The 1780 campaign season had arrived and the Royalists in occupied New York were restless and impatient. The Commander in Chief, General Sir Henry Clinton, had shifted the main theater of the war to the southern colonies the previous winter and laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina which surrendered on May 12th, 1780. In contrast, the main body of the continental army remained with Washington encamped in Morristown, New Jersey, from which it could shift to counter threats to the Hudson Highlands or New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Clinton had left Hessian Lieutenant General Wilhelm, Baron von Knyphausen in command in New York in his absence. Despite orders from Clinton to remain in place - though significantly without sharing with his subordinate his strategic reasons for doing so - Knyphausen was under increasing pressure from Clinton's detractors to use the garrison of 8,000 men offensively. Among these loyalist and crown leaders were Benjamin Franklin's son William, the exiled Tory governor of New Jersey; the Royal Chief Justice of New York William Smith; the Royal governor of New York General James Robinson and former royal governor General William Tryon.
Knyphausen was a widely respected division commander and studied the situation carefully. After the coldest winter of the century, New York was no longer under threat of invasion over ice and thought could therefore be given to offensive operations. Washington's force at Morristown was thought to be on the verge of mutiny after enduring intense hardship in its winter encampment, and many Royalist leaders still held out hope that New Jersey loyalists would take up arms and help win back the colony. A 1794 British report on The History of the Origin, Progress and Termination of the American War reveals how misplaced these assumptions about the coming campaign would prove to be:
"If the inhabitants were disposed to throw off the yoke of congress, the force sent to their assistance would enable them to do it: And if a mutinous disposition still prevailed amongst the soldiers of the American army, some advantage might probably be gained over general Washington. It soon however appeared that part of this intelligence was false, and the rest greatly magnified. Although the Inhabitants of the Jerseys had murmured in consequence of the depredations committed on them by the American soldiers in the time of their distress from want of provisions, they had never thought of deserting the American cause: On the contrary, they made the greatest exertions to relieve the necessities of those very men to whose depredations they were exposed; and it was principally owing to these exertions that the American army had not been actually disbanded. A mutinous disposition had also certainly discovered itself amongst the soldiers of the American army: But it arose from distress, and not disaffection...Under such circumstances the British commanders experienced a grievous disappointment: Instead of being received in the Jerseys as friends, the militia very generally turned out to oppose them."
From time to time over the coming weeks, we will examine this last major land campaign of the American Revolution in the northern colonies, including the engagements at Connecticut Farms and nearby Springfield New Jersey that took place in June 228 years ago. I'd roll this series out over several days, but experience has shown that except for hardcore history buffs it is best to leaven my offerings with other fare. I'm also waiting to see if the local inter-library loan will come through with a couple of key sources not available on line and currently out of print. I'll likely archive them together for those who wish to get the full, sequential effect.
As with Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois the previous year, my Ogden and Dayton ancestors played prominent parts in this story, and their leadership and actions on this occasion were particularly decisive in resisting the Royalist advances literally on the thresholds of their own homes. A third cousin of Matthias and Aaron Ogden's became a celebrated female martyr for the cause, as galvanizing for the patriots at this stage of the war as had been the death of Jane McCrea in 1777 at the hands of Burgoyne's native allies. Knyphausen's Springfield Raid is passed over in many histories of this period, and the details of its two principal battles are often jumbled together. We will untangle this tale and explore its significance in subsequent posts.