Brigadier General John Campbell, commander of the British garrison on Staten Island, rallied the scattered elements of the 4th New Jersey loyalist volunteers and British 52nd Regiment of Foot that had been pushed back from Decker's Ferry during the initial phase of Sullivan's Raid. He then proceeded with them and the 3rd Waldeck Regiment in pursuit of the Americans that were withdrawing toward Old Blazing Star. It was exceedingly hot on August 22nd, 1777, and General Campbell wrote that he halted his men at Richmond to rest and regroup (as the Americans had done before him) before pushing on to find and engage the enemy.
"From [Richmond] brigadier general Skinner was directed to send repeated expresses to inform col Dongan [of the 3rd NJV] of my approach, and desiring him to endeavor a junction. I had proceeded but a short way beyond Richmond, when I was informed that the rebels had reached the Old Blazing-Star, and were using the greatest diligence in transporting their troops to the Jersey shore. At this very instant an officer arrived from col Dongan that he was a little more than a mile's distance on his way to join me; whereupon I sent him orders to turn towards the enemy, and to attack whatever body he could come up with, and I was following with all expedition, and would immediately support him. He obeyed my orders with spirit, bravery, and resolution, and engaged the rear for nearly half an hour..."
Dongan's men had already fought hard against Col. Matthias Ogden's New Jersey Continentals and militia that morning, and retreated under fire and in good order to old earthworks at Prince's Bay toward the southwest corner of the Island. Ogden then withdrew to Old Blazing Star Ferry, and having determined that he was unlikely to be supported by Sullivan's men who were then fighting at the north end of the Island, he subsequently reembarked his troops for the Jersey Shore. This left a battered but unbroken enemy in the rear, and it was these troops - some 400 men of the loyalist 3rd and 6th Battalions and also a few survivors from the 1st Battalion that had been routed by Ogden at daybreak - that moved to engage Sullivan's force as it was crossing over to New Jersey.
2nd Lt. Andrew Lee of the 2nd Canadian Regiment left a journal describing the rear guard action of Sullivan's men at Old Blazing Star;
"[General Sullivan] was obliged to wait the tedious opportunity of three boats which lay at the ferry for the crossing of both divisions. This delay he justly apprehended would be attended with ill consequences, as he had received information of the enemy being in motion, and would undoubtedly harrass his rear. He therefore ordered a picket of 100 men, taken from the rear, commanded by Maj. [Edward] Tilllard [of the 6th MD], and Capt. [John] Carlisle and myself [of the 2nd Canadian Regiment] to secure the boats and cover the embarkation of the troops. About 5 o'clock p.m. the troops being nearly all over except our picket, .a wagon was ordered back to take any of the men that might still be on the road, with directions to proceed as far back as Richmond. But before he had gone half a mile he espied the van of the English army in full march. I immediately returned and informed Captain Carlisle, upon which he formed the picket as quick as possible to form troops as much fatigued as they were, they having marched 30 miles without refreshment."
The 6th Maryland formed part of Smallwood's Brigade, which had marched ahead of De Borre's brigade to the landing. Most of Smallwood's men seem to have crossed ahead of DeBorre's, but detachments may have straggled, or the loading may not have been adequately supervised at the start as was later alleged at Sullivan's Court Martial.
Lt. Lee described efforts to reinforce the rearguard before the fighting commenced.
"In the meantime Maj. Tillard went forward in order to view the number of the enemy, and finding them to exceed ours ran tot he place of embarkation, in order to stop the boats which were just then leaving the shore. Col. Smith [of the 4th MD], who was in one of them, did not think proper to reland, upon which Maj. Tillard applied to Maj. Stewart [of the 2nd MD] to know if he would support the picket with what force of his remained on shore. But not receiving any answer from him he returned to the picket which he [had?] represented to Maj. Stewart must unavoidably be cut off by superior numbers without his assistance."
The last unit to cross to safety was under Col. Smith of the 4th, MD of De Borre's Brigade, while Major Stewart of the 2nd MD of De Borre's Brigade was left ashore. Major Stewart and his men did, in fact, support the picket, but whether this was by design or default after Colonel Smith departed with the last boat may never be known. For his part, Colonel Smith felt bad about Major Stewart being left behind to be subsequently captured, and attempted to provide for him during his captivity;
"Colonel Smith was particularly attached to Major Stewart, having fought a duel with him, and becoming subsequently, on the friendliest terms with him. Having procured a flaf of truce, he [later] went with it and gave a bill of Exchange on London for twenty-five pounds Sterling, to a British Officer, who honourably gave it to a Major Stewart."
Lt. William Wilmot of the 3rd MD, part of Smallwood's Brigade, also fought with the rear guard at the Ferry, most likely with Maj. Stewart's stranded force, and left this colorful account of the action;
"the dasterly Enemy watching our retreet, when they saw that we had all crossed but about 200 men and 20 officers thay caim down on us with about 1000 of their herows, and attacked us with about 500 of their new troops [the NJV Battalions] and hesions expecting I believe that thay should not receive oune fire from us but to their grate surprise thay received many as we had to spair and had we as many more thay should have been welcome to them, thay made two or three attempts to rush on us, but we kept up such a blais on them, that thay wair repulsed every time, and not withstanding we was shure that we must very soon fall into their hands. When we see them running back from our fire there was such a houraw or huzzaw from the oune end of our little line to the other that they culd hear us quight across the river, but what grieved me after seeing that it was not the lot of many of us to fall and our amonition being expended, that such brave men wair obiged to surrender them selves Prisioners to a dasterly, new band of Murderrers, natives of the land..."
