Researchers at the Maryland State Archives rolled out their latest findings on the Maryland 400, the Revolutionary War unit that fought at the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776, at the State House Sunday.
Their project, called “Finding the Maryland 400,” includes detailed biographies that tell some of the soldiers’ stories for the first time. And they announced it with fanfare, featuring a color guard in revolutionary war uniforms marching into the historic state house.
One of the key forces behind this breakthrough is Eastern Shore native, Jim Adkins, a retired Army Major General and leader of the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution or S.A.R.
His group led the way to buy the letters that the Maryland State Archives is using to piece together the biographies. Adkins put up thousands of his own money to help buy the collection, known as the Smallwood letters, named for General William Smallwood, who commanded the Maryland 400.
Adkins is already looking ahead to the United States turning 250 – only eight years away.
“As we approach the 250th anniversary of the Revolution, all of us need to look, not only in our own family trees to tell the story of our American patriots, if they are in your family tree, but also to look at our history,” he said. “Whether it be in Maryland or New York or wherever to ensure that we honor these individuals and those actions that took place 250 years ago, to make us the country we are today.’’
The men in Smallwood’s battalion fought not only at the Battle of Brooklyn but also in almost every major battle of the Revolution. They became known as ‘’The Immortals’’ and The Maryland 400, the unit that held off the British at Brooklyn long enough for the rest of George Washington’s army to escape and regroup.
Washington College professor Adam Goodheart was the one who alerted Maryland historical groups that the Smallwood letters were up for auction in Connecticut.
“I just knew that they (the papers) had to come home to home to Maryland,” he said “Records like that are amazingly precious. Especially to have those on the ground testimonies and experiences of ordinary American soldiers.”
Professor Goodheart says he thought at first the papers would go for a few thousand dollars. But the bidding went up to $30,000. He says it was worth it.
“As historians we are used to hearing about famous, legendary moments in history and starting to investigate and realizing that that actual story does not live up to the legend,” he said. “Well, the Maryland 400 is one of those very rare instances where when you start researching the true history, it’s as extraordinary as we have been told over the centuries. It’s a moment that should be known by everybody who studies and honors the revolution.’’
Naturally, Senate President Mike Miller, an avid student of history, was there for the ceremony.
“Washington said, ‘My God what fine men I lose that day,’” Miller recalled. “Of course later he said, ‘This is liberty’s finest hour.’”
Miller also said it amazes him that some of the soldiers whose stories are now being told couldn’t even vote because they weren’t land owners.
“These people we’re honoring today… they could be called for military service, to pay taxes. They were second class citizens who were called to perform a first class role.’’
To read the new biographies of the Maryland 400 online search for the Maryland State Archives, click on Maryland History and you will see the Maryland 400 or try this:
Tom Moore, a native Baltimorean, is a journalism professor at York College, which is part of the City University of New York, and a radio freelancer at CBS News. He lives in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn with his family and a dog named Ted.