Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Charles Simms
MSA SC 3520-17779

Biography:

Charles Simms enlisted as a private in the Eighth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 18, 1776. The regiment, commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, was Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. The Eighth Company, led by Captain Samuel Smith, formed in Baltimore in early 1776, and it 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. [2]

Because the Eighth Company was able to escape the battle early, it lost only about six men. Still, as its captain Samuel Smith later described, the retreat was not easy. While withdrawing, "the Regiment mounted a hill, [and] a British officer appeared…and waved his hat, and it was supposed that he meant to surrender. He clapped his hands three times, on which signal his company rose and gave a heavy [fire]. I took my company through a marsh, until we were stopped by the dam of a…mill…that was too deep for the men to ford. I and a Sergeant swam over and got two slabs [of wood] into the water, on…which we ferried over all who could not swim." [3]

While most of the company was fortunate enough to escape, Simms was not, and he was taken prisoner by the British. He endured the notoriously awful conditions of the British prisons for several months, until he was released in a prisoner exchange in late 1776 or early 1777. [4]

Simms did not serve in the army again after his release, but nothing else is known about his life.

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. 18; 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. 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] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com; “The Papers of General Samuel Smith. The General’s Autobiography. From the Original Manuscripts.” The Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., vol. 8, no. 2 (1870): 82-92. Smith wrote his autobiography in the third person; it has been converted to first person here for purposes of clarity.

[4] Return of cash paid to men captured at New York, c. 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 25, MdHR 19970-6-25 [MSA S997-6-59, 1/7/3/11].

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