Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Last Invasion of New Jersey 1780 Part 1 Knyphausen's Elizabethtown Point Landing to The Battle of Connecticut Farms

The British Are Again Coming!

Preface and Landing

    On  June 6th 1780 The British Crossed The Arthur Kill with an expeditionary force of over 5000 British, Hessian and Loyalist Troops to re-invade New Jersey. Crossing from Staten Island where the Arthur Kill meets Newark Bay to Elizabethtown Point Gen. Knyphausen quickly established a beach head  for a planned summer campaign. The entire British and Hessian command assuming to finish off Washington's beleaguered force that had lost several thousand to the elements, desertion and completed enlistment over the last winter in Morristown, N.J. The defensive works at Elizabethtown Point would secure future landings needed to complete Clinton's re-conquest of Nova Caesarea.

    The  goal of Clintons first foray back into New Jersey was to reach Morristown via today's NJ route 82 and capture the large patriot munitions store there. Inflicting early such a heavy blow  to the defense of New Jersey he would all but guarantee continued success in his planned invasion. However held up, Clinton had not yet arrived back from the Southern theater by the 6th. Though this was Clinton's plan. Clinton intended to command the expedition and expected Knyphausen to ready the army waiting for his return. To Clinton's dismay that part of his order was lost in translation. Knyphausen instead continued with the original timeline for the invasion. The Hessian General would later blame over zealous loyalists for the mix up.
Sir Henry Clinton
Supreme Commander of
His Majesties Forces
in North America 1780

    In this history of the last invasion of the Garden State we will break down The events from the landing in Elizabeth the actions at Connecticut farms. As well as  all the engagements leading up to and The Battle of Springfield. The story ends with continued pressure by patriot forces pinning Clinton's army behind the hastily constructed defenses at Elizabethtown Point. The instincts, decisions, and heroism by Continental leadership and soldier alike caused the British to abandon the entire campaign in New Jersey in just a few weeks. Thus, expelling The crown from having any substantial influence in New Jersey for the rest of the American War of Independence. The buffer created through Washington's strategic victory enabled his Northern Continental Army to slip undetected down to Virginia and surround Gen Cornwallis at Yorktown securing eventual American Independence.

    At Elizabethtown two well known american stories as well as the Story of one of Lindens firsts families we have covered in The Truth About Colonial Linden updates occurred. The real life characters of Cornelious Hetfield Jr. and The Fighting Chaplin were re-imagined for the southern theater in the blockbuster epic The Patriot.

Hetfield on January 25 1780 5 months before the last invasion would exact retribution  for the confiscation of his large plantation in today's 8th Ward of Linden, N.J. As the legend goes, he was the first to toss his torch burning the first Presbyterian church after the militia was pushed out. We would like to note that his own father served as an alderman at this church for several decades during the 1700's.

The Fighting Chaplin Rev Caldwell in June 1780 gave a powerful sermon to the members of his flock in Elizabethtown encouraging many to join the militia force in defense of Elizabethtown. He himself fighting among his flock in the street to street urban battle. Tragedy would befall his family on the second day of Knyphausen's march toward the Hobart Gap. This was after the battle of Connecticut Farms (Union Township) when his wife Hannah was murdered by redcoats. This day's infamous moment is recorded in the seal of Union County. Caldwell would once again rally the Patriots at Springfield 3 weeks later as the defenders between the two branches of the Rahway River defending the entrance into Springfield ran low on paper for their musket balls. He ran out with stacks of hymnals ripping pages out and supplying the defenders with the needed material. "Give 'em Watt's Boys. Give 'em Watt's!" he exclaimed. Watt's being the publisher of those Presbyterian Hymnal books.

Also worthy of note the near entirety of The male Winan's family (TTACL Family Video 1-2) was active at Elizabethtown, Connecticut Farms and Springfield. They were a severe presence fighting the British all the way back to Elizabeth point. Demoralizing Clinton's men so completely Clinton had no choice but to abandon His expedition into new jersey never again to fight a major battle in New Jersey or the Northern theater for that matter. This family served beyond any imagining of sacrifice during the war for independence.

