Surviving first hand accounts from patriot participants in Col. Ogden's sector during Sullivan's Staten Island Raid include the Colonel's brief written testimony at Sullivan's subsequent court martial. Col. Frelinghuysen of the Somerset New Jersey Militia indicates in an August 25th, 1777 letter to NJ Governor Livingston that he sent Lt. Col. Derrick Middah to acquaint him with what transpired, and had previously written a letter that may have miscarried and which has not come to light in my online research.
There are also two journals from officers in the 3rd NJ who participated in the raid:Major Joseph Bloomfield and Ensign George Ewing. Neither is lengthy, but each contains details that have bearing on other accounts of the raid as well as making unique observations of their own that are considered below.
Major Bloomfield was 2nd in command in the 3rd NJ to Lt. Col. Barber that day in the absense of Col. Dayton who did not participate in the raid. His journal entry for August 22, 1777 begins;
"About day-break this Morning thee 1st. & 3d Jersey Regts. with 100 Militia went over to Staaten Island opposite the Blazing Star [a tavern in Woodbridge, Middlesex County, New Jersey] under the command of Col. Ogden."
Ensign Ewing's August 20 Journal entry covers subsequent days worth of activity and places the raid a day earlier that it actually took place.
“Augt 20 This day we receivd orders to March to join the Grand Army then in Pensylvania we accordingly marchd as far as Spanktown where we halted a short time and then marchd to the Old Blazing Star at the sideof the sound being joind by the firstRegt and a few Melitia we crosst. and all landed about brak of day."
There are also a number of secondary source descriptions of Ogden's fight, either from those engaged elsewhere in the battle who heard the firing from his sector, or in 19th and early 20th century histories. These latter accounts, while often rich in details not found elsewhere, are often vague about source material, at odds with primary evidence, and tend to display a particular bias in Ogden's favor.
According to a strongly partisan account of the Raid in Drake's (1908) Historical Sketches of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars;
"Colonel Matthias Ogden, with his own First New Jersey Regiment, and most of Dayton's Third New Jersey Regiment, and some 100 militiamen from Colonel Frelinghuysen's command, who had been ordered to join the expedition, had previously marched to Elizabethtown Point, and south along the water to a point opposite "Fresh Kill" (now Green Ridge), Staten Island, where the entire force embarked in boats and was rowed across the sound, and up a creek to the high ground. Colonel Ogden reached the main road running from Richmond to Tottenville long before daybreak."
General Sullivan, however, wrote in his August 31st report to Congress that while at Elizabethtown "We were able to collect only six boats, of which I ordered three to Colonel Ogden, and kept three myself", so it might seem more likely that Ogden travelled by water to Fresh Kills rather than marching overland and then meeting up with boats from Halsted's point where Sullivan would embark with the other watercraft (but see below).
One wonders just what sort of boats there were that could convey hundreds of men in the dark back and forth across the narrow sound between New Jersey and Staten Island, and in Ogden's case proceed up a tidal marsh to make landfall near high ground. Sullivan gave credit to Cornet Brown of the militia Light Horse for "the zeal and activity he discovered in procuring boats, and making preparations for the troops to cross." The element of surprise was crucial for the success of the raid, so very little preparation would have been made beforehand to collect enough boats to cross Sullivan's Division and Ogden's force without making multiple trips. If they were shallow draft freight boats, such as those used by Washington to cross the Delaware, they would have been perhaps 60 feet long and 8 feet wide. Indeed, at least one of Ogden's was big enough to carry back a captured horse. In any case, there were not enough of them for Sullivan to cross his entire division at the same time, and probably Ogden required at least a second trip as well. That being so, perhaps he did march along the shore and meet his three boats before crossing, as he could not have ferried his entire force from Elizabeth in one go.
Bloomfield's Journal describes the first action of Ogden's force;
" Took Col. Lawrence, Ten other officers & about 120 privates. In the small action we had with them I had my Horse Wounded."
If this horse had been brought over by Ogden's force, his boats may have been of the larger variety. It may also have been plundered while on the island. It is not clear whether the small action described by Bloomfield is confined to the fight at first light witht he 1st NJ Volunteers, or the next engagement with Dongan's 3rd NJV battalion.
Ensign Ewing's journal continues;
"we then marchd up surprisd and took chief part of the Picket gave Battle and routed Colls Lawrence Bartar & Buskirks Regs took the two former with one handred and twenty privates and several Commissiond Officers prisoners took two sloops and a great deal of plunder."
Ewing was mistaken about Buskirk's 4th NJV battalion, which was posted in the far north of the Island, and Barton's 5th which was at New Blazing Star, but perhaps he was summerizing the results of the entire raid and not just the activity in Ogden's sector.
Historian Drake, himself a General and decorated veteran of the 9th NJ Regiment during the Civil War, heaps high and breathless praise on Ogden for getting his force ashore and behind the enemy undetected;
"He had surrounded the British post long before daybreak, and only awaited the coming of Aurora's rays to carry his well-laid plans for its capture into execution. When the eastern firmament began to be illuminated by the glorious orb of day, and golden beams overspread the scene, Colonel Ogden's men charged impetuously upon the silent camp, Whose occupants were unaware of the presence of the Americans until summoned to surrender. Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence, the commandant, and 83 men of Skinner's Brigade promptly complied without firing a shot."
Morris's (1898) Memorial History of Staten Island, New York says more succinctly that "Ogden attacked Lawrence about daybreak, and after an engagement of two or three minutes succeeding in routing him, taking the colonel himself and about 80 non-commissioned officers and privates prisoners."
