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The Flying Camp Battalion

John Allen Miller 

On December 8, 1774 an act was passed in Frederick to prepare for the worst, a revolution. The act enabled citizens to start organizing companies for military use. It stated that all companies should start drilling and enlisted volunteers between the ages of 16 and 50. A company called the Game Cock was attached to a Flying Camp Battalion, which was organized in Toms Creek Hundred, Maryland in early spring of 1775 due to the act. The Flying Camp Battalion consisted of three companies that were raised in the Toms Creek Hundred-Mechanicstown area that were soon re-organized into the Maryland Regiments.

Today when you hear the term ""Flying Camp Battalion"" itís being referred to as an association to Captains Blair, Shields, or Ogle. However, with a creation of a small independent regiment was common for the term Flying Camp Battalion to be used as a battalion association for home defense. When these companies were organized into state regiments for service, the term ""Flying Camp"" disappeared.

The term ""Flying Camp Battalion"" was also associated with the German Battalion that was formed from Maryland and Pennsylvania. It had eight companies and the citizens would refer to them as a Flying Camp Battalion. In reality, they were also given a battalion designation of the Pennsylvania Line commonly associated with the Maryland Line. Thatís why when the battalion was transferred to Maryland it was supposed to become the 8th Maryland Regiment, but Maryland never officially recognized the German Battalion as a state regiment.

So what was a Flying Camp Battalion?

By June 1776, General Washington appealed to the Continental Congress for more troops. Maryland responded by organizing the ""Maryland Flying Camp"" of 3400 militia troops. The Flying Camp was then authorized to join the Continental Army, and assigned to fight beside troops from Delaware and Pennsylvania in the area of operations stretching from Maryland to New York. General George Washington wanted a 10,000 man strategic mobile reserve originally conceived the ""Flying Camp"". Under the command of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, of Virginia, the flying camp was to be comprised of militia units from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Headquartered in Perth Amboy, this force would be expected to perform a number of vital functions in New Jersey while Washingtonís army was preoccupied with the defense of New York. Its duties would include guarding the vulnerable Jersey coast, protecting the Continental Army's supply lines, suppressing roving bands of Tories and acting as a ready reserve should Washington have need of reinforcements. (Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. V; History of Bucks County, Davis)

On June 3, 1776, the Continental Congress resolved "that a flying camp be immediately established in the middle colonies." For its part, Pennsylvania was called upon to provide a force of some 6,000 men. Delegations of one officer and two enlisted men from each of Pennsylvania's fifty-three associated battalions met in Lancaster, on July 4, 1776, for the purpose of selecting this force. Then, on July 10, 1776, the Bucks County Committee of Safety, citing "the Resolve of the late Provincial Conference for embodying four hundred of the Associates of this County," appointed the following officers to command. (Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. V; History of Bucks County, Davis)

The flying camp received little support from New Jersey. Pennsylvania sent some 2,000 associates, many of who were quickly drafted into service by Gen. Washington in New York. More men soon arrived from Maryland and Delaware, but despite the best efforts of Gen. Mercer the flying camp was fraught with difficulties almost from its inception, and never realizing its full potential was disbanded by the end of November, shortly after the fall of Fort Washington. (Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. V; History of Bucks County, Davis)

The definition of the Flying Camp Battalion is a Reservist or a Home Guard. Their duties were to serve and protect citizens of the state in case of an invasion. They acted like a police force guarding barracks, government buildings, so on and so forth. Before the Revolutionary War there was no such thing in America as a Reservist or a Home Guard. Therefore, the militia was formed, a group of trained soldiers that could pack up and leave for duty at a moments notice.

