Battle of Red Bank, October 22, 1777. Incredible American Victory.

Battle of Red Bank. Hessians attempt to storm Fort Mercer.

The summer of 1777 saw General Howe transporting a substantial part of his army south from New York to the Chesapeake Bay. His goal was to capture Philadelphia. After the Battle of Brandywine Creek, Sept. 11th, 1777, the Americans abandoned Philadelphia and General Cornwallis’ troops occupied the city on Sept. 26th. On Oct. 3rd, Washington attacked Howe’s encampment at Germantown, but was forced to retreat after a hotly contested battle. “The battle of Germantown appeared to produce no other result than an increased desire on both sides to secure the passage of the Delaware.”[1]

Red Bank and the Islands in the Delaware.

Though the British owned Philadelphia, they did not control the Delaware River. A pair of American forts, a redoubt, and sunken obstacles called chevaux-de-frise severed river traffic just south of Philadelphia.   This meant that ships from England could not supply the British army with much needed goods. The situation was becoming desperate for the British; more so since the Continental Army remained nearby and harassed British foraging parties.[2] As Hessian Captain Johann Ewald wrote, “Thus far we are in a bad situation. Washington is making the route by land very unsafe between Chester and Philadelphia.”[3] While General Howe concentrated his forces in and around Philadelphia, he made other dispositions for an attack on the forts. General Washington withdrew the garrisons’ militias and detached regiments of Continental regulars to line the forts.[4] Both men knew that if the British could not clear the Delaware by winter, their army in Philadelphia would be forced to abandon the city. Washington wrote that if the river defenses “can be maintained, General Howe’s situation will not be the most agreeable, for if his supplies could be stopped by water, it may easily be done by land… the acquisition of Philadelphia may, instead of his good fortune, prove his ruin.”[5]   The American forts had to be taken and the river cleared of obstacles.  On October 2, 1777, Howe set in motion plans to do so.

American Defenses on Delaware River

Map of Red Bank and Forts Mifflin and Mercer. Approach of British navy.

The first obstacle that prevented British ships from advancing up the Delaware River was at Billingsport, New Jersey. There was a double line of chevaux-de-frise extending from the Jersey shore across the channel to Billings Island. Commodore John Hazelwood, American commander of the Pennsylvania navy, supervised the construction and laying of the chevaux-de-frise. The British historian Joseph Allen describes the chevaux-de-frise as “formed of large square pieces of timber. Two long pieces at a proper parallel distance from each other formed the horizontal base, which rested on the bed of the river. Over these were placed two other beams of similar size, sharpened and pointed with iron, rising from… the base at such an angle that a vessel striking upon them would almost inevitably be pierced. The points did not appear above water [approximately four feet below surface] and the elevation was such as to offer the greatest resistance. The four main pieces were united by many transversed ones… [its] weight and the ballast [stones] attached to it effectually prevented it being moved from its position or turned over.”[6]

Fort Mifflin

The second obstacle consisted of thirty more chevaux strung in a triple line from Mud Island; seven miles south of Philadelphia and just below the Schuylkill River, across the channel from Red Bank on the Jersey side. This was guarded by a fort at either end; Fort Mifflin[7] on Mud Island[8] and on the heights at Red Bank, 1,900 yards from Fort Mifflin, was Fort Mercer.[9] The choice of Red Bank along the Jersey shore offered a clear view of river and surrounding countryside.

The third line of rebel defenses was the American fleet, commanded by Commodore Hazelwood and stationed on the river just above the two forts.   This consisted of the frigate Montgomery, a brig of ten guns, schooner of eight guns, two xebecs of ten guns each, eight smaller armed vessels, thirteen row-galleys each one armed with 18 pounders, two floating batteries of ten and nine 18 pounders, seventeen fire ships, and several fire rafts. The American navy’s finest frigate, the Delaware, had been run aground on September 7th, 1777 along the Jersey shore. British batteries from across the river had set it on fire forcing the captain to surrender.

Fort Mercer

Fort Mercer

Fort Mercer was an earthen fort built on the heights of Red Bank on the Jersey shore of the Delaware River. The Fort was first laid out under the guidance of Thaddeus Kosciuszko[10], a Polish engineer who was also responsible for constructing the fortifications at West Point.

Kosciuszko arrived in America on August 30th, 1776, and immediately applied for a position with the American forces. He was assigned to construct defenses along the Delaware River to protect Philadelphia. He first project was the construction of Fort Billingsport on the New Jersey side of the river before turning his attention to laying out another fort a little further north in what was called Red Bank. This other fort became Fort Mercer.

Red Bank was the plantation of James and Ann Whitall, prosperous Quakers who built their home along the Jersey shore of the Delaware in 1748. They were prudent and managed their 411 acre estate very well, becoming quite wealthy. In 1776, Congress seized a large portion of their riverfront property and designated an apple orchard north of the house for construction of fortifications.[11] Kosciuszko remained long enough to draft plans, lay out the forts’ designs at Billingsport and Red Bank, and begin the earthen fortifications before he was reassigned to support the northern army in upper New York. Work was continued by local construction crews, however neither fort was completed by the spring of 1777.

The Pennsylvania militia was ordered into Fort Mercer on April 16th, 1777 and resumed construction on the earthen works. According to Colonel Pickering’s Journal, Washington’s expense account for July 31, 1777 lists an inspection of river defenses by the commanding general during a visit to Philadelphia. By the fall of 1777, the fort was considered ready. It was supplied with cannon and turned over to the New Jersey militia.

After the Battle of Germantown, October 3, 1777, British General Howe moved his army into Philadelphia to set up winter quarters. Both British and American armies turned their attention to the Delaware River defenses. On October 7th, the 1st Rhode Island under Colonel Christopher Greene, third cousin of Major General Nathaniel Greene, and the 2nd Rhode Island under Colonel Angell were ordered into Fort Mercer. Thomas Antoine Chevalier de Mauduit du Plessis was a young French engineer who had arrived in America with the Marquis de Lafayette. He was also assigned to the fort. He had attended the La Fere Artillery school in France and had studied military engineering.   During the Battle of Germantown, he had impressed Washington with his reported skillful handling of artillery. He was to act as a consultant in strengthening the fort and as commander of the artillery.

Thomas Antoine de Maduit du Plessis

Du Plessis arrived on October 11th and found Fort Mercer to be a sprawling earthen work constructed in a long near oblong shape; 350 yards long, 100 yards wide, and with nine foot ramparts along the eastern and southern parapets.[12] He discovered that the Americans, “little practiced in the art of fortification,” had overbuilt the fort beyond the number of defenders’ capability to hold it.[13] He recommended reducing the area to defend by building a wall across the northern side of the fort and place a wide series of abatis[14] before the attacking side of the walls. The Whitall’s fruit orchard was cut down to supply the sharpened stakes for the abatis. Colonel Greene, commander, ordered all available men to assist du Plessis “which transformed the fort into a large redoubt of a pentagonal form” that was a third the original fort’s size.[15] Du Plessis also ordered a large number of abatis positioned between the outer rampart and this new interior wall. A fosse[16] was dug before the new rampart. This created, in effect, a killing field. Once the attackers made it over the first wall, their progress was slowed by the abatis, entrapping them between the two walls as the Americans laid down a devastating fire at point blank range.

