24 September 2009

The Battle of Short Hills, 26 June 1777

Towards the end of June, 1777, the British were roaming through New Jersey from New Brunswick up through Scotch Plains. On 26 June 1777, between one and three o’clock in the morning, the British army set out in two columns. To the right, under British General Charles Cornwallis, was the English Guards, the Hessian grenadiers (under Colonel Carl Emilius von Donop), mounted jäger companies and part of the dragoons. To the left, under General John Vaughan, accompanied by the Commander, Lord William Howe, were the English grenadiers, the English infantry, the Anspach and jäger companies and the remaining dragoons. The column under Cornwallis marched toward Westfield, while Vaughan’s column moved toward Metuchen Meeting House. (1) Vaughan detached the 28th, 35th and 2nd Hessian Battalions and stationed them at Bonhamtown. (2)

About six o’clock in the morning, before the two British columns could join up, William Alexander, Lord Stirling, was able to get between the columns and fire some shots before retreating. (3) By eight o’clock, the fire upon the British became steadier. Near Oak Tree, Cornwallis met up with about 600 men with three cannon on a hill near some woods. After a show of force by the British, the Americans retreated into the woods. (4)

By ten o’clock, the British would meet with the Americans again. Lord Stirling’s division, with six cannon and somewhere between 1800 and 2500 men, attacked from a hill. Under Lord Stirling were General Thomas Conway’s brigade and Brigadier General William Maxwell’s brigade. Cornwallis sent about 5,000 men – the 1st Light Infantry, 1st British Grenadiers, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hessian Grenadiers, the 1st Battalion of Guards, Hessian jägers and the Queen’s Rangers – against Stirling’s force. After some losses, the von Minnigerode battalion was able to capture two cannon and the English Guards took one, all three being new French brass 3-pounders. (5) Archibald Robertson claims that the British force lost about 40 killed and wounded in this one action. (6) It was said that Lord Stirling had his horse shot from under him, and that General Maxwell was almost captured, missed by only a “hair’s breadth.” (7)

After the American retreat, Vaughan’s column joined up with the men under Cornwallis who had recently battled the Americans, whence they marched to Westfield, harassed along the entire route by shots from men hidden in the bushes and woods. The army bivouacked overnight in and around the Westfield Meeting House (the present-day Presbyterian Church area), and took up the march again on 28 June back to its former location at Amboy. On this march, the British rear guard was constantly harassed by small parties of Americans. (8)

Among the casualties in the battle were twenty-something men of the combined British-Hessian force who died from the heat out of a total of approximately 70 men dead or wounded, (9) although General Howe claimed only 5 killed and 30 wounded. (10) Among the casualties were Captain John Finch, of the 1st Regiment Foot Guards, who was wounded and died on the 29th and Edward Kerin, 17, of the 22nd Light Company, who was wounded and died on 6 July. General George Washington claimed to have taken 13 prisoners. (11)

The American losses are even harder to pin down. Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen, General Howe’s aide, claimed that 37 wagons of wounded men were taken, estimating that the Americans lost 400 killed and wounded. (12) Washington left no numbers in his letter, while Howe claimed that 63 Americans were killed and near 200 were wounded or taken. British Captain John Montresor claimed 50 Americans were killed and 64 prisoners taken, whilst the Continental Journal of Boston reported 20 Americans killed and 40 wounded. Among the causalities was Ensign James Sproul from New Jersey, who was killed; Captain John Paul Schott, who was taken prisoner; Captain James Lawrie of Colonel Israel Shreve’s 2nd NJ Regiment was taken prisoner, and later died in prison; Captain Ephraim Anderson, also of Shreve’s Regiment was killed; Adjutant Joseph King of Colonel Ephraim Martin’s 4th NJ Regiment was shot through the thigh; Captain Cornelius Hennion and Private John Walters, both of Colonel Elias Dayton’s 3rd NJ Regiment were wounded; Josiah Beach of Colonel Matthias Ogden’s 4th NJ Regiment was shot; Private Christopher Romeo of Martin’s Regiment was missing. John Fell, later a congressman, was taken prisoner. Benjamin Simmons was also killed in the battle. (13)

Other men who participated in the battle, but who are not listed above are as follows: Jepther Lee, Capt. Benjamin Tallmadge, Capt. Cyrus De Hart, Col. Presley Neville, Jonathan Freeman, Maj. Nicholas Ottendorff, Johann Carl Buttner, George Ewing, Col. Lewis Willis, William Grant, Capt. Benjamin Eustis, Capt. Edward Archibald, Capt. Gibbs Jones, Capt. Garthwait, Col, Thomas, Johnathan Terry, Jacob Ludlow, Eseck Ryno, and James Kitchel. Among the combined British-Hessian force at the battle was the infamous Maj. John Andre, Lieut. Von Dincklage and Lord Chewton.

(1) Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Capt. Johann Ewald, Trans. & ed. Joseph P. Trustin, New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1979, 69.

(2) Archibald Robertson: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762-1780. ed. Harry Miller Lydenberg. New York Public Library, New York Times and Arno Press, NY, 1971, 139.

(3) At General Howe’s Side: 1776-1778. Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Philip Freneau Press, Monmouth Beach, NJ 1974, 19.

(4) Ibid., 19.

(5) Ibid., 19.

(6) Robertson, 139.

(7) Muenchhausen, 19.

(8) Ewald, 69.

(9) Ewald, 69; Muenchhausen, 20.

(10) War in the Countryside: The Battle and Plunder of the Short Hills New Jersey, June 1777 by Frederic C. Detwiller, Interstate Printing Corporation, Plainfield, NJ 1977, 14.

(11) Robertson, 258; Detwiller, 13, 14.

(12) Muenchhausen, 20.

(13) Lineage Book, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Vol. XX, 1897. Louise Pearsons Dolliver, Washington, D.C., 1905, 117; Pennsylvania Archives, vol. 8. by Samuel Hazard. Joseph Severns & Co., Philadelphia, 1853, 24; Detwiller, 13, 31.