There is only one full length history of Knyphausen's Raid and the engagements at Connecticut Farms and Springfield, New Jersey, and it has long been out of print. Time and again during my research of these events for this series of posts, it became clear that I needed to find this book, and yesterday Interlibrary Loan delivered a much anticipated copy of Thomas Fleming's 1973 account: The Forgotten Victory; The Battle for New Jersey - 1780. In 1975, Fleming condensed this book into a 33 page booklet - #8 in the New Jersey's Revolutionary Experience Series entitled The Battle of Springfield - and I'm sorry to say that this abridged work, also out of print, is the better history of the two, for in its brevity it makes fewer errors.
Fleming is an engaging writer, a novelist and author of historical fiction as well as several excellent histories. He has gone particulalry deep in the American Revolutionary period, and for this early work he clearly did a great deal of research on an important and neglected campaign of the war. He benefited from access to a wide range of documentary sources and there is plenty of fresh information available in both The Forgotten Victory and The Battle of Springfield, much of which with appropriate citation to aid the historian. Nonetheless there are nagging errors that taken individually seem nit-picky but in aggregate make one start to question the veracity of more essential points in the narrative.
Some of these errors are those only one with a vested interest in esoteric details might catch. Such, however, is the nature of the interested genealogist, and this campaign involved many of my ancestral kin.
On pg. 99 and again on pg 155, Fleming identifies Ensign Moses Ogden as the nephew of Major Aaron Ogden, who happens to be my Gr-gr-gr-great grandfather. According to The Ogden Family Elizabethtown Branch by William Ogden Wheeler (1907) pg. 85, Moses Ogden was in fact a 1st cousin. Unfortunately, Fleming actually references this work as his source for Ogden's lineage, but ended up getting it wrong more than once in print.
On page 247, Fleming describes the spectacle of the Royalists on the march to Springfield on June 23rd, making reference to "the Foot Guards gleaming in white lace. Even the sergeants wore epaulets on their right shoulders. Their drummers and fifers were in white coats lined with blue, and they wore white fur caps." While that is they way they would have looked in the garrison uniforms back in England, the Service Brigade of Guards that fought in America wore a stripped down campaign dress from the moment of their arrival in 1776 when their commander, Brigadier General Edward Mathew, made radical alterations to their uniforms, removing the lace and epaulets and cutting down their hat brims and coat lengths. They were still elite soldiers, but not the bandbox battalions described by Fleming. His source for this description was accurate for the Guards in general, but not as they appeared in America.
On page 239, Fleming notes that General Nathaniel Greene had a personal bond with Col. Israel Angell's 2nd Rhode Island Regiment but gives no further explanation for it. In fact this it quite true, for the Rhode Islander Greene had fought with these men in the defense of Fort Mercer during the Philadelphia campaign two years before, an event described by Fleming as an example of the fighting quality of the 2nd Rhode Island Continentals without ever making the connection back to Greene.
On page 244, Fleming describes Springfield's "thirty-odd houses" at the time of the battle and states; "The present-day town of Springfield is only a fraction of the colonial town's size." This would be news indeed to the present-day residents of Springfield, New Jersey, population 14,429 in the 2000 census, which may have grown in the past 35 years since Fleming wrote his book but not from a mere handful of houses in the 1970s as would have had to have been the case for Fleming's statement to be accurate. He probably meant to say the 1780-era village of Springfield was only a fraction of the present town's size: better editing should have caught this transposition.
The documentation of this campaign is full of confusing and misleading primary and secondary source material, and it is very difficult to sort out precise troop movements, let alone casualties. As often as he provides footnotes in his account, Fleming's narrative reads more like one of his novels, and I found myself wanting more documented details and less dramatization. In one of the most griping episodes in the story, the brave, forlorn stand of a lone cannon served by a doomed handful of continental artillerymen, Fleming introduces a 13-year-old boy who remains unidentified and is part of Springfield legend. He volunteers to bring water to those manning the gun who are cut down one by one. In the end, he joins Angell's men and fires on the converging British, wounding one "to his ecstatic delight." Whether this character actually was ecstatic or not is a matter of conjecture, as he was reported killed very soon thereafter by a cannonball. In a novel, ascribing emotions to characters is an appropriate devise. In a work of history it is laden with assumption, and this is not the only case when Fleming falls back on the novelist's art.
There are further details that might clutter up the narrative but would have been very useful if included in an appendix. Often Fleming describes unnamed regiments when it would have been a simple matter to identify them. He says that five were left behind in Elizabethtown before the second advance on Springfield but nowhere in his book offers an order of battle. Given that he was well aware that his was to be the first comprehensive historical treatment of the campaign, it is regrettable that Fleming did not provide the details of particular interest to historians. It is still a fine popular account and a good read if you are looking to get the flavor of the events. It has two excellent maps and plenty of engaging anecdotes, but as history it falls short as the first and last word on the subject.