It rained constantly for two days after the Battle of Long Island. The defeated Americans did not have enough tents or clothes, and the soggy troops could only wait for the storm to end. The Continental army’s ranks were depleted by disease and desertion; the Revolutionary struggle was at a discouraging juncture. However, the exhausted and ill-equipped troops had no time to recover from the loss at Long Island. After the Battle of Brooklyn, the British had a stronger position in New York than ever before.
Colonel William Smallwood would write later that the Marylanders had served “without respite of duty… I may justly say our corps have had a greater proportion of this duty than any in this army, for we have generally acted in brigade under northern Brigadier-Generals, who have seldom failed to favour their own and put the labouring oar on our regiment; but it has perhaps made us the better soldiers.” “ He was right that the experience had made them stronger. After holding the line at Brooklyn, the Marylanders had become some of the most experienced and reliable troops in the Continental Army.
By September 4, 1776, the Maryland Regiment was posted near the village of Harlem. Washington expected a British attack from Hell Gate, the confluence of the Hudson and the East River, and he had placed his best troops– the Maryland Regiment along with Knowlton’s Connecticut Rangers– at Harlem to monitor the British ships and defend the coast if the enemy should attempt a landing.
However, the constant stress, lack of supplies, and poor weather had taken their toll on the Maryland troops. Many of the men had fallen ill and the surgeons with the regiment were overwhelmed by the number of sick.
On September 4, John Allen Thomas, Captain of the 5th Independent Company, wrote from Harlem to Annapolis in a bid to improve their intolerable conditions. He reported “the unhappy situation of the Maryland Troops,” to the Maryland Council of Safety.
According to Thomas, a large proportion of the men were sick, including one of the two surgeons that were with the regiment. In his own company, he had not been able to find a doctor for the fifteen to twenty men who were “extremely ill.” Out of the entire regiment, which Smallwood described as consisting of about 750 men, “we have at this time near two hundred Men unfit for duty, and most of them without any assistance from the Doctor.”
“I have not the last doubt but you will immediately apply a Remedy,” Thomas wrote hopefully to the Council. However, no remedy came for the Marylanders. There is no evidence that Thomas ever received a reply from the Maryland Council of Safety, and by October 12, medical care was still the main challenge facing the regiment.
“No person can conceive who has not experienced it;” Smallwood wrote to the Council of Safety in Annapolis. “There is not only a shameful but even an inhuman neglect daily exhibited [by the Directors of the General Hospitals]… I foresee the evils arising from the shameful neglect in this department. One good-seasoned and well-trained soldier, recovered to health, is worth a dozen new recruits, and is often easier recovered than to get a recruit, exclusive of which this neglect is very discouraging to the soldiery.”
The Americans had field hospitals, but the lack of medical supplies, along with the combination of inexperience and incompetence, added to the suffering of Revolutionary troops. In the camps and on the battlefield, the Americans were learning their first painful lessons in how to wage war.
For transcriptions of Smallwood’s and Thomas’ letters, click on the citations above. To read the entire letter Colonel Smallwood wrote to the Maryland Council of Safety in October of 1776, click on the images below.
There were a number of events to mark the 237th anniversary of the Battle of Long Island. On August 25, Green-Wood Cemetery, which is on land where much of the Battle of Long Island was fought, hosted a reenactment and commemoration. Tom Wisner’s song, “The Old Line” was performed and Governor Martin O’Malley spoke about the legacy of the Maryland 400– read his speech by clicking here.