Men who “could stand cutting”: The Old Maryland Line

The famed Maryland 400 were not the only Revolutionary War soldiers hailed as heroes. Indeed, throughout the war, the Maryland Line (as the state’s contribution to the Continental Army was called) developed a reputation for skill and bravery. They were celebrated for years after the war, including in poems like this one, which first appeared in Washington, DC’s Daily National Intelligencer on October 2, 1828.

Newspapers often contained poems and songs, which were prominent parts of popular entertainment. Its language is perhaps overly flowery to modern eyes, and may seem too enamored with the romance of combat, but it is an excellent example of the place that the Marylanders held in the nation’s imagination. The original text included a number of annotations, and we have added others, along with links to biographies, in order to clarify the poem’s more obscure references; just click on the footnotes!

The Old Maryland Line
by George W. Custis, Esq. of Arlington1

Founded on the celebrated Toast of General Lafayette, given to the Cincinnati of Maryland, viz: “The memory of Gen. Greene, who used to say that the Maryland Line could stand cutting.” Inscribed with profound esteem and veneration to the surviving Officers and Soldiers of the Old Maryland Line.

Tune: “Remember, whenever your goblet is crowned”

General Greene used to say, with his soldierly air,
(And few soldiers like him did such merits combine)
That for troops who’d stand cutting2, and would cut their full share,
Give him forever, the Old Maryland Line.

At Guilford, Cowpens and Eutaw3, all field that were gory,
Fame wove many a chaplet4, brave brows to entwine,
And full many were earned, by those true sons of glory,
Those gallant gay veterans, the Old Maryland Line.

Howard5 and Williams6 at Eutaw7 cried advance, let them feel, boys,
Our bayonets’ points, and they’ll know by that sign
That we mean to stand cutting, and we’ll give them our steel, boys,
Till they’ll find we can cut in the Old Maryland Line.

The Baron de Kalb8, while his wounds were a dressing,
And his enemy cheered his faint spirit with wine,
Employed his last moments imploring a blessing
On his gallant dear comrades, the Old Maryland Line.

How few now survive of that famed band of brothers,
Who so often our arms caused a glory to shine,
Smith9, Read10, Anderson11, Beall12 and ah! how few others,
Form the “time-honor’d remains” of the Old Maryland Line.

When beleagueredly for men on those days in September,
Maryland called on her heroes the battle to join,
Her Donaldson’s13 fall made her freshly remember
The hard stuff which composed her Old Maryland Line.

When McCulloch14 lay wounded his enemies heard
The grey soldier of Washington say, with courage divine,
“I’ve fought in two wars for my country, and I’d fight in a third.”
Was not this a worthy a veteran of the Old Maryland Line?

Young Soldiers of Maryland, Children of Freedom,
From the fame of your Fathers, oh! do never decline;
Write these words on your colors that your enemies may read them:
“The true Sons of their Sires of the Old Maryland Line.


1. George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857) was the adopted stepson of George Washington, the father-in-law of Robert E. Lee, and the builder of Arlington House, now the site of Arlington National Cemetery. He was an avid writer of poems and songs, like this one. Read more about him here and here.

2. An allusion, expanded upon in the third stanza and note 7, to the Marylanders’ apparent prowess in using their bayonets in combat.

3. Three of the key American victories during the Southern Campaign in the Carolinas in 1780-1781. After the disastrous defeat at Camden in August 1780, where one third of the Marylanders were killed or captured, the Americans rallied to beat the British back at Cowpens (December 1780), Guilford Courthouse (March 1781), the siege of Ninety-Six (May-June 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 1781). While the Maryland troops already had a reputation for bravery, their place in history was cemented during the Southern Campaign, where their steadfastness and courage were critical to the American success.

4. A chaplet, or corolla, was a wreath or crown of honor used in ancient Greece and Rome.

5. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Of the lamented Colonel John Eager Howard, a volume of eulogram is contained in a few lines from the letter of Greene, and the memoirs by the eloquent author of the Southern Campaigns, Greene says: ‘This letter will be handed to you by Colonel Howard, as good an officer as the world affords. He deserves a statue of gold no less than the Roman or Grecian Heroes.’ And Lee [General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, father of Robert E. Lee]: ‘He was always to be found where the battle most raged, pressing into close action, to wrestle with a fixed bayonet.’”

