Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Patrick McNemar
MSA SC 3520-17338

Biography:

Patrick McNemar enlisted as a private in Captain Edward Veazey's Seventh Independent Company in 1776, volunteering in the early days of the American Revolution to defend Maryland from a feared British invasion. McNemar was 28 years old and an immigrant from Ireland. The average age of soldiers in 1776 was 23 or 24, although foreign-born men like McNemar tended to be a few years older. [1]

Maryland's independent companies were formed in early 1776, and differed from the nine companies that made up Colonel William Smallwood’s First Maryland Regiment. While the Council of Safety, Maryland's Revolutionary executive body, used the nine companies of regular troops to fulfill the state's quota for the Continental Army, it dispatched seven independent companies throughout Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore to guard the vast shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay. Half of the Seventh Independent Company was stationed on Kent Island, while the rest, including McNemar, were sent to Chestertown. In these first months, the company had great difficulty obtaining supplies, including uniforms and weapons. In the summer of 1776, Congress requested additional troops from Maryland to help reinforce the Continental Army, and the state agreed to shift the independent companies to that duty. When the First Maryland Regiment marched for New York in early July, it was accompanied by the Fourth, Fifth and Seventh independent companies; the rest followed later that fall. [2]

The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, and prepared to protect the city from attack by the British. On August 27, 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. Half the regiment was able to cross the creek to safety. The rest, McNemar's company among them, were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, these men, now known as 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. [3]

McNemar's company suffered greatly during the battle. Its commander Captain Veazey was killed early in the fighting and two of the company's lieutenants were captured. First Lieutenant William Harrison was the sole officer in the company to escape, and only 36 men avoided death or captivity, just a third of the company. McNemar was likely among the lucky ones, although his exact fate at the battle is uncertain, so it is not clear if he fought with the Marylanders during the difficult fall of 1776, a series of defeats that saw the Americans pushed out of New York, followed by revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. [4]

McNemar's enlistment expired at the end of 1776, and in January 1777 he enlisted as a private in the newly-formed Second Maryland Regiment, largely composed of the disbanded independent companies. During the next year, he and the Marylanders fought in a raid on Staten Island in August 1777, before traveling south to defend Philadelphia, fighting at the battles of Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777). The Maryland Line fought with notable bravery and skill at these engagements, even though the Americans were soundly defeated at all of them, as well as at the tactical victory at the Battle of Monmouth (June 1778). [5]

Sometime in the summer of 1779, McNemar was transferred to the Continental Army's Corps of Light Infantry. The light infantry was a elite unit, composed of selected men, which quickly built a reputation as well-trained and fearless. In July 1779, the light infantry captured the British fort at Stony Point, New York, in a nighttime bayonet attack, which McNemar probably took part in. He served with the light infantry until January 1780, when his enlistment expired, and he left the army. Nothing further is known about his life. [6]

Owen Lourie, 2016

Notes:

[1] Descriptions of men in Capt. Edward Veazey’s Independent Comp, 1776, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, MdHR 19970-15-36/01 [MSA S997-15-36, 1/7/3/13].

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 33-34, 43; Journal of the Maryland Convention and Council of Safety 1775-1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 11, pps. 318, 468; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July-December, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 12, p. 4.  

[3] Tacyn, 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.

[4] Extract of a letter from an officer in the Maryland Battalion, 28 August 1776, American Archives, series 5, vol. 1, p. 1195; Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; McNemar is not included on any known list of prisoners, but may still have been a captive.

[5] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 138; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety and State Council 1777-1778, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, p. 219.

[6] Compiled Service Records; John W. Wright, "The Corps of Light Infantry in the Continental Army," The American Historical Review 31:3 (Apr. 1926), 455-457.

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