November 18, 2017
Politics & Opinion
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The Importance Of Honoring Obscure Veterans

Delegate Michael Malone
Delegate Michael Malone's picture
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November 3, 2017

Imagine that it is August 1776 in the swamps and heights outside New York City. After years of unrest, protest and indecision – after Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill – the upstart 13 American colonies have thrown down the gauntlet and declared their independence. Intending to impose its will by shock and awe, England responds by sending an invasion force of 32,000 soldiers on 300 ships down from Canada, a force that, some believe, was bigger than the Spanish Armada and the largest invading forces fielded in the Western world until D-Day.

General Washington has settled his army of about 7,000, composed largely of ill-equipped amateurs and untried militia, in modern-day Manhattan to defend that strategically important port. His soldiers aren't career military; they are shopkeepers, farmers, laborers and tradesmen. Almost none have combat experience. Unlike most of the troops, the First Maryland Regiment, which also includes soldiers from Delaware, formed, outfitted, and trained companies long before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

On August 22, General Howe lands about 20,000 of his rather professional army on Long Island. British veterans of the Seven Year War with France and hired Hessians, raised in military families with generations of service, constitute his army. These soldiers move to within three miles of the Continental Army, parts of which have been moved to Brooklyn. For days, the armies face each other, a skirmish here, some troop movement there, as the Americans wait for an attack on Manhattan that never comes. Then, during the night of August 26, part of the British forces leave their white tents standing and their fires burning to stealthily flank the Americans. Early in the morning of August 27, the British feint with a lackluster frontal attack designed to divert the Americans from the mounting threat from their flank. Proud of their moderate success against the frontal attack, the Americans do not see the danger until too late.

The American line collapses as they suddenly find themselves surrounded. Fleeing, American soldiers are slaughtered, prisoners captured and sometimes killed. The road is blocked, so the only retreat is fording a marsh under withering British fire from the heights. Four companies of the First Maryland Regiment, now known as the Maryland 400, defend the retreat. In a last ditch and heroic effort to prevent capture and slaughter of their compatriots, they attack. They charge Lord Cornwallis and his men, who are ensconced in an impregnable stone house, tying up the British forces for over an hour. Thanks largely to them, in what easily could have been the end of the fledging American rebellion, most of the American army escapes.

Two-hundred-and-fifty-six Maryland and Delaware soldiers are captured or killed. Of the 96 that survive, many become General Washington's “old line,” hence Maryland's nickname. They fight on other days, often in other regiments, usually in the vanguard or defending the often inevitable retreat. Their battles are a roll call of American Revolutionary War history: Guilford Courthouse, Monmouth, Trenton, Stony Point, Cowpens, 96, Yorktown and many others.

No one knows where these valiant soldiers who died on August 27, 1776 are buried. In some cases, we don't even know their names. We only know that most of them died so that America could live to fight another day.

On this upcoming Veterans Day, I ask that you honor all those who have served our country, but give special thought and thanks to those, like the Maryland 400, who did so in obscurity. Raise up these unsung heroes and others who likewise have served with honor but with little recognition.


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