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"Which were the best American regiments?" Topic

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barcah200109 Jun 2019 3:45 p.m. PST

I'm reading "Washington's Immortals". The author notes that a few elite regiments held the army together throughout the war. I immediately tried to think of which regiments might fit this: Glover' s Marbleheads, Haslet's Delaware's, Smallwood's Marylanders, Morgan's rifles…any thoughts on this?

barcah200109 Jun 2019 3:45 p.m. PST

I'm reading "Washington's Immortals". The author notes that a few elite regiments held the army together throughout the war. I immediately tried to think of which regiments might fit this: Glover' s Marbleheads, Haslet's Delaware's, Smallwood's Marylanders, Morgan's rifles…any thoughts on this?

Andrew Preziosi09 Jun 2019 6:00 p.m. PST

The Delaware-Maryland troops were as good as anything, followed by Morgan's Rifles. The Marbleheader's made a big splash through 1776.

Light Horse Harry Lee's Legion comes to mind.

NY/MA/VA/PA and NC regiments usually performed/competently well also.

Not giving short shrift to the New England regiments, but not terribly much coverage about them except for ancillary to the Burgoyne and pretty much in place with the Rhode Island campaigns.

All this off the top of my head, so please don't shoot the messenger.

barcah200109 Jun 2019 6:08 p.m. PST

I would assume some of the Virginian and Pennsylvanian regiments were good as well give their ubiquitous place in the OBs

historygamer09 Jun 2019 6:56 p.m. PST

A rather odd statement considering that the regiments during the war came and went. Even the Maryland regiments were combined and renumbered at some point. Delaware only had one regiment, IIRC.

I'm curious as what basis anyone would list the rifles an elite unit? Washington was not a huge fan. Even the rifles at Saratoga were a polyglot unit formed shortly before that campaign. Name one other battle where they played a significant role? (realizing that Morgan spent the majority of the Freeman's farm battle trying to reform them)

But to get back to the author's point, I'd suggest that the army was held together by it's officers more than any particular regiment, especially given the fact that in the first couple of years of the war each regiment had to be reformed every year (with attendance renumbering, etc.)

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP09 Jun 2019 7:37 p.m. PST

In addition to the above – perhaps the Green Mountain Boys and Knowlton's Rangers,

Northern Monkey09 Jun 2019 10:21 p.m. PST

Queens Rangers.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Jun 2019 4:30 a.m. PST

The Maryland and Delaware regiments were the best of the Continentals and that is clearly demonstrated by their combat record.

Morgan's riflemen were good, but they had to be supported by musket-and-bayonet armed regular infantry to be effective, as they were by Dearborn's Light Infantry in the battles of Saratoga at Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights.

William Washington's 3d Continental Light Dragoons were well-led and very effective in the South, especially at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse and in the retreat to the Dan River.

The provisional Continental Corps of Light Infantry was excellent as demonstrated at Stony Point and Yorktown.

Lee's Legion was also an excellent outfit, but Lee himself was not the best US cavalry commander-William Washington was.

There were other Continental units that had excellent records and performed well, such as Webb's Connecticut Regiment, the 2d Canadian Regiment, etc.

The Continental artillery was excellent and became just as efficient as the Royal Artillery in performance, especially at Monmouth and after.

Bill N10 Jun 2019 9:20 a.m. PST

This will go over like a lead balloon.

The reputation of the Maryland and Delaware continentals was based on them simply being better early in the war than many of the Continental units raised in New England states which were serving with Washington at that time. The Third Light Dragoons until it started serving with Morgan in late 1780 didn't exactly have a sterling record. Is Morgan's rifle corps really that good, or is its reputation simply built around it being a rifle corps employed under circumstances which allowed rifles to perform well. I would argue that qualitatively most of the units listed above were little better than run of the mill British regiments serving in North America. As the war wore and troops and officers accumulate experience many of the American regiments reached this same level.

