When Maryland put together its regiment as directed by the Continental Congress in 1776, it needed officers to command the troops. The regiment had nine companies, as well as seven independent companies. Each company had a captain and three lieutenants, totaling 64 officers. While that may seem like a large number of officers (it does not even include the officers Maryland provided to the Flying Camp), there were more men wanting to become an officer than the number of officer commissions available. In addition to their captain and lieutenants, some companies also had cadets.
Cadets were young members of the gentry who did not receive commissions as officers and so remained with the army as officers-in-waiting, hoping that officer positions would become available. As they waited, cadets lobbied for commissions. For example, William Courts of the Fourth Company of the Maryland Regiment wrote to the Maryland Convention in June 1776:
Anxious of showing my zeal for the love of my Country, I entered myself as a Cadet; and as I have been at a considerable expense in the support of myself in that character, and being informed that there are several vacancies in the Battalion, and that your Honours hath it under consideration to raise more Troops for the use of the United Colonies, I take this Opportunity of applying to your Honours, in hopes that you will take this… into your Consideration, and grant… a Commission in the Troops already raised, or those which are to be raised; submitting the rank of such Commission wholly to your Honours. Should your Honours be in any doubt with respect to my conduct since a Cadet, I pray you to enquire of Captain John H. Stone, which Gentleman will, I doubt not, give such account of me as will seem to your Honours worthy of a Commission.
As mentioned at the end of Courts’ letter, other men and officers would advocate on a cadet’s behalf. Samuel Love wrote to Colonel William Smallwood on behalf of “Billey”:
[I] Am now informed that three battalions is to be Raised in this province. Billey is anxious to be in the service, therefore must beg the favour of you to use your Interest for him, if it is not too late, and inform me by next post. He will come immediately up should it be Necessary.
Not wanting to push too hard, Love ended the lobbying effort by noting that “A Lieutenancy he will be well satisfied with and not wish to be higher at present.” Court’s own letter sought to downplay his ambition as well, as he ended it by declaring “I assure you my ambition does not lead me to wish to Command a Company.”
Captain John Allen Thomas of the Fifth Independent Company wrote of Robert Chesley and Henry Carberry as “two young Gent who have entered Cadets in my Company and who will fill (in my opinion) it very well the stations [sic] of third Lieutenants.”
These letters allow us to see what were considered good qualities for an officer. As officers often needed to spend their own money to outfit their units, men of wealth and property were looked upon favorably for commissions. Love mentions “[Court’s] property you know is very Considerable which should be one inducement for the Convention to prefer him.” While a young man at the start of the Revolution, Courts inherited land from his father, who died in 1758 when William was young (Robert Chesley was in a similar situation, as his father died in 1767, leaving to young Robert most of the land). A second letter by Love on behalf of Courts declared him to be “a young man of sober and humane disposition with a frame of mind capable of great improvement.”
For these men their lobbying paid off. Courts, Chesley and Carberry all received commissions as lieutenants in the Continental Army by the end of January 1777. Courts survived captivity following the Battle of Brooklyn, returned to the army and served until 1778. Chesley became a captain, was captured during a raid on Staten Island, was paroled and served until late October of 1781, soon after the Battle of Yorktown. Carberry resigned and returned to the army twice. He was promoted to and served as a captain during and after the Revolution, and he served as colonel of the U.S Thirty-Sixth Infantry during the War of 1812. Carberry was also the first Adjutant General of Maryland.
John Allen Thomas to Maryland Council of Safety, 8 March 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, Vol. 11, 221-222.
Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 3-9, 64, 66, 69.
Samuel Love to William Smallwood, 26 December 1775, Maryland State Papers, Red Book 19: 120.
Will of Robert Chesley, 1768, Prerogative Court, Wills, Liber 36, p. 312 MdHR 1316 [MSA S538-52 1/11/2/1]
William Courts to Convention of Maryland, 20 June 1776, Maryland State Papers, Red Book 19: 10.
The details in this article are greatly appreciated in helping understand the selection of officers in the military. I was not aware of the requirement by officers to outfit their units out of their own pockets. Was the amounts reimburseable at a later date by the state as I have more often seen requisition requests to the state for support of the troops.
A great question. They certainly did, and their expense records are some of the best records we have of soldiers’ names, locations, and activities. Lower-ranking officers were often reimbursed by their superiors, who in turn sent their expenses up the food chain. Officers were reimbursed by the state government throughout the war, probably paid more regularly than farmer whose wheat was requisitioned in exchange for IOUs.
Which is not to say that it was a flawless system. One of the survivors of the Battle of Brooklyn, John Toomy, got in trouble for excessive expenditures.