No less than three of his eight company commanders and two of his former officers were called as witnesses against Colonel Matthias Ogden at his 1779 court martial. Clearly Captain Isaac Morrison who proffered the charges had specific grievances against his commander. The second charge in particular accuses Colonel Ogden of " Repeated frauds against the Public and also the officers and soldiers under his command." Perhaps some of the others named as witnesses felt the same; Captain John Polhemus would later make unsuccessful claims for restitution of funds he said had been personally expended to outfit his company with the expectation of reimbursement.
The New Jersey continentals, along with the rest of Washington's army, were chronically beset by shortages of supplies, and it was not until March, 1780 that they received sufficient uniforms of good quality in a shipment from France. In light of this situation, it is interesting to note that Assistant Quartermaster Robert Kelso was called to testify at Ogden's trial. Washington's letter of instruction only gives the military titles of the Continental officers involved in the case, so it is not clear whether Kelso gave evidence relating to his official quartermaster duties or as an incidental witness to one or more of the charges.
The New Jersey Line was also short of soldiers. The New Jersey continental battalions seldom approached an effective strength of even 200 officers and men. It turns out that Ogden's accuser Captain Morrison was himself arrested and brought before a Court Martial the previous year at Valley Forge for:
"selling as Substitutes, men who by an express law of the State, were deemed incapable of being such and for selling soldiers as Substitutes who were before inlisted (sic) for the common bounty. Upon consideration of the Charges and Evidence the Court are unanimously of opinion that Captain Morrison is guilty of the charges exhibited against him, but as he does not appear to have been actuated by self interested motives, as his actions which are most censured, have arose from a desire of promoting the good of the service, the Court determine mine that he does not merit Censure."
Washington approved the findings in his General Orders of May 11, 1778, but felt compelled to add that he
"cannot forbear remarking that the practice of selling soldiers as substitutes is an abuse of the highest nature and pregnant with the most pernicious Consequences, though there is every reason to hope in the present instance that it did not proceed from selfish and pecuniary motives, yet it is in itself of so dangerous a tendency and so inconsistent with every rule of Propriety that it cannot but merit reprehension. Captn. Morrison is released from his Arrest."
Given that two other officers were cashiered by this same court martial for other offenses, Captain Morrison was fortunate to be treated so leniently. Whether this experience added to a feeling of being ill-used by his superiors can only be speculated, but the feisty Morrison was more than willing to challenge abuse of power as he perceived it.
As shall be seen, the officers of the New Jersey Line were deeply divided over their relative seniority, especially in March 1779 when Congress reduced New Jersey's quota from four continental battalions to three, making a number of officers supernumeraries. They were wholeheartedly in agreement, however, that their compensation was woefully inadequate and had failed to keep pace with spiraling inflation.
A letter to the New Jersey Legislature in April, 1779 signed by more than 50 officers of the New Jersey Brigade bluntly states:
" four months pay of a private will not procure his wretched wife and children a single bushel of wheat. The situation of your officers is worse. The pay of a Colonel of your regiments will not purchase the oats for his horse, nor will his whole day's pay procure him a single dinner. A common laborer or an express rider receives for times a s much as he."
Both Col. Matthias Ogden and his brother Captain Aaron Ogden signed this letter, sent barely two weeks after the findings of the Ogden court martial were announced in General Orders. Rather tellingly, among the 21 signatories from the officers of the 1st New Jersey are found every other captain except the three called as witnesses to the charges against Colonel Ogden. Nor did Ensign Asher Levy sign the letter. However, both Lt. Col. William D'Hart and Major John Conway in their respective regiments added their names to the petition.
All was clearly not well in the officer corps in Washington's Army, and particularly in the Jersey Brigade. We will look more closely at the question of seniority, who was passed over in the 1st New Jersey and who received preference, in a subsequent post in this series.