My candidate for the best American unit would be the Corps of Light Infantry that served under Wayne and the Light Infantry that served under Lafayette.

historygamer10 Jun 2019 1:50 p.m. PST

I'm kind of with Bill. The fact is that Continental units came and went, though the numbers often stayed the same, the men in the ranks ran through them like water. Point being, there were no consistent Continental Army units to back up the original poster's question.

From a wargame standpoint, any unit can run, on either side.

What helped the American cause were their depth of good officers. As the war went on, the Crown troops suffered from a shortage of senior officers commanding troops in the field.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2019 2:45 a.m. PST

The reputation of the Maryland and Delaware Continentals was enhanced at Camden, at Guilford Courthouse and in other actions in the southern campaign.

Morgan's rifle corps was a temporary (provisional) organization. The Americans learned that riflemen, who could not use bayonets, had to be supported by musket and bayonet armed regular infantry, and they learned that lesson the hard way.

The battle-worthiness and 'consistentcy' of the Continental regiments grew through the war, being reinforced greatly by von Steuben's training at Valley Forge. The best Continental units, such as those at Guilford Courthouse which defeated the 33d Foot and routed the 2d Guards battalion, were as good as any British unit and proved it on the battlefield.

historygamer11 Jun 2019 5:35 a.m. PST

Except, of course, when the Maryland line ran at Guilford, and Eutaw Springs, and Brandywine…..

As I said, any unit could fall back or run during the period. Comparing what the Maryland line did, sitting on the third line of troops at Guilford, compared to what the British regiments did, cutting through two previous lines and finally forcing the third line to run/retreat is apples to watermelons.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2019 6:50 a.m. PST

The 2d Maryland Regiment broke and ran at Guilford Courthouse. It was a new regiment, without experience.

The 1st Maryland tore the heart out of the 2d Guards Battalion.

The 1st line at Guilford did not do as asked by Greene. They ran and probably didn't stop running until they got home. The second line was different, being a fight in the woods.

42flanker11 Jun 2019 7:20 a.m. PST

The reputation Knowlton's Rangers seems to have been heavily inflated. Their potential was never realised. On their first patrol on 16th September 1776, they suffered substantial casualties, and lost their commander and founder Colonel Knowlton. Nathan Hale was captured and hanged as a spy shortly after. It seems the remaining soldiers of the company, mostly Massachussets men, were taken prisoner two months later at the surrender of Fort Washington.

historygamer11 Jun 2019 7:27 a.m. PST

My point was that the Maryland Line ran many times. And that is a fact. I'm not denigrating them. But neither should they be raised to mythic proportions either.

I am more than aware of the challenges the Continental Army faced in reinventing itself almost on an annual basis, which prevented anything like creating regimental cohesion, etc.

Agreed, 42nd. The American Army caught some Brits in a trap, but they escaped. Good for all concerned, but Knowlton's hardly developed into anything at all after that.

So far, nothing anyone has posted supports the author's contention about a handful of Continental regiments, etc., etc.

bandrsntch11 Jun 2019 8:47 a.m. PST

Kirkwood's Delaware Company although small seemed to always be in the thick of things and was relied upon to hold the most dangerous positions. They were in almost all of the major battles and I don't believe there are any instances of them performing badly. As they were only company size in the later war period, maybe they don't qualify for best regiment, but they were certainly among the best unit units.

historygamer11 Jun 2019 9:18 a.m. PST

I think you are generally right on both accounts. The Delaware troops were, overall, very good. However, their small size precluded expecting very much out of them as far as making a difference on a battlefield.

RudyNelson11 Jun 2019 1:59 p.m. PST

A lot may depend on the theatre and tasks. There were several frontier and ranger units in the south which were effective.
Formal girlfriend fight would take some research. As would units wh fought at Cowpens or Savannah.

michaelw989 Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 9:29 a.m. PST

Washington Immortal for sure

Milton Waddams13 Jun 2019 6:46 a.m. PST

"The 1st Maryland tore the heart out of the 2d Guards Battalion"

Not really. It was the William Washington's cavalry hitting them and riding over them. The 2/Guard's then regrouped and returned.

