While Col. Ogden was ferrying his men in three boats across the sound at Fresh Kills, General Sullivan prepared his two brigades to embark from Elizabethtown at Halsted's point. His men had marched by regiments the previous afternoon from Hanover, more than 21 miles inland, arriving during the night and assembling at the shore before 2:00 a.m. Some of the men had not eaten that day, particularly in DeBorre's brigade,or had drawn fresh rations and had not had time to cook them, but the need for secrecy prevented them from further delay or from bringing any artillery with them for the expedition to Staten Island. They were hungry and tired, and about to make an amphibious landing in darkness.
Leaving their packs behind, Sullivan sent his first brigade across under General Smallwood in the three boats he had been able to gather for the use of his division. Ahead of Smalwood's men, Sullivan detached two companies of Light Infantry from the 2nd Canadian Regiment of DeBorre's Brigade with the special assignment of locating Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner's headquarters near Decker's Ferry and capturing the leader of the loyalist battalions on Staten Island.
The 2nd Canadian (Congress' Own), had been recruiting heavily that Spring in the mid Atlantic States, and its commander Col. Hazen was at this time still absent on recruiting duty, leaving command of the regiment to Lt, Col. Edward Anthil, who had two brothers serving in the Crown forces.
The 2nd Canadian had been established the previous year during the invasion of Canada and had been organized along the French model with four Majors and two battalions. It was the largest regiment in Sullivan's force.
Captain Benjamin Chambers testified that his was one of the two light companies, and a number of witnesses at Sullivan's subsequent court martial stated that Captain James Gordon Heron's was the other.
Sullivan's Deputy Adjudant General. Major Edward Sherburne indicated that a Captain Barnett lead these companies, perhaps as a guide, and that their objective was Skinner's headquarters at "one Ward's." This Barnett may well have been Major William Barnet, Jr. an Elizabethtown physician and commander of the Elizabeth Light Horse.
Captain Chambers later reported that
"When he got to the Island, he was informed by one of the inhabitants, that General Skinner had shifted his Quarters, upon this intelligence her was ordered to march with the said Companies as an advance guard to General Smallwood's Brigade, till they arrived to the Dutch Church at the Mills..."
As General Sullivan crossed in the 3rd boat of General DeBorre's division in the rear of the first Brigade, Chambers and Heron may have waited the better part of an hour or more after receiving this intelligence until their change of orders. Captain Enoch Anderson of the 1st Delaware, who in later life wrote a fascinating series of letters to a nephew about his service in the Revolution, stated that he
"was appointed to the command of seventy men from our Regiment as a flank guard, to keep at two or three hundred yards distance to the left of the main body. Captain Herron...-with seventy men - on the van."
Captain Chambers, meanwhile, makes no mention of Heron, and it appears that once the opportunity to capture Skinner had passed, the light companies may have moved ahead of Smallwood's force but they acted independantly.
The tide was high and the troops struggled to find the right path out of the march and toward the crossroads where Smallwood was to turn left toward Decker's Ferry on Palmer's Run, where the Dutch Church and Dongan's Mills were located and where they expected to find Lieutentant-Colonel van Buskirk with the 4th NJV.
Their guide was identified - and vilified - in subsequent testimony as a Captain Dickey, who had been acquired in Elizabethtown. This Dickey (or Dickie) was roundly blamed for the limited success of Smallwood's Brigade for leading them not behind the Crown Forces but directly in their front, ruining the element of surprise. Reverand T. F. Armstrong, who accompanied Smallwood as a volunteer A.D.C., was insistant that
"nothing could have prevented this detachment from being as successful as the plan of the expedition entitled us, but the stupidity of our Guide, who instead of fulfilling the orders given him, by leading us between the Enemy and their forts so as to cut off their retreat & throw them between us and the troops immediately commanded by General Sullivan, led in front, where at the short distance of 1/4 & 1/2 of a 1/4 of a mile, we were exposed to the full view of the enemy."
Other witnesses at Sullivan's court martial likewise blamed "the stupidity of Dickey", and Smallwood himself believed his guide had deceived him and was "the sole cause of my not taking the British Regiment above Dongan's Mills, and the greatest part of Buskirks Regiments at the Dutch Church."