Continental Army Artillery

The outer wall was manned by a few sentinels to deceive the enemy. The inner wall was lined with troops.   Fourteen cannon, all primed with grape shot,[17] lined the walls of the now smaller fort and covered all approaches by land; north, east and south. Du Plessis recommended all walls be boarded and frizzed.[18] The fort’s ramparts proved a formidable obstacle that in an assault, could only be breached by the use of scaling ladders; an important fact somehow overlooked by the attacking Hessians preparing for battle.

 

British Plan

Hessian Grenadier

General Howe’s strategy to rid the Delaware River of American forces began six days after his troops marched into Philadelphia.   While still at Germantown, he ordered an attack on Fort Billingsport. The fort was never finished and was basically a redoubt on October 2, 1777, when Scottish Highlanders of the 42nd Regiment (Black Watch) and part of the 71st, both under Colonel Sterling, landed below the redoubt and attacked it in the rear. Just prior to the British assault, the garrison of New Jersey militia spiked its guns, set fire to the barracks, and fled. Royal Navy Captain Hamond[19] cut through the chevaux and opened a passage for the British ships.

On October 20th, under the direction of Captain Hamond, five British war vessels passed through the ruined chevaux at Billingsport and sailed up the river towards Forts Mercer and Fort Mifflin on Mud Island. These ships were the Augusta, sixty-four guns, Capt. Francis Reynolds; the Roebuck, forty-four guns, Capt. A. S. Hamond; the Liverpool, twenty-eight guns, Capt. Henry Bellew; the Pearl, thirty-two guns, Capt. Thomas Wilkinson, and the Merlin, a sloop-of-war, sixteen guns, Commander Samuel Reeve. They were to force the upper passage, silence Fort Mifflin, aide in the land assault against Fort Mercer, and open navigation on the Delaware River to Philadelphia.

Sketch of naval attack.

Fort Mifflin on Mud Island was to be shelled to submission by batteries along the Philadelphia shore and ships-of-war. Fort Mercer was to be attacked by land. The assault was given to Colonel Carl Emil Kirk von Donop who requested the assignment; hoping to erase some of the tarnish his fellow Hessians received after their defeat at the Battle of Trenton, Christmas day, 1776. According to historian McGeorge, General Howe regarded Count Donop as an intelligent and bold soldier. He assigned him three grenadier battalions of von Minnigerode, von Linsingen,[20] and von Lengerke, Mirbach’s regiment of foot, four companies or corp of Anspach Jagers[21] (green uniformed German riflemen and famed ‘huntsmen’), a dozen Jaeger chasseur (light cavalry), and ten 3 pound cannon[22] including two English howitzers.[23]

Colonel Donop was to cross the Delaware from Philadelphia at Cooper’s Ferry. After disembarking at Haddonfield, they were to march ten miles southwest and attack Fort Mercer on the morning of October 22, 1777. The land assault, all Hessians, was to be supported by the men-of-war making their way up river.

Defenders of Fort Mercer

Colonel Christopher Greene commanded the Rhode Island 1st.

Fort Mercer was manned by the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island Regiments. These two regiments were part of Brigadier General Varnum’s Brigade, former commander of the 1st Rhode Island, who was responsible for the defense of New Jersey. Colonel Christopher Greene of Warwick, Rhode Island and cousin of Major General Nathaniel Greene commanded the 1st. Colonel Israel Angell of Providence led the 2nd. Eyewitness accounts differ on the total number of defenders of the fort stating from 400 to 500 troops. A full 18th century regiment numbered 800 men. However, by the fall of 1777, after two years of conflict in which the Americans suffered defeat and many hardships that lead to much sickness and desertions, the average number per regiments had been reduced drastically. Most regiments could only field anywhere from 200 to 250 able bodied troops; many were even below 200 in number. It is most probable that the total number of defenders was closer to the 400 figure.

Captain Stephen Olney of the 2nd Rhode Island, and Sergeant Jeremiah Greenman, of Captain Sylvanus Shaw’s company, 2nd Rhode Island, recorded detailed narratives of the battle. Among the defenders was also Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney of the 1st, third cousin to Captain Stephen Olney, who would later lead the combined Rhode Island regiments after the mutilated death of Christopher Greene at the hands of New York loyalists (called ‘cowboys’) in Westchester, New York[24].

General James Varnum

Orders had been issued on September 23rd commanding General James Mitchell Varnum to march his brigade, then stationed under Major General Putnam in the Highlands region of New York to the outskirts of Philadelphia and reinforce the main army. While en-route near Coryell’s Ferry,Varnum received a letter from Washington on October 7th . It directed Varnum to “immediately upon receipt of this letter [to] detach Colonel Greene’s [1st Rhode Island] and Colonel Angell’s [2nd Rhode Island] regiments with their baggage, with orders to throw themselves into the fort at Red Bank [Fort Mercer] upon the Jersey shore… General Greene [Nathanial Greene] has written a particular letter to Colonel Greene, in which he will find instructions.”[25]

General Varnum was given the command of the American force designed to protect New Jersey. Washington wrote to him, “the post with which you are now instructed is of the utmost importance to America, and demands every exertion of which you are capable for its security and defense. The whole defense of the Delaware absolutely depends upon it; and consequently all the enemy’s hopes of keeping Philadelphia, and finally succeeding in the object of the present campaign.”[26] Enclosed with this order to General Varnum were further instructions to Colonel Greene, placing him in overall command of Fort Mercer. It informed him that upon arriving Fort Mercer, he was to communicate with Colonel Smith who commanded Fort Mifflin, across from Fort Mercer on Mud Island, and with Commodore Hazlewood, commanding the fleet in the river. He was told he would find a good fortification at Fort Mercer and that the artillery would be directed by Captain du Plessis, who had been sent with some other officers for that purpose.[27]

Continental troops on the march

Colonel Greene reported to Washington that he arrived with his regiment at Red Bank on the 14th of October, “much fatigued with the march, as I forced 35 miles one day. They are now in high spirits, and go to their duty with the greatest cheerfulness… I found it necessary to contract the fort; it [was] too large for our numbers, as we have very little to expect from the militia.”[28] Requisitions to the governor of New Jersey was issued asking for a detachment of militia to strengthen the garrison at Fort Mercer and organize a party to cover the rear of the works from any attack in that quarter.   In the letter of October 7th to General Varnum, Washington replied that he wrote to General Newcomb of the New Jersey militia to give Colonel all the aid in his power.[29] The militia from New Jersey never responded to Washington’s requisition and offered no assistance towards the defense of the fort.[30]

The same day Colonel Angell’s 2nd Rhode Island made the fort, Oct. 16th, a letter from Headquarters arrived .   “… I [Washington] think it more than probable that the greatest part of your men will be wanted in fort Mifflin & as you have many seamen, will give the Commodore every assistance which may be thought prudent & necessary.[31] Colonel Angell was therefore given certain discretionary powers which evidence indicates he used. In Sergeant Jeremiah Greenman’s Diary, he states that his unit (Captain Shaw’s company) was ordered across from Fort Mifflin to Fort Mercer the morning of the attack, Oct. 22nd.   After the battle, Angell sent units from his regiment back over to Fort Mifflin to aid in the defense of the fort against an attack by British shipping the next day.

