Tell me I am not the only one that randomly goes on a car ride to a random town in their home state to just “see what is there?”
Regardless, that is what I decided to do on a sunny late April Sunday afternoon. I ended up in Rockville, Maryland. The town astride I-270 today was also on a major thoroughfare during both the 18th and 19th centuries that brought armies from the area, like General Edward Braddock’s in 1755 or General Jubal Early’s in 1864.
However, a different historical sign attracted my attention on this excursion.
I read the title and the first line, Richard Montgomery…Born in Ireland. Served..” Which was all I could read as I slowly drove by, since it is near the court house and county government buildings. Even though it was a Sunday still not wanting to speed through. So…Naturally, I pulled over, as evidenced by the vehicle you see in the background!
I knew Montgomery, as the sign reads, died at the Battle of Quebec in a futile attempt to take the city for the American cause. He was the first general–Continental–to die in the cause of American independence.
On September 6, 1776 Thomas Sprigg Wootton, who hailed from Rockville, introduced legislation in the Maryland Constitutional Convention to separate the Frederick County into three. The upper or most western half, to become Washington County, named in honor of George Washington and the lower half, or most eastern, to be named Montgomery, in honor of Richard Montgomery. The remaining middle portion would retain the name Frederick. This may be the first recorded instance in the rebellious British colonies of names of counties, towns, or cities that did not refer to something in British history or famous persons. Another act of defiance at the beginning of the American Revolution!
With a random Sunday excursion one never knows what one will find. History is all around us, beckoning to be explored.
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.
CONFINEMENT hail! in honour's justest cause.
True to our King, our Country, and our Laws;
Opposing anarchy, sedition, strife,
And every other bane of social life.
These Colonies of British freedom tir'd,
Are by the frenzy of distraction fir'd;
Rushing to arms, they madly urge their fate,
And levy war against their parent state.
Surrounding nations, in amazement, view
The strange infatuation they pursue.
Virtue, in tears, deplores their fate in vain;
And Satan smiles to see disorder reign;
The days of Cromwell, puritanic rage,
Return'd to curse our more unhappy age.
We friends to freedom, government and laws;
Are deem'd inimical unto their cause:
In vaults, with bard and iron doors confin'd,
They hold our persons, but can't rule the mind.
Act now we cannot, else we gladly wou'd;
Resign'd we suffer for the public good.
Success on earth sometimes to ill is given,
To brave misfortunes is the gift of Heaven.
What men could do we did, our cause to serve,
We can't command success, but we'll deserve.
--- Dr. John Smyth
The American frontier west of the Appalachian mountains was a fluid place in 1775. Settlers, officials, and Native Americans were all struggling to decide where their loyalties and interests lay, with the British government in London, colonial governments, or the rebelling Americans organizing themselves to determine their own fates. Individuals often switched sides as the war unfolded
One man who was a constant in his loyalty to the crown was Dr. John Connolly of Pittsburgh. Before the Revolution, he had led Virginia’s efforts as Lord Dunmore’s agent to seize control over the Forks of the Ohio and assert its claims westward, even receiving a promise of land in far-off Kentucky. When the fighting started in Massachusetts, he developed a plan to mobilize Native Americans and Britain’s far-flung military forces on the frontier to attack Pittsburgh and then march on Virginia. Dunmore and General Gage both approved. So, Connolly and two loyalists, Allen Cameron of South Carolina and Dr. John Smyth of Maryland, plus Connolly’s enslaved servant travelled surreptitiously through Maryland, hoping to reach Detroit via Pittsburgh, the Ohio River, the Wabash River, and then anther overland trek. Local patriots recognized them outside Hagerstown, Maryland and the trio was promptly arrested on the night of November 19. A quick hearing by the local Committee of Safety decided to ship them off to Frederick, where a more thorough investigation revealed Connolly’s plan. Continue reading “Poet in a Patriot Prison”→
The War of 1812 is considered by some historians as the end of the American Revolutionary Era. From the conflict, the United States will find a war hero and future president, Andrew Jackson and a poem by lawyer Francis Scott Key that turns into our national anthem.
