The Missing Men

The Maryland 400 project aims to create a more accurate and detailed portrait of the men who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn by hunting down the clues that survive in documents. Sometimes these clues are so rich that they have to be picked through and compared, and sometimes every bit of significance has to be wrung out of the few hints that survive in the historic record. However, the abundance or lack of sources is itself part of the story of the Revolutionary War.

In the Maryland Regiment, the officers were sons of wealthy and influential families and most of them left behind a paper trail that can be followed from birth to burial record. Conversely, many of the men who we call the Maryland 400, the privates who filled the ranks, died in field hospitals, and languished on prison ships, left behind no written trace of their lives.

In some cases we know that lists existed, such as prisoner lists and muster rolls, but they have been lost or destroyed.  Letter writers sometimes tantalizingly note that they have enclosed a list of casualties, only for the letter to survive and the list to be lost.  After the Battle of Long Island, Colonel Smallwood wrote to the Maryland Council of Safety that he had, “enclosed a list of the killed and missing, amounting to two hundred and fifty-six, officers included.”[1] Had that list survived, the Maryland 400 project would not need to exist.

An excerpt of Howe's letter to Washington after the Battle of Long Island discussing prisoner lists.

An excerpt of Howe’s letter to Washington after the Battle of Long Island, discussing prisoner lists.

The lists that do survive very rarely include privates. The omission frustrates efforts to make a list of the men at the battle, but it is historically valuable, since it shows the marginal status of privates in eighteenth century warfare. General Howe noted in a letter to General Washington after the Battle of Long Island, “the names of the non commissioned and private prisoners with you are not sent, being unnecessary, but the return herewith enclosed specifies the number.” [2] In prisoner exchanges, privates were swapped in large groups for an equal number of the opposition’s troops while officers were traded by name. Many of the Maryland privates who were sent to British prison ships will only be known as tally marks.

The best places to find the names of privates are muster rolls and pension applications. The pension application of William McMillan gives a rare account of the experience of a noncommisioned officer at the battle of Long Island. Many pension applications also mention the private’s profession, the size of his family, and give an inventory of his possessions.

The 7th Independent Company's descriptive roster.

The 7th Independent Company’s descriptive roster.

The 7th Independent Company’s muster roll is unique because it gives a physical description of the recruits. The list was compiled on May 22, 1776, and it was one of the rare muster rolls that was created only a few months before the Battle of Long Island, meaning that it is more reflective of who was actually at the battle than earlier rolls. This list only includes half of the company, but it gives us a better idea of the men who served under Captain Edward Veazey, who were among the companies that sustained the most significant losses. The height measurements in the muster roll show that the company was short by modern standards, with the tallest four men standing at a little over five feet ten. They were also young. The three youngest recruits were seventeen-years-old, and the oldest, Jeremiah Carroll, was forty four. The majority of the men were in their twenties. The muster roll shows that the 7th Independent was a company of immigrants along with native-born Americans. Out of the 54 names on the list, fourteen of the soldiers had been born in Ireland, one in Scotland, one in England, and one, Stephen Videtto, was noted as a “Menoon”.[3] Click here to view a higher quality PDF of the 7th Independent Company’s descriptive muster roll. [4]

In contrast to his troops, Captain Veazey is a notably difficult officer to track. We know that his father was a gentleman, Colonel John Veazey Jr. of the Bohemia Battalion in Cecil County. Veazey’s life before becoming a captain, to a large extent, went unrecorded. Unlike the men in his company, we do not know his age nor his height.

Veazey’s military papers went missing during the war. This is explained by a letter in the Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety written on November 28, 1776. “I have not been able to lay my hands on Captn Veazy’s papers which concern the public… Veazy’s father… thro’ mistake has got them. I wrote for them immediately on coming down and Colonel Veazy wrote me in return that I should have them as soon as he receiv’d them from Apoquimini, where they were with his son’s baggage.”[5] That letter was the last mention that we have been able to find of Veazey’s papers. Disorganization contributed to the loss of documents, especially in the Maryland Line, which suffered so many losses at the start of the war. After the Battle of Long Island, the 7th Independent’s captain was dead, first lieutenant gravely wounded, and the second and third lieutenants had been taken prisoner– the military and administrative leadership of the company had been destroyed, thus leading to mistakes like the one that sent Veazey’s papers to his father instead of to Annapolis.

Captain Veazey’s lack of documentation in civil records is a clue. There is no record of him marrying, buying land, or creating a will. This absence, along with his father’s age, suggests that he was young, as many of the captains in the Maryland Line were– the average age of Smallwood’s captains in 1776 was 33. The youngest known captain in the Maryland Line at the Battle of Long Island was 24-year-old Samuel Smith. Had Veazey survived the Battle of Long Island, his life would have been noted in account books, muster rolls, and letters. Instead, his death was recorded, while the fate of most of the individuals in his company is a mystery. The 7th Independent, Veazey’s company, was hit particularly hard by the Battle of Brooklyn. In September, only 36 soldiers, 29 of them privates, remained out of the original total of 106 men.

The lack of documentation of the privates and noncommissioned officers is part of the history of the Revolutionary War. The officers had a consistent presence in contemporary documents, while the privates were recorded as a group that fluctuated in size with illness, desertion, and capture. Additionally, when documents were created and saved, those choices were made by legislators and military leaders, who would never have expected our modern interest in the lives of ordinary privates. Because of this, historians are investigators, peeling back the layers of what was passed down to us in order to get at the truth of the past.


[1] “Smallwood to Tilghman. Battle of Long Island,” October 12, 1776, Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, Vol 12, P. 338, Archives of Maryland Online.

[2] Howe to Washington, Sept. 28, 1776, The National Archives (Papers of the Continental Congress, Transcripts of Letters from George Washington, 1776, Vol. 2) NARA M247, Group 360, Item 169. From Fold3.com. 

[3] The meaning of “Menoon” is unknown, but it’s possible that it indicates that he was Native American or mixed race. Exactly who Stephen Videtto was is one of the questions that unfortunately will probably never be answered, especially considering the high casualty rate of the 7th Independent Company.

[4] 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]

[5] “W. Harrison to Jenifer,” November 28, 1776, Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, Vol. 12, P. 488, Archives of Maryland Online.  

-Emily

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4 Responses to The Missing Men

  1. Virginia Huebner says:

    NIcely done. It is interesting that you suggest they men were short by modern standards. I was under the impression that at that time the average height was 5 feet 8 inches. If that is the case wouldn’t the Marylanders have been taller than average? Also, the remarks about the youth of the men. In our modern forces I would guess that the average enlisted man is between 18 and 22. Many of those subject to the draft during the Vietnam War were just out of High School — unless they were enrolled in college. I am not suggesting that you are inaccurate — just find the difference in my beliefs and the content of the blog stimulates me to want to investigate further. Good job:).

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    Who are they?

    Like

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