Matthias Ogden was the youngest colonel in the New Jersey Continentals. Just 22 years old when he received his commission on January 1, 1777, he was the scion of one of the first families of New Jersey and commander of a crack regiment. Historian Theodore Thayer describes him as a "swashbuckling youth of enormous strength who loved a good joke", the sort who would be captain of the football team today instead of a captain of grenadiers as he was during Arnold's epic march to Quebec.
Despite having asthma he possessed a strong constitution and was personally courageous in battle. Yet in February, 1779, he was brought up on court martial charges that if proven true would mean the ruin of his reputation and the end of his military career.
Readers of this blog know that I have more than a passing interest in Matthias Ogden - he was, in fact, my 5th great uncle and my direct ancestor (his brother Aaron) served in the same regiment. Nonetheless a good genealogist follows every lead and is wise to remember that even one's venerated patriot forebears were not demigods, but humans possessed of human shortcomings. Still, I found it hard to reconcile the accusations made against Matthias Ogden at this time with his unblemished record of service before and after his court martial, and to make any sense at all of these proceedings, we will have to conduct our own inquiry.
Let us start with the charges. There were four in total, brought forward by Captain Isaac Morrison, who commanded a company in Colonel Ogden's 1st New Jersey. They were published in Washington's General orders of April 2, 1779 as follows:
- 1st. Neglect of duty in general.
- 2nd. Repeated frauds against the Public and also the officers and soldiers under his command.
- 3rd. Cowardice.
- 4th. Gaming.
In the next part of this series, we shall meet his accuser and the other witnesses called to give evidence in the trial.