In New York City, there is a legend that scores of Maryland soldiers from the Revolutionary War are buried somewhere within the city limits. In Brooklyn, the local version claims that the graves are located within the Borough’s Park Slope neighborhood. These soldiers would have fought in the Battle of Brooklyn, in the summer of 1776. The Maryland soldiers who perished have become known as the Maryland 400.
The Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island, was the Revolutionary War’s largest engagement. The Maryland soldiers were among hundreds of others who died. During this conflict, Maryland soldiers made several assaults against a bigger British force, which was centered around a stone farmhouse. The Americans were outnumbered two to one. But their ferocious bayonet charges prevented two wings of the advancing redcoats from attacking the 10,000 Americans, who had retreated to Brooklyn Heights.
The Americans caught a break in the form of the British commander, who had decided to wait to resume attack until the next day. The delay gave General George Washington time to move his entire army across the East River to Manhattan during the night. The British would take control of New York the next month, but the majority of Washington’s forces escaped to continue the fight for independence.
According to some accounts, more than 250 Maryland soldiers died in the fight at the farmhouse, although the exact number remains unknown. Their burial place has never been found. Some historians claim that the soldiers were buried in unmarked graves next to the farmhouse. Other historians argue that it is more likely the burial spot is nearby, under what is now a vacant private lot.
According to Kim Maier, the burial location remains “one of the great questions of the battle, one of the great mysteries of history in Brooklyn.” Maier is the executive director of the Old Stone House, a museum reconstructed in 1933 from the material of the original battlefield structure, which was torn down nearly 120 years ago.
Patrick O’Donnell, author of the book Washington’s Immortals, says it is time to find the location of the burial site, so that a monument can be erected to honor their sacrifice. According to O’Donnell’s book, the Maryland troops were some of General George Washington’s most dependable fighters during the Revolutionary War. They saved the army in New York as well as several times in the South.
“My goal is to make people aware of their story, and hopefully someone will put the resources together to find out where they’re buried,” he said. The last official archaeological excavations were in the 1950s and failed to find any evidence of military burials from the Battle of Brooklyn.
Washington’s Immortals is a bit of a departure for O’Donnell, author of nine previous books, most of them about World War II spies and elite American units, such as the U.S. Army Rangers. O’Donnell said he became fascinated with the Maryland soldiers’ story after touring the Brooklyn battle’s sites in 2010.
O’Donnell spent the next five years researching the Marylanders’ story. He visited every battle site in which they had fought, from New York to South Carolina. He combed through archives in the U.S. and Britain. It was what he learned, which prompted him to nickname these soldiers, as America’s original ‘band of brothers’. These men, volunteers, continued to fight despite overwhelming odds and constant lack of food, clothing and equipment. They would march, often barefoot, starving, and unpaid, thousands of miles, to battle one of the finest armies in the world at the time.
Such a group of men deserve to be recognized in the form of a memorial marking their graves and to be honoured for their bravery like other American heroes.