Historian Sir George Trevelyn writes that late in the evening of the 21st, a detachment of Pennsylvanian militia, equal in number to the whole of Christopher Greene’s troops, looked in on their way to Fort Mifflin where they were dispatched by Washington as reinforcement for the garrison stationed on Mud Island. Their colonel earnestly begged that he and his force be permitted to cast in their lot with the defenders of Fort Mercer. But after sleeping on the question, Colonel Greene declined to interfere with the plans of the Commander-in-Chief, and sent the Pennsylvanians on their way at break of day.[32]   

African American Soldier

A considerable number of African Americans participated in the defense of Fort Mercer. The Rhode Island regiments had the highest percentage of black soldiers among the Continental army ranks. There is no historical account of an exact number. John Cunningham, in New Jersey America’s Main Road[33], states that the defenders were mainly black; however the battle was fought four months before the 1st Rhode Island became a segregated black regiment. This writer believes the answer to be as many as 80 African Americans or one in every five of the fort’s defenders. Colonel Varnum, Rhode Islander who commanded the brigade that included the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island regiments who fought at Red Bank, was so impressed by the performance of the large number of African American defenders at Red Bank, that he sought approval to return to Rhode Island and recruit an all-black regiment. To find the sources for this information, go to the writer’s web site and click on May 2014 archives; look for African Americans and the Revolutionary War Victory at Red Bank – revolutionarywarjournal.com

Events Prior to Battle.

Hessian Jaeger. German huntsmen carrying grove bored rifles. Often used as skirmishers.

About three in the morning, Colonel Donop’s forces marched to Cooper’s Ferry on the Delaware and crossed in flatboats to Haddonfield, New Jersey. Line of march were: Advance guard of sixty Jaegers, followed by the Jaeger Corps, Lt. Col. Ludwig von Wurmb in command, the Minnigerode battalion, the Mirbach Regiment under the command of Lt. Colonel Justus Henrich von Schieck, artillery commanded by Major Pauli, the Lengerke and Linsing battalions, and Captain Lorey with twenty mounted jaegers.[34] They landed on the Jersey shore at 8 AM and immediately marched toward Haddonfield. Less than a half hour from the Delaware, Donop’s force ran into a party of rebels in the vicinity of Newton Township. The New Jersey militia from nearby Salem or Cape May counties withdrew across Cooper’s Bridge[35] toward Burlington. They were pursued by the advance guard of Jaegers, approximately sixty men, to an end of a wood where they came up against several hundred men on both sides of Cooper’s Creek. The Jaegers skirmished with them until about four in the afternoon, this to conceal the main body of troops’ marching to Haddenfield, at which time the riflemen withdrew to follow their colleagues who had arrived at Haddonfield. The Hessians encamped in a quadrangle on the heights above town.

Hessian troops

Estimates of troop size varied from 1,200 (Cpt. Olney’s narrative) to 2,500. The typical battalion of grenadiers averaged around 800 men (including officers). With sickness and desertions, it is safe to put that number at around five hundred men fit for duty. When adding up the three brigades and the addition of another regiment, the entire corps of Jaeger riflemen, a small contingency of Jaeger cavalry, and artillery, the total number of Hessians troops at Colonel Donop’s disposal would be at least 1,800 and most likely closer to 2,500 men. The Jaeger Corps strength alone that day was over 300 men. Historians Gruber, Heston, and Mauduit give troop numbers of around 2,500. One year later, in which these forces were not reinforced from Germany, the same units of Hessians that fought on Oct. 22nd numbered 2,206.[36]

Officers were bedded down in local homes. Colonel Von Donop stayed in the home of John Gill. The 44 year old slim and charming commander made a pleasant houseguest, especially towards Gill’s two daughters. Early the next morning, Donop told his host that he would capture Fort Mercer before sunset. Gill promptly sent a messenger to warn his sister, Sarah Whitall, the daughter-in-law of James and Ann Whitall who lived close to the fort.[37]

At three AM the Hessians resumed their march towards Fort Mercer, approximately eight miles distant. Marching south on Kings Highway through Mt. Ephraim to Westville they found the guard at Timber Creek had removed the bridge. They were forced to make a detour to Clements Bridge, four miles above the creek, and followed the road through Barrington and Runnemede, then to Woodbury and West Bank.[38]   This had delayed their progress and the advance party of Jaegers, led by Captain Wreden, did not reach the vicinity of the fort until one o’clock in the afternoon. In the woods which encircled the left or southern side of the fort at rifle-shot distance, Captain Oliver Clark and six men from the garrison were caught by Captain Wreden and his Jaegers. Clark, who had been sent to reconnoiter the enemy, had been trying to get back to the fort when he was captured. He said that they had been foraging for fresh meat and to deceive the Hessians, he gave an exaggerated number of troops within the fort.[39]

Colonel Carl Emil Ultrich von Donop

Colonel Donop seemed to be in no hurry to make preparations for the attack. Upon reaching the fort, the entire force remained in column on the road in the woods. The men were permitted to sit down and told to eat. “However, since that day was not bread or provisions day, very few [of us] had any bread to break or bite.”[40] “During this time, Colonel Donop, along with Colonel Stuart [Major Stuart – English officer was not promoted to Colonel until four days after the battle], Major Pauli[41], and Captain Krug[42] of the artillery reconnoitered the fort.” Captain Ewald goes on to write that Lt. Col. Wrumb ordered him to inspect the fort and report his opinion on defenses. Returning after his observations, he comments on the frivolity and humor his superiors were treating the whole affair.   “I approached the fort up to rifle-shot range and found that it was provided with a breastwork twelve feet high, palisaded and dressed with assault stakes. On my way back I met Colonel Stuart with a drummer who was to summon the fort, and right behind them I met Major Pauli, Captain Krub, and both adjutants of the colonel [Donop].  All these gentlemen regarded the affair with levity.”[43]

Captain Johann Ewald commanded a company of Jaeger.

Eward continues his commentary with wise advice from a seasoned veteran. “The only man who had any real knowledge, and looked upon the business as serious, was worthy old Captain Krug. I took this man aside and asked him what he thought of the undertaking, whereupon he answered: ‘He who has seen forts or fortified places captured with sword in hand will not regard this affair as a small matter, if the garrison puts up a fight and has a resolute commandant. We have let luck slip through our fingers. We should not have let luck slip through our fingers. We should not have summoned the fort, but immediately taken it by surprise, for no one knew of our arrival.[44] But now they will make themselves ready, and if our preparations are not being made better than I hear, we will get a good beating.”[45]

Soon as he arrived, Donop made a reconnaissance of the fort with his artillery officers. He found on three sides it could be approached through thick woods to within four hundred yards. The battery of eight three pounders and two 5.5 howitzers were brought up on the right wing of the attacking columns (north) and in what was considered the rear of the fort. They were lined up along the edge of the woods at rifle-shot distance and directed on the fort’s embrasures.[46]

Captain Ewald’s sketch of the Hessian assault on Fort Mercer.