During the Revolutionary War, however, the militias were called to active service. This left the state and itís cities needing protection. A Flying Camp Battalion was organized in Frederick during the early spring of 1775 due to the act that called for independent companies for home service duty. However, there were several regiments called the Flying Camp Battalion that was called for active service by July of 1776. When you read about the Flying Camp Battalion of Toms Creek Hundred, which one is being referred? Here is a list of Flying Camp Battalions that were formed in Maryland and also Pennsylvania in 1776:

  • Maryland: 1st Regiment Flying Camp, 1776
  • Maryland: Flying Camp Regiment (Ewing's), 1776
  • Maryland: Flying Camp Regiment (Griffith's), 1776
  • Maryland: Flying Camp Regiment (Richardson's), 1776
  • Pennsylvania: 1st Regiment Flying Camp, 1776
  • Pennsylvania: 1st Regiment Flying Camp of Lancaster County, 1776
  • Pennsylvania: 2d Regiment Flying Camp, 1776
  • Pennsylvania: Baxter's Battalion Flying Camp, 1776
  • Pennsylvania: Clotz' Battalion Flying Camp, Lancaster County, 1776
  • Pennsylvania: Haller's Battalion Flying Camp, 1776
  • Pennsylvania: Swope's Regiment Flying Camp, 1776-80
  • Pennsylvania: Watt's Regiment Flying Camp, 1776

When Caroline Countyís battalions of minutemen were disbanded in August 1776, Richardson was appointed Colonel of the Eastern Shore Battalion of the Maryland Flying Camp. Richardsonís battalion consisted of seven companies from the various Eastern Shore counties, about 650 men in all. Early in the conflict, troops were provisioned mostly from local stores. Richardson also received supplies, including firearms, from Annapolis and Baltimore to be distributed among the various companies of his regiment. Richardson may have used the landing and storage facilities at Gilpin Point, and possibly his own sailing vessels, to import and supply his regiment at this time, and later during his Eastern Shore campaign. Provisioning the troops was difficult and caused delays before Richardson and his 4th Maryland Battalion of the Flying Camp could join the Continental Army at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on September 8, 1776.

In 1776 Captain William Smallwood had the only Maryland unit that was called to active duty. Of these companies in Smallwoodís Battalion was the Game Cock Company commanded by Captain William Blair. William Blair was a Toms Creek Hundred citizen, who attended the Troxell meeting at Tomís Creek on Sunday August 28, 1770. The second Company was under the command of Captain William Shields who also attended the Troxell meeting in 1770. Captain Benjamin Ogle raised the Third Company. More than a hundred and fifty soldiers that were ready for military use manned these companies.

Upon the arrival of the news that a war had started up North in Massachusetts, Frederick County, Maryland proposed a general movement for the enlistment of volunteers. There were two companies raised, Michael Cresap was captain of the first company, with Thomas Warren, Joseph Cresap, Jr., and Richard Davis, Jr., lieutenants. Captain Cresapís company was composed of a hundred and thirty backwoodsmen. Of the second company Thomas Price who was captain, and Otho Holland Williams and John Key as lieutenants. The Committee of Observation appointed these officers. These companies were to march and join the Continental Army at Boston. A gallant, hardier and more efficient body of men never marched to the defense of their country. The men of this company, many of them educated in the frightful conflicts of the Indian Wars, were skilled in Indian warfare and hardened to Indian discipline, with remarkable skill in the use of their rifles.

Captain Daniel Morganís company enlisted in the neighborhood of Shepherdstown, (West) Virginia. These were the first troops from the South to reach the field. A writer, in August 1775, described them upon their arrival as remarkably stout and hardy men, many of them exceeding six feet in height. They were dressed in white frocks or rifle shirts, and round hats. These men were remarkable for the accuracy of their aim, striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance. During a review of the company, while on a quick advance, they fired their balls into objects of seven inches diameter at the distance of two hundred and fifty yards. Nothing could exceed the satisfaction of General Washington, upon the arrival of this contingent upon whom he could always rely, part of them coming from his own State.