Virginia Tory13 Jun 2019 12:04 p.m. PST

What HG and Bill N said. Morgan's battalion is hard to rate one way or the other. Dearborn's battalion wasn't anywhere near them during the Freeman's Farm battle--so the "plan" was't implemented. Assault on the Breymann redoubt in October showed their mettle better, I think.

Old Contemptible13 Jun 2019 6:31 p.m. PST

Formal girlfriend fight???

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2019 3:14 a.m. PST

Not really. It was the William Washington's cavalry hitting them and riding over them. The 2/Guard's then regrouped and returned.

The engagement between the 1st Maryland and the 2d Guards Battalion opened trading volleys at close range and advanced into a hand-to-hand melee with the British battalion commander being killed.

Washington's cavalry attack certainly helped but it was the infantry fight where the British battalion suffered heavy casualties.

See Chapter 8, pages 143-169, in the excellent Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of Guilford Courthouse by Lawrence Babits and Joshua Howard which is the definitive account of the action.

And comparing the casualty figures gives the intensity of the infantry fighting between the two battalions. British casualties were heavier.

At the beginning of the battle the strength of the 2d Guards Battalion was between 160-180 all ranks. The Brigade of Guards incurred 37 killed, 157 wounded and 22 missing. The Brigade strength at the beginning of the battle was between 460 and 570 all ranks. Losing 216 out of between 460 and 570 all ranks denotes heavy casualties, the overwhelming majority undoubtedly incurred by the 2d Battalion in their fight at the third line.

The Maryland Brigade had a strength of between 700 and 800 all ranks. The 1st Maryland, which included Jacquett's Delaware company had a strength of between 350-400 all ranks. The brigade suffered 18 killed, 50 wounded and 97 missing for a total of 165, most if the missing probably resulted from the rout of the 2d Maryland.

For killed and wounded only, losing 194 for the Guards against 68 for the Maryland Continentals tells the story. Washington lost 4 killed, 8 wounded and 3 missing. The conclusion drawn is that the 1st Maryland undoubtedly badly defeated the 2d Battalion of Guards with help from Washington's cavalry. The melee and firefight between the 1st Maryland and the Guards was short, savage, and bloody.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2019 3:18 a.m. PST

It should also be noted that the Delware Regiment was usually brigaded with the Maryland Regiments.

Only two companies could be formed from surviving Delawares after Camden, commanded by Robert Kirkwood and Peter Jacquett. Jacquett's company was part of the 1st Maryland in the southern campaign and Kirkwood's was an elite light infantry company. They did more than their assigned duty.

Christopher Ward's The Delaware Continentals is excellent. Both Kirkwood and Seymour, his sergeant major, left valuable memoirs/orderly books.

Virginia Tory14 Jun 2019 7:31 a.m. PST

One must also keep in mind, casualty numbers are not totally reliable during this period. British records are spotty, Rebel ones pretty much range from somewhat accurate to fantasy.

historygamer14 Jun 2019 8:15 a.m. PST

I am having trouble following the casualties you quoted, but my question would be that while you know what both units supposedly started out with, the Guards fought actions prior to encountering the Maryland Brigade so how do you know where their casualties were incurred as it was a long battle and involved three different lines, plus the wing attacks (Lee and Washington – both of which had attached infantry).

By all accounts, the Guards were pretty much fought out after this battle. Some of the American units acquitted themselves pretty well (some did not). I'm not clear how this supports the OP quote that, "The author notes that a few elite regiments held the army together throughout the war."

It does not. Unless the point is to veer off on a tangent and look at one incident in one battle while ignoring the fact said unit ran prior, and post, and that no Continental Unit was really the same for year to year, regardless of the regimental title/number.

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