Major General Sullivan had been quite ill during the month preceding his Staten Island Raid and was still feeling under the weather when he made the predawn crossing from New Jersey with his division on August 22, 1777. His A.D.C. Major Lewis Morris testified that " every Person must do him the Justice to acknowledge that he was much more [active] than they could have expected from an Invalid, which the Genl certainly was at this time."
Brigadier General Smallwood later stated that the original plan for Sullivan to accompany his Brigade in its attack on the crown forces at Decker's Ferry was changed, as his commander "from his ill state of Health, informed me he could not stand the fatigue, & urging it was more necessary to be with Deborie (sic)."
Brigadier General DeBorre's Brigade marched from Hanover, NJ on the afternoon of August 21st after Smallwood's men and arrived at Elizabethtown near the shore after 10:00 p.m. that night. A number of the officers of his Brigade left accounts of their experience, either as testimony at Sullivan's subsequent court martial or in the diaries they kept on campaign.
Captain Wiliam Beatty of the 7th Maryland Regiment noted simply in his journal;
"Thursday 21 The Division leaving their tents & Baggage with a small guard, began their march by the way of Elizabeth Town and Cross'd the Sound next morning. About 2 o'Clock. After the whole of the Division being safely on Staten Island, we began to penetrate it two ways, the 1st Br. upwards and the 2nd Brigade downwards."
Major John Taylor of Hazen's 2nd Canadian Regiment (Congress's Own), who brought Sullivan up on charges for mishandling the expedition, wrote the following in his letter to his absent regimental commander after the raid:
"On thursday last we marched from Hanover at 4 OClock p.m. & continued our march, with little, or no Intermission, to Halsteads Point, where we arrived at 3 OClock, in the morning, having marched 22 miles, we immediately began to cross the Sound, but there being only 5 Boats, we did not all get over, 'till near sun Rise."
Talyor elaborated in his testimony during the trial that only fresh meat was available to the troops for the march and they made only two brief stops on the way to the Sound.
Sullivan's Deputy Adjutant General Major Edward Sherburne, wrote that Sulivan ordered the men to refresh themselves before crossing and that the entire operation took about an hour and a half to complete. Sherburne went on to describe the night landing on Staten Island;
"The Troops from Halsteads Point had to land on a marsh and then to march several mile crossing a small creek before we could reach the main road, the occassion of Genl Sullivan's going over before all the trops had got over, was in order to give Genl Smallwood his directions and Rout(e), and to give Captn Barnett his command who was to surprise Skinner. Genl Sullivan having given Genl Smallwood his necessary order and a Pilot to conduct him, & Barnett his order he sent them off, and returned to the Marsh where waiting a few minutes Genl Deborre hove in sight with his Brigade, all the part of them were considerably in the rear Genl Deborre having got up and after waiting a few minutes for a Pilot who had gone to put the other Troops in their proper road as their Pilot was not acquainted with the road from off the marsh; after waiting a few minutes for him the Genl ordered the Brigade to march we picking out the road as well as we could untill the Pilot returned who went with us afterwards."
Sullivan accompanied Deborre's Brigade and was in operational command as it emerged from the marsh. He took the Morning Star road south toward the road that bore off toward New Blazing Star where they expected to attack the provincial troops of the 5th NJV under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Barton.
It promised to be a hot day, and Sullivan and some of his officers took advantage of the opportunity to secure mounts on the march. Major Reed reported that "when we had proceeded about a mile [toward New Blazing Star] we heard Colonel Ogden at work toward the lower end of the Island."
Soon after they came upon some of Barton's pickets and drove them down the neck toward the main body of the 5th NJV. Sullivan wrote to Congress on August 31, 1777 describing his actions with DeBorre's Brigade;
"After having placed a regiment on the main road, and having detached Colonel Price [with the 2nd MD regiment] off to the right to prevent escapes, we marched briskly up to Barton's quarters, where we found him drawn up to receive us. I ordered the main body to halt and form, and sent lt. Colonel Smith [of the 4th MD regiment] round in their rear to prevent escapes, but upon our main body moving up to charge, the enemy threw down their arms and ran off. Colonel Smith did everything that man could do, to prevent their escaping, and inded so did every officer and soldier; but they were so well acquainted with the creeks and marshes, that our men could not catch them, though they killed many: several of them got into the boats which lay at the ferry, and came over to the Jersey shore. We took a considerable number of arms, blankets, hats, cloathes, &c. Col. Barton, and above 40 privates, were made prisoners."
