The Hessian and Anspach Jaegers in Knyphausen's invasion force were elite troops. With their short barreled rifles and green jackets faced with red, Jaeger detachments fought as skirmishers and assault troops throughout the war from Long Island to Yorktown. There were nearly 300 of them with Knyphausen, along with a mounted Jaeger unit, but the rest were in South Carolina with Sir Henry Clinton's army. Most of these exceptional riflemen in Knyphausen's ranks crossed over from Staten Island to New Jersey with the Third Division under Major General Tryon, but soon were moved up the line to the head of the column to lead the advance.
After Brigadier General Thomas Stirling was shot down by the first Continental picket he met on the road to Elizabethtown, command of the lead division went to Colonel Friedrich Wilhelm von Wurmb of the Leib Musketeer Regiment - not to be confused with Lt.Col. Ludwig Johann Adolph von Wurmb who lead the Jaegers. Col. Friedrich von Wurmb ordered the Jaegers to lead the advance, with the light companies of the 37th and 38th Regiments of Foot his only other skirmishers. It took several hours for the nearly 6,000 soldiers of Knyphausen's force to cross over the Sound to Elizabethtown, and unit cohesion broke down further as divisions were broken up to fit into the transport barges. Whatever advantage a rapid nighttime advance into the interior might have gained the Royalists melted away in the dawn of a clear June morning.
Opposing Knyphausen were the four depleted regiments of William Maxwell's New Jersey Brigade. All told there were about 800 men in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th New Jersey Continentals, and they were not all in one place. Colonel Elias Dayton's 3rd New Jersey and Spenser's 4th (additional) Continental Regiment were in the vicinity of Springfield, 7 miles from Elizabethtown, with just the 12-man picket under Ensign Moses Ogden of the 4th New Jersey posted at the crossroads below Elizabethtown on the road from the landing where they subsequently encountered and fired on General Stirling. Maxwell kept the 1st New Jersey under Col. Matthias Ogden and the 2nd under Col. Israel Shreve at Bound Brook. These regiments were not posted any closer because raids from Loyalist-held Staten Island had increased in the previous months and there was great danger of being overrun. The strategy was to respond to any landing in force by raising the militia and contesting the roads to the west, toward Hobart Gap if that were the enemy's objective, and beyond that the Continental encampment at Morristown.As readers of this blog have heard before, Matthias Ogden and Elias Dayton are ancestors of mine (Ogden collaterally), as were two other men, Brigade Major Aaron Ogden (also a Captain in the 1st New Jersey), and Jonathan Dayton, Captain in his father's 3rd Regiment as well as a staff officer. Colonel Oliver Spenser of the 4th was married to an Ogden sister, and various cousins and more distant relations, such as Ensign Ogden, also served. The New Jersey regiments drew their men wherever they could be found, but their officers were from the elite of the State, and most of these were Elizabethtown men, now the first line of defense for their homes and families with the Royalists at the door.
Elias Dayton had been in Elizabethtown on the 6th of June as Knyphausen was preparing for his nighttime crossing, and it was he who posted Ensign Ogden's picket and moved the 3rd NJ and Spencer's 4th to Jelf's Hill, commanding the Stone Bridge leading to the heart of Elizabethtown. From there, he heard the pickets fire and subsequently ordered his son to write a letter to General Washington apprising him of the invasion:
"I am directed by Colo. Dayton to inform your excellency that the enemy landed this night at 12 o'Clock, from the best intelligence four or five thousand men & twelve field pieces, & it is his conjecture that they intend to penetrate into the country. I am your excellys most hum Servt.
- Joha. Dayton, Capt."
"Major Ogden lying on the ground in his blanket, in his tent, heard this firing and immediately volunteered his services to General Maxwell to ascertain the cause of it; and rode as fast as his horse could carry him, to the other two regiments of the Brigade whom he found paraded on the hill near the rear of Elizabeth Town river, and there received information from General [then Colonel] Dayton that the enemy were out in force, that Morris Town was the place of their destination, and that he was momentarily expecting their advance.
General Dayton and Major Ogden concluded that it would be advisable for the whole brigade to form a junction at Connecticut farms, being about an equal distance from each of the separate parts of the brigade. This was done accordingly,and the whole brigade before the advance of the enemy so far, was posted behind a ravine near Wade Tan yard."
Notably, Ogden gave a more concise report of the day's events to his father in a letter written the week after the battle, in which he makes no mention of his own heroics. William Maxwell, in a letter to New Jersey's Governor Livingston, states that it was his decision to concentrate the Brigade at Connecticut Farms, a few miles down the road toward Springfield, In any case, decisions were made by officers in the field to concentrate and deploy all the available Continental forces - the Jersey Brigade and Maj. Gibbs with Washington's Lifeguard who had been rushed down from Morristown- to best advantage on the road toward Springfield.
By now the alarm was out to raise the militia. Great beacons on Newark Mountain and other high points were lit, and the alarm gun at Hobart Gap - Old Sow - crashed out its warning. The militia in the Revolution were always a wild card. When they mustered in force they could be decisive in making the countryside hot for marching columns. When they did not, there were only the thin blue - and brown and homespun - lines of the Continentals to stand and fire. In 1776, Washington retreated through the Jerseys with little support from the militia; after Trenton and Princeton, the militia came out in swarms and were decisive during the Forage War of 1777 that forced the Royalists to abandon nearly all the territory they had gained just months before. The great question in June, 1780, was whether the militia would rally and fight. The Loyalist boosters of Knyphausen's invasion believed they would not, and that instead New Jersey's Tory citizens would rally to the standard of the King. Until this question was decided, the Continentals were largely on their own.
