Capt. Baltzel: An Original American Patriot

by Colonel Dan


The Cowboy Chronicle

December 2005


December’s column is normally set aside for my annual disclosure statement revealing a little of the man behind the column.  I thought this year however, I would go back a little further—about 240 years further—and relate a little about a man who had great influence on the man behind the column.

Posts on the SASS Wire asking members about their interesting ancestors of the cowboy era enthrall me and I read every one of those intriguing replies. 

American history has always held great fascination for me and personalizing it through captivating accounts drawn from family trees really brings that history to life.  I noticed that many others are likewise drawn to these posts as they always generate a lot of interest among this historically focused SASS gang.

In that regard, I’m sometimes asked who this Captain Charles Baltzel is that I mention periodically.  I thought I’d answer via this short historical recounting of a man I consider an original American patriot and one who is a personal hero of mine.

Charles was born on 15 October 1737 in Klingen, Germany. As a young man, he served in several campaigns of the 7 Years War which ended in 1763.  He and his family then embarked for America on the good ship “Chance” out of Rotterdam that same year.  He arrived in Philadelphia on 1 November as a 26 year old German speaking immigrant and settled in Frederick County Maryland. 

Charles (Karl to his family) came from no royal lineage, had no distinctive family history and was certainly nothing special in the social circles of his day that I know of anyway.  He merely personified many thousands of like minded adventurers who came to America in search of a land free from oppression and filled with possibilities, opportunities...and countless uncertainties. 

What I particularly admire about Charles is that he came not just to enjoy the promise of God-given liberty that America offered, he came willing to accept extreme risk—risk of his life, his sacred honor and his personal fortune, meager as that “fortune” was, and to attain and preserve those dreams of personal freedom and ultimately American independence.  The risk incurred over American independence was much more extreme than most modern Americans could ever dream possible.

Reflect for just a minute on the full extent of what these original patriots were putting on the line as measured in human terms.  Here you have a fledgling backwoods country of mostly farmers and small merchants, whose day-to-day concerns revolved primarily around making a basic living.  They had virtually no real army or navy but marched in armed revolt against the earth’s most powerful nation. 

Only about a third of America’s total population supported this revolt but for that third, theirs was unquestionably an all or nothing decision affecting every man, woman and child involved.  Had the revolution failed, they and their families would have lost absolutely everything— their fortunes, their lives, and their sacred honor.  Their property would have been confiscated, they would have been hanged or imprisoned and their families’ outcast…or worse.  All of them would have been recorded in history as traitors to King and country while the Tories would have been held in high esteem as true patriots of the crown.  Keep in mind, he who wins the war writes its history.

Despite those personal risks, Charles obviously lived the courage of his convictions by taking up his rifle in the service of his adopted country.  He joined the Continental Army as part of what was then known as the German Regiment consisting of relatively new Americans of German extraction now living in Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Joining immediately upon its activation on 12 July 1776—8 days after the Declaration of Independence was adopted—he was awarded the rank of First Lieutenant and assigned to Capt Keeport’s company.  There were 4 companies from each of the two states in this German Regiment and all would shortly help write an important chapter of our American epic.

On the eve of 25 December 1776, Charles’ unit crossed the Delaware River with General Washington around midnight and took part in the well known attack on the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey.  His regiment’s mission was to attack the Hessian guard post on Princeton Road, then block that road and secure the “backdoor” of Washington’s force.  The regiment’s mission was successfully accomplished.  Later, as elements of a separate Hessian force began to withdraw from Trenton toward the Princeton Road, they encountered Charles’ regiment who successfully stopped them in an apple orchard just southeast of the road and took several hundred captive.

Charles then participated in the Battle of Princeton on 3 January 1777 where Washington out flanked the British and won the day but lost his good friend General Hugh Mercer.  They then moved into their winter encampment at Morristown.

Charles was promoted to Captain on 10 May 1777 and was given command of a company in Lieutenant Colonel Weltner’s Regiment of the Continental Army—a company he would lead until the Regiment was disbanded.

On 10 September 1777, his company participated in the Battle of Brandywine where the Americans were out numbered enabling the British to occupy Philadelphia. 

On 4 October Washington attacked the encamped British at Germantown from two directions scoring a costly American victory.  Charles was wounded during that battle but returned to duty shortly thereafter.

On 19 December 1777, Charles led his company into Valley Forge where Washington’s army would encamp throughout the severe winter of 1777/1778.  

They marched out of Valley Forge on 9 June 1778 and into New Jersey where they successfully engaged the British forces at the Battle of Monmouth on 28 June.  It was here that Molly Pitcher earned her fame by replacing her fallen husband on the guns.

In February 1779, the German Regiment was assigned to General John Sullivan and became part of Sullivan’s Indian Campaign against the Iroquois who had allied themselves with the British.  That frontier adventure lasted until October 1779.

The period after Sullivan’s Campaign, from late 1779 through December 1780, was not nearly as exciting as the previous 3 years had been and I’m betting they were thankful for that unanticipated blessing.  During this time, Captain Baltzel’s company was part of a security force manning various outposts in New Jersey and New York.

When Washington disbanded the original German Regiment on 1 January 1781 as part of an overall re-organization of his Army, reassigning some of its soldiers to other units, Captain Baltzel was honorably mustered out of the Continental Army and returned home to Maryland.

Little is then known of Charles until 23 November 1783 when he became a charter member of a group of former Continental Army officers dedicated to the preservation of America’s freedom with General Washington serving as the organization’s President.  The group, known as the Society of the Cincinnati, still exists today with members who are descendants of the original society.

In 1787, Maryland awarded Charles and other officers of the Revolution (4) 50 acre plots each in recognition for their service. Private soldiers received (1) 50 acre plot.

Charles and his wife Barbara raised 4 children; Samuel, Charles, Katherine and Barbara.

Charles died on his farm near Woodsborough, Maryland on 31 December 1813.

Now you probably never read about old Charles in your history books, but he is a pretty important guy in my family.  He was, like many others of his time, just an ordinary American who dreamed of being free, rose to the call and accomplished extraordinary things under the divinely inspired leadership of our Founders. 

Along with the oath I took as a new Lieutenant, Charles’ story helps keep me focused.  Captain Baltzel was my grandfather (x5) on my mother's side.  A copy of his Valley Forge muster roll hangs on the wall of my study along with the saber that belonged to his son, Major Charles Baltzel Jr. who fought in the War of 1812.

Both of these admirable Americans and their personal property used in the service of this country, continually remind me of what the Spirit of ’76 and the warning “Don’t Tread on Me” really meant to patriots of their day—and should mean to Americans of our day.

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Note:  Read more about the German Regiment in Henry J. Retzer’s book:  The German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania in the Continental Army:  1776-1781. 








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