There were just two Continental infantry regiments and some New Jersey militia on the front lines in August of 1777 to defend against loyalist raids from Staten Island. Col. Elias Dayton's 3rd NJ was posted near Newark and and Col. Matthias Ogden's regiment at Elizabethtown. In As We Were - The Story of Old Elizabethtown, historian Theodore Thayer draws from an account published in a Loyalist newspaper to observe;
"Together Dayton and Ogden had but 400 men, badly clothed and nearly all barefoot."
These troops had been blooded at Short Hills, New Jersey in the end of June, and had been on the march for much of the time since then.
Elizabethtown was home ground for Matthias Ogden and a fair number of the officers and men in the 1st NJ Continental regiment. Some of their Tory townsmen had since withdrawn to Staten Island, where a brigade of New Jersey loyalist volunteers under Brigadier Cortland Skinner formed the core of the Island's garrison after General Howe's main army put to sea.
The New Jersey loyalist volunteer battalions began recruiting in the last months of 1776, but as with their patriot adversaries, none was at full strength in the summer of 1777. Altogether, the New Jersey loyalist battalions could field fewer than 900 men. They had been involved in actions in New Jersey since the Forage War that winter and early spring. The latest of these occurred on August 19th, as Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan Dongan and Major Robert Drummond of the 3rd Battalion NJV made a raid from Staten Island far inland with about sixty men, and brought off livestock and prisoners in the face of the Elizabethtown Light Horse under a certain Major Barnett.
Col. Dongan was the scion of an old Staten Island family and had a wife and young son at home. According to Morris' history of Staten Island, his battalion was posted on the Morning Star Road "about midway between the shore and Graniteville", His true position was probably south of the heights that bisect the Island not far from the village of Richmond, a place known locally as Cuckoldstown, itself a corruption of Cocclestown, so called because of the abundance of oysters available in the nearby Fresh Kills salt marsh.
As I have depicted them on the map at left, the other loyalist battalions were positioned at intervals from Decker's Ferry on the north shore where the 4th NJV were billeted under their Lt. Colonel Abraham van Buskirk, to the Amboy Road near Billop's House at the southwest extremity of the Island which was assigned to Lt. Colonel Allen's deleted 6th NJV battalion. The 1st NJV were at Old Blazing Star Ferry under Lt. Col. Lawrence and the 5th at New Blazing Star Ferry under Lt. Colonel Barton, but apparently no one was posted opposite Halsted's Point, the customary crossing from Elizabethtown, an omission in the Island's defensive screen which would prove very costly in the days to come.
The remaining Crown Forces on the Island consisted of the British 52nd regiment of Foot under Lt. Col. Campbell, posted near van Buskirk's Battalion, and two German regiments. The 3rd English-Waldeck Regiment was the only battalion provided by Prince Friedrich Karl August Fürst zu Waldeck und Pyrmont to fight in America under contract with the British King. The Waldeckers had initially been garrisoned in occupied Elizabethtown before events at Trenton and Princeton compelled them to withdraw. The other German unit was the 2nd Anspach-Bayreuth regiment which had only just arrived in America that June. Both German units were billeted near "the Watering Place" in the Northeast corner of the Island, and the entire garrison was under the command of Brigadier General John Campbell, late of the 37th Regiment of foot.
Reasonably accurate details of the disposition of these forces informed the plan of attack which resulted in Sullivan's Staten Island Raid. The person with the immediate responsibility for monitoring activity on the Island and gathering information about troop strength and deployment was the commander of the 1st NJ Continentals based in Elizabethtown, Col. Matthias Ogden. He did not, however, report directly to Major General Sullivan, whose division was posted some 20 miles away in the interior of the State. Rather, he and Colonel Elias Dayton had been detatched from Maxwell's NJ Brigade, while their sister regiments remained with Washington's main army. As for Maxwell, as senior Brigadier he was soon to be given a temporary command of a corps of Light Infantry to replace those riflemen under Daniel Morgan who were sent to reinforce the northern army. Elias Dayton was senior to Ogden, and Washington corresponded directly with him while the two regiments were stationed at Elizabethtown and Newark. Nonetheless, it was Matthias Ogden, and not Dayton, who would command the NJ Continentals for Sullivan's Raid. Whether Dayton absented himself from the enterprise or was otherwise unable to participate, it is worth noting that the honor of a detached command during the raid was given to Ogden.
Local histories would later assign credit to Ogden for bringing the idea for a raid on Staten Island to Sullivan's attention. "Colonel Ogden, an ardent patriot, always anxious for a fight, had no difficulty in convincing Sullivan that if the project was property undertaken, success was reasonably assured." Both of these men were ambitious and eager for independent action, yet Ogden was assiduous in his later testimony in giving Sullivan full credit for ordering the plan of attack "after consulting those gentlemen (in whom you could confide) who were best acquainted with the Island." By then Sullivan's actions were the subject of a court martial, and Ogden was certainly sensitive to the possibility that he might be called to account for his own actions. Still, despite the ab sense of conclusive documentation, it seems quite probable that Matthias Ogden was among "those gentleman" who provided confidential information to Sullivan and informed his decision to attack.
Sullivan appears to have been prepared to seize the opportunity to strike a blow against the Staten Island garrison on the heels of Lt. Col. Dongan's successful foray into NJ on August 18th. Sullivan's A.D.C. Major Sherburne later testified that the day after this loyalist incursion, the General gave orders for the two brigades of his division to prepare to march at noon on the 20th with two day's provisions. Sherburne concluded that Sullivan's commanders were told the true reason for this march by Sullivan at this time. Sherburne also testified that a Captain Barnett with a party of the Lt. Infantry from Hazen's regiment was assigned a special mission in the plan of attack. There is no record of a Captain Barnett in Sullivan's division or in ogden's command, but there was Major William Barnett, jr. of the local light horse who had been just been humiliated by Dongan. Quite possibly he was another of those gentlemen in whom Sullivan could confide. Whether the advice they provided would bear fruit or not will be the subject of subsequent posts in this series.