Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Christian Castler
MSA SC 3520-17201

Biography:

Christian Castler enlisted in Captain Nathaniel Ramsey's Fifth Company, part of the First Maryland Regiment, in 1776. [1] The First Maryland Regiment were the first troops Maryland raised at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Maryland was more than willing to do its part to recruit the men needed to fill the Continental Army's depleted ranks. [2] A few days after independence was declared, the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to New York so it could join the forces of General George Washington. The regiment arrived there in early August, with the Battle of Brooklyn set between the Continental Army and the British Army, joined by their Hessian allies.

In spring 1776, Castler was accused of so "capital a crime," in Major Mordecai Gist's words, that it paled in comparison to desertion. In late April, Mordecai Gist requested a court martial for Castler, who was charged with "attempting to shoot a non-commissioned officer." [3] Gist told the Maryland Council of Safety that a court had already been appointed and declared Castler guilty, but he felt that Castler should be referred "to a superior court, to be tried for his life." [4] Early the next month, the Council of Safety wrote that after considering Gist's letter, they believed that Castler's crime fell under the "seventh Article of War" meaning that he cannot be "punished with death" and that the "appointment of a Court Martial by the Council of Safety is unnecessary." [5] For Castler, it is likely that he faced some form of punishment as his case aligns with Article VII of the Continental Articles of War:

"Any officer or soldier, who shall strike his superior officer, or draw, or offer to draw, or shall lift up any weapon, or offer any violence against him, being in the execution of his office, on any pretence whatsoever, or shall disobey any lawful commands of his superior officer, shall suffer such punishment as shall, according to the nature of his offence, be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial."

After May 1776, the story of Castler's case disappears. From the information provided by Gist, it is not known which one of the eight non-commissioned officers in the Fifth Company that Castler was accused of "attempting to shoot." It is possible that Castler was never tried because was just careless with his musket and happened to shoot near a non-commissioned officer. George Washington complained in August 1776 that "the constant firing in the Camp, notwithstanding repeated Orders to the contrary, is very scandalous, and seldom a day passes but some persons are shot by their friends—Once more therefore the General entreats the officers to prevent it, and calls upon the Soldiers to forbear this practice." [6]

Castler did not have to face the punishments laid out in the second iteration of the Articles of War which expanded Article VII to "accommodate perceived military necessity and...incorporate southern military culture" which had much in common with brutal British army punishment practices. [7] This meant that by September 1776, the military law was changed to be much harsher, more closley remembling British laws. [8] Based on the structure of military law, it is likely that the act Castler was accused of occurred a week or so before Gist sent a letter to the Maryland Council of Safety and then referred to regimental or garrison court consisting of five officers appointed, in this case, likely by Captain Ramsey. [9] Since Washington often granted stays and pardoned offenders who were sentenced to death, it not known if Castler was treated the same. [10]

It is possible that Castler served with his company served at the Battle of Brooklyn in late August 1776. If he was there he would have been placed at the front of the lines with "hardly a man" in Ramsey's company falling, even though they took the first line of fire from the British. [11] Except for this brief incident nothing of Castler's military career or life is known.

- Burkely Hermann, Maryland Society of the Sons of American Revolution Research Fellow, 2016

Notes

[1] " Letter from Major Gist to the Maryland Council of Safety." American Archives v5:1085.

[2] Arthur Alexander, "How Maryland Tried to Raise Her Continental Quotas," Maryland Historical Magazine 42, no. 3 (1947), 187-188, 196.

[3] Mordecai Gist to the Maryland Council of Safety, April 26, 1776, Maryland State Papers, Brown Books, MdHR 4610-09, Brown Book 3, p. 9 [MSA S991-3-324, 1/6/5/4].

[4] " Letter from Major Gist to the Maryland Council of Safety." American Archives v5:1085.

[5] Council of Safety to William Smallwood, May 2, 1776, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, MdHR 6636-3-13 [MSA S 1004-3-206, 1/7/3/26]; "Letter from Maryland Council of Safety to Colonel Smallwood: The case of Christian Castler comes under the Seventh Article of War and cannot be punished with death." American Archives v5:1173; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776. Archives of Maryland Online Vol. 11, 400.

[6] “General Orders, 30 August 1776,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified June 29, 2016.

[7] Caroline Cox, The Continental Army, in Edward G. Gray and Jane Kamensky, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 168.

[8] Maurer Maurer, "Military Justice Under General Washington," Military Affairs 28, no. 1 (Spring 1964): 8-9, 12, 15.

[9] Maurer, 9-10.

[10] Maurer, 13.

[11] "Extract of a letter from New York: Account of the battle on Long Island." American Archives S5 V2 107-108.

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