guns upside-down, a sign of surrender], and waved their hats to us, as if they meant to surrender as prisoners; but on our advancing within sixty yards, they…fired.

Unnamed Soldier
They entirely overshot us, and killed some men away behind in our rear. I had the satisfaction of dropping one of them the first fire I made. I was so near I could not miss. I discharged my rifle seven times that day as deliberately as I ever did at a [target], and with as little perturbation.

As the Marylanders fought their way back, they arrived at the swampy Gowanus Creek (now the Gowanus Canal).

Unnamed Soldier
We got a passage down to the side of a marsh, seldom before waded over, which we passed, and then swam a narrow river, all the time exposed to the fire of the enemy.

William Smallwood
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.

Smith
I took my company through a marsh, until we were stopped by the dam of a …mill…that was too deep for the men to ford. I and a Sergeant swam over and got two slabs [of wood] into the water, on…which they ferried over all could not swim.

Half the regiment was able to escape through the swamp, including the 5th and the 8th companies, before more British soldiers returned and attacked. Five companies were left to contend with the British: the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 9th, and 7th Independent.

Gist
We were then left with only five companies of our battalion, when the enemy returned… After a warm and close engagement for near ten minutes, our [troops] became so disordered we were under the necessity of retreating to a piece of woods on our right…

We formed and made a second attack, but being overpowered with numbers, and surrounded on all sides, by at least twenty thousand men, we were [pushed back in] much…confusion.

McMillan
My captain was killed, first lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot through the hand, two sergeants was killed; one in front of me…my bayonet was shot off my gun.

The Marylanders twice charged the British near the Old Stone House, trying to get through to the American camp on the other side, before scattering.

Gist
The impracticability of forcing through such a formidable body of troops, rendered it the height of rashness and imprudence to risk the lives of our remaining party in a third attempt, and it became necessary for us to endeavor to effect our escape in the best manner we possibly could. A [potion of us] immediately retreated to the right through the woods, and Captain [Benjamin] Ford [of the 9th Company] and myself, with twenty others, to the left, through a marsh; nine only of whom got safe in.

Many of those who could not escape with Gist were captured.

McMillan
My brother and I and 50 or 60 of us was taken…The Hessians broke the best of our guns over their cannon and robbed us of everything we had, lit their pipes with our money… gave us nothing to eat for five days, and then [only] moldy biscuits…blue, moldy, full of bugs and rotten.

More than 80 percent of William McMillan’s company was killed or captured. All told, the Marylanders lost 256 men, captured and killed. The five companies who did not go through the Gowanus Swamp were decimated. The 3rd Company lost 60 percent of its men, the 6th lost 78 percent, the 9th lost 54 percent, and the 7th Independent Company lost 69 percent.

The charge by the Maryland troops against an overwhelming British force allowed the rest of the Continental Army to get away. The Battle of Brooklyn was an absolute disaster for the Americans, with failures of logistics, intelligence, and leadership. The Marylanders fought with courage that belied their inexperience, and suffered mightily.


Sources:

Spelling and grammar have been altered in places for readability. Smith’s account comes from his autobiography, which he wrote in the third person; it has been converted to first person here for purposes of uniformity.

William McMillan
Letter to “Secretary of Treasury,” ca. October 1828. Pension of William McMillan, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 2806, p. 33-35.
Note: It is unclear exactly when or where during the battle McMillan was captured. It was likely after the Marylanders initial retreat towards the swamp, probably during the stand at the Old Stone House.

William Smallwood
Letter to Matthew Tilghman, President of the Council of Safety, 12 October 1776. Printed in Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July 7-December 31, 1776. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 338-343.

Mordecai Gist
“Extract of a letter from an officer of the Maryland Battalion: giving a short account of the late engagement on Long-Island,” 30 August 1776. American Archives, 5th series, vol. 1, p. 1212.
Note: Although the letter was published anonymously, it has long been ascribed to Gist, since it is worded as if written by the commanding officer.

Unknown Soldier of the 5th Company
“Extract of a letter from New-York: Account of the Battle on Long-Island,” 1 September 1776. American Archives, 5th series, vol. 1, p. 1232
Note: Attribution of this letter to a member of the 5th Company comes from Mark Andrew Tacyn, “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 56, 58-59; fn25.

Samuel Smith
“The Papers of General Samuel Smith. The General’s Autobiography. From the Original Manuscripts.” The Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., vol. 8, no. 2 (1870): 82-92.