All this blame may be more than Dickey's proper share. He was certainly a convenient scapegoat at a court martial where the actions of the witnesses as well as Sullivan were under scrutiny.
As to his true identity, it is possible that this Dickey was the same Captain Dickie who subsequently made quite a name for himself as an active patriot partisan in many whale-boat raids that took place on Staten Island Sound during the Revolution. If so, he was hardly stupid, though he may not have known the proper road to take upstream across Palmer's Run to prevent marching directly in front of the defenders at Decker's ferry.
In order to get between the Crown forces at Decker's Ferry and their fortifications and garrison at The Watering Place in the Northeast part of the Island, Dickey would had needed to lead Smallwood not left at the Morningstar Road, but on a roundabout way on a road with numerous dwellings between the Great Swamp and Palmer's Run before turning north on the Manor Road toward Dongan's Mill. Even if he had managed this line of march undetected, Smallwood would still have struck the 52nd British Regiment of Foot at Dongan's Mill from the flank and not the rear. This would have been a tall order in the dark on unfamiliar roads, but the game was up as soon as Heron and Chambers lead the advance, because they proceeded rapidly as separate companies (with or without Barnet as their guide) directly toward the forces at the Dutch Church and Mill, with Captain Anderson's Delaware troops racing along even further to the left flank.
"upon the advanced guard coming within 150 yards of the enemy, they retired over a bridge & were pursued by the advanced guard 150 yards beyond it, the Brigade halted at the Bridge, immediately after he was ordered by General Smallwood to return tot he Brigade, when the General ordered a Regt to watch the motion of the enemy at the bridge, the rest of the Brigade retired ina disorderly manner to the Church, where they scattered to collect Clothes & Water out of the neighbouring Houses, about 100 yards distance."
Smallwood was only able to capture a handful of Buskirk's men before the rest escaped overland to the fortifications at The Watering Place, or took to the water in boats from the Ferry. While some legitimate military stores were destroyed, including some 35 tones of hay (bad forage, according the the British after action report),what may have been a garrison flag taken from the 52nd Regiment's headquarters, and half a dozen boats destroyed at the landing, the situation degenerated into wide scale looting and plunder.
Lieutenant William Wilmot of Gist's 3rd Maryland Regiment wrote in a letter a couple of weeks after the Staten Island raid;
"[Smallwood's] Bregade (sic) being wrong piloted did not do much but scair (sic) the Enemy, for they ran so fast that it would have taken running horses to overtakem (sic), we brought off all their Baggage & I myself got a large Silver spoon, in a Soldier's Box which I brought along with me, as it was aloud (sic) to take everything that we could bring conveniently."
Captain Anderson gives a very direct account of the actions of his men, and more tellingly, of Captain Heron's, upon making contact with the crown forces at Decker's Ferry:
"About sun-rise my line of march brought me to a large brick house, on another part of the Sound. Here I found some of the British. But a few only of them turned out - got round a hay-stack,- fired one gun and then run. I drew up my men on the pavement and entered the house. And old female was here, and no more. I soon found this was a Colonel's quarters, with his officers. She told me I had come so quickly upon them, that they had run half naked out of the house. I found the house full of lawful plunder. i went out to my soldiers and told them there was plenty of fair plunder inside. "Go in, all of you", I said, "I will stay here, but when you hear me beat the drum, come out in a moment." I waited a due time, and then beat the drum. They came out - each one had something."
"As I was ready to march, Herron came with his party for plunder, and in the house he and all his soldiers went. He wanted me to wait, but I found the army was gone and I told him I would not. At this moment, a runner came to tell me and Herron to come on directly, - that the enemy had landed troops from Long Island and would waylay us at the Red House. (I had already passed by this Red House). I hallooed to Herron, who was in the upper story throwing out hats &c., but he said he would not move until he and his soldiers were loaded with plunder!"
Nothing like this account was given as testimony during Sullivan's court martial where it was assumed that Heron and his company had fallen in a rearguard action during the withdrawal from Decker's Ferry. There were accusations of excessive plundering, however, which Anderson's letter and other first hand reports bear out. Reinforcements from Long Island did not arrive in time to affect the outcome of the raid, but things took a decided turn against Smallwood from this point forward, as shall be short in subsequent posts in this series.