Enoch Poor was one of the best brigade commanders in Washington's Army. Born in Andover, MA, he had served under Amherst during the French and Indian War. Following the Lexington alarm he was appointed Colonel of the 2nd New Hampshire. He took part in Montgomery's invasion of Canada and was made Brigadier General in February, 1777. The nucleus of Poor's Brigade was three New Hampshire regiments, and at various times it also included Hazen's 2nd Canadian (Congress's Own), the 2nd and 4th NY, and even some Connecticut militia.
Poor and his men fought with the Northern Army throughout the Saratoga Campaign from Ticonderoga to Burgoyne's surrender, serving with distinction at Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights. He wintered at Valley Forge and participated in the final maneuvers at Monmouth. Poor's Brigade was dispatched to escort the British and German prisoners of Burgoyne's surrendered "Convention Troops" through part of CT on their way to internment in Virginia in November, 1778. The following year, Poor played a prominent role in Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois.
In early August 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette formed a light division with uniforms and equipment he had brought back from France that Spring. Poor accepted command of one of the two Brigades in Lafayette's division (Brigadier General Hand had the other). The light infantry were considered elite troops and were used aggressively. Both Poor and Hand were proven commanders of hard fighting brigades that were used as shock troops.
The new Light Division was organized as follows:
- 1st Brigade (Brig-Gen Enoch Poor)
- Van Cortlandt's Battalion (Col Philip Van Cortlandt's 2nd NY regiment, consisting of five New York and three New Hampshire companies),
- Shepard's Battalion (Col WIlliam Shepherd's 4th MA regiment with eight MA companies),
- Gimat's Battalion Lt-Col Jean-Joseph Sourbader de Gimat with eight MA companies).
- 2nd Brigade (Brig-Gen Edward Hand),
Washington wrote Lafayette on August 3rd, 1780 that " Your light infantry is formed about two thousand fine men; but the greatest of them naked." That same day he sent word to General Poor, then at Danbury with his old Brigade, that "The sooner you take your command in the Light Infantry the better."
Except for certain officers and men in Van Cortlandt's battalion, Poor's new Brigade was comprised of men with whom he had not previously served. Lt.-Col. de Gimat was one of Lafayette's aides and new to his mixed battalion of Massachusetts companies. Poor was better known to his commander, having served briefly under Lafayette during his first independent command prior to the British evacuation of Philadelphia.
Pulling together, properly equipping, and training Lafayette's Division continued throughout August, 1780. Washington with the main army consolidated in northern New Jersey, where he faced a number of strategic challenges. The general wanted to coordinate with French reinforcements based in Rhode Island in an attack on New York. Lafayette craved such a bold task for his light troops. The British in New York, however, had been lately reinforced by victorious troops from the southern theater, and Washington suspected they might be strong enough to launch an attack on the French in Newport. The southern American Army was in dire straights and some of Washington's officers, frustrated by inaction, desired a transfer to the South.
On September 6th, Washington called his Generals to a council of war to discuss which strategies to pursue. Brigadier General Hand was there, but General Poor was not. We will look into the reasons why this was so in a subsequent post in this series.