Connecticut Farms (TTACL EXTRA Video)

    The next morning of June 7th 1780 Knyphausen's vanguard of Hessian and loyalist troops poured out from the point. The larger force pushed a militia force of 500 New Jersey fighters from the town. The vanguard encountered stiff resistance briefly at a few points along Elizabeth Avenue but professionals and loyalist militia took Elizabeth relatively easily.  Knyphausen was unaware that the force was strategically falling back to meet up with a larger force under Maxwell at Connecticut Farms to defend the Hobart Gap. This is the most direct pass into Morristown. and the large munition stores of the Continental Army. The British plan to take Washington's ammo was the main objective to start the campaign.

    Patriot commander of Elizabethtown defenses General Greene anticipated the Red Coats would not waste time. Early morning on June 7th he dispatched a message the General Washington alerting him to the movement of 6000 Hessian and British Troops  into Elizabethtown Proper. Greene knew that Elizabethtown was indefensible and decided to fall back to Connecticut Farms but was in need of delaying the British advance to amass the majority of the American forces on the heights above the town.

    This fell to Colonel Elias Dayton's force of a few units New Jersey Continentals and few hundred  militia. The patriots received three strokes of luck. The first when the malicious Loyalist militia began looting the town. The second when British Brigadier General Stirling  leading Knyphausen's advance troops was hit by an Elizabeth Minuteman. Then plundering and burning by the British rear guard also proved to aid the Patriots. All of these factors significantly slowed the Crown's advance. The follies and misfortune allowed the massing of Maxwell's men sent by Washington to Connecticut Farms and the tactically retreating forces of Greene, Ogden then Dayton's men from Elizabeth.

    The British Northern Army would come to regret the sins of retribution throughout this expedition. The imprudent actions denied Knyphausen his numerical advantage as Maxwell commanding the Elizabethtown heights would not face the full 6000 invading force at Connecticut Farms. Rather, Maxwell would face no more than 3000 before giving up the village o and orderly reforming a few miles west at the first bridge into Springfield. There with A line of Jersey Blues and one artillery piece he would stop the British cold. Greene and Maxwell's tactical synergy this day drained the Hessian, Loyalist and Red Coats of vigor, confidence, and cohesiveness.

Maxwell Strips the Invaders of Their Will to Fight

(left) Maxwell (right) Knyphausen

   The response by NJ militia and the tactical know how by Maxwell to avoid a pitched battle while still defending a pitched line confounded Clinton's officers. Devoid of Clinton's leadership the staff's objective to severely hinder Washington's ability to wage war faded fast. There would be no quick two day onslaught to set up a final victory. Worse their men would be exposed to the genesis of a style of warfare a half century before it's time.

    The fact that Americans were defending the town using cover to cover gorilla tactics as opposed to a pitched battle gives us an Idea of the over all troop strength under Maxwell's command at Connecticut farms.  However, Maxwell's actual number of troops at Connecticut Farms is unknown. The number not only obscure to posterity but also completely uncertain to Knyphausen. So unsure of Maxwell's total numbers as well as his tactical deployments outside the town, the Hessian General would be forced into a correct but ultimately demoralizing retreat the next morning. 

    It is surely the case that Maxwell's light infantry Brigade were the elite force leading the defense as they moved independent of the main army. Hence, Washington's deployment of them to the Elizabethtown Heights. Examining the accounts of the style of defense the initial deployment of men by Greene and Washington recorded and Maxwell's exit of Connecticut Farms when the British reached a troop strength of 3000 one can reason a total number of Patriot defenders. Maxwell's light infantry brigade numbered around 200 men. There was the better part of 500 militia that retreated from Elizabethtown that morning mixed with units from the Jersey Brigade also commanded by Maxwell. Strengthening the units more militia from the western parts of the Elizabethtown Tract (Modern Union County) were identified as defenders. So we imagine that Maxwell commanded no less than 750 soldiers but no more than 1000 at Connecticut farms.

Maxwell effectively hid his actual troop strength. The force was much larger than the Red Coats anticipated. With the commando abilities of America's first special forces unit and a local militia littered with marksmen many using rifles as opposed to muskets this force certainly appeared at least double it's actual size.  As later recorded by Hessian officer Capt. Johann Ewald The light infantry were moving and attacking from entrenched positions moving and turning using every affordable vantage point. Militia were concealed in the woods around the invaders' lines firing musket and rifle from the edge then falling back. Patriots concealed off  the enemy's flanks. These men defending New Jersey were the first to receive the moniker of the Hornet's Nest.  Later the term was also used described South Carolina Militia men. The entire engagement the Hessian troops couldn't know whether they retreated wholesale after a series of volleys or if they had regrouped in order to envelope the foreigners later.