6. The text of the original poem includes this note: “General Otho Holland Williams. Maryland, in the recollections of her Revolutionary chivalry, must be justly proud of the fame and memory of her Williams. Young Williams marched with the first detachment of hunting-shirts from Maryland, and joined the Army of Liberty before Cambridge, in the dawn of the Revolution [Maryland sent two companies of riflemen to Boston in the summer of 1775 whose frontier dress, including hunting shirts, was much remarked upon]; was promoted to Major in Rawling’s Rifle Regiment in ‘76, and taken prisoner at the surrender of Fort Washington, where his sharp-shooting corps literally heaped the ground with the Hessian dead. Major Williams suffered all the horrors and privations of captivity during a long confinement, and, through the intercession of his friend, the late General Wilkinson, was at length exchanged for Major Ackland, of the British Army. Williams rejoined the American Army with the rank of Colonel of the Sixth Maryland Regiment, marched to the South, was appointed Adjutant General to both Gates and Greene, and consummated his military glory in the severe actions of the Carolinas, from Camden to Eutaw. Admired by Washington, beloved by Greene, to whom he was a most valued and confidential advisor, he was, at the close of the war, recommended by those illustrious patriots, to Congress, for promotion, to the rank of Brigadier [General]. Congress declined the promotion on the score of rank, but granted it on the better consideration of eminent talents and services. On the adoption of the present Constitution, General Williams received from the Father of his Country the appointment of Collector of Baltimore [i.e. head of the Customs House, a lucrative government patronage job], one of the very best appointments in the gift of the new Government. ‘Too soon for his country,’ but in the full meridian of his fame, General Williams sunk under the effects of disease, contracted during the sufferings of his captivity, and expired in 1794.”

7.The text of the original poem includes this note: “At the battle of Eutaw Springs, the Old Maryland Line, led by Howard and Williams, rushed upon the enemy with the bayonet; and so fierce and deadly was the encounter, that, after the action, many of the Marylanders, and the third British Regiment, or Old Bluffs, were found transfixed [i.e. impaled or stabbed] by each others weapons.”

8. The text of the original poem includes this note: “The Baron De Kalb fell under eleven wounds at Camden. He received the kindest attentions from Cornwallis, and other Chiefs of the British. Lee says, ‘Never were the last moments of a soldier better employed.’ He dictated a letter to General Smallwood, who succeeded to the command of his division, expressing his admiration of their late noble though unsuccessful stand, and reciting the eulogy which their bravery had extorted from the enemy. Feeling the pressure of death, he stretched out his quivering hand to his friend Du Buysson, proud of his 27 generous wounds, and breathed his last in benediction on his faithful, brave division, the Old Maryland Line, and the regiment of Delaware, which latter, nearly annihilated in the battle of Camden, was reduced to two companies, and which formed the ‘renowned Delawares,’ commanded by the ‘brave, meritorious, and unrewarded Kirkwood.’” The letter from Charles-François, vicomte Du Buysson, a French officer fighting with the Americans, to Washington, can be read here.

9. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Gen. Samuel Smith, distinguished in the defense of the Delaware in ‘77; probably the oldest survivor in years and rank, of the Old Maryland Line.”

10. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Gen. [Philip] Reed of the Eastern Shore. Was severely wounded at Camden. In the last war [of 1812], this veteran, a cripple from his Revolutionary wound, turned out again in arms, and successfully opposed the enterprises of the enemy in the Chesapeake, thus showing that neither age nor wounds had changed or impaired ‘the rare stuff which composed the Old Maryland Line.’” Reed commanded the Maryland militia who defeated the British at the Battle of Caulk’s Field in August, 1814, one of the militia’s only victories during the war.

11. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Col. Anderson [probably Maj. Archibald Anderson, killed at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, March, 1781]. A gallant officer in the regiment of Howard, and distinguished himself at the battle of the Cowpens.”

12. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Col. William Dent Beall. Served from nearly the first to quite the last of the Revolutionary War, having been engaged in the action on the Combahee, in 1782, where the chivalric and lamented [Col. John] Laurens fell.” Beall’s military service began in July, 1776, as a lieutenant in the Flying Camp.

13. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Adjutant Lowry Donaldson, who fell at North Point, 1814, saying ‘I die, but let not the battle die with me.’” The Battle of North Point was part of the American defense of Baltimore during the British attack 12-14 September 1814, the “days of September” the poem refers to.

14. The text of the original poem includes this note: “James McCulloch, Collector of Baltimore, a soldier of the Revolution. When the British landed at North Point, the veteran McCulloch shouldered a musket as a volunteer, and marching to meet the enemy, some young men were discovered on an elevation, looking through a spy-glass. ‘What are ye looking at?’ asked McCulloch. ‘At the British’ was the reply. ‘Pshaw,’ said the heroic old man, ‘come along with me and I’ll ensure ye a better view of them.’ Shot through the thigh, and lying on the field, the British were astonished to see a frosty-haired grandfather among young soldiers, and asked ‘What are ye doing here, Grandada’? ‘Fighting the enemies of my country,’ was the reply. ‘Why, you are too old.’ ‘Not a bit,” replied the heroic veteran; “I have fought you twice, and if, with the blessing of God I recover from my wounds, I shall be ready for you a third time.’”

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