The attacking force was formed in two columns. Von Donop and the Hessian grenadier Lt. Colonel von Linsing (third in command) were to attack the southern part of the fort. Grenadiers under Colonel Friedrich Ludwig von Minngerode (second in command) and Lt. Colonel Werner von Mirbach’s infantry were to attack the northern and eastern approaches.   Lengerke’s battalion was stationed in the woods to the north or rear of the fort near the river and held in reserve. Captain Ewald positioned sixteen Jaeger sharpshooters near the artillery at rifle-shot distance to pick off any defenders who might show their heads over the palisades.[47]

Preceded by a flag and drummer, a small contingent of Hessian officers and one English officer acting as interpreter, Major Charles Stewart[48], approached the fort to issue a summons to surrender. The Rhode Island’s Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney met the Hessians about ten to twelve rods from the fort. Du Plessis related to his friend Francis Jean de Chastellux, who wrote a narrative on the Revolutionary War, that Stewart’s arrogant and overbearing tone inspired the defenders to greater resistance. The English Major shouted for all to hear that “The King of England orders his rebellious subjects to lay down their arms; and they are warned, that if they stand the battle, no quarters whatever will be given.”[49] Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney replied that “We shall not ask for nor expect any quarter and mean to defend the fort to the last extremity.”[50]

Hessian Capt. Johann Ewald related after the war that when the fort was summoned, “… a resolute, loud ‘By God no!’ was the answer.”[51]

“After this news, which the colonel [Donop] did not expect, a hundred fascines[52] were made at once by the battalions… The Linsing Batalion under Captain Stamford (for Colonel Linsing had stomach pains at this time) was to make the attack against the left [south], the Regiment von Mirbach [commanded by Lt. Col. von Schieck] against the center [north east] and the Minnigerode Battalion on the bastion to the left at the Delaware [north]. The Lengerke Battalion was stationed at the Delaware to cover the rear against an enemy landing [the woods to the north].”[53]

Fascines – bundles of brush or sticks used to either strengthen embankments or, in this case, fill enemy ditches and trenches, allowing troops to cross quickly during an attack.

It is interesting that Captain Ewald writes that the fascines were not bundled until after the summons was rejected. This helps to confirm those sources that record a second summons was made before the attack began as it no doubt took time to gather the branches and tie them into bundles. This casts doubt on Captain Stephen Olney’s report (that has been accepted as fact by many historians) that the Hessian batteries opened up just as Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney, who parleyed for the Americans, got back to the fort. Ewald continues describing “…one hundred men from each battalion were to carry the fascines and march in a line at a distance of two hundred paces in front of the battalion. With these the ditch was to be filled, crossed, and the fort scaled with sword in hand.”[54]

As the parley ended, Colonel von Donop assembled his colonels and addressed them in ‘stirring’ language. In obedience to his own example, they all dismounted, unsheathed their swords, and placed themselves in front of their respective battalions. The Hessian grenadiers cheered madly and called out that Fort Mercer should soon be renamed ‘Fort Donop.’ The drummer who had accompanied the summons to surrender struck up a lively beat and, with a shout of victory, the enemy marched towards the fort with all the precision observed on the parade.[55] Captain Ewald laments at this stage of his narrative that “…no one thought about axes or saws with which the obstructions and palisades could be cut down.”

According to Peter Turner, of East Greenwich, who was surgeon at the fort, Colonel Christopher Greene, who had been watching the foe through a spy glass from the summit of the parapet descended from his post of observation.[56] He walked down the line with one last word of counsel to each of his followers; “Fire low, my men. They have a broad belt just above the hips. That is where you must aim.”[57]

Hessian artillery.

Lt. Olney had scarce time to get into the fort before he was followed by an ear shattering discharge of enemy artillery;[58] “… their first general discharge was tremendous,” wrote Captain Stephen Olney of the 2nd Rhode Island. “It made the gravel and dust fly from the top of our fort, and took off all the heads that happened to be in the way.”[59] It was four-forty five, ten minutes into the bombardment when, under the protection of the brisk cannonade, the Hessian columns ran forward.[60]

 

The Battle

Lingsing’s grenadiers cut and maneuvered through the abatis as the Americans let loose with devastating cannon and musket fire. Still the Hessians pressed on and moved against the nine-foot high southern parapet. On the north, Minnigerode’s grenadiers found no resistance as all was quiet as they approached the fort. Thinking this portion of defenders had fled their stations, they flowed over the old breastwork waving their hats and shouting ‘Vittoria!’ As planned, Colonel Greene withdrew the small party of sentinels posted along the old wall to the the new rampart where their comrades waited. He calmly watched as the Hessians quickly became entangled in the abatis as more and more filled the enclosure between the parapets.

Hessians attack the southern wall.

Meanwhile, Donop’s command continued their assault against the southern wall. The Americans’ musketry poured a horrendous fired over the ramparts while grape shot sprayed shards of metal through the ranks of attacking Hessians, mowing down large swathes of men. The attack approached the fosse or ditch and there it stalled. Men from behind pressed on only to reach the wall where they were mercilessly cut down. Fired upon from point blank range, they were stacked up and fell in clumps, many with ghastly wounds. The attack faltered as men began to retreat.

From the first eruption of Hessian artillery, some of the defenders, mere boys as nearly a third were sixteen years or younger, hid behind the walls. They would stick their musket through the embrasures[61] or over the wall and fire without looking. “… the enemy’s artillery intimidated some of the men so much they were afraid to show their heads above the breastworks, raised their guns and fired by guess work, notwithstanding [Lt.] Colonel Jeremiah Olney was busily employed in thrashing them with his hanger.”[62]

The Hessians pouring over the northern breastwork had quickly discovered a massive field of abatis with another wall a hundred yards beyond. Minnigerode moved their troops through the tangled mass of felled trees with pointed branches. Without little in the way of proper cutting tools, their pace was slow as they clawed and hacked away with muskets and swords. Still there was no fire from the defenders. The first ranks penetrated the abatis and crossed the ditch, reaching the berm.[63] Here they were checked as the walls were too steep and high to scale over, made worse by the smooth planking layered over the breastwork. The only way to press the attack further was by using scaling-ladders, and they had none. More and more men came up from behind until a mass of Hessians were pressed before the wall. It is at that moment that New England muskets and cannon spoke.

Model accurately depicts Rhode Islanders defending the inner wall of Fort Mercer, firing into a ‘killing field’ between the undefended northern outer wall. Courtesy of Flames of War models website.

“Fire,” bellowed Colonel Greene.  The blast was ear shattering as the British historian Trevelyn wrote, “Probably never in all the war was there such an avalanche of grapeshot and bullets that fell upon the Hessians.” Both columns were cut down in huge swathes, as if a massive sheathe carved a path through their ranks. “They [dropped] in rows and heaps. It may well be doubted whether so few men in so small a space of time had ever delivered a deadlier fire.”[64]

Three German colonels went down while other officers tried to rally the men. Along the southern bastions, Colonel Donop and his adjutant, Captain Wagner, fell mortally wounded at the edge of the ditch, their insignias proving a prime target for American marksmen. The boldest pushed their way across the ditch reaching the berm. Captain Stamford, commanding the Linsing Battalion, was shot through the chest as he rallied the men forward. Since they had no scaling-ladders, and encumbered by huge knapsacks and ponderous trappings, they tried in vain to shoulder each other up and over the smooth wall. A few climbed desperately and made the palisades only to be cut down.

To the north, Minnigerode rallied the men, but was shot through both legs; collapsing under the deadly carnage that rained down upon his men. Colonel Schieck, who commanded the Regiment von Mirbach, reached the barred gate and was shot dead. Hot jagged steel and iron tore heads and limbs from bodies as du Plessis’ cannon blasted grape shot at point blank range.

Model depicting Colonel Greene’s gun placements.

At the southern approach, men began to pull back. Officers were able to turn the tide and renew the assault. By now two American row-galleys, which drew little water, stood close to shore and concealed themselves in the rushes. They added their 18 pound cannon to the carnage, enfilading the right wing and raking the Hessians with grape and round shot at very close range. Chain shot ripped into them as arms and legs were torn from crumbling bodies. Still the dogged Germans pressed the attack. They formed on the glacis[65], filled the ditch, and pressed on towards the ramparts. By now Colonel Donop, his staff, and more than half of all the other officers were killed or wounded. Those who managed to scamper up part of the parapet were beaten down with lances and bayonets. The assailants continued to suffer heavily as dozens fell to the ground, many withering in death’s final grip.

