Book review: Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution by Patrick K. O’Donnell (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016).
The author uses the words of the actual participants to craft a powerful narrative of the American Revolution focusing on the contributions and sacrifices of the units from the State of Maryland. Organized chronologically, in forty-three short but well written chapters, the author highlights the campaigns, major battles and engagements where the Maryland troops were present. He follows a number of officers and soldiers from the formation of independent militia companies in 1774 and 1775 through the disbanding of the Continental Army in 1783 and in the process the reader gains an appreciation for the many complexities that make the American Revolution both a conventional fight and an ugly civil war.
The author describes his intent for this book to serve as a “Band of Brothers–style history of the Revolution.” He definitely accomplished his goal. He uses a nice mix of primary and secondary source material to support his narrative and where available uses participants letters and pension records to support his findings. Given the tumultuous nature of combat and the constant restructuring of units, he follows specific individuals to tell the story of men and units from Maryland.
O’Donnell’s experiences living, working and writing about modern day warriors reflects an understanding of the human elements of combat and clearly inspired his writing. His analysis of the Carolina campaigns is particularly noteworthy. Using the Clausewitz concept of a center of gravity (COG), he identifies the population as the COG and the requirement for the British to secure the population and control the countryside. The inability of the British to accomplish this key task led to their defeat in the Carolinas and ultimately to Yorktown.
Once the reader begins this book, he will find it difficult to put down. O’Donnell created a very readable text that serves both the general reader and the student of the Revolution. Historically accurate and well written, O’Donnell’s story of the Revolutionary warriors from Maryland is a must read for those with deep or casual interest in the American Revolution.
As O’Donnell suggests at the end of his book, it would be a worthy cause to find the graves and honor those who sacrificed their lives. Here is an article which indicates the difficulty in locating the burial sites.
Has anyone sought to find the graves or have information on their locations? We spend millions finding our soldiers in far off countries, we should find them on our own country. Please respond with any ideas or suggestions.
To follow up on Mike’s work re: Vermont’s Whitcomb’s Rangers, NARA microfilm Record 93 lists somewhere in the vicinity of 103 individual units in total coming from that state alone. Having spent some time in looking at the payroll records for some of these companies it would be terribly difficult to definitively identify many of their members. Just names are recorded, and sometimes a town, but not much else, making further identification pretty much an impossibility. It is frustrating to not be able to mine much more information, but it is what it is.
Mike – I hope your research will find its way into an archives somewhere and not be lost or forgotten.
Assuming Gary’s looking at the Rev War Rolls collection in RG 93 (M246), this provides an example of my earlier comments. A goodly number of the names of men I have come up with who served in Whitcomb’s Rangers do not appear on any of those rolls for the unit. Rather, I found them while reading pension applications. Early on, I kept coming across men who did not appear on any of the known muster or pay rolls but had offered up statements in support of a petitioner’s application (at the time I had nearly three dozen rolls spread out over five years). How did they know details about the service of Whitcomb’s men? It took me a while to realize that these men had served in Whitcomb’s as short-term men (four to six months) and, as such, did not get their names included on the rolls. Even though not part of the full-time companies, I couldn’t ignore them–they offered up some interesting details on the unit’s service and some had been sick, wounded, or even died while with Whitcomb’s. They now are a key part of my research. And, there’s the challenge for anyone researching a unit. To do a proper job, you have to look at more than just the rolls, returns, or other official documents. The disarray of the American army during the Revolution forces one to be rather creative in their research.
Yes, RG 93 (M246) is what I was referring to, it is a great description of all the states’ units.
FYI, Berkshire Anthenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts has a huge collection of NARA microfilms (anyone wanting the finding aid contact me and will forward the one they sent me) thereby saving one the headache of negotiating traffic in trying to get to NARA in Waltham.
I applaud and admire any efforts such as those taken with regard to the Marylanders–or, for that matter, any of the men or units who served during the Revolution. But, I also shake my head slightly and my face takes on an image of poignant regret as I know full well the frustration those folks are going to experience.
I have spent a bit over four decades researching the men of Whitcomb’s Rangers and have something of the life history of maybe half of them and the burial places of somewhat less than that. I may know they died in Frumpville, USA, or maybe Mapleleafton, Canada, but precisely where the grave is remains unknown. And, that’s for less than 100 men. To add to the mix, I frequently come across the names of short-term men who served only for a campaign season and often to not appear on rolls. They deserve to be recognized, as well.
Scores of men from several units are buried on Mount Independence in Vermont opposite Ticonderoga. We know of maybe three dozen graves. We don’t know who is in any of those burials. Scores of men on both sides died during the battle of Hubbardton. There are no known individual graves and possibly a couple mass burials but are unsure if those really are mass graves. To attempt to identify all the men who served but to then try to put together their story and to find the resting place is, to put it lightly, a challenging enterprise. I wish those folks–and the Marylanders they are researching–the best of luck and skill.
Gary and Mike, thank you for your comments and experiences. As you point out, it is exceedingly difficult to reconstruct lists of battle participants and their burial sites.
Courtesy of Col. Jim Johnson, here is the best information on the specific burial site of those in the Maryland 400 who died in the Battle of Brooklyn.
“Over time, the farm became the site of a Red Devil paint factory, and the burial grounds became part of a factory courtyard open to the sky because of a deed restriction relating to the grave. More time passed. The paint factory gave way to an auto repair shop and the courtyard was roofed over. Today the heroes whom Washington himself lamented lie under the floor of the building that had housed the auto repair shop. They lie in their unmarked grave miles from a Stanford White monument to their sacrifice in the form of a marble shaft topped with a sphere that stands at the foot of Lookout Hill in Prospect Park. It was erected in 1895 as a gift of the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The Old Stone House survived the battle and in later years became the first clubhouse of the baseball team that came to be known as the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was destroyed in the 1890s, and rebuilt in the 1930s.”
Source: The Battle of Brooklyn 1776 by John J. Gallagher (Sarpedon Publishers, 1995)
The Maryland Historical Society has complied a considerable amount of information on the Maryland 400 soldiers. This information is available at
While there is much to be added, this web site contains the most comprehensive description of the soldiers in the First Maryland Regiment.
With enough publicity, maybe the remains of these courageous men can be located and properly commemorated.
I enjoyed the book and applaud the author for shining a light on the heroic accomplishments of the Maryland Continentals. However, I was disappointed at the inclusion of so many myths like Molly Pitcher and The World Turned Upside Down being played at Yorktown. When you have to preface a statement with “according to legend”, why include it in a work of history?
Also O’Donnell mistakenly places the mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line during the Hard Winter of 1779-1780. The Pennsylvania Line mutiny occurred in January 1781. There is a lot of confusion over the winter encampments at Morristown/Jockey Hollow because Continental Army soldiers spend four different winters there (1777, 79-80, 80-81, and 81-82).