In Their Own Words: An Oral History of the Battle of Brooklyn

Next week marks the 238th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn. Beginning Friday, we will be provide updates of the battle as it unfolded.

In preparation for that, over the next two days, we are publishing a compilation of several personal accounts of the battle by members of the First Maryland Regiment. These accounts offer unique insight into the terrible defeat the American suffered, and the heroism of the Marylanders. This is the first part; part two will run tomorrow.


The Battle of Brooklyn (also called the Battle of Long Island) was fought on August 27, 1776. After being forced to withdraw from Boston in May, the British spent the summer preparing to push the Americans out of New York. By August, both side had assembled large armies near the city, preparing for a battle they knew would happen soon. The Continental Army included about 1,000 Marylanders, few of whom had ever been in combat before, and most of them had seen only a handful of small skirmishes.

This is the story of that battle, as told by some of the Marylanders who fought in it.

William McMillan
Sergeant, 4th Company, 23 years old

The British came to New York, and parts of our Regiment lay in Annapolis and parts in Baltimore. Hand bills was sent in every direction for volunteers and our Regiment turned [out] to a man that was fit to march. We had about twelve hundred men in the Regiment and we marched for New York, I believe we arrived there about the First of August 1776…On the evening of the 26 of August we left New York and landed on Long Island.

On the eve of the first full-scale battle of the American Revolution, General George Washington convened a court martial to try Lt. Col. Herman Zedwitz, who had been caught trying to sell American information to the enemy. Washington insisted that a number of high-ranking officers serve as the jury.

William Smallwood
Colonel, 1st Maryland Regiment, 44 years old

Lt. Col. [Francis] Ware and myself were detained on the Trial of Lt. Col. Zedwitz, and tho’ I waited on General Washington and urged the Necessity of attending our Troops, yet he refused to discharge us, alleging there was a Necessity for the trial…after our dismissal from the Court Martial it was too late to get over [to the battle].

With Smallwood and Ware hearing the case against Zedwitz, command of the Maryland troops fell to Major Mordecai Gist, a 33 year-old Baltimore merchant who had led revolutionary activities for several years, but like the Marylanders he now led, had never seen combat.

Mordecai Gist
Major, 1st Maryland Regiment, 33 years old

We began our march to the right [side of the battlefield], at three o’clock in the morning, with about thirteen hundred men [from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware], and about sunrise… discovered the enemy.

The Marylanders were positioned at the far right of the American lines, across the Gowanus Road, which ran from the coast where the British had landed to Brooklyn. Facing them was a regiment of Jaegers, part of the contingent of feared Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British.

Unnamed soldier
5th Company

The enemy then advanced towards us, upon which [American General] Lord Stirling… immediately drew us up in a line, and offered them battle in the true English taste. The British army then advanced within about three hundred yards of us, and began a very heavy fire from their cannon and mortars, for both the balls and shells flew very fast, now and then taking off a head.

Our men stood it amazingly well; not even one of them showed a disposition to shrink. Our orders were not to fire until the enemy came within fifty yards of us. When [the British] perceived we stood their fire so coolly and resolutely, they declined coming any nearer, although treble our number. In this situation we stood from sunrise to twelve o’clock, the enemy firing upon us the chief part of the time.

McMillan
We had a pretty severe fight with Jagers and it was a draw battle. There was a good many on each side killed. They retreated and we did not pursue them.

Gist
Our men behaved well, and maintained their ground until…the enemy retreated about two hundred yards and halted, and the firing on each side ceased.

To the Marylanders, it seemed as if they had demonstrated their discipline and skill in combat: they had faced the enemy, and the enemy had backed down.

Next: The British afternoon response

A History of Service

By May of 1776, 28 year old David Congleton enlisted as a private in the Fifth Company of the First Maryland Regiment, where he would serve during the Battle of Brooklyn. Following his initial one year service agreement, Congleton reenlisted for three years under Colonel John Hopkins Stone and Captain Nathaniel Ewing.[1]

Following his reenlistment, Congleton’s exact service history becomes hazy. Records and muster rolls recorded his military activity through the end of 1779, after which point he is listed as having deserted the army on January 13, 1780. This claim was refuted by Congleton, however, in his 1818 pension application. According to his petition for a federal pension, Congleton served under Stone and Ewing from “the spring of 1778 until the peace in 1783.” [2]

While it was not unheard of for soldiers to be misreported as deserters on muster rolls, this does not seem to be the case with Congleton. In addition to a lack of service records after Congleton’s alleged desertion, his pension application is oddly vague about his service after 1779. While he went into great detail about his service during the first half of the war, Congleton’s pension offered next to no information on his service during the second half other than a mere mention of Yorktown.[3]

Based on the information available, it appears that Congleton deserted in early 1780, and falsified his pension application. Congleton’s pension paperwork is incomplete, however, and it is unclear whether or not he was granted a veteran’s pension.

