When British General William Howe landed 20,000 Redcoats on Long Island, the situation looked grim for the young Continental Army. General George Washington's Continentals seemed to be pinned down as Howe simultaneously attacked the Americans head-on while he moved his troops behind Washington's position.
In his book, "Washington's Immortals," Patrick O'Donnell describes how their only way out was a small gap in the British line, somehow being held open by a handful of Marylanders.
Well before the signing of the Declaration of Independence put the nascent United States on a war footing with the world's largest, most powerful empire, Col. William Smallwood started forming a regiment of men for the coming conflict.
Smallwood formed nine companies of infantry from the north and west counties of the Maryland Colony. Though they would be reassigned multiple times, the 400 men of the 1st Maryland Regiment took part in many major battles of the American Revolution, most notably covering the American retreat out of Long Island through a series of brave infantry charges.
British forces occupied "The Old Stone House" with a force that outnumbered the aforementioned Marylanders. While the rest of the Americans retreated in an orderly fashion, the few hundred Maryland troops repeatedly charged the fortified position with fixed bayonets.
Lord Stirling leading an attack against the British in order to enable the retreat of other troops at the Battle of Long Island, 1776. (Painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1858.)
American forces survived mostly intact — except for the Marylanders. Only nine of them made it back to the Continental Army.
Their rearguard actions against superior British troops in New York City earned them the nickname "The Immortal 400." Their stand against 2,000 British regulars allowed Washington's orderly retreat to succeed so he could fight another day.
There were 256 Marylanders who died to keep the Redcoats at bay and save the fledgling United States Army.
The Immortal Regiment went on to fight at the pivotal battles of Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown. The unit continued its service long after the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.
Maryland earned one of its nicknames, "The Old Line State," because Washington referred to Maryland units as his "Old Line." The U.S. Army National Guard's 115th Infantry Regiment could trace its origins back to the Immortal 400, but the 115th is now merged with the 175th Infantry Regiment.