Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Johann de Kalb (1721-1780)
MSA SC 3520-14859

Biography:

Born Johann Kalb in Huttendorf, Bavaria on June 29, 1721. Second son of Margareth Putz and Johann Leonhard Kalb. Married Anna Elizabeth van Robias, daughter of Peter van Robias, a wealthy, retired cloth merchant, April 10, 1764. Died August 19, 1780, in Camden, South Carolina.

A self-styled nobleman and general, Baron Johann de Kalb made his way through the ranks of the French armies before eventually becoming an American commander during the Revolutionary War. The son of peasants, his first recorded military service was as a lieutenant in the French Loewendal Regiment, probably starting in 1743. He served in that unit during the War of Austrian Succession, 1743-1748. He was later a Major during the Seven Years War, 1756-1763. After the war, his position was terminated, and he spent several years searching for a command. De Kalb operated as an agent of the French government in the British colonies in North America, providing intelligence on the Stamp Act Crises from April, 1767 until January, 1768, when he was discovered and forced to return to France.

De Kalb lived in semi-retirement in France until 1777, when he was offered a command in the American army. He was one of a number of prominent European officers who traveled to America, where they were welcomed by a government with few experienced military leaders. As Henry Laurens wrote in 1777, it was "a fortunate event if a Gentleman of Baron Kalbs knowledge in the Science of War could been returned even for our Southern department. Our Generals are good so far as their experience extends but [their] deficiency in that [area] has cost America some thousands of Lives." [1] De Kalb was initially passed over, however, and the much younger Marquis de Lafatyette was commissioned a general by Congress. When de Kalb was eventually commissioned as a Major General, on October 9, 1777, he worked primarily in an advisory role until he was chosen by George Washington to lead reinforcements to the South, where the war's action was beginning to concentrate.

Leaving the Continental Army's winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, in April, 1780, with 1,400 troops from the Maryland and Delaware Lines, de Kalb arrived in South Carolina in June. At the Battle of Camden, in August, de Kalb's unit fought well but was unable to hold back the British. As he desperately sought to rally his troops and resist the British advance, de Kalb was mortally wounded and taken prisoner. He died three days later, on August 19, 1780.

De Kalb's heroism was hailed by many, including John Hanson, who wrote of how de Kalb "fell So gloriously in the Cause of America." [2] In October, 1780, Congress passed a resolution calling for a monument to de Kalb to be built in Annapolis, Maryland, in honor of his leadership and service with the Maryland Line. Although the Maryland General Assembly passed a similar resolution in 1817, it was  not until 1886 that Ephraim Keyeser's statue was erected on the grounds of the State House.


Notes on sources

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