Morris probably relied on Sullivan's report to Congress as his evidence of a brief fight before the capture of Lawrence and about half his estimated command. Sullivan claimed to have heard "a severe firing in the quarter where Colonel Ogden was, which ceased in about two minutes." This was the only shooting Sullivan could recollect associated with Ogden's sector, but there would soon be more to come.
The unfortunate Elisha Lawrence had formerly been Sheriff of Monmouth County before his commission as Lt. Col. of the 1st NJV. Among the officers captured with him that morning were Captain John Longstreet, Jr., Captain John Barbaire, Ensign Charles W. Stockton, Ensign John Robbins, and Surgeon Uzael Johnson. Ogden hustled his prisoners down to the landing at Old Blazing Star, where he loaded them into a captured Sloop and sailed them back under guard to Elizabethtown, from there to be conveyed to confinement in Trenton. As shall be shown, Ogden's sloop, crammed with green-coated loyalists, was mistaken by those in charge of the boats at Sullivan's landing for a tender bringing Crown reinforcements, with unfortunate consequences.
Ogden next turned his attention to the 3rd Battalion NJV under its Lieutenant Colonel, Staten Island native Edward Vaughn Dongan. Morris says that Ogden moved to attack Dongan "on the Morningstar Road, about midway between the shore and Graniteville." and that "The troops came together in a hand-to-hand contest." Drake says that "Colonel Ogden immediately took up a line of march toward s Morning Star Road, to attack Colonel Dongan's force, which he found in a strong defensive position, and prepared to make a stiff fight. The Jersey boys, howveer, covered by large trees, took careful aim, and wasted neither powder nor ball, and within the hour had the enemy on the run, Colonel Ogden leading them in a gallant charge."
Had this fight taken place to the North of Richmond or "Cocclestown" on the Morning Star Road, it is unlikely that the loyalists would have been driven in the direction they retreated, south and then west on the Amboy Rd. More likely he was posted below the height of land that cuts across the island north of Richmond. Brigadier General Campbell, commander of the Staten Island Garrison, later wrote to Sir henry Clinton in New York that he suspected that Sullivan's division would move south towards Richmond to occupy the adjacent heights "and thereby cut off the retreat of the three provincial regiments stationed beyond that village."
Dongan was not taken completely by surprise, but neigther does is appear that the strong defensive position he took was behind earthworks, as Ogden had no cannon and later declined to attack the enemy sheltered behind some old fortifications at the southwest of the Island.
Accounts written after the war suggest that Lieutenant Colonel Dongan was mortally wounded during this phase of the battle, but Brigadier Campbell's report to Sir Henry Clinton makes it clear that he was in command until the later stages of the conflict. Dongan and the 200 or so men of the 3rd NJV were pushed south of Richmond, according to Morris, "to a point near Gifford's, where they were joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Allen" with about 100 men of the 6th NJV who had marched toward the sound of the guns from their post near Billop's House on the Amboy Rd.
"Another spirited fight ensued", says Morris, while Drake with his usual flair contends that "The combined force made a stand, and fought desperately for some time, but the Jersey Brigade, smarting under outrages these same men under Skinner's command had committed in New Jersey, poured in deadly shots, and the enemy, no longer able to withstand the withering fire, fled in disorder to Prince's Bay." We must take General Drake with a liberal dose of salt, but in any case Ogden pursued them, turning as he did so further away from the Brigades of Smallwood and DeBorre at the north end of the Island with Sullivan.
General Campbell says that he received a messenger from Dongan soon after Sullivan's division struck in the north of the Island,
"with information that an attack had likewise been made on the west part of the island; that Lieut. Col. lawrence and a good many of his corps had been made prisoners; but that he and Lieut. Col. Allen, and their battalions, with a few of lawrences that had joined them, had taken possession of some works formerly thrown up by the rebels near Prince's bay, where they should be able to defend themselves until supported, or that boats could arrive to take them off."
Ogden declined to assault the survivors of his attack in their fortified position and they did not sally forth to engage him as he demonstrated in their front. At this point, he and the New Jersey Continentals and militia n his command were far out of position according to the original plan of attack, and out of all communication with Sullivan. The time was getting on for them to pull back to shore, but doing so would leave an enemy in the rear and as it turned out, Dongan had plenty of fight left in him.
Ensign Ewing states in his journal;
"after pursuing the fugitives to a height near Princes Bay we returnd and recroost the Sound just after which Genl Sullivans Division who had crossd at the Old Point came down..."
Ogden marched his men back to Old Blazing Star, likely by a northerly route, and with no sign of Sullivan and his men, began to reembark for the Jersey Shore. Ogden was never formerly censured for this withdrawal. Most of the laurels from the raid (and much of the plunder, both legitimate military spoils and otherwise, which Major Bloomfield's journal estimates at "near 10,000 £ worth") rightly fell to him and his men. Perhaps he was motivated by offloading the vast amount of plunder his men had amassed. Ensign Ewing records that after landing in New Jersey
"We marchd to Elizt Town where we sold our plunder at Public vandu and then marchd to join the Grand Army in Pensylvania”
WHatever his motives, in leaving the Island Ogden was unable to strengthen Sullivan when his division marched to join him at Old Blazing StaSullivan's men were in for a few other nasty surprises as well as the day progressed, as were a number of civilians caught up in the violence of that day. We will explore what happened in the North of the Island after Sullivan landed inthe next posts in this series.