It was part of General Sullivan's original plan to withdraw with Smallwood and DeBorre's brigades from the north part of Staten Island to Old Blazing Star Ferry where Ogden had made his morning attack. He was later criticized by some of his officers for marching such a long distance to disembark, rather than returning to the boats at the initial landing place opposite Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Major John Taylor of the 2nd Canadian Regiment wrote to his absent commander, Col. Hazen, soon after the culmination of Sullivan's Staten Island Raid;
"It is unfortunate, that instead of returning by the way we crossed, which was short; we should march 10 miles further to the Starr, which made the number of miles from our Camp, with our maneaveurs (sic) on the Island, at least 40; It was very unfortunate that we continued to march without halting, by which means we had a rear of 6 miles; It was unfortunate that we observed no order in Our retreat; that every Soldier should be allowed to Plunder, & get straggled all over the Island."
Col. Taylor provided further testimony at Sullivan's subsequent court martial, arguing that it was not realistic to assume that Sullivan's brigades would be able to reinforce Colonel Ogden from twelve miles away when he attacked the New Jersey loyalist battalions in his sector. Thus, it would have been more prudent to withdraw the way they had come.
Nonetheless, General Sullivan still planned to rendezvous at Old Blazing Star and hoped to be able to link up with Ogden's force along the way. Accordingly, as DeBorre's men herded their captives and gathered plunder at the New Blazing Star Ferry, Sullivan sent two men in a canoe back to the point where he had left his boats with orders for them to proceed down the Sound and meet him at the Old Blazing Star. He also ordered his aide, Major J.O. Eustace, to locate Colonel Ogden and order him to join Sullivan immediately.
Neither order produced the desired results. The boats never arrived, having been scared off by a sloop full of loyalist prisoners captured by Ogden at Old Blazing Star that was mistaken for royalist reinforcements, or perhaps they were driven off or even captured by some of van Buskirk's 4th NJV as one British account suggests. Neither was Major Eustace able to locate a boat that could convey him across the Fresh Kills Marsh to Old Blazing Star, and in any event he did not ride the long road 12 miles ahead to try to locate Ogden and his men, who by then had completed their attack and were already preparing to return to New Jersey.
Meanwhile, what remained of the Staten Island garrison had not been idle after their initial reversals that morning. General Smallwood was increasingly concerned about his exposed position at Decker's Ferry. Sullivan's Aide de Camp Major Lewis Morris later testified that "Genl [Smallwood], understanding that the enemy from the Lines were endeavouring to head him, thought it most prudent to form a Junction with Genl Sullivan, which he effected near the New Star." Smallwood's volunteer Brigade Major Rev. Armstrong reported; "the enemy appeared in a pretty numerous line of march evidently intending to surround us on the right. General Smallwood immediately ordered a retreat and dispatched me on Horseback to Gen'l Sullivan requesting that he would Join him, as the enemy appeared numerous & were endeavouring to surround him."
It is not clear whether these were elements of van Buskirk's 4th NJV who apparently did attack and kill or capture an isolated company soon after in Smallwood's sector, or reinforcements from the garrison behind the fortifications at the Northeast end of the Island. These later troops were under the command of the overall leader of the royalist forces on Staten Island, Brigadier General John Campbell. He was a seasoned veteran of the French and Indian War, having been wounded in 1758 as a Captain serving with the 42nd Highland Regiment in the attack of Fort Carillon (renamed Fort Ticonderoga).. He later was made Lt. Colonel of the 37th Regiment of foot and brought them to America. A newly minted Brigadier, he determined to rally those of his forces still able to take the field to push back Sullivan's Division and Ogden's force. He coordinated not only with Brigadier General Skinner, who was nearby, but also with Lt. Col. Edward Vaughn of the 3rd NJV who was far down Island.
"A messenger soon after arrived from Colonel Dongan with Information that an Attack had likewise been made on the West part of the Island, that Lieut. Colonel Laurence and a good many of his Corps [the 1st NJV] had been made prisoners; but that he, with Lieut. Col. Allen, and their Battalions, with a few of Laurence's that had join'd them, had taken possession of the works formerly thrown up by the Rebels at Princes Bay, where they should be able to Defend themselves until supported...This Strengthening me in my former resolution, I advanced on the footsteps of the enemy without the least Interruption to the Village of Richmond, where I was obliged to halt, to bring up the rear and to refresh the troops, who were even at this time very much fatigued from the excessive heat."
Based on this chronology, it does not sound as if Brigadier Campbell's force was the one that General Smallwood reported was moving on his flank to surround him prior to his withdrawal toward Richmond from Decker's Ferry An officer of the 52nd Regiment of Foot later wrote that "having very bad intelligence we made several retreats before we could trace the route the rebels took." This could have been because the British assumed that Sullivan would return to New Jersey by the way he had come, in which case Campbell and his men might have taken the wrong road instead of following on Smallwood's rear. Still, some royalist troops did appear to be shadowing the American withdrawal, and as men fell ot by the wayside or stopped to plunder the inhabitants, they would have been vulnerable to capture.
"he heard some arms discharged in the rear, which induced him to halt his men, soon after General Sullivan came to him on the road from the new Blazing Star and asked him what was the firing in the rear, he answered he thought it to be some of our own men who were Drunk, upon which General Sullivan ordered him to halt there, to let the stragglers pass by, and bring them up to the rear guard, which he accordingly did for an Hour."
It is most likely that this firing came from the surprise attack that captured or killed Captain Heron's men and others who may have still been engaged in looting back near the ferry.
Sullivan's reunited division proceeded to withdraw toward Old Blazing Star, followed by the royalist forces. We will consider the retreat to Old Blazing Star and the actions of the Staten Island Garrison to strike back at Sullivan's raiders in a subsequent post in this series.