Evaluating the Maryland Officers

In late 1776, Maryland expanded its military contribution to the Continental Army from one regiment to seven. This required a great deal of planning, as each new regiment required about 50 new officers, and so many promotions required much deliberation.

The chart below was probably written by someone on the staff of the Fifth Maryland Regiment in the first part of 1777, possibly the regiment’s commander Col. William Richardson himself, to evaluate potential candidates. Some of these men, like Lt. Andrew Porter, had fought in Richardson’s Flying Camp battalion in the fall and winter of 1776. One of them, Lt. William Frazier, had served in the Fourth Independent Company at the Battle of Brooklyn (of Frazier, we are told only “you have seen him,” either on the battlefield or in civilian life).

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Image source: Maryland State Papers, Red Books 12:88 [MSA S 989-23]

The chart was intended as a candid assessment of the officers’ abilities, and its author wrote on the back that it was “not to be copied” into the state’s official records. Indeed, he may not have meant for it to be preserved at all. With very few contemporary assessments of individual officers, particularly non-prominent ones, we are very fortunate that this document was saved!

Some men were rated favorably (Gideon Emory: “a Promising youth”; Joseph [sic, John]  Warfield: “Said to be Clever”; Thomas Skinner, who had been a private in Richardson’s battalion earlier in 1776: “A Good officer,”). Others were not. James W. Gray was “very indolent & fond of grog,” much like Richard Bird, “a stupid sot.” William Stinson was “Low bred & illiterate,” and John M. Watts was “altogether unfit” for his rank. Philip Reed was “Very Unpromising.”

These ratings did not dictate the course of careers, however. Gray may have been “fond of grog,” but he served to the end of the war, enduring more than a year as a prisoner, rising to major. Bird was promoted to captain in 1780, and was killed at the Battle of Combahee Ferry, South Carolina, the last major battle of the war, in 1782. Reed ended the war was a captain in 1783, and lead the Kent County militia to victory over the British at the Battle of Caulk’s Field in 1814. It is unknown if they proved their early assessments wrong, or if they simply thrived despite their weaknesses

–Owen.

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3 Responses to Evaluating the Maryland Officers

  1. Christine Lourie says:

    Interesting posting. Wonder if social class had anything to do with the earlier assessments?

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    • A good question. Class was never too far away in the 18th century, and the American military leadership argued about whether the officer corps was sufficiently upper-class for the entire Revolutionary War (on the assumption that only the wealthy could lead men properly).

      We’re not sure enough about the background of the men listed here to have a good answer to your question. Some historians argue that there were opportunities for men outside the gentry to become officers, and improve their social standing by doing so. Anecdotally, there seem to have been a number of enlisted men who became officers in 1776-1777 when the Maryland Line expanded to seven regiments. Also, by reputation, the first wave of officers in 1776–which would include many of those in the chart here, were mostly sons of prominent men.

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  2. Excellent find! It is fun to see such assessments of men (based on who knows what) early in their career and then to know the ending may be so different, such as with Philip Reed who was so highly thought of in his military skills later to be promoted to Captain anyway and ultimately General and was successful at Caulk’s field against the British regulars. Could the change in assessment have been caused by necessity, training, improvement in skills, etc. I agree with the one post that class was a factor in assessments of officers during this and some later periods. Even up to the Civil War similar negative comments about an officer are famously rebutted by Lincoln. “An Officer and a Gentlemen” are part of our culture for a reason.

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