American artillery.

Sergeant Greenman was stationed along “a row of strong palisades sallied out from the parapet on the gate on the south side [of the fort]. We had a small place big enough for eight men to fight in which overlooked all the ground round the fort.” From this position they could fire upon the enemy on either side as they attacked the main parapet. Captain Stephen Olney of the 2nd Rhode Island wrote of a similar position his men was assigned. “My company was stationed in a salient angle, connected within the curtain of the breast work, to rake the ditches on each side. When fighting, I thought my company quite secure, as the enemy looked to the bastions on each side; therefore my men were deliberate.” He goes on to describe one man in particular who took his time to aim his musket in a deadly display. “While the enemy were in confusion, not more than 20 paces off, a man by the name of Sweetzer insisted that I should see him kill when he fired. I indulged him four or five times and his object fell. I then directed him to fire at an officer and he only made him stagger a little.”[66]

In forty minutes it was over. The Hessians, faced with no way of ascending the nine foot walls, fired aimlessly up at the defenders while their comrades dropped all around them. Hopes of pressing the attack gone, both columns began a general retreat pursued by rifle and the fort’s artillery. The row-galleys continued to fire upon the men as they retired from the field; leaving a bloody trail of dead and wounded. They fell back to the protection of the woods and reformed where they had first assembled, about 400 yards to the north and rear of the fort.

The ground was left strewn with the dead and dying. Many of the wounded hobbled or tried to crawl to the forest where their comrades were assembling. Colonel Donop lay dying where he fell. His second in command, Lt. Colonel Mingerode, was mortally wounded. This left Lt. Colonel Linsing in command. In the twilight, he organized the troops and gathered the wounded to begin the retreat back to Haddonfield, ten miles (16km) distant.

Though Captain Olney and Sergeant Greene’s eyewitness accounts make no mention of the commander of artillery, Chevelier du Plessis, it is certain that all within the fort were indebted to his skill in directing cannon fire that day. As the historian Williams recorded, du Plessis was in fact, on that occasion, “the spirit of the storm.”[67]

Aftermath

Over a hundred Hessians lay dead in the trenches. Many more lay strewn across the field. Captain Olney writes that the next day, eighty-seven were buried in one ditch alone.[68] The retreating column was accompanied by all the wounded who could bear to be carried or helped along by their comrades. Twenty two were buried by the road side on the way back to Cooper’s Ferry in Haddonfield. Sixty more were left disabled on the ground along the way.[69]

Exploded cannon found during dig at Fort Mercer site.

As Sir Trevelyn writes, “Hundreds of homes were left desolate in Germany, but it was money in the Landgrave’s[70] pocket, in as much as he had stipulated for an extra payment of thirty crowns from the British treasury for every one of his subjects who might be killed in action.

The Americans were content to let the Hessian forces slip away without any further confrontation. They did not sally from the fort until the last company of Germans was on the road north. Captain Olney took charge of the detachment that saw to the wounded and posted sentries. He writes: “I had charge of the guard on that night after the battle. My sentries were placed round the whole fort. The part we had evacuated on the preceding day was covered with dead, wounded, and dying Hessians. The groans and cries of the wounded and dying were dreadful music to my ears; and but for the reflection of what would have been our fate had they been victorious, our sympathy would have been truly distressing.”[71]  Captain Olney goes on to write that “the day had been quite warm, but the night was extremely cold. I had on thin clothes and never suffered more at any time or season of the year. Several of the wounded and nearby dying appeared to suffer the cold. I had them removed into a little hut without any floor where was a little fire which rendered them more comfortable than in the open air.”[72] The next day many of the wounded were moved to the nearby Whitall mansion between the fort and Woodbury Creek and cared for by Ann Whitall and her servants. It was reported that Colonel Greene did his utmost to preserve the lives of the wounded. He had, however, few medicines and little in the way of wholesome food to offer.

Colonel Donop was found about 20 rods beyond the works where he had retreated before collapsing. He had multiple wounds; one ball having shattered his thigh. It is reported that he refused to be carried from the field and insisted his men leave him to the enemy.[73] He was brought into the fort after dark by Major Thayer at the request of the count’s servant.[74] He was then taken to the Whitall house. It is reported that he was personally looked after by du Presiss who gave him all the care affording his rank and station.[75] He was soon after removed to the Low house across the dam at Woodbury Creek where he died on October 29th, 1777. His body was returned to the fort and buried with full military honors; interred between the Whitall house and the fort. Colonel Greene ordered a crude stone to mark his grave. The headstone was never engraved and eventually was lost to time.[76]

Twenty Hessians were found along the southern berm, clinging to the parapet to be out of the line of fire. When their comrades retreated, they chose not to chance running the gauntlet of bullets and grape shot to escape across the open. They were captured and herded into the fort. Approximately three hundred muskets were gathered including a considerable number of cartridge-boxes, swords, and other equipment found among the dead and wounded.

General Newcomb, commander of the southern New Jersey militia, did not receive Washington’s orders to attack the Hessian force prior to the battle. Needless to say, it would not take a keen military mind to see that the Hessian force, reduced in numbers, fatigued, with many wounded, would be a target for further harassment on their long trek back to Cooper’s Ferry. A member of the garrison, Ebenezer David, who was absent when Donop’s force landed, failed to reach the fort before the assault began. He pleaded with General Newcomb to attack the Hessians from the rear; but his urgings fell upon deaf ears. He rages in a letter David wrote on Nov. 5th ; “…such stupidity, such infamous conduct I never saw…[referring to Newcomb].” [77]

Sketch of British naval attack.

According to the British author Sir Trevelyn, the British men-of-war sent up the Delaware to assist in the land assault had harassed the fort by cannonading the river side of the defenses.[78] Dawson does not agree writing “It does not appear that Count Donop received the support from the enemy’s fleet, or from his works on Province Island[79], which he had expected to receive. Indeed, it was not until half past six on the morning of the 23rd that the latter opened their fire, and the fleet did not commence its operations until seven o’clock.[80] As a matter of fact, the British navy’s action only added insult to injury. “As the British ships of war, which had attempted to take part in the attack fell down the river, the Augusta, of sixty-four guns, and the Merlin frigate grounded. The next day, the Augusta was set on fire by red-hot shot from the American galleys and floating batteries and blown up before all her crew could escape. The Merlin was abandoned and set on fire. From the wrecks, the Americans brought off two 24 pounders.[81]

Casualty details

Colonel Greene had told the Rhode Islanders to aim for the wide belt at the Germans’ waist. A brief study of the wounded officers show most were hit in the lower extremity, indicating the rebel garrison heeded Greene’s advice: Colonel Donop, right leg shot apart; Captain Wagner, both legs shot to pieces, Colonel Minnigerode, shot through both legs; Captain Stamford, shoot through the chest and right leg; Captain Wachs, through the right leg; Lt. Waitz, through the left leg; Lt. Riefer, left foot smashed; Lt. Berner, right leg shot to pieces; Lt. Gottshall, right knee smashed, Lt. Heymel, in the left knee; and three other officers were listed wounded in the arm or head.[82] This is not inclusive of the eight officers left dead on the battlefield; most falling to multiple shot and grape to their lower extremities.

