Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Melcher Brobeck
MSA SC 3520-17588

Biography:

Melcher Brobeck, also known as Michael Broadbeck, enlisted as a private in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 31, 1776. The regiment was Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. Many of the men in the company came from Western Maryland, and it was designated as the light infantry company for the regiment. Instead of fighting in a line with the other companies, the light infantry was often deployed in small groups ahead of the main body of troops as scouts or skirmishers. They carried rifles, rather than muskets, and were intended to be a more mobile group. [1]

Brobeck and the rest of the company were ordered to travel from Frederick to Annapolis in March 1776, to join with the rest of the regiment. As they departed, however, they were instructed to head for Baltimore instead to provide reinforcements in case of an anticipated British attack launched from the HMS Otter, a warship reportedly heading for the city. No attack ever materialized, and the company proceeded to Annapolis. They trained there until July, when the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. [2]

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. As the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, they were forced to stop at the swampy Gowanus Creek. Half the regiment was able to cross the creek and escape the battle. However, the rest, including the Ninth Company, 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. They held the British at bay for some time before being overrun, at the cost of many lives. [3]

The Marylanders took enormous casualties, with some companies 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. The Ninth Company fared poorly at the battle, probably because the light infantry's role placed them closest to the enemy lines during combat. At least thirteen soldiers from the company were captured, and fewer than half the men from the Ninth Company escaped death or captivity at the battle. Brobeck survived the battle, and probably went on to fight with the Marylanders through the rest of the difficult fall and winter of 1776. While the Maryland troops demonstrated their skill and bravery at Harlem Heights in September and White Plains in October, the Americans were nevertheless pushed out of New York, and put on the run through New Jersey. Not until late that winter did they secure revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton. At the end of the year, Brobeck's enlistment expired, and he left the army. [4]

About a year and a half later, however, Brobeck volunteered to fight again, enlisting as a private in the German Battalion in September 1778. The battalion was raised in the mountains of Western Maryland and Pennsylvania, intended to draw the large ethnic German population into the American war effort, and to act as a counter to Britain's Hessian mercenaries. Brobeck's unit fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, alongside the other Maryland regiments, including many of his comrades from the campaign of 1776. [5]

The next year, 1779, saw little combat with the British. However, the German Battalion was part of an American expedition launched against Iroquois tribes in western New York and Pennsylvania, to prevent them from allying with the British. The campaign, led by American general John Sullivan, was marked by brutality and destruction, with many Indian villages burned and civilians killed. The German Battalion marched west with Sullivan in the late spring of 1779, and spent about a year stationed on the western frontier. In mid-1780, the battalion rejoined the main body of the Continental Army, near New York City, and remained there until the unit was disbanded in early 1781. While most of the Marylanders in the unit were disbursed to other Maryland regiments, Brobeck's enlistment came to an end at that time, and he returned home to Maryland. Nothing is known about his Brobeck after he left the army. [6]

Owen Lourie, 2017

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 18; George Stricker to Council, 21 January 1776, Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 102.

[2] Order to Capt. Stricker, Council of Safety Proceedings, 6 March 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 102; Order to Capt. Stricker, 9 March 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 224-225.

[3] 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

[4] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Account of money paid sundry soldiers by Gen. Smallwood, paid to Michael Brodback, late 1776/early 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 7-3a, MdHR 19970-6-7/3a [MSA S997-6-25, 1/7/3/11].

[5] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 191; Service Record of Michael Broadback, German Battalion, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Robert K. Wright, The Continental Army (Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center for Military History, 1983), 81, 320-321; German Battalion Depreciation Pay, 1781, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 12, no. 24, MdHR 19970-12-24 [MSA S997-12, 1/7/3/13].

[6] Henry J. Retzer, The German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania in the Continental Army 1776-1781 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1991), 28, 43; Compiled Service Records; Charles H. Lesser, ed., The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1976), 192-193.

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