Largely, but not entirely. Colonel Sylvanus Seely turned out with the Eastern Regiment of the Morris County Militia, and others marched to the sound of the guns from far and near. There were short bursts of firing from local militia at various points as the lead division marched through Elizabethtown toward Connecticut Farms that morning. The son of Elizabethtown Mayor William Crane was bayoneted to death in a skirmish along the Galloping Hill Road. Captain Nathaniel FitzRandolph of Woodbridge, twice a P.O.W. imprisoned under frightful conditions, mustered his Middlesex militia company. Two weeks later, he would be mortally wounded at Springfield after Knyphausen's second advance. His gravestone in Woodbridge bears the marks of musket balls, apparently the result of British soldiers taking target practice.
The stand made at Connecticut Farms by this band of Jerseymen - Continentals and Militia - was a source of great pride and not a little astonishment for theirs and subsequent generations who heard the tale. A sixty-man detachment of militia took up a position on rising ground "just beyond the West branch of the Elizabeth River, and about a quarter of a mile south-east of the Farm's church." Most of the rest of the Continentals were posted near the church in a wooded ravine: a very strong position for defense.
Colonel Israel Shreve of the 2nd New Jersey wrote his wife Polley to "Endeavour to Give the particulars of what has happened since the present Alarm ":
"‑ on tuesday night the 7th [6th] of June between 11 & 12 oClock the Enemy Landed at Elizabethtown point, Our Piquets fired upon them Which Alarmed Camp. Immediately a Light Horseman Arived from Colo.Dayton who Commanded that they were Landed in force, We Immediately Caled in all Guards about Camp, and Marched towards Elizabethtown and fell in about 2 miles above the town upon the Connecticut farm Road but thought it prudent to Retire a Little up the same being joined by the third Regt. from town, halted at the farms Meeting house, Leaveing Capt.Bowman with his Company [2nd New Jersey Regiment] at a fork of the Road, half a mile below. ‑ on the Enemys Appearance which was a little before sunrise Capt. Bowman fired upon their advance party, and Retired over a small bridge where was but a Narrow pass he being there joined by five Piquet Guards ‑ Disputed the pass for two hours and an half, ‑ some part of the time very near sometimes one party Giveing way, sometimes the other, ‑ at Length a Large Reinforcement from the Enemy Come up and our people Expending thirty Rounds a man, was Obliged to Give way, Covered by the third Jersey Regt. and part of the other three, ‑ however the Combat was Renewed very Briskly, but Obliged to Give way slowly untill we Arived at Springfield Bridge, Where the Militia had Gathered with a peace of Cannon, this pass was so well Defended that the Enemy Gave way although there Numbers was 4 or six to one, and two peaces of Cannon in front was playd upon us Occationally, but Did no Execution ‑ by this time it was past two oClock in the Afternoon the men Got fresh Carthrages and the Militia Came in very fast. ‑ we Crossed the bridge with all Our fource and made a furious Attact, and Drove them some way when their second Line Came up, so much superior to Our fource that we was obliged to Retreat again, which was Done in pretty Good order, though through a shower of Musket shot, we Crossed the bridge and after an hours Dispute maintained our Ground, towards sunset the Enemy Drew of & all Encamped back of Connecticut farms Meetinghouse. in the Evening General Washington Arived with the Army."
The men defending Connecticut farms faced the tip of the Royalist spear, fighting the Jaegers and elements of the 1st Division on their own and even driving them with the bayonet - the Jaegers had none themselves but only hunting swords. This resistance surprised the invaders, who thought they would be able to brush off the defenders and so the Jaegers were squandered in a frontal assault rather as the expert skirmishers and marksmen they were. Knyphausen was unable to deploy even a significant portion of his full force, strung out on the road from the landing point. The cavalry were not a factor, nor was his train of artillery. Until the second division came up with the British Guards, as well as the Garrison Regiment von Bünau, the 1st Division bore the brunt of the fighting. The Jaegers and Leib Regiments exhausted their ammunition.
William Maxwell later wrote:
"Our parties of Continental troops and militia at the defile performed wonders. After stopping the advance of the enemy near three hours, they crossed over the defile and drove them to the tavern that was Jeremiah Smith's, but the enemy were at that time re-enforced with at least 1,500 men, and our people were driven in their turn over the defile, and obliged to quit it. I, with the whole brigade and militia, was formed to attack them, but it was tho't imprudent, as the ground was not advantageous, and the enemy very numerous. We retired slowly toward the heights toward Springfield, harassing them on their right and left, till they came with their advance to David Meehner's house, where they thought proper to halt. Shortly after the whole brigade, with the militia, advanced their right, left and front, with the greatest rapidity, and drove their advance to the main body. We were in our turn obliged to retire after the closest action I have seen this war. We were then pushed over the bridge at Springfield, where we posted some troops, and with the assistance of a field piece, commanded by the militia, the enemy were again driven back to their former station, and still further before night. Never did troops, either continental or militia, perform better than ours did."
For all these heroics, the aftermath of the brave stand at Connecticut Farms burned in the minds of Patriots throughout the land with far greater intensity. We'll discuss the reasons behind Knyphausen's halt and withdrawal, the fate of the village of Connecticut farms (now Union, New Jersey, and the martyrdom of the wife of a prominent Patriot minister - she who was also an Ogden relative - in a subsequent post in this series on Knyphausen's Raid.