Smallwood, William

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Smallwood, William

SMALLWOOD, WILLIAM. (1732–1792). Continental general. Maryland. Born in Charles County, Maryland, in 1732, William Smallwood went to school in England and served in the Seven Years' War. In 1761 he was a delegate from Charles County to the Maryland assembly, where he served until 1774, doing particularly important work on the Arms and Ammunition Committee. A staunch patriot, Smallwood attended the Maryland Provincial Congresses of 1774, 1775, and 1776.

On 14 January 1776 Smallwood was commissioned as a colonel and raised the unit that was to become famous as Smallwood's Maryland Battalion (or Regiment). Smallwood and his unit left Annapolis on 10 July 1776 and marched to join Washington's army in New York. Smallwood's troops distinguished themselves in the battle of Long Island on 27 August, fighting under General William Alexander on the American right flank, but was, at the time, under the leadership of Mordecai Gist. (Smallwood himself was absent on court-martial duty in New York City during this action, which established the reputation of his regiment). Smallwood was wounded while leading his battalion at White Plains on 28 October, where the troops again distinguished themselves in several phases of that battle.

Promoted to brigadier general on 23 October, Smallwood's had not recovered from his wounds in time for him to take part in the New Jersey campaign, and in December he was sent to raise new levies in Maryland and Delaware, and to suppress a Loyalist uprising on the Eastern Shore in Virginia. His brigade was left south of the Schuylkill River in September 1777, with orders to cooperate with General Anthony Wayne's Brigade in retarding the British advance on Philadelphia, but Wayne's disaster at Paoli, Pennsylvania, on 21 September, ended this strategy before it could start.

In the battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania, on 4 October, Smallwood commanded a militia force that he criticized bitterly for lacking skill and discipline. When the army went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Smallwood was given command of General John Sullivan's division and ordered to Wilmington, Delaware, with the mission of protecting supplies at Head of Elk (a settlement in Maryland). In addition, he was ordered to observe British movements in the Chesapeake Bay. In April 1780 he marched with Johann de Kalb's command to take part in operations in the Southern theater. In reserve at the start of the disastrous battle of Camden, South Carolina, on 16 August 1780, he was separated from his brigade and swept to the rear by the flood of fugitives. With de Kalb's death, Smallwood became division commander, and was appointed major general on 15 September. When General Freidrich von Steuben was made his immediate commander, Smallwood objected to serving under a foreigner and threatened to resign. General Nathanael Greene solved the problem by sending Smallwood to Maryland to raise troops and assemble supplies, and Smallwood won praise for his energy in both these tasks. He remained in the service until 15 November 1783. He declined to accept when he was elected as a delegate to Congress on 4 December 1784, but was elected governor the next year and served three consecutive one-year terms. In 1791 he was elected to the state senate, serving as its president until his death on 14 February 1792.

SEE ALSO Long Island, New York, Battle of; White Plains, New York.


Kimmel, Ross M. In Perspective: William Smallwood. Annapolis: Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 1976.

Papenfuse, Edward C. "General Smallwood's Recruits: The Peacetime Career of the Revolutionary Private." William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 30 (1973): 117-132.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles