Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Crisenberry Clift
MSA SC 3520-16800

Biography:

Crisenberry Clift enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment in May 1776, signing on as a private in Captain Peter Adams's Sixth Company; he was the last man to join the unit. The company was drawn from across the Eastern Shore, an area which was largely not supportive of the Revolution. Clift was probably from Caroline County, where a number of Clifts lived. That spring, not long after Clift enlisted, the company traveled across the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis, joining the five other companies stationed there; three additional companies were in Baltimore. Commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, the regiment was the first unit of full-time, professional soldiers raised in Maryland for service in the Continental Army. [1]

In July, the regiment received orders to march to New York, in order to defend the city from an impending British attack. The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, where they joined with the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. On August 27, 1776, the Americans faced the British Army at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale engagement of the war. The battle was a rout: the British were able to sneak around the American lines, and the outflanked Americans fled in disarray.

During the retreat, the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, but were blocked by the swampy Gowanus Creek. Half the regiment was able to cross the creek, and escape the battle. However, the rest, including Clift, were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, this group of soldiers, today called the "Maryland 400," mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. They took enormous causalities, with some companies losing losing nearly 80 percent of their men, but their actions delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. In all, the First Maryland lost 256 men, killed or taken prisoner. [2]

Crisenberry Clift was among the men taken prisoner, as were at least eight other men from their company; only sixteen men from the Sixth Company escaped death or captivity at the battle. While Clift left no account of his time in captivity, one of his sergeants did. Thomas McKeel reported that he "remained a prisoner on board of a Prison Ship until the British troops got possession of New York" in November 1776, and "he was then taken ashore and imprisoned in New York with the Maryland officers and prisoners, until he was parolled." McKeel, Clift, and most of the others were all returned to Maryland by February 1777. [3]

Clift seems to not have returned to military service, and disappears from records after his release.

Owen Lourie, 2016

Notes

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 15; Pension of John McFaddon. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S5755, from Fold3.com.

[2] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Mark Andrew Tacyn "'To the End:' The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73. For more on the experience of the Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn, see "In Their Own Words," on the Maryland State Archives research blog, Finding the Maryland 400.

[3] Pay Roll of Prisoners Taken on Long Island, 14 February 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 19, no. 2, MdHR 19970-19-2 [MSA S997-19-2, 01/07/03/015]; Return of Cash Paid to Men Released from Captivity at New York, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, MdHR 19970-6-25/1 [MSA S997-6-59, 01/07/03/011]; Return of the Maryland Troops; Pension of Thomas McKeel. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S34977, from Fold3.com.

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