Which Private Smith is the Right Private Smith?

Piecing together service records of Revolutionary War soldiers can be complicated. No one got a DD 214 when they were mustered out. Many soldiers had their service records compiled by the Federal Government in the late nineteenth century, and applications for Federal veteran’s pensions usually include a (mostly) thorough record of service. Unfortunately, the compiled service records often omit early 1776 service–most of what we need–and not all men applied for pensions.

The rest of the time, as a result, figuring out a Revolutionary War soldier’s military career means paging through books, letters, and other records, trying to find information about his service. This is especially tricky when there is more than one soldier with the same name. In many such cases, it is simply impossible to differentiate the men. There were at least seven John Smiths who enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment in 1776, for example, and well more than that over the rest of the war. There were no Social Security Numbers, street addresses, or phone numbers in the eighteenth century to help differentiate people easily. Continue reading

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British “masters of the field”: The disaster at Brandywine


Illustration of the Battle of Brandywine, drawn by cartographer, engraver and illustrator Johann Martin Will (1727-1806) in 1777. Image is courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On the night of September 10, 1777, many of the soldiers and commanding officers of the Continental Army sat around their campfires and listened to an ominous sermon that would predict the events of the following day. Chaplain Jeremias (or Joab) Trout declared that God was on their side and that

“we have met this evening perhaps for the last time…alike we have endured the cold and hunger, the contumely of the internal foe and the courage of foreign oppression…the sunlight…tomorrow…will glimmer on scenes of blood…Tomorrow morning we will go forth to battle…Many of us may fall tomorrow.” [1]

The following day, the Continentals would be badly defeated by the British and scenes of blood” would indeed appear on the ground near Brandywine Creek. Continue reading

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Another Company Finished!

We are very pleased to announce that we have written biographies of all the soldiers in the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment! There are 71 biographies of Fourth Company soldiers, which make up an important part of the more than 200 now online. You can read all of them on our Biographies page.

The Fourth Company was at the heart of the Maryland 400’s last stand at the Battle of Brooklyn, and suffered the worst losses of the Maryland companies. Only 14 men escaped capture or death: one sergeant, 12 privates, and the company’s drummer. Continue reading

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Persecuted in Revolutionary Baltimore: The Sufferings of Quakers

quaker lady detaining the english general

“Quaker Lady detaining the English General.” This engraving refers to Mary Lindley Murray who, as legend has it, delayed Sir Henry Clinton and his officers by treating them to food and drink, tempting them with her charms, while the Americans under the command of Israel Putnam escaped after the disastrous Battle of Kip’s Bay in September 1776. This cartoon counters the feelings of some revolutionaries by making Quakers seem favorable to the revolutionary cause.

In March 1777, revolutionary leader John Adams wrote an angry letter to his wife, Abigail. He declared that Baltimore was a “dull place” where many of the town’s remaining inhabitants were Quakers, who he described as “dull as Beetles” and a “kind of neutral Tribe, or the Race of the insipids.” [1] This article continues the series about Baltimore Town by focusing on the Baltimorean Quakers, also called the Society of Friends. These Quakers were living in a town where religious beliefs interlinked with political events. You can read our other posts about Baltimore during the Revolutionary War period here.

Adams clearly misrepresented the role of Quakers in Baltimore Town. [2] The Quakers were controversial in the public arena because of their dedication to pacifism resulting in refusal to pay war taxes, assert loyalty to the colonies, or lend supplies to the Continental Army. Continue reading

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The 240th Anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn

Late on the night of August 26, 1776, the First Maryland Regiment and the rest of the Continental Army began to cross the East River from Manhattan to Long Island. Awaiting them were some 20,000 British and Hessian soldiers.

Earlier that day, Captain Daniel Bowie had written out his will, describing what should happen “If I fall on the field of battle.” Bowie was 20 or 21, commanding a company he had joined only seven weeks earlier.

