General Washington sent the following instructions to Brigadier General William Maxwell on February 24, 1779 regarding the upcoming trial of my ancestor Colonel Matthias Ogden, who was one of Maxwell's regimental commanders in the Jersey Brigade.
Tuesday next is appointed for a Court Martial to sit at this place for the trial of Colo. Ogden on the charges exhibited by Capt. Morrison. I have given the Colo. notice and I must desire you to summon Capt. Morrison, and Colo. De Hart, Capt. Polhemus, Capt. Van Angel, Major Conway, Ensign Levy, Mr. Mathias Williamson and Robt. Kelso, who were returned as evidence to support the charges.
While I have been unable to locate a transcript of the court proceedings (assuming that one even survives), it is possible to discern much - and surmise more - about these named individuals who were called as witnesses for the prosecution. Evidently they were identified by Captain Morrison in his formal charges against Colonel Ogden, but the extent to which they were involved in the decision to bring them to Washington's attention is unclear.
This is a fascinating list. It includes a number of officers who were then serving under Ogden in the 1st New Jersey battalion (2nd establishment): Captains Isaac Morrison, John Polhemus and John Van Angeln and Ensign Asher Levy. Two more were formerly of the regiment: Lt. Colonel William D'Hart and Major John Conway. It also includes Mathias Williamson, formerly a Brigadier General who commanded the New Jersey militia in 1776 (and who coincidentally is a direct ancestor of mine, though no relation of Ogden's at the time), and Robert Kelso, an assistant quartermaster with the quartermaster general's department. I shall have much more to say about these men in subsequent posts, but for now a bit of biographical data on each will suffice.
Captain Isaac Morrison was of Scotch Irish descent. Born in 1745 in Somerset, NJ, he was orphaned before reaching the age of maturity and at 16 was made a ward of John Hill of Elizabethtown, where the Ogden family was well established. He was later embroiled on the losing end of a land dispute with prominent men in Elizabethtown over the status of claims to Newark Mountain, writing his pointed criticisms of the well placed and powerful under the name of Tobias Freedman. His publisher was subsequently obliged to print an apologetic retraction. On the eve of the Revolution. Morrison had reason to resent the upper echelon of Elizabeth society to which Col. Ogden belonged.
Morrison enlisted in the 1st New Jersey Battalion during its first establishment as 1st Lieutenant in the 6th company (McMyer's). His commission was dated December 15th, 1775 and he served until November 10th, 1776 when the regiment was reorganized for its 2nd establishment. Among the others named as witnesses in the Ogden court martial, William D'Hart of Morristown was initially Major in the battalion's 1st establishment, with John Conway as Captain of its 3rd Company, John Polhemus Captain of its 4th and John Van Anglen as Ensign and then 1st Lieutenant in the 4th Company.
Matthias Ogden was not there at the beginning. He was a volunteer acting as captain of a Grenadier company with Benedict Arnold in Canada and subsequently Brigade Major, but his brother Aaron was paymaster of the 1st New Jersey. When Matthias Ogden was promoted by Congress in March, 1776 to Lt. Col. and appointed to the 1st NJ, it may well have frustrated the ambition of Major D'Hart. This officer remained as Major for only a brief time in the 2nd establishment before transferring to the 2nd New Jersey as its Lt. Colonel. As will be seen, some of the under officers of the 1st New Jersey resented the preferential treatment they felt was shown to Aaron Ogden in his subsequent promotions.
Sensitivities about the seniority of commissions was rampant throughout Washington's Army, but especially following the reorganization of the continental regiments for three years service in 1777. There were a number of changes in the second establishment of the 1st New Jersey, Heitman's Historical Register of the Officers of the Continental Army gives the following dates and commissions in the 2nd establishment for the officers named in the court martial of Matthias Ogden:
- Mathias Ogden continued as Lt. Colonel until January 1, 1777, when he succeeded Silas Newcomb as Colonel of the 1st New Jersey.
- William D'Hart continued as Major until late January 1, 1777 when he was promoted to Lt. Col. Sometime between September 1778 and February 1779, he transferred to the 2nd New Jersey as Lt. Col. This regiment had been initially recruited largely from the western part of New Jersey, while the 1st New Jersey had recruited in the east.
- Captain John Conway continued as Captain of the 3rd company until after the Battle of Germantown. He then transferred to the 4th Regiment as Major (Oct. 29, 1777), and subsequently to the 3rd New Jersey with the same rank on October 28th, 1778 and was serving in the regiment at the time of the court martial.
- Captain Polhemus continued as Captain of the 4th company of the 1st New Jersey.
- 1st Lieutenant John Angeln transferred to the 2nd Company Nov. 29th, 1776 and succeeded as its Captain after Germantown on October 4th, 1777.
- 1st Lieutenant Isaac Morrison transferred to the 4th Company on November 20th, 1776 and succeeded John Conway as Captain of the 3rd Company on January 1st, 1777
- Ensign Asher Levy joined the 1st New Jersey as an Ensign on September 12, 1778. It is not clear from either Heitman or Stryker's Official Register to which company he belonged. He is perhaps the most enigmatic of the characters in this drama and was not destined to remain long with the regiment, but that will be the subject of another post.
The 1st New Jersey saw hard service in 1777. As part of the division of William Alexander (Lord Sterling), it fought in the Battle of Hills prior to the Philadelphia Campaign. When General Maxwell was on temporary leave commanding a hastily formed light infantry corps, the senior Colonel (yet another ancestor) Elias Dayton commanded the New Jersey Brigade at Brandywine. Here the 1st New Jersey stood against the British Grenadiers and Light Infantry on the Plowed Hill. At Germantown the 1st and 3rd New Jersey (Ogden and Dayton's regiments) assaulted the Chew House "Cliveden" and took heavy casualties. Col. Dayton recorded:
"At this place fell Capt. McMyer and Ensign Hurley of Col. Ogden's regiment; Capt. Conway, Capt. Morrison; Capt. Baldwin and Lt. Robinson, wounded, of the same regiment, together with 20 men...my horse was shot out from under me, at the same place, within about three yards of the corner of the house."
Captain Polhemus would later write at a very advanced age that "all the captains of the 1st Battalion were killed and wounded but myself, and I did Major's duty." Given Dayton's account of the officer casualties in the 1st New Jersey this claim is not wide of the mark, but there is much else in the Polhemus memoir that does not stand up to scrutiny. This, too, shall be examined in a subsequent post.
These then, were then men named by Captain Isaac Morrison as witnesses to the charges of general neglect of duty, fraud, cowardice and gaming brought against Colonel Ogden in the later winter of 1779. Much had transpired since the Philadelphia campaign, and the New Jersey battalions were no longer the crack shock troops of 1777. We shall examine the condition of the regiment and the tensions of front line service in winter in their own backyards in the next post in this series.