Major Reed, gave the following version of events from the time they came upon Barton's pickets;
"I being in front the General ordered me to pursue, which I did untill I came within sight of their main Body, where I waited for our People; when they came forward we advanced and the enemy thought proper to retreat in a very disorderly manner so that our people pursued them in several directions, when I came opposite to where they were drawn up, I found a Horse Saddled which I mounted, but being much fatigued, and knowing the enemy to be much inferior in numbers, I followed no further but went to the House where they rendevouzed (sic) to take an Inventory of their Stores, which when I had done I joined the Brigade, they were then returning from their pursuit, and a great many of the Soldiers had Horses and plunder of different kinds."
Major Sherburne's testimony is consistent in most respects but adds the further details that Barton's men "Paraded in a cornfield" and ran off when they perceived Col Smith's flanking party. Sherburne also states that afterward "The Genl understanding there was a party of the Enemy at the point [New Blazing Star Ferry] he ordered his troops to push on which they did but to little purpose for the enemy had made their escape in Boats we only taking a few that could not effect it."
"When the General had nearly reached [New Blazing Star], he was informed that the Greens were making their escape along the river side, I was immediately sent with orders to Col. Price, whose Regt formed the rear of the Brigade, to file off to the right & interrupt their retreat; which he partly effected & took a few prisoners; On our arrival at Mr Barton Qr we found him as expected with his regiment ready to give us a warm reception. When Major Taylor [of the 2nd Canadian Regiment] with the advance Guard which he commanded were within three hundred Paces, they in the most precipitate manner quited the fence at which they were drawn up, without firing a shot at them. Their brave Col finding the probability of securing a retreat rather against him promptly surrendered himself a Prisoner of war. the green coated party consisted of about 50 a few of them were taken in the marsh, 'thro which they endeavoured to make their escape the others took to the boats that were laying at the ferry stairs to which our men pursued them."
Taken together, these records give a fair account of how Sullivan deployed his troops and the three positions of Barton's small force. The regiment Sullivan detailed to guard the main road must have been the 7th Maryland, as the others in his command are accounted for. The 2nd Canadian, even without its detached light companies, would have outnumbered Barton's entire battalion several times over. More than half of his green coated loyalists seem to have evaded capture in boats of which Sullivan would sorely feel the lack as the day progressed.
Sullivan's plan was to link up with Smallwood, hopefully in coordination with Ogden's force driving the enemy northward, and then proceed to Old Blazing Star ferry and recross to the Jersey Shore. To do this, he would require both Ogden's three boats and his own that were used in the initial crossing from Halsted's Point. As his men rounded up prisoners and helped themselves to plunder, Sullivan dispatched two men in a canoe - Taylor says with "with a broken paddle" - "with orders for the person who had the care of the boats at Halsteads to send them immediately upon the old Star."
These never arrived. The reason given at Sullivan's court martial was that those in charge of the boats saw a sloop approaching up the Sound from the south with green coated troops on its decks and mistook Ogden's prisoners for a British tender bringing provincial reinforcements against them. A german chaplain of the 3rd Waldeck Regiment recorded in his diary that alarm guns had already been sounded both on Staten Island and from the 50 gun ship Centurion at anchor in New York harbor, and Sullivan's troops were aware that the British might well send over troops from Long Island to oppose the raid if they tarried too long.
The after action report written by the British commander of the Staten Island garrison, Brigadier General John Campbell, offers another possibility:
"I must not forget to mention that Colonel Buskirk's Brigade [ the 4th Battalion NJV] was early in the day ordered to attack a party left to cover the Enemy's Boats, which they did with charge of Bayonet, and obliged them to retreat to the Jersey Shore."
This is a fascinating commendation, as Lt. Col. van Buskirk had been driven from the Dutch Church at Decker's Ferry by Smallwood's Brigade, many of them escaping by water in boats. In order to strike at the boats left behind by Sullivan's Division, van Buskirk would had moved west along the shore, getting behind Smallwood's men who were at that time preoccupied with looting, but this could well have been accomplished by water as well as by a shore route.
In any case, none of Sullivan's three boats used in his crossing were available for the return trip from Old Blazing Star. Nor did he manage to link up with Ogden for a combined action during the Raid. At this point, somewhere between nine and ten o'clock on a sweltering morning after a fatiguing night march and dawn attack, Sullivan's control over the attack became unravelled and the initiative passed to the defenders. We will pick up that part of the story in a subsequent post in this series.