The Marylanders marched all night, until they encountered the British around sunrise. As they prepared for combat to begin, Lieutenant Joseph Butler,  was moved to consider what fate could hold for him. According to Lieutenant Joseph Ford,

[On] August 27, 1776, when Colonel Smallwood’s Regiment was drawn up on Long Island in expectation to engage with the enemy, Lieut. Joseph Butler called Ensign [sic: Lieutenant] Prall and myself out of the ranks, and desired we remember if he should be so unfortunate as to be killed that it was his desire that his brother or half brother should have his estate…He signified at the time that he did not know where his brother was, or whether he would ever apply [as beneficiary of the estate], as he had not heard from him for some time, and if he should not apply, that Miss Sarah Hall should be possessed of the whole estate…

Later that day, the Continental Army would be swept from the field in defeat. Bowie, Butler, and many other Marylanders would lie dead or dying. Word of the heroism of the Maryland 400, who sacrificed so many lives to save the American Army, was already spreading. But on August 26, all that lay in the future. Continue reading

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The political climate of Baltimore in 1776

An illustration from 1777 drawn by British printmaker Matthew Darly. It is captioned: “Poor old England endeavoring to reclaim his American children and therefore is England marred and forced to go with a staff.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baltimore Town was more than a diverse and pre-industrial port town that sat on the Patapsco River. It had numerous sentiments, ranging from the pro-revolutionary, some of which were militant in their beliefs, to support for the British Crown. This article continues the series about Baltimore Town by focusing on the town’s political climate in 1776. You can read our other posts about Baltimore during the Revolutionary War period here. Continue reading

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“Games of Exercise” During the American Revolution

With the Olympics in full swing, this is a good time to talk about the athletic pastimes of American soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Active campaigning took a relatively small part of the year during the American Revolution, and as a result armies had a considerable amount of downtime in camp. Since the military was made up largely of men in their 20s, sports and games were a fixture of camp life.

As is usually the case, we know the most about the leisure activities of the officer corps, and most of the sports discussed here were documented as being played by officers. It is not clear if that’s because the officers only wrote about the games they played among themselves and ignored what their subordinates did, or because the enlisted men had their own, different games. Continue reading

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A Short Fight on Hobkirk’s Hill: Surprise, Blame, and Defeat

A map showing the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill, courtesy of the University of South Florida

A map showing the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, courtesy of the University of South Florida

At 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning of April 25, 1781, one and half miles from Camden, South Carolina, British troops advanced on Continental Army soldiers, commanded by Major General Nathaniel Greene, who were having their breakfast. The Continentals, camped on a low, but “strong and difficult,” ridge named Hobkirk’s Hill, which extended for about one thousand yards, surrounded by thick woods, and a swamp on the East, were taken by surprise. [1] The British, commanded by Lord Rawdon, had known of Greene’s movements, possibly from a deserter, or from Continentals captured during skirmishes before the battle. [2] Every person in Rawdon’s army, including drummers, was armed with a flintlock gun, including 60 dragoons, and in broad daylight, they marched, led by Irish volunteers, through the swamp and woods undetected, and reached the front of Continental lines. [3] What one North Carolina rifleman, named John Mooney, called a “short fight with…Lord Rawdon at Camden” ensued. [4]

General Greene described that the Continental Army was waiting on the hill for reinforcements, since they did not see it as practicable to storm the town. [5] Advanced regiments of his army were fired upon, with a defensive line Continue reading

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“Anxious of showing my zeal for the love of my Country, I entered myself as a Cadet…”

When Maryland put together its regiment as directed by the Continental Congress in 1776, it needed officers to command the troops. The regiment had nine companies, as well as seven independent companies. Each company had a captain and three lieutenants, totaling 64 officers. While that may seem like a large number of officers (it does not even include the officers Maryland provided to the Flying Camp), there were more men wanting to become an officer than the number of officer commissions available. In addition to their captain and lieutenants, some companies also had cadets.

Cadets were young members of the gentry who did not receive commissions as officers and so remained with the army as officers-in-waiting, hoping that officer positions would become available. As they waited, cadets lobbied for commissions Continue reading

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Project update: A Company Completed!

We are very pleased to be able to announce that we have written biographies of all the known soldiers of the Fifth Company! This is an important step towards the goal of the project: writing biographies of all the Marylanders who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn (900 men, in twelve companies). We first focused on the Fifth Company in 2014, beginning with this blog post. Continue reading

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