On July 17, 1775 Captain Morganís company came into Frederick on their way to Boston. One mile from Frederick they were met by Captain Priceís company as they marched to Boston with Captain Cresap. The Maryland Line was next to be organized. It composed of four companies from Frederick County (three of which were from the Emmitsburg district), and two to three companies from Montgomery County. Colonel William Smallwood would command these companies that were from Frederick County. Captain George Stricker was commissioned, as captain in the Maryland 400 and would later be promoted to Lt. Colonel in a German Regiment that was raised by the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

A (Flying Camp) Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment was authorized June 17, 1776 in the Continental Army and was assigned to the Main Army. The Regiment was organized June 27, 1776 to consist of the three existing companies two from Maryland and one from Virginia, plus two new companies to be raised in Maryland, and four new companies to be raised in Virginia. The regimental organization was disbanded with the surviving Virginia portion being transferred on February 3, 1777 to the 11th Virginia Regiment and the Maryland portion provisionally reorganized in November 1776 as a single company under Captain Alexander Lawson Smith and attached to the 4th Maryland Regiment.

The German Regiment

The Continental Congress authorized the recruitment of a German Regiment to be composed of eight companies from Pennsylvania and Maryland. German immigrants first settled the Emmitsburg and Mechanicstown area in 1748. The General Assembly in July of 1776 defined those two companies; each would be raised in Frederick and Baltimore counties. The German Battalion unofficially referred to as the 8th Maryland Regiment under the command of Haussegger's and DeArendt's.

The German Battalion enlisted for three years but served between 1776-1780 and saw action for almost five years at Trenton, White Plains, and Brandywine. In January of 1781 the Regiment was disbanded as a separate entity and was folded into the Maryland Continental Troops, part of the 3rd Maryland Regiment. They marched back to Frederick and then to Baltimore where they were re-equipped to go south to Yorktown.

The Maryland Line and Daniel Morgan's Virginians

On July 18, Daniel Morgan's Company started on their long march to Boston, armed with tomahawk and rifle, dressed in deerskins and moccasins and treading as lightly as the savages themselves. They needed no baggage train or equipment. They used their blankets to wrap themselves in at night and then they slept around the campfire as contentedly as if they had been comfortably housed. As they marched to the field they could easily procure game in almost sufficient quantities for their support, along with a little parched corn as the only provision they had. Before marching, these men gave the people of Frederick an exhibition of their marksmanship. A man would hold a target in his hand or between his knees for the others to aim at, with such confidence in their own skill. Not only did they practice in the ordinary way but assumed various postures, showing in all circumstances the same skill.

Several Maryland militia companies were mustered into service and attached to the Maryland 400 that made up the Maryland Line (1st Maryland Regiment) and was ordered to New York, on July 4, 1776. There the Maryland Line took action in the early part of the war at Brooklyn Heights, New York. This was their first baptism of fire in the war and a very costly battle for them as well. When Captain Blair fell, mortally wounded at the battle of Brooklyn Heights, Captain Henry Williams took charge of the "Game Cock" company. Under Henryís command, the company participated in many hard-fought battles, with Captain Williams in the thickest of the fray.

After the retreat from New York, the Maryland Line found themselves being recalled to Frederick. According to Williamsí Frederick County History it is stated that, "While in Frederick, a company of the Flying Camp Battalion was then unattached from the Maryland Line and guarded the barracks where Hessian and British soldiers were imprisoned. The barracks housed those taken prisoner from the battles of Saratoga. Trenton, and Yorktown."

During September of 1776 a committee was formed to build a state constitution. On September 6, the convention provided that the upper district of Frederick County should be formed into a new county named Washington along with the lower district forming Montgomery County. On September 12, at the Frederick Court House, Lt. Colonel William Blair, Colonel George Sticker (although a native of Winchester. Virginia), and Colonel Charles Beatty were among some of those chosen for the observation of the committee in forming the Maryland State Constitution. On November 8, the constitution was agreed upon and elections were ordered to carry it into effect. On February 10, 1777 the State Assembly was held and three days later Thomas Johnson was elected Marylandís first Governor.

