William McMillan (1756-1839)
MSA SC 3520-16767
William McMillan was one of the men who fought for American
independence in the Revolutionary War. He was born in 1756, likely in
Although the precise origin of McMillan and his brother is
uncertain, they were residents in
McMillan’s time in
It appearing to this Committee from the hostile Preparations of the British Ministry against the Colonies that the greatest Union and Harmony among ourselves attended with the Exertion of all our Force and Abilities will be absolutely Necessary to repel and prevent every Design and attempt to enslave us and it also appearing to this Committee that an Attempt to remove the seat of Justice from Harford Town will Lay the Foundation for Discord and Division among us. . . . It is the Opinion of this Committee that no stop for that purpose ought to be taken nor the said Business agitated until the Storm that hovers over these Colonies shall be disposed and this Colony with British America shall be freed from the Calamitous Circumstances under which it at present Labours and there with which it is threatened. . .6This was not the only way that the Harford County Committee of Observation stood up to the British. A number of their meetings addressed the boycott on imported goods from England, and they resolved not to let a man named Dr. John Stevenson unload and sell his British salt in the county. Though he managed to evade them and unload a part of it, the Committee warned its citizens not to buy any salt that they suspected may have come off of his boat, the Sally William Moat Master.7 The Committee also ran a collection for the aid of the poor in
Not everyone in
William McMillan started fighting for the American cause as
early as December of 1775, when he joined the Eleventh Company of Harford County's
militia. He served in this company as a private under Captain Jacob Bond with
his brother Samuel, who was also a private, presumably for a term of several
Two of the signers of the Bush River Declaration were officers in his company, Thomas
Johnson and James McComas, and several members of the Harford Committee also
served in the militia with the McMillans. After being in the milita for a time, William enlisted in the
Continental Army in the spring of 1776 when he was about twenty years old. He joined the Fourth Company of Colonel William Smallwood's
Maryland Battalion (later known as the First Maryland Regiment), with his
brother, Samuel McMillan.11 They
were both appointed to be noncommissioned officers in the company. On July 4,
As McMillan vividly recalled later, "on the evening of the 26
we left New York and landed on Long Island . . . [In the battle] my captain was killed,
lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot through [the] hand," and
and two sergeants in the company were also killed, "one in front of me
[at the] same
time my bayonet was shot off my gun . . ." McMillan described the
nature of the battle, including a "perty severe fight with yagers
Jaegers].15 It was a draw Battle, there was a good many on Each side killed. They
retired and we did Not pursue them." He
went on to give the details of when things started to collapse, saying "we were
surrounded by healanders [Scottish Highlanders]16 one side, hessians on
the other." Eventually, "my Brother and about – 50 or 60 of us was taken."17 The casualties taken by the Continental Army, and the
Another account of the battle comes from an extract of a letter written by an unknown soldier, who was likely a member of a Pennsylvania regiment or in the Maryland Line. Taken with McMillan's version, a strong narrative of the battle from a soldier's perspective takes shape.
. . . The enemy then advanced towards us, upon which Lord Sterling, who commanded, immediately drew us up in a line, and offered them battle in the true English taste. The British army then advanced within about three hundred yards of us, and began a very heavy fire from their cannon and mortars, for both the balls and shells flew very fast, now and then taking off a head. Our men stood it amazingly well; not even one of them showed a disposition to shrink.
Our orders were not to fire until the enemy came within fifty yards of us; but when they perceived we stood their fire so coolly and resolutely, they declined coming any nearer, although treble our number. In this situation we stood from sunrise to twelve o' clock, the enemy firing upon us the chief part of the time, when the main body of their army, by a route we never dreamed of, had entirely surrounded us, and drove within the lines, or scattered in the woods, all our men, except the Delaware and Maryland battalions, who were standing at bay with double their number. Thus situated, we were ordered to attempt a retreat, by fighting our way through the enemy, who had posted themselves, and nearly filled every field and road between us and our lines. We had not retreated a quarter of a mile before we were fired upon by an advanced party of the enemy, and those upon our rear were playing upon us with their artillery. Our men fought with more than Roman courage, and I am convinced would have stood until they were shot down to a man. We forced the advanced party, which first attacked us, to give way, through which opening we got a passage down to the side of a marsh, seldom before waded over, which we passed, and then swam a narrow river, all the time exposed to the fire of the enemy. . . .
