Soldiering On

In late November of 1776, the Continental Army was facing dismantlement by a surer force than the British military. The Americans’ enlistments were expiring. On December 10, a large chunk of the Continental Army, including many of the most experienced soldiers, would be free to return home. These included the men of the First Maryland Regiment who had joined at the beginning of the year. Furthermore, on January 1, nearly all of the remaining soldiers’ enlistments would expire.

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James Andrews’ 1777 reenlistment receipt. MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Revolutionary Papers) MSA S997-16-5.

The First Maryland Regiment consisted of approximately 290 fighting-strength men at the beginning of November.[1] As the date of expiration approached, the officers were skeptical that the Maryland troops would choose to remain in the army. Despite the veteran Marylanders’ discipline, their presence in the army was contractual and they maintained that they could not be forced to fight. From Philadelphia, Samuel Chase wrote to the Maryland Council of Safety that he “greatly doubt[ed] if we shall be able to prevail upon the Troops to enter into the service.”[2] Especially after the enormous losses and the poor conditions the troops had endured, Captain Hindman of the Fourth Independent Company wrote to the council that “the hard usage they have met with will greatly discourage them from enlisting again.” [3] The enlistments were expiring at a junction when morale was low and the prospect of winning the war seemed remote. The fate of the Revolution depended on the willingness of the rank and file to carry on.

The entire future of the Continental Army was at stake, and Samuel Chase was left to ponder the repercussions of losing the war. Chase wrote to Maryland from Congress in Philadelphia that without an Army it would be impossible to secure “honorable Terms of peace.” [4] As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Chase in particular would have been concerned by the expiring enlistments and future peace accords. Less than six months before, the signers of the Declaration had pledged to the cause and to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Without an army at the disposal of the Revolutionary leadership Chase’s life and, at the very least, his property were at risk.

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Edward Armstrong’s 1777 reenlistment receipt. MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Revolutionary Papers) MSA S997-16-6.

Congress devised a new payment agreement to support reenlistment. Continental soldiers would be paid in cash, land, and clothing. Soldiers who enlisted for the duration of the war would be given a twenty dollar bounty, one hundred acres of land, and “two linen hunting-shirts, two pair of overalls, a leathern cap, two shirts, two pair of hose, and two pair of shoes.”[5] The men also had the option to enlist for three years, but they would forfeit the land payment. Maryland battled with Congress over the terms of enlistment, since the state did not have large holdings of surplus land to give to veterans. As a temporary solution to the problem, the Maryland Council of Safety ultimately ordered recruiters to enlist men for three years, with the condition that after those three years the soldiers would be in the service of the state until the end of the war.[6]

Despite bearing the brunt of the most dangerous engagements in the war, most of the surviving Marylanders agreed to reenlist. On December 10, 1776, 170 men enlisted in the new army.[7] The remnants of Smallwood’s Regiment became the experienced nucleus of the new First Maryland Regiment and soldiers from the Independent Companies joined the Second Maryland Regiment.[8] Perhaps the men’s traumatic introduction to war and their subsequent growth into an elite group had sealed their dedication to the Revolutionary cause. The army that the Maryland 400 sacrificed themselves for would survive, but victory was still scarcely imaginable.


[7] Mark Andrew Tacyn, “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution,” PhD diss. (University of Maryland, College Park, 1999), 114.

[8] Tacyn, 105.

-Emily

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3 Responses to Soldiering On

  1. Maria Day says:

    Very insightful post. I have always been impressed by the story of hardship described by the Continental Congress Delegates who visited the Army camp. Their report and plea for additional monetary and resource support is perhaps the very reason why the United States was able to hang in there and win the war.

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