Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Herron
MSA SC 3520-17255

Biography:

John Herron (or Herring) enlisted as a private in the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 12, 1776, at the outset of the American Revolution. The company was largely drawn from Harford County, and was part of Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. Herron and the rest of the company was initially stationed in Baltimore, where it trained until early July. On July 9, 1776, the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. Just days before it left, the company was assigned a new commander, Captain Daniel Bowie, and had only 58 men, instead of the 74 soldiers in a full strength company. [1]

On August 27, a month after arriving in New York, the Americans clashed with the British at the Battle of Brooklyn (also called the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale encounter of the American Revolution. 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. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest, Herron's company among them, were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. One of the Fourth Company's sergeants, William McMillan, described what happened:

We were surrounded by Healanders [Scottish Highlanders] [on] one side, Hessians on the other...My captain was killed, first lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot through the hand, two sergeants was killed; one in front of me…my bayonet was shot off my gun...My brother [Sergeant Samuel McMillan] and I and 50 or 60 of us was taken…The Hessians broke the butts of our guns over their cannon and robbed us of everything we had, lit their pipes with our money…gave us nothing to eat for five days, and then [only] moldy biscuits…blue, moldy, full of bugs and rotten. [2]

All told, the company lost 80 percent of its men, killed like Bowie, or captured like McMillan. Only the company's drummer, a dozen privates, and a sergeant made it back to the American lines. The Marylanders took enormous causalities, with other companies losing nearly as many men as the Fourth, but their action had delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape, earning themselves the moniker "Maryland 400." [3]

Herron survived the battle, likely escaping capture, and was still with the regiment at the end of 1776, one of only a small number of soldiers who remained at the end of a hard fall and winter of fighting. He reenlisted as a corporal, and served about another year, probably taking part in the campaign around Philadelphia, trying to protect the American capital from British capture. In March 1778, Herron deserted, and nothing more is known about his life. [4]

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. 12; Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 78, p. 198; Return of Ramsey's, Smith's, and Bowie's companies, 9 July 1776, Maryland Historical Society, Revolutionary War Collection, MS 1814.

[2] The experience of the Fourth Company is described in the pension of William McMillan, one of the company's sergeants. See Pension of William MaCmillan, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 2806, p. 33-35, from Fold3.com.

[3] 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.

[4] Mordecai Gist, Account, 23 January 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 2, no. 4-2, MdHR 19,970-2-4/2 [MSA S997-2-254, 1/7/3/8]; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 116.

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