On August 19, 1780 the United States lost one of the most influential foreign officers that fought for the new nation during the American Revolution. Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb migrated to the United States along with the Marquis de La Fayette in 1777. A Prussian born solider who fought in the Seven Years War, de Kalb quickly became a respected leader. In the summer of 1780, de Kalb was commanding the Maryland and Delaware Continental Line in Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates’ southern army. One of the best trained and disciplined units in the Continental Army, de Kalb commanded the left of Gates’ line at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780. The battle was more of a rout, as the British rolled up the Virginia and North Carolina militia on the field, leaving the Continentals in a desperate fight for survival. After being shot three times and bayoneted several times, de Kalb was taken from the battlefield to Camden. His wounds were mortal and he died three days later.
The reaction to his death was immediate and the respect everyone had for him was evident. Cornwallis and other British officers showed great respect for de Kalb and gave him a proper military burial. Washington, Gates and other Continental officers mourned the loss of the Prussian officer. Soon after the war a movement began to move de Kalb’s remains to another place in Camden with a larger monument. In 1825, Lafayette laid the cornerstone for a new monument above his new interment in front of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church. This memorial was designed by Robert Mills, a noted architect of the time.
Maryland especially took an interest in remembering de Kalb. His command of the Maryland Line and his bravery leading the men at Camden were important to Marylanders after the war. In 1780, Congress authorized a monument to be built in Annapolis to honor de Kalb, but it was not until 1886 that it was finally constructed on the grounds of the Maryland state house. In the early 20th century, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a memorial stone on the Camden battlefield marking de Kalb’s death (supposedly marking the spot but this is still debated today). Recently in 2021, Camden unveiled a new statue to de Kalb at the new Revolutionary War Visitor Center.
The memory of de Kalb extended beyond memorials and monuments. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, states started to honor de Kalb naming counties and towns after him. A total of six counties in the United States are named after Baron de Kalb, located in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. There are six towns/cities in the United States named for de Kalb located in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia.
But one of the most recognizable memorials to de Kalb and his Maryland Continentals is one that most people don’t even know as a memorial. In southern Baltimore where the large railroad yards were located, many of the streets were named after battles and individuals in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. Streets such as Washington, Lee, Howard, Eutaw and Camden. The large rail yard in this area was known as Camden Yards. In 1992, the Baltimore Orioles opened their new baseball stadium in the area of the old railyards next to the old B and O Railroad warehouse. The name was hotly debated, but then Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer wanted to keep “Camden Yards” in the stadium name and eventually won out. The stadium today is called Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but most people now refer to it as “Camden Yards.” Though de Kalb would not recognize the game being played, he would recognize the name of the stadium and the state that was the home of so many of the men that followed him into battle at Camden. So next time you watch a baseball game at Camden Yards, think of de Kalb and those men at the Battle of Camden.