The Significance of December 10, 1776

If you’ve read a few biographies of the men of the Maryland 400, you may have noticed that many of the troops reenlisted on December 10, 1776. This is not a coincidence, but is the outcome of the reorganization of the Continental Army. Our biographies often summarize this event, but what really happened and why? [1]

General George Washington 

From the beginning of the war, the army was under jurisdiction of the Continental Congress who determined its size, composition, generals, and systems of administration and supply.  However, it was up to the states to organize and equip the men, and to appoint officers up to the rank of colonel. The states were also called upon to assist Congress, so the hierarchy of authority was often confused and those in charge crossed over one another. Despite their efforts, neither the states nor Congress could provide enough men or supplies, so Washington could not rely on having what he needed.

Due to this confusion, unreliability, and the British victories during the New York campaign (including the Battle of Brooklyn), it became apparent that America needed a regular standing army instead of the citizen army that they currently had. Washington wrote to Congress informing them of this need, and added that the men should enlist for the duration of the war. Congress agreed with Washington’s request and replaced their original plan with a new one. They knew the plan had to be drawn up, agreed upon, and enacted quickly because many of the troops’ enlistments ended on December 31, 1776, at which time the army would fall into disarray. [2]

On September 2, 1776, the Continental Congress directed the Board of War to reorganize the Continental Army. They worked and debated for about a week, which resulted in the first proposal where congress laid out the size of the army, conditions of enlistment, apportionment among the states, and compensation. [3]

The new plan, known as the 88 Battalion Resolve, was adopted on September 16, 1776. It called for 88 battalions, or about 60,000 men, to be organized and for each state to supply a certain number of men proportionate to the population of their state. Enlistments were to be for either three years or the duration of the war, which would ensure that the troops would be well trained and disciplined.  Along with this new plan, Congress also updated the Articles of War to increase punishments in order to discourage undesirable behavior. [4]

William Smallwood

Colonel William Smallwood

Maryland was required to raise eight regiments. They decided to use the men already in the field before attempting to recruit new troops, so they put men left from Smallwood’s battalion into the new First Maryland Regiment; survivors of the Independent Companies made up the Second Maryland Regiment. This reorganization of Smallwood’s battalion included our men from the Maryland 400 and is why many of them reenlisted on December 10, 1776. [5]

Many men did not want to reenlist for the duration of the war because it was an unspecified amount of time. Washington wrote to Congress and asked for a pay increase for the officers and free uniforms for the men, and Congress approved both of these ideas, which helped increase enlistments. To make the enlistments even more attractive, congress approved $20 cash bonuses, a yearly clothing supply, and 100 acre land grants to those enlisting. However, there was a problem: Maryland did not have any land to give. Maryland delegates proposed giving the men an extra $10 to make up for the land, but Congress disagreed because 100 acres of land could be purchased for about $3. The delegates took the stance that it was better to “prepare for the worst by giving ten dollars now than trust to the mercy of a few vendors from whom they would be obliged to purchase (having pledged their honour) at any price.” [6]

John Hancock told Congress that if they allowed the Maryland soldiers to have this extra money, all the other soldiers who enlisted would want that as well and the country could not afford that. Hancock then told Maryland that the state would not be responsible for giving out the land, but the United States as a whole would do it. Congress agreed that if the troop enlisted for the duration of the war, they would receive 100 acres of land at some point after the hostilities ended, however they did not specify when or where. People were therefore unsure who was benefiting from this agreement. [7]

The Maryland Council of Safety decided it was in the best interest of the state to encourage men to reenlist for three years as opposed to the duration of the war. Maryland therefore did not like the land policy because they might not have any soldiers who would benefit, but would be fighting to give soldiers from other states land. They attempted to persuade Congress to change the rules, but were not successful. [8]

Samuel Chase

Samuel Chase

Then Samuel Chase, one of Maryland’s delegates to Congress, told the Council of Safety that Massachusetts was giving its troops an extra thirty shillings per month. Other states heard about this and were considering doing the same. Maryland commissioners were “much distressed” about this new information. Washington opposed the idea, saying it would unbalance the recruiting and cause jealousy. Congress agreed, and told the states they were not allowed to do this. [9]

Overall, the reorganization process was rather confusing. Later in December of 1776, after the disaster of the New Jersey retreat, Congress authorized an extra 22 battalions to be recruited by Washington. Neither the original 88 or the extra 22 battalions were ever completely filled, and the Continental Army never had more than 30,000 troops at one time. States were not able to meet their quotas, and in winter of 1777 – 1778 the 88 Battalion idea was set aside. In spring of 1778, they returned to a system of one year enlistments and even began drafting people from the militias, which also did not succeed. [10]

The upside to these problems was that many men could essentially be in the military part time and still participate in the work force, which kept the economy somewhat stable. The Center of Military History theorized that if the original 88 Battalion plan did succeed, the economy most likely would have crashed because the men would not have been able to work. [11] Even without the numbers that Washington and Congress strove for, America was able to defeat the British and win the war, while maintaining an economy that enabled the country to exist.

-Natalie Miller, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2017


[1] Robert W. Coakley and Stetson Conn, “The War of the American Revolution: Narrative, Chronology, and Bibliography,” (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1975), 38-39.

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn, “To the End: The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution,” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 104; Coakley and Conn, 39; Robert K. Wright, Jr., “The Continental Army,” (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1983), 91.

[3] Tacyn, 104; Wright, 91.

[4] Wright, 92; Coakley and Conn, 39.

[5] Tacyn, 105

[6] Wright, 92; Tacyn, 105-108.

[7]Tacyn, 105-108.

[8]Tacyn, 105-108.

[9]Tacyn, 107-108.

[10] Coakley and Conn, 39.

[11] Coakley and Conn, 39.

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4 Responses to The Significance of December 10, 1776

  1. Susan Moore says:

    I think you just answered part of my question! I was looking over my patriot’s pension record (ironically on July 4th). His name is Sgt. John Taylor. John mentions enlisting for the 1st Maryland under Col. Smallwood in April 1776 and again for 3 years in 1777 (now I know why). What I don’t understand is why he had to enlist again in 1778? Maybe that’s your next post?!


    • Hi Susan,

      I’m not completely sure why he would have reenlisted in 1778. Perhaps he made an error in his pension application? We haven’t done any in depth research into his life yet, but if you can send me more information about his service record, I can try to help you further. You can post it here, or send an email to

      Thanks for checking us out!


  2. Another good resource on this topic is The Maryland Line by Rieman Steuart published by the Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland. 1969 This publication lists the alignment of officers in the Maryland line at these various points where the legislature reorganized the troops and denoted the Resolves that precipitated them.


    • I did indeed use this book to fact-check a few other sources that I used. Luckily, the information all lined up! Thanks for your comment, and your continued interest and support in the project!



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