Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Edwards
MSA SC 3520-17741

Biography:

John Edwards enlisted as a private in the Eighth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 24, 1776. The regiment was Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. The Eighth Company, commanded by Captain Samuel Smith, formed in Baltimore in early 1776, and trained there that spring and summer. Two other companies from the regiment were located in Baltimore as well, while the rest were stationed in Annapolis. In July, the regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. The Eighth Company lost four men who deserted along the march, a problem which plagued the regiment that summer. [1]

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, including the Eighth, was able to cross the creek and escape the battle. However, the rest 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, losing 256 men killed or captured. Because the Eighth was able to escape the battle early, it lost only about six men. [2]

Edwards survived the battle, and fought on with the Marylanders through the rest 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.

Edwards's enlistment expired at the end of 1776, and he reenlisted, this time as a sergeant in the Third Maryland Regiment. His promotion reflected the experience he had gained during his first term of service. A number of men who survived the campaign of 1776 were promoted at the same time, and they went on to form the veteran core of the Maryland Line for the rest of the war. As a sergeant, Edwards was responsible for keeping the soldiers of the company properly aligned during marches and in battle, and ensuring order among the men in camp, as well as other administrative duties. For a part of 1777-1778, Edwards was sergeant major of the regiment, making him the highest-ranking non-commissioned officer. He also served in the Commissary Department in 1778, helping to oversee supplies and logistics. [3]

Over the next few years, Edwards and the Marylanders fought in the disastrous raid on Staten Island (August 1777), and the major battles of the Philadelphia Campaign, Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777), both significant defeats. The Marylanders also fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. The next year, 1779, saw little major combat as the war slowed to a stalemate.

Hoping to change the course of the war, the British launched a new campaign in the Carolinas, and in the spring of 1780, the Maryland Line was part of the American army that marched to counter the new threat. Over the next two years, the Marylanders fought in the Revolutionary War's fiercest battles, including the devastating defeat at Camden (August 1780), and the decisive victory at Cowpens (December 1780), along with the battles of Guilford Courthouse (March 1781), Hobkirk's Hill (April 1781), the siege of Ninety-Six (May 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 1781). Edwards fought for nearly the entire campaign, even surviving the Battle of Camden, where the Marylanders lost some 600 men--about one-third of their troops. He remained with the army until June 1, 1781, when he was discharged. Why he was discharged then is not known, but it was before his enlistment was due to end, so he may have been injured at some point that summer. [4]

Edwards probably returned to Maryland after the war, but it is difficult to learn any other details of his life. There were many people with the same name in Maryland during that time, and it is not possible to differentiate between them. [5]

Owen Lourie, 2018

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 641; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; "Eight Pounds Reward." Philadelphia Evening Post, 10 August 1776; William Sands to John and Ann Sands, 14 August 1776, Maryland State Archives, Special Collections, Dowsett Collection of Sands Family Papers [MSA SC 2095-1-18, 00/20/05/28].

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73; Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com. 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] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 106; Compiled Service Record; Frederick Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I. (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1792), 148-151.

[4] Tacyn, 216-225; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 534; Compiled Service Record.

[5] Commissioner to Settle and Adjust Pay Due Officers and Soldiers, Depreciation Pay, vol. 1, 1781-1786, p. 21 [MSA S169-1, 1/1/4/25]; vol. 2, 1781-1791, p. 29 [MSA S169-2, 1/1/4/22].

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