But, the origins of the war, the military actions that spread around the United States, from Louisiana to the nation’s capital, to the invasion of Canada, and on the high seas are largely overlooked. There are numerous reasons for this.
That, in part, is why, this Sunday, at 7pm EST, on ERW’s Facebook page, the next historian happy hour “Rev War Revelry” will be focused on this important conflict. Join ERW historian Phillip S. Greenwalt along with the following guest historians for an hour-ish discussion of the three-year war.
Joining Phill will be;
Dan Davis, of the American Battlefield Trust, who has lectured on Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans. He is also a full-time historian with Emerging Civil War.
Also, formerly of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and now working for the National Park Service in the Washington D.C. area, guest historian Jim Bailey will be the second of three guest historians.
Leaving the best for last, okay pun intended, as all three guest historians are great. But in all seriousness, the third guest historian joining for this revelry will be George Best. He is a park ranger for the National Park Service at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park and volunteers as the Communications Coordinator for the Friends of Maryland’s War of 1812.
We look forward to you joining with your thoughts, comments, and questions this Sunday on our Facebook page (there will be an event post for you to use as a reminder) as we discuss this three-year conflict that had reverberations for many years afterwards.
Emerging Revolutionary War is pleased to welcome back historian Bert Dunkerly, who is the co-author (with Irene B. Boland) of the upcoming book; “Eutaw Springs; The Final Battle of the American Revolution’s Southern Campaign” slated to be released this month.
The weather was warm and the men had been marching for days, but their morale was high. They had been through a lot recently: caught off guard and defeated at Hobkirk’s Hill, a month of grueling siege work – and for naught, at Ninety Six. Not to mention the engagements that many of them had fought in previously: Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and dozens of smaller battles.
Yet the army that General Nathanael Greene led forward on the morning of September 8, 1781, was confident and ready to come to grips with its adversary. Everyone from the private in the ranks on up to the commanding general knew that ahead lay an opportunity.
Battles in the Revolution were, in fact, rare opportunities for commanders. Engagements were the short, pulse-pounding events that broke up the monotony of marching and maneuvering. An army spent most of its time in garrison, in camp, or on the road. In battle the infrequent opportunity came to crush an opponent and influence the outcome of a campaign, or the war. These chances were few and far between.
Both commanders at Eutaw Springs appreciated this fact. General Nathanael Greene’s forces had experienced a series of close calls at Guilford Courthouse, Ninety Six, and Hobkirk’s Hill. The American army fought well in all of these engagements, save Hobkirk’s Hill, yet they met defeat in every one. Greene hoped Eutaw Springs would put the finishing touches on his South Carolina campaign, and end it with a clear cut victory.[i]
Eutaw Springs was a rare chance for Greene to pick the time and place of engagement, array his forces to his choosing, and initiate the battle, and control its \tempo. It was the only set engagement of the campaign, other than Guilford Courthouse, in which Greene chose the ground and initiated the battle. Commanders do not often have this luxury, and Greene earnestly hoped to make the most of it. Continue reading “Eutaw Springs”→
Baron Frederich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben or Frederich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben or more simply Baron von Steuben, may be the most recognizable German to serve with the American army during the American Revolution.*
His merits, pedigree, and how he came to America has been questioned and studied by many scholars and historians.
Another German has not fared so well in terms of recognition of his invaluable services to the American cause.
This post is about that other German-speaking military officer. He did something von Steuben did not.
Baron Johann von Robais de Kalb not only offered his services to the fledgling American Continental Army, he also gallantly gave his life for his adopted-cause.
Born June 19, 1721 in Huttendorf, near Erlangen in Bavaria, de Kalb led a life of privilege, learning multiple languages before earning a commission in the French army in the Loewendal Regiment. He served admirably in the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, in the later, he won the Order of Military Merit and gained his baronetcy.
With an excess of officers in the Continental Army and little prospect of getting a field command, James Monroe resigned his commission in 1779. He became a Lieutenant-Colonel of Virginia forces, but was unable to recruit enough men to form a new regiment. In 1780 he went to North Carolina as a military observer for Governor Thomas Jefferson, with whom he had begun the study of law. Continue reading “James Monroe at War”→