There are very few surviving transcripts of proceedings from Revolutionary War courts martial. Precise records may not have been kept, or may have been retained by the presiding officer, or were subsequently lost. or buried unremarked in far-flung archives.
There is no written record that I have been able to discover of the evidence presented and questions posed at the court martial of Col. Matthias Ogden during March of 1779. The previous posts in this series have attempted to place the trial within the context of the events, personalities and conflicts within the New Jersey Line that may have had a bearing on the charges and those called to testify. Now it is time to turn to what is little is known about the actual trial itself.
The date for Ogden's court martial was set for March 2nd at the Continental Army's main winter encampment at Middlebrook, now part of Bound Brook and surrounding New Jersey towns. Col. Otho Holland Williams of the 6th Maryland Regiment (whose image appears at left) was named as presiding officer. Williams' revolutionary service to this point included marching to the siege of Boston with a company of riflemen and his wounding and subsequent capture at Fort Washington in late 1776 while Major of Stephenson's Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment. Imprisoned for a time in New York in the same cell with Ethan Allen, he was promoted to colonel of the 6th Maryland while still a captive and did not join his new command until January, 1778. His papers at the Maryland Historical society are fascinating but do not appear to contain anything regarding the court martial of Col. Ogden.
- Lt. Col. Samuel Hay of the 10th Pennsylvania ;
- Lt. Colonel Charles Dabney of the 2nd Virginia;
- Major Thomas Merriwether of the 1st Virginia;
- Maj. Howard (thought to have been Lt. Colonel John Eager Howard of the 5th Maryland battalion);
- "and a Captain from each brigade except Woodfords, which gives two."
The contributing brigades along with Woodford's Virginians would likely have included Scott's (VA), Muhlenbergs (VA), the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Brigades of Waynes Division, the 1st and 2nd Maryland Brigades, and possibly Maxwell's Jersey Brigade though it was posted at Elizabethtown and the case involved a number of its officers. That would have made a panel of 13 which is hard to credit, and in any event it is unlikely that any captain selected from the Jersey Brigade would have come from Ogden's regiment.
From Col. Ogden's perspective, the selection of these officers to consider the charges against him probably meant as impartial a hearing as he was likely to get from a military tribunal in the continental army.
The court convened at 11 in the morning on March 2nd. Four days later on March 5th, the court martial adjourned and prepared to reconvene at 10:00 a.m. on the 8th at Smith's Tavern in Elizabethtown . This change of venue may have been selected so that the witnesses from the Jersey Brigade stationed there would be able to testify as well as see to their official duties. Middlebrook was a considerable distance from Elizabethtown so this seems a likely explanation. It was in any case a highly favorable development for Colonel Ogden to have his trial take place on his home ground, though one does wonder how it impacted the business at Samuel Smith's tavern to have the tribunal in session at this establishment through the rest of the month.
Nonetheless, the court martial remained empaneled until concluding its deliberations on March 30th, 1779 after which it was dissolved. Possibly the court considered other cases besides Ogden's, but its verdict did not appear in General Orders until April 2nd.
Aside from the verdict, this is all the documentation that I have found of the trial proceedings. One has to wonder whether the various men summoned to give evidence in support of the charges were as fervent in their claims as Captain Morrison who proffered them. Some of the men called to testify had not been under Ogden's command since 1777 (Lt. Colonel William D'Hart and Major John Conway). Captain Polhemus may no longer have been a serving officer, but one can only speculate whether he would have faulted his old Colonel for his becoming supernumerary or hoped to be reinstated. Former Brigadier General of Militia Matthias Williamson, a fellow Elizabethan and well known to Ogden, most likely was called to give evidence of the fourth charge - 'gaming" - for had this involved other serving officers in Washington's army one suspects they would have been held to account for their actions.
And what of Captain John van Anglen, Ensign Asher Levy and Assistant Quartermaster Robert Kelso? Were they also aggrieved, or did Captain Morrison believe they could provide evidence that would substantiate his charges? As for that, the verdict of the trial and the subsequent careers of those who came before it to give evidence may hold clues as to the nature of their testimony and that of the other witnesses. We will consider the verdict in the next post of this series.