By Asst. Adj. Gen. Frank D. Vavala, Delaware Army National Guard
Good Morning, my fellow beneficiaries of the sacrifices made on this hallowed ground. I first want to express the appreciation of the Delaware National Guard to the Sons of the American Revolution for inviting us to participate in this event. As Mr. Severns stated, it is fitting that we, as the military descendendants of the Delaware Continentals who gave their lives to ensure our freedom, be here to honor our fallen comrads in arms.
In order to deliver an account of the exploits of those brave Delawareans, bear with me as I assume the identity of Colonel David Hall, the commanding officer of the Delaware Continental Regiment in 1780. Col. Hall went on to become Governor of Delaware from 1802 to 1805.
Ladies and gentlemen, my guardsmen descendants,
re-enactors, guests present and guests unseen,
I have come here from the obscurity of my grave
to honor my fellow Continentals from Delaware,
who fought here, died here,
and never again saw the fair state of Delaware.
I am pleased to see that the battlefields
on which our Continental Army fought for independence
have been preserved as a lesson for future generations
that it is better to resolve our conflicts
by ballots and charity
than by bullets and cruelty.
In my day we had to fight to gain the right to vote.
Let me sketch out my story and the story of our Regiment.
Civil disturbances that related to the disagreement
over who had the right to tax the colonies
led the king and Parliament to force closure of the port of Boston
and to place a military garrison there.
All the states felt a need for more military readiness,
and in 1775 I joined the militia in Sussex County.
Not long after this, in January 1776,
I became a Captain in Col. John Haslet's Regiment.
At this time Delaware was a part of Pennsylvania,
so this was really a Pennsylvania regiment.
In August of 1776 we marched to New York
to repel the British invasion force.
We fought next to the Maryland Regiment in the battle of Long Island.
When a surprise move caught us between two forces,
300 of the 400 men from Maryland died and 31 from Delaware died.
Those of us who escaped had to flee
through a swamp and deep creek
under grapeshot and heavy musket fire.
After Delaware declared its independence
from Pennsylvania and England in 1776,
our unit was renamed the Delaware Continental Regiment.
We spent the early winter recruiting in Delaware.
In January of 1777, early in the initial phases
of a hastily-formed line of battle at Princeton NJ,
our leader, Col. John Haslet, was shot through the head
and died instantly,
at which point the Delaware Continentals broke and fled.
Only 23 Americans died at Princeton,
but these included General Mercer of New Jersey and Col. Haslet.
Three months later I was promoted to Colonel to replace Haslet.
In August 1777 The British landed 13,000 men
at the top of the Chesapeake Bay and marched them across Delaware.
We had no good hills to use as a defensive fortification,
so there was little we could do to stop them.
At this time they captured the militia flag whose replica you see on my left.
The flag was kept by a British officer's family for 150 years
before being sold at auction to the Delaware Historical Society,
which has it now.
When the British fought their way across the Brandywine River
on Sept 11, the Delaware Continentals were
with General Stirling's reserve units at the rear
when a surprise flanking attack by the British
threw us into the thick of battle.
We fought well and were able to manage an orderly retreat under fire.
The British then captured Philadelphia
and the American forts along the lower Delaware River.
Two weeks later the Delaware Continentals fought
with Sullivan's Brigade in Germantown.
Our attack went well at first,
but then we ran short of ammunition and scattered
when our deep advance on a narrow front
left us surrounded by the enemy.
The Delaware Regiment suffered heavy losses,
and I was seriously wounded.
After a winter and spring of relative inactivity
the British evacuated the city in June of 1778.
We were with Lafayette in the second rank
during the battle at Monmouth,
when we harried the British as they withdrew across New Jersey
There followed a year of relative inactivity.
In mid-1779 British forts at Stony Point NY and Paulus Hook NY
were taken with the aid of Delaware's Allen McClain
and a detachment of irregulars,
who were on detached duty from the Delaware Continentals
In the spring of 1780 the British strategy shifted southward,
and the Delaware Continentals joined their Maryland compatriots
for the trip south to counter the British forces.
I was ill and did not accompany the Regiment on the Southern Campaign.
Lt. Col. Vaughan was the acting commander.
We had not recruited many new soldiers
to replace the losses at Germantown,
and when the Regiment sailed south in May it had only 306 men,
somewhat short of its normal compliment of 500.
Our time here is short,
so you will have to read the story of the first battle of Camden
in the program notes.
After a long and brave stand,
which was praised at the highest levels of government afterward,
the Maryland and Delaware Continentals were overrun,
chased through the woods by cavalry,
and thoroughly dispersed.
All of Delaware's staff officers and seventy enlisted men were captured,
while forty-eight lay dead or dying on the field and in the woods.
Gen. deKalb suffered eleven wounds
and was carried by the British to Camden,
where he died three days later.
So this was the story of our war.
We joined together to defend the right to have a voice
in directing our affairs.
We held the line when we could,
made an orderly retreat when faced with superior force,
and ran for our lives when overwhelmed.
Over a five-year period many of the officers and enlisted men
with whom I served died and lie buried
in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
Many others were captured and died in British prisons.
Forty-eight men from Delaware lie in the fields outside of Camden today.
These heroes are buried where few Delawareans
will come to pay their respects,
so on behalf of the citizens of Delaware
I thank you for joining us to oppose British tyranny
and for continuing to uphold the Constitutional principles
that make the United States a society respected the world over.
I would ask those of you who have a chance to visit the battlefields
to please stand in our stead,
place some flowers by these markers,
and say a prayer of thanks for these brave men
who made a final trip
that saved the nation at its birth.
Thank you for letting me share this moment with you. And now I must return to the obscurity from which I came.