Revolutionary War military terminology can be pretty confusing. Starting today, we are publishing periodic posts to help explain what some of these words mean, moving towards a full glossary of eighteenth-century military terms.
Continental Army. The American army during the Revolutionary War. It was composed of soldiers raised by each of the states. Congress had hoped that soldiers from the Canadian provinces would also join, making the army truly “Continental.” Although two Canadian regiments were created, few people from Canada joined, and they were filled with Americans instead.
Each state had a quota of regiments (see below) it needed to raise for the Continental Army, determined by population. In early 1776, Maryland was assigned one regiment. After that time, it was responsible for eight; it raised seven, and got credit for the German Battalion, which was raised in the mountains of Western Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Company. The most basic level of organization in the Continental Army, administratively and on the battlefield. Pay was distributed by company, troop strength was tabulated by company, and soldiers were aligned and maneuvered by company during combat. A company was commanded by a captain.
In 1776, the First Maryland Regiment, which this project is studying, consisted of nine companies; there were three other Maryland units at the Battle of Brooklyn, called independent companies (see below). Eight of the companies had 74 officers and men at full strength: one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, two musicians, four sergeants, four corporals, and sixty privates; the Ninth Company had 78 (four extra privates). Each independent company had 106 total. As the war went on, the army tried to reduce and standardize company size, with varying degrees of success.
Regiment. Made up of several companies, usually six to eight, but varied widely. A regiment was commanded by a colonel, along with a lieutenant colonel and major (or two). The soldiers who we call the “Maryland 400” were part of the First Maryland Regiment, which was also referred to as the Maryland Regiment, the Maryland Battalion (see below), or Smallwood’s Regiment, after its commander, Colonel William Smallwood.
Officially, Maryland had one regiment of full-time, professional soldiers (regulars) in 1776, although in practice the independent companies functioned as their own regiment. The state created seven independent companies in early 1776 as regular troops to stay in Maryland as defense against a British attack. By the summer, however, they were dispatched to New York to fight as part of the Continental Army. The Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Independent companies fought at Brooklyn; the rest arrived in New York in early September.
Battalion. Often used interchangeably with regiment. It could also refer to part of a regiment.
Brigade. A group of several regiments, usually two to four. From 1777-1780, there were seven Maryland regiments, split into two brigades (along with the sole Delaware regiment). Some administrative and logistical functions were handled at the brigade level, like securing supplies. Commanded by a brigadier general.
Line. A collective term for all of the troops raised by an individual state. Thus, the “Maryland Line” referred to all of the Maryland’s Revolutionary War soldiers.
We’ll explain some more terms soon. If there is any term you’d like to have explained, just leave us a comment!
Another great article. Having very little military background, understanding these terms has always been mystifying for me. Thanks and look forward to your next article.