In February of 1777, the Maryland Line was reorganized with five new regiments that were raised in Maryland. Colonel William Smallwood of the Maryland 400 was promoted to General and given command of a brigade and French General Debarre was given command of the other brigade. The new command structure placed the Flying Camp Battalion into separate regiments. William Blair was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the Third Battalion and William Shields was given the rank of First Major of the same command. Two of Emmitsburgís companies were placed in the Third Battalion under the command of Thomas Johnson Jr. The Second Battalion enlisted the third company that was from the Toms Creek Hundred and under the command of Colonel James Johnson and Toms Creek Hundred own Benjamin Ogle who was promoted to First Major.

From 1775 to 1777, Maryland had raised eight regiments for the Continental Army. However the German Regiment that was raised in Maryland and Pennsylvania is listed with a Virginia Brigade. The new organization at Valley Forge was as follows:

3rd Division; Major General Sullivan Commanding

  • 1st Maryland Brigade
    • 1st Maryland Regiment Colonels William Smallwood and Francis Ware
    • 3rd Maryland Regiment Colonel Mordecai Gist
    • 5th, Maryland Regiment Colonel William Richardson
    • 7th Maryland Regiment Colonel John Gunby
  • 2nd Maryland Brigade
    • 2nd Maryland Regiment Colonel Thomas Price
    • 4th Maryland Regiment Colonel Josiah C. Hall
    • 6th Maryland Regiment Colonel Otho H. Williams
  • Delaware Regiment
  • Hazen's 2nd Canadian Regiment

1st Division; Major General Greene Commanding

1st Virginia Brigade; Brigadier General Muhlenberg

  • 1st Virginia Regiment
  • 5th Virginia Regiment
  • 6th Virginia Regiment
  • 9th Virginia Regiment
  • 3th Virginia Regiment

German Regiment; Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg (Of the eight companies in this regiment, four were raised in Pennsylvania and four from Maryland. It was credited as part of the Pennsylvania Line until February 26, 1778 when it was transferred to the Maryland Line. It was officially designated the 8th Maryland Continental Regiment, but was seldom ever referred to as that.)

Many of those from Toms Creek Hundred who re-enlisted served in the 6th Maryland Regiment that was raised in 1777. In the Matthews family history their ancestorís names appear on the roster of the 6th Maryland Regiment. They are listed as follows: Corporal Robert Matthew, Corporal Thomas Matthew, and Private William Matthew. The Matthews family also had several family members that served in Williams and Cresapís Companies that was raised on June 21, 1775. In Blairís Company George Matthews served as a Sergeant while Conrad Matthews, also a sergeant served in Ogleís Company. Listed with Ogleís Company was Private Henry Matthews. These companies were commanded by Colonel William Smallwood and were organized as the First Maryland Regiment.

By 1781, the war for Independence cost Maryland many lives. The Maryland Line had to re-organize with the loss of three regiments. The Maryland Line in 1781 consisted of the 1st MD Regiment, 2d MD Regiment, 3d MD Regiment (In January of 1781 the German Regiment was disbanded into the Maryland Continental Troops, part of the 3rd Maryland Regiment.), 4th MD Regiment, and the 5th MD Regiment. By 1783 the Maryland Line was again re-organized with only two Regiments left that fought the duration of the Revolutionary War. The new organization now had the 1st and 2nd Maryland Regiments, with a small battalion of Maryland troops as re-enforcements. Maryland had paid a heavy price for her freedom during the Revolutionary War and Toms Creek Hundred contributed to her efforts.

On a personal note while researching for this article I found my ancestor by the name of Casper Durst. Is it possible that Casper Durst fought with the German Battalion? Or could he have been in with the Regiment that the Game Cock belonged to? That is one question my family may never know. What is known is that Caper Durst enlisted in Captain Daniel Cresap's Company of Washington County Militia that was formed in 1777, at Hagerstown, Md. But Washington County was just being formed at the time of his enlistment. My ancestor would have probably known the men from Toms Creek Hundred at the time of his enlistment. They would have fought together in the mid part of the Revolutionary War. Casper Durst was born in 1732 in Switzerland. He moved to Garrett County, Maryland before 1790, around New Germany, Maryland after the Revolutionary War, and resided near the Youghiogheny Glades. Casper died in 1823 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Read other articles on the Revolutionary War

Read other articles by John Miller