Results and Aftermath of Connecticut Farms

    The troop strength though 1/6 of Knyphausen's force was much higher than expected. The General's staff expected a poultry force until reaching passed Springfield on en route to the Morristown munition stores. This is where they expected to force Washington's 3500 to fight a pitched battle out gunned and outnumbered. The British and Hessians believed they would force a retreat capturing the powder leaving the remainder of the northern continentals demoralized and impudent.

     It took 3 hours for the Hessian and British troops to take the Heights. The offensive delay was enough time for Washington to establish the main force and block the Hobart Gap at the western end of Springfield. This point between the peaks of Summit and Short Hills was far more defensible then where Knyphausen originally intended to battle Washington. Also, the west end of Springfield was east enough  of Morristown that a retreat would still allow the defense of the ammunition stores. In the face an unknown but larger than expected resistance an extension to the march without securing the Continental munitions was a precarious prospect.

     By the time The crowns 6000 reached Connecticut Farms to make an advance on the Continentals evening was settling in. Knyphausen prudently and correctly halted the advance. The Continental main force was lined up at the narrowest part of the pass. Washington limited any maneuver in which Knyphausen could utilize his superior numbers. This while having cannon reign down from two peaks on his flanks, risking further harassment to the rear of his army and  possibly being cut off for any retreat. He Knew even if he could overwhelm Washington's force at Springfield he still would not reach his objective and risk being surrounded in a feigned retreat.

    So, Knyphausen decided to ransack and burn the village of Connecticut farms committing several unconscionable acts of total war. Most notorious was a murder of retribution immortalized in the seal of Union County. The fighting parson Rev. James Caldwell who rallied a significant number of militia to Washington's ranks fought earlier that morning at Elizabethtown slowing the British advance. For this he was to be made an example of and his wife a martyr.
    Some legends believe that this war crime was actually ordered hours before evening and ordered by the British command. Although, evidence from one first person account suggests it was an instance of shot first ask later by a lone soldier suffering battle fatigue. A Soldier fearing an enemy that appears kills and disappears at will. However, the same account describing what happened moments after lends support to this being an ordered act of savagery and perhaps the nervous behavior of the soldier was on account of having to follow such a heinous order. New Jersey will never know for sure.

In Thomas Fleming's 1973  "The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey – 1780" he recounts  Abigail Lennington, the Caldwell's maid, statement on what had transpired. Quoting Fleming's book 
 "Nervously expecting trouble, the light infantryman approached the window, his finger on the trigger, ... Abigail Lennington shrank back, pulling the little boy with her. Probably the…soldier caught a glimpse of her as she moved away from the window. It was a bright, sunny day, and it seems doubtful that a man standing several feet away from the window could see very far into a room that had no windows in three walls. But a movement, any movement, was all this jittery man ... needed to see". He fired his double-loaded musket through the window and both bullets struck Mrs. Caldwell. Moments later, more British troops arrived, breaking down the door, looting the house and checking Mrs. Caldwell's body for jewelry.

The Crowns forces would head back to the Elizabethtown point defenses the June 8th 1780.  There were a series of minor skirmishes. The British lines were harassed the entire way back by the ghost like militia troops of New Jersey. This would become a common theme throughout this campaign.

Part 2 The Americans Go On The Offensive

due out end of April

TTACL EXTRA Video "Hand Assualts the Point"

click on links for videos


"The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey – 1780"  Fleming, Thomas. 1973 New York] Reader's Digest Press; distributed by Dutton

"History of Elizabeth, New Jersey : including the early history of Union County" Hatfield, Edwin F. 1868,New York: Carlton &Lanahan

"History of Union County, New Jersey" Ricord, Frederic. 1897
Publisher Newark, N.J. : East Jersey History Co.

"Historic Elizabeth, 1664-1914" Dix, Warren Rogers. 1914
Elizabeth Daily Journal

web sources:


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