Major Samuel Ward[83], 1st Rhode Island, immediately after the battle wrote a letter to Washington on behalf of Colonel Greene. In it he gives an account of casualties. “The enemy’s loss amounts to one lieutenant colonel [Mingerode], three captains, four lieutenants, and near seventy killed; and the Baron Donop, his brigade-major, a captain, lieutenant, and upwards of seventy non-commissioned officers and privates, wounded and taken prisoners.” Accounts varied on the total number of Hessian casualties from the official Hessian report of 371 to eyewitness’s statements of over 400.[84]

In his letter, Ward lists American casualties. “We are also informed that several wagons are taken…. Colonel Greene’s regiment has two sergeants, one fifer, and four privates killed; one sergeant and three privates wounded; and one captain (who was reconnoitering) taken prisoner [he does not make reference to the six soldiers taken captive as reported by Captain Ewald]. Colonel Angell has one captain [Captain Sylvanus Shaw of Sergeant Greenman’s company], three sergeants[85], and three rank and file killed; and one ensign, one sergeant, and fifteen rank and file wounded; two of Captain du Plesiss’ company were slightly wounded…”[86]   This would place the total American loss to be 14 killed and 19 wounded. Other totals in historical accounts agree on the number killed, but place the number of American wounded as high as 27.

The American casualties were trifling compared to the Hessian total killed and wounded, which also included 22 officers and 20 missing; as listed in General Howe’s official report. British headquarters notoriously misrepresented the number of German casualties. Colonel William Bradford[87], who attended the fort shortly after the battle, wrote to President Wharton of the Pennsylvania Executive Council on Oct. 27th that “the enemy had about 100 killed on the field… they left about 80 wounded, among them their commander, Count Donop who lays at Red Bank with this thigh broke; and his Brigade Major [referring to Captain Wagner, Donop’s adjunct] wounded in three places – near thirty of their wounded are since dead. We are informed the enemy carried over to Philadelphia not less than 300 wounded.”[88] Later, the Americans moved the Hessian wounded to the Old Friends Meeting Houses in Haddonfield and Woodbury which served as hospitals.[89]

If Bradford’s account of the number of Hessians wounded is true, than the number of killed, wounded, and missing would be greater than what the British reported and closer to around 500; approximately a third of the attacking force. An incredibly high percentage for the Revolutionary War and the second worst percentage of casualties suffered by the His Majesty’s Ministerial forces throughout the war, next to the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Retreat

Coopers Ferry between Haddonfield, NJ and Philadelphia

Captain Ewald writes, “Colonel Wurb immediately ordered the Jaeger Corps to move up to the edge of the wood to cover the grenadier and infantry retreat. He personally took control of the Grenadier Battalion Lengerke which had been in reserve and protected the rear in case an enemy party had landed from the ships. He hurried the battalion to the pass of the Timber Creek bridge [Clements Bridge] to occupy it. Since we had flattered ourselves in advance with a successful surrender, no retreat then was thought of, and no wagons brought to transport the wounded. The seriously wounded officers were carried on the guns and horses, and all the privates who could not drag themselves away on their wounded limbs fell into enemy hands.” Here Captain Ewald laments the fate of those wounded who remained on the battlefield. “But the enemy took the retreat for a trap and had expected a new attack during the night, the men had to remain on the battlefield a whole night in the most deplorable condition without the slightest care, whereby the majority died of their wounds.”[90]

The passage back to Philadelphia took another full day. “About midnight the entire corps arrived on the other side of Timber Creek, where arrangements were made at once to obtain wagons for transporting the wounded officers to Philadelphia. At eight o’clock in the morning, the corps set out again and crossed the Delaware during the night. The three grenadier battalions moved into cantonment quarters on the outskirts of Philadelphia; the Mirbach Regiment joined the line of the army; and the Jaeger Corps returned to its post at the Morris house, where it arrived after midnight.”[91]

“This day was especially sad for me,” Captain Ewald writes.   “I lost five of my oldest friends, among whom was a relative, and four of my best friends were severely wounded. As long as I have served, I have not yet left a battlefield in such deep sorrow.” Perhaps out of anger or frustration, Ewald records his thoughts on what went wrong. “We should not have summoned the fort, but attacked as soon as we arrived. Through this mistake, the garrison was alerted and the armed vessels gained time to draw near for the defense.” He continues: “The plan of attack itself was faulty. We ought to have made the feint attack where the Linsing Battalion attacked [north that brought the assault directly against the redoubt], and the real attack in full strength where the Minnigerode Battalion attacked, because we were covered on this side by the wood up to musket-shot range.”[92] He further complained that the fascines where thrown haphazardly, with no thought to their effectiveness.

Response and result of battle

On October 24th, Washington responded to Major Samuel Ward’s letter, addressing it to Colonel Greene. “I heartily congratulate you upon this happy event and beg you will accept my most particular thanks and present the same to your whole garrison, both officers and men…”

Example of 18th century military hospital.

All prisoners should immediately be removed to a distance from your post, to some convenient and safe place.”[93] Washington went on to regret that the prisoners were sent to Burlington as they would not be secure and must be sent on to Morristown, NJ. He also reiterated that the hospitals in Morristown could attend the wounded, particularly Colonel Donop. Washington then referred to the arms collected from the Hessians. He told Greene to “exchange all the indifferent arms you may have for them… send all your superfluous arms away. They can be put in wagons that are on the way to you with ammunition.”[94]

Battle of Red Bank Memorial

Congress later added their congratulations for the Delaware River defenders by way of ordering three “elegant” swords to be presented to Colonel Greene, Lt. Colonel Smith (Commander of Fort Mifflin), and Commodore Hazelwood.[95] Colonel Greene never lived long enough to receive the sword as four years later he was attacked and killed by loyalists “cowboys” in Westchester County, NY. In 1786, Henry Knox presented the sword to his eldest son.

The Hessian defeat was a grave disappointment to General Howe who sought to put a positive spin on the situation in his October 25th report to Lord George Germain, Secretary of State to the American Department. “Colonel Donop immediately made the best disposition and led on the troops in the most gallant manner to the assault. They carried an extensive outwork from whence the enemy were driven into an interior entrenchment which could not be forced without ladders, being eight or nine feet high… boarded and fraised. The detachment… was much galled by the enemy’s galleys and floating batteries… There were several brave officers lost on this occasion in which the utmost ardor and courage were displayed by both officers and soldiers.”[96]   Howe did not elaborate on the casualty lists nor the worsening situation in Philadelphia if the rebel forts were not soon taken. He also brushed over the disaster of the loss of the two men-of-war stating that they had been grounded and by some accident, took fire with no loss of life.

The British had to clear the Delaware of American resistance before winter.   Enough supplies needed to reach Philadelphia before ice set in making the river impossible to navigate. Ships and batteries from the Pennsylvania shore began pounding Fort Mifflin on November 10th. By Nov. 15th, Fort Mifflin was in ruins. The Americans fired what was left of the garrison, spiked the cannon, and evacuated to Fort Mercer. On November 19th, Colonel Greene wrote to Washington, whose headquarters were at Whitemarsh, Penn., giving an account of the affairs at Fort Mercer. Food supplies and ammunition were in a very critical condition since the fall of Fort Mifflin three days previously.

