“You will be hereby satisfied that our fellow-citizens in arms are ready to do their duty and believe with me, that the liberties of America can never be lost, while every citizen is a soldier and every soldier the sentinel of his own.” Robert Wright, President of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, December 1807.
With the declaration of war on June 18, 1812, Marylanders were once again summoned to volunteer, not as minute men of the Revolution, but as citizen-soldiers, that would described a new generation of militia as the nation prepared for a second war with England. On the same day the Maryland legislature, during a special session, authorized Governor Levin Winder “at his discretion, to arm such portions of the militia of this state” to fulfill its quota requirement of the Federal Militia Act of 1793, to hold in readiness against foreign invasion, six thousand militia.
The Act of 1793 defined the states’ responsibilities in raising two kinds of companies. The first were enrolled militia, calling for every able-bodied white male citizen between 18-45 years of age. The second, were militia who offered their services as U.S. Volunteers to meet each states quota. Each soldier was required to be equipped with “a good musket or flintlock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges.” Each state organized their militia into divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions and companies. The President however, did not have authority to order the militia serve outside their respective states, a problem that became apparent in New England during the invasion of Canada in 1812-13. Historian Henry Adams, stated the essence of a citizen-soldier in his classic narrative of the war:
“Every man in the United States, under 45 years of age…and during the war attended in his turn, to be drilled or trained. He had always in his possession either a musket or a rifled-barrel piece; knew its use from his infancy; and with it, therefore, could do as much executions in a smock frock or plain coat as if he wore the most splendid uniform.”
On January 7, 1812, the Maryland Assembly passed An Act to Regulate and Discipline the Militia of This State, outlining in thirty pages the regulations, duties, and discipline that was required of the militia; the regulations, duties, and discipline required of the militia who consisted of farmers, merchants, mariners, and tradesmen to drill four times a year. When the alarm was sounded, the militia left their occupations and families to gather at their place of rendezvous such as a tavern, a farm or the town green. St. John’s College green was used as a militia rendezvous site as it had been during the Revolutionary War and where the French army encamped in 1782 on their way to Yorktown.
Many wore Maryland’s own regimental uniforms, while others wore their homespun hunting frocks, hats and carried weapons ranging from hunting rifles and duck guns to muskets handled down from the days of the Revolution. Cloth or leather hunting bags were slung across their shoulders with ball and powder, and haversacks filled with provisions. Despite the inadequacy of equipage militia companies yearned for an opportunity to display their flags as a rallying point for the brave sons of Columbia.
Throughout Maryland infantry companies began to fill the ranks. They named their companies after patriotic ideals or local landmarks to mark their respective regions of the state.
Dorchester County – The True Blues of America and The Plymouth Guns.
Talbot County – the Easton Infantry Blues, the Hole in the Wall, St. Michaels Patriotic Blues, and the Hearts of Oak.
Annapolis – The First Volunteer Company of the City of Annapolis and The Annapolis United Guards.
Washington County – Hagerstown Homespun Volunteers; Fredericktown Blues.
Queen Annes County – The First Troop-True Republican Blues.
Kent County – Chestertown Independent Volunteers.
During the war these county militia companies of flintlock and duck guns would bear the brunt of Britain’s royal navy and army and while not so well equipped as the British they performed their arduous duties to defend their homes and communities.