I was recently reading the superb book by Patrick O’Donnell on Washington’s Immortals, which brought me back to a talk I did about the same Marylanders in the American Revolution a few years back. Below is an excerpt of that talk and highlights the second last stand for a regiment with a tradition of being steadfast when deadly duty called.
On March 15, 1781, approximately 20 men stood in the 1st Maryland Continental Regiment staring at the an eerie and familiar scene. It must have seemed that history was cruelly repeating itself once again. These men had survived the forlorn assault in New York in 1776, the ugly repulse at Camden in 1780, and now stood on third line of General Nathanael Greene’s defense at Guilford Court House.
Besides the 20 men who could be traced back to that fateful day in New York, the men that shouldered muskets in line with them were all veterans of indefinite periods of service as well.
The 1st Maryland and the men they confronted, 2nd Guards Battalion of Guards, were very similar, according to historian Lawrence Babits, who states that “the 1st Maryland was arguably one of the finest regiments produced by the Continental Army.
What ensued next was the defining moment of the battle and in essence the campaign. As the Guards officers gathered their men into a new line, the Marylanders came on at a rush. The Guards responded largely without specific commands…facing the oncoming Continentals, who fired several platoon volleys as they came. At a range of less than 12 yards, both lines fired again, so close that muzzle flashes overlapped into a wide sheet of flame and the heat from the volley could be felt.
Casualties mounted and at close range the musket balls shattered bone and even passed through the bodies of their targets.
The two sides then resorted to the bayonet and Williams recounted “the first Regiment embraced the opportunity…bayoneted and cut to pieces a great number of the British.”
Although the melee only lasted a few minutes, the Marylanders had checked the advance and with the dragoons of William Washington, allowed for Greene to begin to pull back and start the retreat. In another important position, Williams helped lead the rear-guard away from Guilford C.H. The Marylanders lost 15 killed, 42 wounded and 97 missing. Most of the missing could have came from the 2nd Maryland which broke in disorder on the left flank of the 1st Maryland.
Not only did the Marylanders suffer on that fateful March day in 1781, they did so with a lack of, well, everything. According to one inventory report, the entire regiment, numbering little over 300 men had not a single jacket, two-thirds were without proper footwear, and every man was destitute of a full complement of clothing. In addition, the men had served, fought courageously, and bled tremendously, without receiving one cent as pay.
A remarkable “band of brothers” that “held the line for independence.”
Which, in case you were wondering, was the name of the talk.
*Guilford Court House National Military Park is now preserved by the National Park Service, to plan your visit, click here.
*For information on Mr. O’Donnell’s book, click here.