The enemy was now able to concentrate their entire attention upon Red Bank and Fort Mercer; the American fleet in the river having been destroyed. Lord Cornwallis was heading up a large force, 3,000 strong with another 2,000 marching down from New York. As already known to Washington, Cornwallis had left Philadelphia to Chester on the 17th of November. He had crossed the Delaware and was heading north, approaching the rear of the fort. This made the American situation untenable and on the evening of the 20th, Greene, in compliance with the advice of his immediate superiors, evacuated the fort. They drew off what artillery they could; spiking what was left, and set fire to the garrison.

This German defeat, along with the Trenton defeat earlier in the year, proved to General Howe that Hessian troops could only be given a supportive role in all future operations. Frustrated by the failure to capture Fort Mercer, Howe ordered the Hessian regiments withdrawn from New Jersey.[97]

Hessian rank and file were at first buried in the trenches before the southern forts’ ramparts. Officers were buried a little further south from the fort and closer to the Delaware River. Later, they were moved to what was known as “The Strangers Burial Ground” at Woodbury, New Jersey. The cemetery received its name for the large number of those buried there who were not members of any of the local religious communities. Due to erosion, over time bones would appear. They were collected and removed to the Woodbury cemetery for strangers.

Jonas Cattell, Fact or Fiction

Haddonfield New Jersey celebrates a local Revolutionary War hero annually with a ten mile run from Haddonfield to Red Bank. Local legend has it that Jonas Cattell, born in 1758 on a farm called Lavender Hills, Woodbury, (now Deptford), saved Fort Mercer by racing ahead of the Hessian troops and warned the garrison, giving them time to prepare a defense. He was apprenticed to a blacksmith and the night the Hessians occupied Haddonfield, he had stayed too late and was arrested. It is told he overheard the Hessians talking about assaulting the fort and when released the next morning, he bolted for the fort. Guide books to the area and regional publications tout Cattell’s run, however there is no mention of his feat in any historical treatise on the battle. The garrison was amply warned of the approach of the Hessians several hours before Cattell would have reached Red Bank. Prone to exaggeration, stories of Cattell’s herculean abilities are many that include wresting with a massive sturgeon the size of a man.

All historical accounts indicate that this event never happened. Captain Ewald’s mention of Mr. Gill sending a runner to warn his sister is the only first person account this writer has found that could be tied to Mr. Cattell’s exploits. It may very well be the seed from which Jonas Cattell’s heroic run materialized.

Red Bank Battlefield Park

Fort Mercer is now a national park administrated by Gloucester County, www.co.gloucester.nj.us/ Tourists may use the pathways, playgrounds and a self-tour of the fort. Nearby, the Ann Whitall House, where the Hessian wounded were taken, still stands and is a national park site/museum. During the excavations of the park, two old cannons, a large number of grape shot, an iron camp stove, and many other relics (including human bones) were uncovered. A battlefield monument was erected in 1906 by the State of Rhode Island. It was dedicated June 21, 1906 and is topped with a statue of Colonel Christopher Greene.   The address and phone number of the park is: Red Bank Battle Field Park, 100 County Road 642, National Park, NJ 08063. (856) 853-5120

Read the first installment of A Black Man’s Destiny (Shades of Liberty) here.

Notes:

[1]   Dawson, pg. 354.

[2]   The British were maintaining its provision with great risk for they had to be transported from Chester to

Philadelphia in flatboats manned by armed sailors along the bank of the Delaware under cover of dark, in spite

of enemy vessels. Ewald, pg. 96.

[3]   Ewald, pg. 104.

[4]   Dawson, pg. 354

[5]   Fitzpatrick. Vol. 9 pg. 259

[6]   Allen, pg. 238

[7]   Named for Major General Thomas Mifflin. Renowned Philadelpia quaker.

[8]   According to Ewald, pg. 396, Fort Mifflin was located on Fort Island, which was often confused with Mud Island,

a few hundred yards upstream.

[9]  Named to honor General (Doctor) Hugh Mercer. Close friend of General Washington, he was an experienced

soldier who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden and throughout the Seven Years War. He died of his

wounds suffered at the Battle of Princeton.

[10] Kosciuszko was aided by an African American born freeman from Northampton, Mass. He remained with

Kosciuszko for five years and served throughout the war. He was given a veteran’s pension signed by

[11]   It has been recorded that during the battle, Ann Whitall remained at her spinning wheel. At one point, when

a cannon ball crashed through a portion of the house, she moved to the cellar and continued her spinning.

[12]   Parapets & ramparts were the defensive walls of a fortification.

[13]   Stephen Olney, Captain in the 2nd RI, wrote that it was built to be defended by at least 1,500 – 2,000 men.

William’s Biography of Revolutionary Heroes…

[14]   Abatis were defensive obstacles of felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy.

[15]   Castellux 124

[16]  Fose is a ditch, or moat when filled with water, dug in front of the defending wall.

[17]   Grape shot arecanisters of lead and iron pellets that spray a large area when fired.

[18]   Fraises are sharpened stakes driven into the side of the defending wall facing the enemy.

[19]   Historical resources spell his name both as Hamond and Hammond.

[20]   Lt. Col. (promoted to Colonel afterward) Otto Christian Wilhelm von Linsingen; born 1731 at Birkenfelde,

Hesse-Cassel; Chief of Grenadier Battalion von Linsingen, called Linsing by Ewald and others. Ewald, pg.

[21]   Recruited from German ‘huntsmen’, these rifle companies donned green uniforms similar to their traditional

dress.

[22]   Jaeger Hessian, Johann Ewald writes that among the cannon were two six pounders. Ewald, pg. 97.

[23]   Capt. Francis Downman’s English 5.5 howitzers.

[24]   In 1778, Colonel Christopher Greene was given command of the newly recruited 1st Rhode Island, the first ‘all

black’ unit with a large portion of freed slaves. He was ambushed by loyalists on May 13th, 1881, at Croton

Bridge, New York and after a desperate fight in which half a dozen of his men (African Americans) gave their

lives trying to protect him, he was killed and horribly mutilated; no doubt as retribution for leading a unit of

African Americans soldiers against the crown.

[25]   Lovell, pg. 112.

[26]   Ibid.

[27]   Ibid.

[28]   Lovell, pg. 114

[29]   Ward, pg. 10.

[30]   Fitzpatrick, ix, 413. There was some resistance to the advancing Hessians by local militia from Camden &

Suffix Counties. Hessian Captain Ewald writes that when landing at Cooper’s Ferry, they were fired upon.

Also a number of militiamen were driven off at Timber Creek Bridge by an advance party of Jaegers. Ewald,

pg. 97.

[31]   Ward, pg. 10

[32]   Trevelyn iv, pg. 253.

[33]   Cunningham, pg. 105

[34]   Ewald, pg. 97.

[35]   Cooper’s Creek drawbridge near Spicer’s Landing, built c. 1762.

[36]   Williams, pg. 224, Ewald, pg. 398.

[37]   Ewald, pg. 398.

[38]   Ewald, pg. 97, wrote they went through Strawberry Bank which is modern Wescottville. According to Heston, I,

pp 164-65, the Hessians marched from Haddonfield to Red Bank “by way of a place then known as

Cattletown, to the King’s Highway, above Woodbury and toward Red Bank.”

[39]   Lundin, pg. 349, Ewald, pg. 97.

[40]   Ewald, pg. 98.

[41]   Major Georg Henrich Pauli, Hessian Field-Artillery Corps, assigned to Linsing’s grenadier battalion. He was a

veteran of the Seven Years’ War. General von Knyphausen was disillusioned by the major’s conduct writing

“He has taken to drinking so much that he is frequently unfit for duty.” Ewald, pg. 397.

