Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Wheatley
MSA SC 3520-18087

Biography:

William Wheatley enlisted as a private in the First Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 24, 1776 under Captain John Hoskins Stone. [1]

Colonel William Smallwood's Maryland battalion of nine companies were stationed in Baltimore and Annapolis while the independent companies were divided between the Eastern and Western shores. In July 1776, while at Annapolis for training, the Charles County-based company received orders to march to New York to reinforce the Continental Army for a British invasion. [2] 

On August 27, American forces faced British troops at the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale engagement of the war. Led by major Mordecai Gist, the Maryland troops were positioned on the far right of the battlefield. Under heavy fire, the American troops attempted to retreat through Gowanus Creek, suffering severe losses in the process. To hold the British at bay, the remaining Marylanders who had not crossed the creek yet mounted a series of charges. The Maryland troops delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. Despite the loss of 256 men who were killed or captured, the bravery and sacrifice of the Marylanders earned them the title of the "Maryland 400." [3]

The First Company was spared the worse of the fighting, only losing a few men. Like most of his comrades, Wheatley survived the battle and fought with the Marylanders at the Battle of White Plains, a continuation of the retreat from New York, and Fort Washington, both American losses.

At the beginning of 1777, the issue of expiring enlistments came to call. Despite suffering the privations of an ill-supplied army, Wheatley reenlisted in the First Maryland Regiment and was promoted to corporal. [4] As corporal, Wheatley was a disciplinarian within the regiment and forwarded the commands of the line officers. [5]

Wheatley fought with the First Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Staten Island in August 1777, a disastrous defeat. During 1777-1778, the British and American troops vied for control over the American capital at Philadelphia. As part of the American campaign, Wheatley fought with the First Regiment at the battles of Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777), both American losses. [6]

The British occupied Philadelphia, the American capital, until mid-June 1778. On June 28, ten days after the British army left Philadelphia, the Americans launched an attack against them at Monmouth Court House, in central New Jersey. American general Charles Lee led the advance, but ordered a retreat due to the number of British troops. George Washington was appalled by Lee's action, and swore at Lee for his cowardice, which was recorded as the first time Washington was heard to use profanity. Eventually the Americans regrouped, and withstood British general Charles Cornwallis's attack on the American flanks, which lasted until evening. At the end of the day, the British began making their escape to New York, and the Marylanders watched the retreat during the early morning hours of June 29. [7]

The Battle of Monmouth was a limited American victory. American casualties were relatively light, with approximately seventy men killed in action, including Wheatley. [8]

Cassy Sottile, 2019

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 6.

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn, "To the End: The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 34-45.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com.

[4] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 173.

[5] Tacyn, 152.

[6] John Dwight Kilbourne, A Short History of the Maryland Line in the Continental Army, (Baltimore: The Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, 1992), 17-26.

[7] Edward Lengel, General George Washington: A Military Life (New York: Random House, 2005), 300; Mary Stockwell, “Battle of Monmouth,” Mount Vernon Digital Encyclopedia; Kilbourne, 25-26. Washington's avoidance of profanity was a point of pride, and he once reprimanded a young officer who swore in his presence at a dinner: "Gentlemen, when I invited you here it was my intention to have invited gentlemen only. I am sorry to add I have been mistaken," then immediately left the gathering. See John Ruddiman, Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 70-71.

[8] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 173.

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