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Lord Stirling and the 1st Maryland Regiment

I enjoy getting posts from the Center of Battlefield Archaeology on my FB. They frequently touch on subjects that interest me or I know something about.

One recent post had to do with the 1st Maryland Regiment of the Continental Army. A historian by the name of Bob Furman believes that 254 soldiers of the 1st Maryland are buried in Gowanus (Brooklyn, NY). The area in question has been built over many times since the Revolutionary War so not all historians agree with Furman and those that support him. There is evidence that Furman may be right but thus far he has not been able to get permission for an archaeological dig to really find out.

If the soldiers are buried where Furman says the area is a tribute to the men’s bravery. The First Maryland (Smallwoods) and the 1st Delaware Regiment (Haslets) made a stand against British and Hessian regulars while just about everyone else in the Continental Army headed for the hills during the Battle of the Brooklyn Heights (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island).

The 1st Maryland at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights

Both regiments were under the command of an unlikely Continental General, a fellow by the name of Lord Stirling.

Stirling is one interesting character. Since the American colonies were revolting against the British Royals it seems odd to have a “Lord” in command of a colonial infantry brigade. Yet, Stirling was a major-general in the Continental Army. There is some controversy as to whether or not Alexander Stirling was really a Lord. It seems his fellow Scots thought so but the British House of Lords not so much since Stirling could not provide enough definitive proof to satisfy them.

In any event Stirling was wealthy and had holdings in Canada and the Colonies and when the Revolution came along he threw in with the colonies as a Colonel in the New Jersey Militia.

Apparently he was a soldier of some ability. According to the wiki article about him…

William Alexander, Lord Stirling

Congress appointed him brigadier general in the Continental Army in March 1776. At the Battle of Long Island, in August of that year, Stirling led the 1st Maryland Regiment in repeated attacks against a superior British force at the Old Stone House near what is today named the Gowanus Canal and took heavy casualties. Outnumbered 25-1, his brigade was eventually overwhelmed and Stirling was taken prisoner, but not before repelling the British forces long enough to allow the main body of troops to escape to defensive positions at Brooklyn Heights. Because of his actions at Long Island, one newspaper called him “the bravest man in America” and he was praised by both Washington and the British for his bravery and audacity.

Stirling, in command of the 1st Maryland and 1st Delaware showed that Continental soldiers could stand up to the best Europe had to offer. They were too few at that early stage of the war but their example would serve to inspire the rest of the Continental Army for the long road ahead.

The 1st Maryland had 400 men going into the battle so if 254 are buried in Brooklyn it meant the regiment took well over 50% casualties making their stand. The regiment reformed after the battle and had an illustrious history with the Continental Army (as did the 1st Delaware, both were considered elite units).

The 1st Maryland Regiment holds the line at th...

The 1st Maryland Regiment holds the line against a British Guards unit at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, March 15, 1781. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Lord Stirling, he was exchanged after the battle. He actually had command of the entire Continental Army for a period when Washington was away. Stirling, like the regiments he commanded had an illustrious battle history and was among the best of the Continental Generals.

Washington thought so highly of him he placed him in command of the Northern Army while Washington took the Southern Army to trap Cornwallis.

Stirling was a heavy drinker and it probably contributed to his rather poor health. He died shortly before the official peace was signed with Britain in 1783. He’s buried in New York City while it remains unknown where the brave men of the 1st Maryland are exactly buried

One comment on “Lord Stirling and the 1st Maryland Regiment

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