The Maryland battalion has lost two hundred and fifty-nine men, amongst whom are twelve officers. . . There are about one thousand men missing in all. We took a few prisoners. By a Lieutenant we took, we understand they had about twenty-three thousand men on the Island that morning. Most of our Generals were upon a high hill in our lines, viewing us with glasses. When we began our retreat, they could see the enemy we had to pass through, though we could not. Many of them thought we would surrender in a body, without firing. When we began the attack, General Washington wrung his hands, and cried out, Good God! What brave fellows I must this day lose!18
Taken at the battle, McMillan could remember with detail the time he spent imprisoned. After being captured, "the Hessians broke the butts of our guns over their Cannons and Robbed us of everything we had. [They] Lit their pipes with our money, caned us into meetings, and gave us nothing to eate for five days, and then [they gave us] biscuits from aboard ships, Blue, moldy, full [of] Bugs & Rotten."20
Held for a short time in
The brothers fought with the
William McMillan once again took the role of sergeant, this
time in the Third Maryland Regiment under Colonel Mordecai Gist.24
to his pension report, he received a discretionary furlough in April of
later returned to his regiment based on his hope of receiving a
it is not recorded in his service record, McMillan claimed that he was
commissioned as a lieutenant later that spring. This appears to be
corroborated because his claim was accepted and he received a pension
at an officer's payrate. His commission made him a recruiting
By Jeff Truitt, 2013.
of William McMillan, The National Archives, (Revolutionary
War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files),
Sarson, "Landlessness and Tenancy in Early National Prince George’s County,
Dobson, Scottish Emigration to Colonial
 Committee Proceedings, 26-27.
 Committee Proceedings, 13-14, 18; “Meeting of the Inhabitants of Harford County, Maryland,” American Archives, S4 V1 402.
S. Eugene Clements and F. Edward Wright, The
 "Resolution in favour of Menonists and German Baptists, Resolutions in answer to the Resolves of the Virginia Convention, of May 31, respecting the case of Governour Eden, 1776-07-06," American Archives, S4 V6 1504.
 Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1983), 277.
 David Hackett Fischer describes Jaegers as "the Hessian equivalent of light infantry. . . . [Colonel Carl Emilius Ulrich von] Donop asked leave to serve in America, and the Langraf [of Hesse-Cassel] gave him the coveted command of the Jager Corps. . . . Behind a surface of civility, he was brutal and very cruel. He ordered his men to take no American prisoners and threatened to have them severely beaten if they did so. . . . [Hessian officers] despised the American language of liberty and freedom as the cant of cowards, traitors, and poltroons. They were skilled professional officers, proud to serve in the Hessian army. . . . Hessian privates who came to America shared these attitudes." From Washington's Crossing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 56-59.
 Fischer writes: "Two regiments of Scottish Highlanders joined the British army on Staten Island. One was the Forty-second Foot, or Royal Highland Regiment, better known since 1861 as the Black Watch. It was raised to keep order in the Highlands and renowned through the empire for winning more battle honors than any other regiment in the British army. The other was the Seventy-first, or Fraser's Highlanders, raised in 1757. . . Each Scottish regiment was as big as a British brigade. In 1776, the Forty-second and Seventy-first each recruited three battalions for American service, 3,248 men in all. . . . Scottish infantry were armed to the teeth. In the Forty-second Foot, the Crown supplied each soldier with a musket and bayonet. The colonel of the regiment added a brace of pistols and a Highland broadsword at his own expense. For closer work the men equipped themselves with murderous dirks tucked into their stockings. Sergeants carried Lochaber axes eight feet long, which in strong hands could cleave a man from crown to groin. American troops were not properly intimidated by this weapon, and it was replaced by carbines or fusees in the New World" (46-49). The possibility of McMillan's Scottish origin could mean that he fought against kinsmen in these regiments.
of William McMillan
 Rieman Steuart, A History of the Maryland Line in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, (Towson: Metropolitan Press, 1969) 59; "Plan
of the Attack on the Provincial Army, on
 Pension of William McMillan, 33.
 Pension of William McMillan, 34.
Record of Samuel McMillan, National
Archives, (Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who
Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783),
 Pension of William McMillan, 33-34; Service Record of Samuel McMillan.
Record of William McMillan (Maryland), National
Archives, (Compiled Service Records),
 Pension of William McMillan, 3-4, 34.
of William McMillan, 8-10, 14-15, 22; Pension of Samuel McMillan and Widow's Pension of Esther Parsell, The National Archives, (Revolutionary
War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files),
Return to William McMillan's Introductory Page
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