To read more about David Congleton, check out his recently posted biography here.

-Taira

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pg 640 (hereafter cited as AOMOL, vol. 18); To read more about the experience of the Fifth Company at the Battle of Brooklyn see “The Fate of the Fifth Company,” on the Finding the Maryland 400 blog; David Congleton, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, 0397, fold3 (hereafter cited as Service Records); Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, NARA M246, 0033, fold3.

[2] Service Records; AOMOL, vol. 18, p. 92; David Congleton, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S.34243, fold3 (hereafter cited as Pension Application).

[3] Pension Application

Demographics in the First Maryland Regiment

Military service record of John Burgess

Military service record of John Burgess. John Burgess, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, 0399, fold3.

A former member of the Fifth Company who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn, John Burgess was described as a slender, 42-year-old man, with light brown hair, a “swarthy” complexion, and a height of five feet eleven inches, who was born in England, according to his military service record from 1782. Burgess was not however, representative of the typical soldier of the Maryland Line.[1]

7th Independent Company Descriptive Roster

The 7th Independent Company’s descriptive roster. MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Revolutionary Papers) Descriptions of men in Capt. F. Veazey’s Independent Comp. MdHR 19970-15-29/01 [MSA S997-15, 01/07/03/013]

One of the best demographic records from the First Maryland Regiment in the early stages of the Revolutionary War comes from a muster roll of Edward Veazey’s Seventh Independent Company in 1776. This muster roll indicated the height, age, and country of origin of 54 men, about half of the company. From these descriptions, we are able to ascertain an image of the average soldier in the Maryland Line. A typical soldier was in his early to mid 20s, under five feet eight inches, and born in America.[2]

At five feet eleven inches, Burgess would have immediately stood out among Veazey’s troops. The height disparity is even more notable since Burgess was a foreign-born soldier. When comparing native and foreign-born soldiers in Veazey’s company for example, American soldiers had a median height of five feet seven inches while their foreign-born comrades were under five feet six inches. Only one soldier recorded on Veazey’s roster, Marylander Solomon Slocome who stood six feet two inches, was taller than Burgess.[3]

When he initially enlisted in 1776, Burgess was about 36 years old, almost twelve years older than the average soldier in Veazey’s company. While Burgess was older than Veazey’s average soldier, this was typical of foreign-born soldiers. In 1776, the foreign-born soldiers in the Seventh Independent Company were an average of 26 years old and the American-born soldiers 24.[4]

By the end of the war, the disparity between the ages of native and foreign-born troops had grown, with a median age of 21 and 29 years old respectively. All of the soldiers in Veazey’s company under the age of 22 for example, were American-born.  Foreign-born soldiers may have been older on average than their native-born counterparts due to the necessity of completing indentures prior to enlistment, or immigration to America as an older adult.[5]

Also indicated in Burgess’s military service records was his place of residence at the time of his enlistment. Burgess, like many other immigrants who enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment, was a resident of Baltimore. By this time there was little available farm land in Maryland, and what was available sold for a premium, which made land ownership extremely difficult for immigrant families. Baltimore however, was a booming urban center with a job market open to immigrants, which may have drawn men like Burgess into the city.[6]

To read more about John Burgess, check out his recently posted biography here.

-Taira

[1] John Burgess, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, 0399, fold3 (hereafter cited as Service Records).

[2] MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Revolutionary Papers) Descriptions of men in Captain Eward Veazey’s Independent Company, MdHR 19970-15-29/01 [MSA S997-15, 01/07/03/013] (hereafter cited as Veazey’s Independent Company).

[3] Veazey’s Independent Company.

[4] Veazey’s Independent Company.

[5] Edward C. Papenfuse and Gregory A. Stiverson, “General Smallwood’s Recruits: The Peacetime Career of the Revolutionary War Private,” The William and Mary Quarterly 30, no. 1 (1973): 120; Veazey’s Independent Company.

[6] Service Records.