Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Maryland 400 and the Origin of "The Old Line State"

Maryland is known as the "Old Line State", but not many know where the name came from.Maryland earned the nickname “Old Line State” in the American Revolution. The Maryland Line, Maryland’s regiments of regulars, achieved a reputation as the saviors of the Continental Army and the cause of independence. References to the “Old Line” are a tribute to the Maryland Line, but more specifically, to the first incarnation of the Maryland Line, the men who first mobilized in December 1775 and early 1776 and fought at Long Island on 27 August 1776, serving under William Smallwood, Francis Ware, Thomas Price, and Mordecai Gist.  The name refers back to the brave and fearless Maryland Patriots that fought in the Battle of Brooklyn also known as the Battle of Long Island.   The Maryland Patriots that fought in the battle became known as "The Maryland 400".  The war could have come to an end at that battle had it not been for the Maryland 400 who sacrificed themselves to allow the colonial army to escape.

Maryland Soldier then.

Maryland Soldier now.

    March 17, 1776, The British fleet has retreated to Halifax, Nova Scotia to refit after the end of the year-long Siege of Boston.

 General George Washington, who had successfully taken Boston,  was expecting another attack on New York. To prepare for the attack, he moved his troops to Long Island and New York City, and arrived himself on April 13, and reinforced fortifications there.

    Aug. 27, 1776, The British Attack New York.  The first major battle of the Revolutionary War is under way.  It is because of this Battle that Maryland would earn her nickname ''The Old Line State." 

 The Colonial Army, numbering less than 13,000, were matched against 34,000 British forces.  Within a few hours of the start of the attack they were surrounded. Sensing the potential to loose a good portion of his army, General George Washington ordered a retreat.  To cover the retreat, the men of the Maryland line, Pennsylvania line and the Delaware line were left behind to provide cover for the only escape was past an old house and across a creek.
    Eventually, the Delaware and Pennsylvania lines gave way and they were ordered to retreat, leaving six Maryland companies, totaling about 400 men, who were ordered to take the old house where British cannons were killing retreating colonists. The Marylanders attacked five times, losing more men with each attempt.  General Washington said to Gen. Israel Putnam, ''Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose," as he watched the Marylanders being slaughtered.
    As the Marylanders continued to charge and the killing continued, In the sixth attempt, the remnants of the 400 successfully took the house and stopped the carnage.  With only two pieces of artillery, they silenced the six British cannons and for a brief time the killing was stopped. Eventually the Maryland 400 were overwhelmed and ordered to join in the retreat.  After the order for retreat, the Maryland 400 spiked their cannons and crossed the creek to safety.The phrase 'to spike a cannon' meant to disable it by driving a tapered wrought iron plug, or spike, down the touch hole with a hammer until it was level and firmly embedded.
    By the end of the battle, 256 of the Maryland 400 lay dead. More than 100 were wounded or captured.  Because of their heroic performance, the Maryland Line would become known as the "Old Line", and that is where Maryland earned the nickname "The Old Line State".
    On 27 August 1991, the 215th anniversary of the battle, the Maryland Monuments Commission and a host of New York dignitaries rededicated a refurbished monument, a Monument to the Maryland 400 who, on August 27, 1776, fought the rear guard for George Washington's withdrawal from New York.The Old Line that once earned Maryland soldiers such an untarnishable reputation in 1776, now stands fast as a symbolic name for the entire state. 

Annapolis - Bob Geary

Thanks to Dave Leppo for passing on this important piece of history.

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