When men enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War, they left home with the expectation that they would be properly paid for their military service. However, that’s not what happened. Paychecks lagged severely behind schedule, with some men never receiving theirs, and were heavily reduced due to the replacement costs of uniforms, arms, and equipment, which was taken out of the soldiers’ pay.
In an attempt to grow the army and encourage men to join, states offered enlistment bounties, which usually came in the form of cash, land, and clothing. This provided a little bit of relief for soldiers and their families, but also gave dishonest soldiers a way to make some extra money. Although not a common occurrence, some men enlisted in more than one regiment at a time, allowing them to collect multiple enlistment bonuses. This alone was punishable, but was coupled with desertion from at least one of the regiments, since men could not be in two places at once.
Hugh Wallace, a member of the Maryland 400 who served in the Sixth Company, was one soldier guilty of these crimes. When his original enlistment ended, he re-enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment on December 10, 1776. Just a few days later, he also enlisted in the Second Canadian Regiment. The Canadian Regiment was fighting as part of the Continental Army, and at this time was in the same region as the Marylanders. Although it is not completely clear, Wallace likely continued on with the Canadian Regiment, deserting from the Maryland Line.
Just a few months into his enlistments, on April 28, 1777, Wallace’s plan was exposed and he was taken into custody, where he awaited trial for almost a month. On May 23, his punishment was issued: Wallace only had to pay back his enlistment money to the Canadian Regiment. This was not much of a punishment: often, for desertion alone, men could receive up to 100 lashes. Upon learning about Wallace’s trial, General George Washington thought the discipline was too moderate, and ordered Wallace to remain in custody while he reviewed the case. Thinking that “the court must have had some mitigating evidence…in favor of the prisoner,” Washington ordered the judge to present him with all the relevant trial documents.
After reviewing the evidence, Washington was satisfied. He “approve[d] the sentence and order[ed] that as soon as he [Wallace] refunds the money received of Colonel Hazen’s office, or of the office with whom he stands enlisted in the Maryland regiment…he will be released from his confinement and return[ed] to his duty in the Maryland regiment.” It’s unknown what caused Washington to change his mind, but it likely saved Wallace from a harsh and painful punishment. Presumably, Wallace followed the orders and returned to the Maryland Line to finish out his enlistment. However, there is no record of him after his trial, and nothing else is known of his life.
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Charles Patrick Neimeyer, America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 125.