Another riveting read to add to the collection of powerful books on America’s beginnings is local writer Chris Formant’s newest historical-fiction novel, “Saving Washington: The Forgotten Story of the Maryland 400 and the Battle of Brooklyn.”
Based on a lesser-known historical event, Formant tells the story of a group of Maryland soldiers who — on August 27, 1776 — fought a heroic battle against elite British forces on the streets of Brooklyn. This act of bravery helped preserve enough time for General George Washington and the continental army to escape, thus helping bring an end to the revolution.
Formant says this battle was “the suicide mission that saved America.”
Below, we asked Formant to share with us some insight into his writing process as well what inspired him to write this great American story.
How did you hear about the Maryland 400?
A few years ago, I accidently came across a one-paragraph announcement describing a wreath-laying ceremony in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The ceremony was honoring the sacrifice of a small Maryland regiment at the Battle of Brooklyn: “The Maryland 400, Who Saved America.” I had never heard of them.
What inspired you to write this story?
It was rather serendipitous. My interest piqued, I googled the Maryland 400 and began to sweep back the centuries of historic dust that covered this unbelievable lost moment in American history. When 400 young men surprisingly attacked the 20,000-man British Army six times, to buy Washington and the army the time to escape. Only a handful of Marylanders walked away.
Rarely mentioned in history books, I patched together the random bits and pieces of a story so inspiring that I knew I had to tell others about it and tell it in a way that would reach the broadest audience possible.
How much research was involved?
Quite a bit. Traditional accounts proved somewhat inadequate and sometimes contradictory. The Army War College, Library of Congress, West Point and the Maryland State Archives became reliable resources. I also probed deeply into the colliding forces of personal freedom, American exceptionalism, anti-British sentiment and religion, to uncover what was really motivating young enlistees, especially African Americans.
What were the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
I had assumed that the unit were highly-trained and battle tested soldiers. The reality was that only four out of the original 1200-man regiment had any military training. They were a cross-section of the colony: wealthy merchant’s sons, dockworkers, school kids, etc.
I also found through pension records, that African Americans were part of the original militias that formed the regiment.
How did you strike a balance between research and storytelling?
I chose to write “Saving Washington” as historical fiction and to transport the reader back to that moment in 1776 and into the emotion surrounding the escalating tension with the British.
Since young adults fight all wars, I wanted to tell the story through the eyes of two teenagers, one white and one black: What motivated them to enlist? How were they transformed into warrior-patriots willing to sacrifice their lives for the ideal of liberty?
What did you enjoy most about writing this story?
Bringing to light this lost moment was something I felt I had to do. But explaining it from the perspective of young enlistees was fresh and unique. Trying to understand these teenager’s most fundamental emotions and their sense of divine purpose and willingness to sacrifice it all for a higher cause, was challenging and inspiring.
What are you hoping readers will take away from “Saving Washington?”
The Battle of Brooklyn was the largest and one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. The continental army was completely routed. A humiliated Washington almost lost the war that day. It was a moment the country wanted to forget. And has.
My hope is that the Maryland 400’s sacrifice at this most pivotal moment in American history will now shine through the dense fog of history. Like the legendry Spartans at Thermopylae, America’s most important, yet most forgotten heroes, can serve as a beacon — an illuminating reminder of the selfless devotion of true patriotism that created this country.