These "natives of the land" referred to with such vehemence by Wilmot were the green coated New Jersey loyalists that first struck Tillard's picket. Major James R. Reed of the 2nd Canadian Regiment, who was able to embark in the boats to the Jersey SHore, later testified that upon landing;
"I took particular notice of the ground, which on this side did not command that on the other, but notwithstanding if we had had our artillery considering the timidity of those Green Coats, I thought we could prevent their coming forward before our people might get over."
Sullivan did not have any cannons with him, but Brigadier General Campbell did, and the two field pieces attached to the 52nd Regiment of Foot under Lieutenant Grant, and 2 more from the German troops, were a considerable factor in preventing the boats from returning to offload the rearguard. Sullivan's Deputy Adjutant General, Maj. Edward Sherburne, later wrote;
"I accordingly obeyed the Genls order, double manned the boats & used my endeavour to get them off but was all in vain, two boats went off they never reach'd the opposite shore, being as I suppose terrified by the Enemies incessant fire from their Artillery and small arms."
Major John Taylor of the 2nd Canadian Regiment, who subsequently brought court martial charges against Sullivan for his handling of the Staten Island Raid, testified that two men were killed by cannon fire in the marsh, while Chaplain Philipp Waldeck of the 3rd Waldeck Regiment noted in his diary that "Our cannons and the English cannons were brought into play and ours, in particular, earned high praise."
Lt. Colonel Stephen Kemple, who served as Deputy Adjutant General to Sir Henry Clinton in New York, recorded in his journal from second hand reports that
"the Rebels fled with great precipitation to their Boats; our Troops follows, with two pieces of Cannon. Lieut. Grant's Artillery fired several rounds of Grape Shot into them as they were Crossing; they were heard to make a great outcry, and some of them were seen to Jump overboard."
Lt. Lee continues his account of the stand made by the rearguard at the ferry;
"On his arrival [Maj. Tillard] found the picket disposed in a manner he did not think proper to alter. The enemy immediately heaving in sight the firing began, but the ground not favoring our small party, we were compelled to retreat in disorder, as the enemy had outstretched us on the right, and must have surrounded us had we kept our position. On our right we fell in with Maj. Stewart, who without giving Maj. Tillard notice, formed his party in our rear, upon which Maj. Tillard, endeavouring to collect our men again, many of which had made their escape, but the firing began again from Stewart's party, who also retreating before superior numbers precipitously fell in with the remainder of the picket, which was collected and forming on an eminence having a small valley in our front. Here Maj. Stewart having formed his men on our right made a line of about 200 yards, with a three rail fence before us."
According to Lee's account;
"The fire now began general from left to right, at the distance of about 90 yards, for the space of half an hour, in the course of which time the enemy were more than once broke. They endeavoured continually to force our front, but finding it impossible they extended their lines beyond our right, and doubling in at the same time pressing on in front with two pieces of artillery forced us from our fence, and finding it impossible to hold out against five times our numbers without advantage of artillery, it was thought advisable to surrender."
This version of events is supported in Lieut. Wilmot's letter;
"When our amonition was all spent Maj. Sturd took a Whight handkerchief and stuck it on the point of his Sword, and then or'd the men to retreet whilste he went over to their ground, and surrendered, for he had never gave them an inch before he found that he had nothing left to keep them off with the enemy advancing fast to surround us with the musketree in frunt and the horse on our right flank and the watter on our left and in the rear."
If indeed there were any light horse engaged on the Royalist side, perhaps they were part of the loyalist Richmond militia, for there were no other dragoons assigned to the Staten Island garrison.
An officer of the 52nd Regiment of Foot, likely its Lt. Colonel Campbell, wrote an account published in a loyalist newspaper that claimed;
"After having marched 18-miles, the Fifty-Second came up with the rear of the rebels at a bay called the Blazing Star, where they were busy embarking. However, a hot engagement ensured, which did not continue above five minutes, when 300 of the rebels, commanded by a lieutenant colonel, two majors, five or six captains, 24 officers in all, and a number of subalterns, cried out for quarter and clubbed their arms. The Waldeck regiment was at this time two miles behind, not being able to keep up. I prevented, as much as possible, any effusion of blood, but in the havock of such cases, it was impossible to prevent it wholly. The number I have mentioned became prisoners, and being equal to the number of the captors, it was impossible to do more, so the rest got off."
These casualty figures represent the high end of estimated prisoners taken both at the landing and from stragglers and those surprised by looting in the north of the Island. From this account, it appears that the 52nd arrived near the end of the fight at the landing, which had been carried on up to that point by the Col Dongan and his New Jersey Volunteers, and that the cannons that were brought to the fight by this relief force were a significant factor in bringing the fight to a close. We will consider the aftermath of the engagement, and account for the likely casualties suffered on both sides, in the next post in this series.