[42]   Staff Captain Johann Georg Krug, Hessian Field-Artillery Corps, veteran of the Seven Years’ War. Ibid.

[43]   Ewald, pg. 98.

[44]   According to the “Journal… Hessischen Feld-Jager Corps (pg. 30), “The enemy had been informed this morning

of the approach of the troops and hastily prepared to defend the fort.” But the Minnigerode’s battalion journal

(pg. 178), states that von Donop should have attacked at once: “The door of the fort stood open and the

sentinels at the gate and in the fort were pacing quietly up and down with their guns on their shoulders,

probably unloaded.” Captain Clark, captive American, may have contributed to the assumption the fort was

not prepared. He affirmed under questioning that he was on a foraging mission and was surprised by the

German’s appearance – a ruse since Col. Greene assigned to watch the Hessians’ movements.

[45]   Ewald, pg. 98.

[46]   Bancroft, vol. ix, pg. 430.

[47]   Smooth bore muskets were not sited, but fired in mass volley to have an effect. Their accuracy did not exceed a

hundred yards. The Jaeger Corps carried rifles. Their bores were grooved and soldiers sited down the barrel.

Their accuracy could extend up to four hundred yards. British and Americans also had rifle companies

within their regiments.

[48]   Lt. Col. Charles Stuart was a Member of Parliament. He arrived in America on the 8th of Oct., 1775 and was a

major of the 43rd. He was promoted four days after the battle, on October 26th. Stuart was the son of Lord

Bute, the former Prime Minister. He became a confidant of Sir Henry Clinton. Ford, British Officers Serving

         in the Revolution, pg. 169.

[49]   Trevelyn iv, pg. 258.

[50]   Williams, pg. 223. Also Ebenezer David, member of garrison, writes in a letter dated Nov. 5, 1777, located in

John Carter Brown Library, that Olney said Greene “would defend the fort as long as he had a man, and

as to mercy, it was neither sought nor expected at their hands.” Lundin, pg. 350.

[51]   Ewald, pg. 398.

[52]   Fascines are bundles of wood that were tied together and carried before the assaulting troops. They were thrown

into the fosse or ditch to act as a crude bridge upon which the attacking soldiers could clamber over to reach

the fort’s wall.

[53]   Ibid, pg. 98.

[54]   Ibid.

[55]   Dawson vol. 1, 352

[56]   Lovell, pg. 114.

[57]   Trevelyn iv, pg. 258

[58]   Historical accounts agree that immediately after the summons for surrender, the Hessians began their cannonade.

However, Minnigerode’s diary (pg. 179) states that Donop offered a second summons two hours later. “After

two hours had elapsed, he again summoned the fort to surrender, but he received the same answer as before.”

Ewald, pg. 398.

[59]   Williams, pg. 223.

[60]   Bancroft ix, 430

[61]   Embrasures are small openings along the rim of a fortified building or wall from which soldiers fired.

[62]   Hanger is a sword similar to a cutlass used by woodsmen and soldiers in 17th to 18th centuries.

[63]   Berm is the space between the ditch and the parapet.

[64]   Trevelyn iv, 258.

[65]   A glasis is a gentle bank that slopes down from a fort’s parapet exposing attackers to the defenders’ missiles.

[66]   Williams, pg. 224.

[67]   Ibid.

[68]   Sargeant Greenman places this number at 73. Many historians agree the number was in the mid seventies.

According to Captain Ewald’s drawing, this ditch of Hessian dead was along the southern wall of the fort.

[69]   Trevelyn iv, pg. 260.

[70]   Landgrave was the title of the princes of Hasse-Kessel throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The British army usually failed to or inaccurately recorded German casualties to minimize this cost.

[71]   Williams, pg. 224

[72]   Ibid.

[73]   The “Journal… Hessischen Feld-Jager Corps” (pg. 31) states that Colonel von Donop “did not want to be carried

back and therefore fell into enemy hands.” It is confirmed in the Minnegerode Journal (pg. 181) which states,

“He absolutely refused to allow himself to be brought to Philadelphia.” Ewald, pg. 398.

[74]   This must be Donop’s servant. Donop’s adjunct, Capt. Wagner, was mortally wounded at the edge of

the ditch.   There is no account if the servant was wounded or had remained by his master’s side out of

loyalty. Ewald, pg. 99.

[75]   Castellux pg. 125.

[76]   Accordingly his grave was later despoiled and his remains scattered as relics and souvenirs. The Rutgers

University Library displays a skull which a New Jersey physician claimed was the colonel’s. However

Reverand John F. Schoreder, Life & Times of Washington, states that the government of Hesse-Cassel removed

von Donop’s remains for reinterment in his own country. Lossing, ii, pg. 84, Schroeder, I, pg. 597.

[77]   Lundin, pg. 351.

[78]   Trevelyn iv, pg. 256.

[79]   English batteries on the Pennsylvania shore across from Mud Island and Fort Mercer.

[80]   Dawson, pg. 354.

[81]   Bancroft, vol. ix, pg. 430.

[82]   Ewald, pg. 102.

[83]   Major Samuel Ward, Jr., was from a long and illustrious Rhode Island family. His father was governor of the

colony and one of the founders of Brown University. Both father and son were passionate patriots. Samuel

rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the 1st Rhode Island regiment.

[84]   Von Knyphausen’s official report lists 82 killed, 229 wounded, and 60 missing, totaling 371. Baurmeister gives

377 killed and wounded, 100 captured. Cpt. Stephen Olney believed “their killed and wounded exceeded 400.

Ewald reports 154 killed and 263 wounded totaling 417. The number of wounded who did not recover also

varied by accounts. Lowell, pp. 208, 301. Williams, pg. 224. Ewald, pg. 398.

[85] Sergeant Greenman wrote that Asa Potter, of his company, was accidentally killed by their own men.

[86]   Dawson, pg. 356.

[87]   William Bradford was a Philadelphia printer who was active early on in patriotic causes. He

was Colonel of the Pennsylvania militia. He was wounded at the Battle of Princeton and saw action at

Fort Mifflin.

[88]   Ward writes further that the inhabitants who saw the enemy march down say they had 14 pieces of cannon with

them and returned with six. If this the case, they must have thrown them into Timber Creek, as we have taken

[89]   Moving the wounded enemy so close to Philadelphia, where enemy raiding parties could reclaim their troops,

prompted Washington to order the wounded sent to Morristown, NJ.

[90]   Ewald, pg. 99.

[91]   Ibid.

[92]   Ibid, pg. 102.

[93]   Ward, pg. 11 & 12.

[94]   Ibid, pg. 12.

[95]   Lovell, pg. 115.

[96]   Dawson, pg. 355.

[97]   Ibid, pg. 354.

Sources:

Acomb, Evelyn M (editor). The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig Von Closen, 1780-1783. 1958: University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Allen, Joseph, Esq., R.N. Battles of the British Navy in Two Volumes. 1852: Publisher Henry G. Bohn, London, UK.

Bancroft, George. History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent, Volume 9. 1875: Little Brown & Company, Boston, MA.

Bill, Alfred Hoyt. New Jersey and the Revolutionary War. New Brunswick: 1964: Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.

Chastellux, Francois Jean, Marquis de. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 Vol. I. 1788: G. G. & J. Robinson, Pater-Noster-Row, London, UK. 2009 reprint: The University of California Press.

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