Sunday, September 18, 2022

ARP255 Ramsour’s Mill

When we last left the south in Episode 251, British General Henry Clinton had departed with most of the army to return to New York.  Clinton had received word that the French Army would be arriving soon and wished to contend with that.  He left Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in command at Charleston, South Carolina.


General Cornwallis has been a part of our story in many earlier episodes. But since this is his first really big independent command, and since he plays such a key role in the southern theater, I thought a refresher was in order.

Lord Cornwallis

Cornwallis came from the top of British aristocracy.  He was the son of the 5th Baron Cornwallis.  His mother was the daughter of a Viscount.  His uncle was the Archbishop of Canterbury.  As a boy, Cornwallis attended Eton.  He purchased his first military commission as an ensign at the age of 17. Rather than go into service as most young officers learned their profession, Cornwallis traveled to Europe where he enrolled in the military academy at Turin.  After that, he toured central Europe.

When the Seven Years War began, Cornwallis’ regiment shipped out for America before he could reach it.  Instead, he attached himself as an aide to Lord Granby, commander in chief of British forces in Europe.  He fought at the battle of Minden and shortly afterwards purchased a captaincy.  Before long he had been brevetted to lieutenant colonel.  

While he was still fighting in Europe, his family got Cornwallis elected to Parliament.  He only spent a little over a year as a member of the House of Commons before his father died, and he took up his father’s seat in the House of Lords.  In Parliament, Cornwallis showed a strong sympathy for the colonies.  He voted against the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, and the Intolerable Acts.  Yet, by the time the war began, Cornwallis, a major general, volunteered to go to war, and even proposed a campaign to retake the southern colonies.  He received promotion to lieutenant general in America in 1776, shortly before shipping off with General Clinton to retake the Carolinas.

I won’t go through all the details of Cornwallis’ leadership in the war, but I will note that he frequently wanted to return home to be with his ailing wife.  He had planned to leave for London in late 1776, when he was called back from his ship to go fight Washington at Trenton. In late 1777, after the fighting season had ended, he returned home.  He did the same at the end of the 1778 fighting season.  While in Britain, his wife became much sicker.

During one visit home, Cornwallis had an audience with the king, in which he told George III that the war’s  success was hopeless.  Despite his assessment, he received a permanent promotion to lieutenant general and became second in command to General Clinton.  The following year, he returned to England once again and resigned his commission to be by his wife’s side as she lay on her deathbed.  After her death in 1779, Cornwallis once again offered his services to the king.

He returned to service in America, not because he thought he could win the war, but simply because he was too depressed to remain in Britain following his wife’s death, and wanted to be back with his army buddies in America.  When he returned, everyone, including General Clinton, thought that Cornwallis would shortly replace Clinton as commander in North America, following Clinton’s resignation.

Clinton and Cornwallis had their personal disagreements, but Clinton seemed ready to bring Cornwallis up to speed on everything so that Clinton could go home and be rid of this war.   When word came from London that Clinton’s letter of resignation had been rejected and that he would continue in command, things seemed to fall apart. Cornwallis basically left headquarters and told Clinton to consult with other officers.  Clinton was offended that Cornwallis had basically checked out after learning he would not succeed to command.  

Despite this falling out, Clinton took Cornwallis to Charleston.  Their personal relationship seemed to get even worse during the siege of Charleston, when Clinton came to believe Cornwallis was undermining him with the other officers, by spreading rumors that Clinton was about to resign.  Cornwallis refused to provide Clinton with any advice and asked that Clinton not consult with him on strategy. Clinton saw this as a way of distancing himself in case the campaign failed.  During this time, Cornwallis wrote to London asking to be reassigned to any other theater in the world where Clinton was not in command.  During the siege, Cornwallis took command of a corps that separated from Clinton’s main army.  Both men were happy when Clinton returned to New York, leaving Cornwallis with his own command in the south.

Pacification Strategy

As I already outlined in Episode 251, the British pacification strategy hinged on the assumption that there were a great many southern colonists who could be coaxed into serving the king by joining loyalist militias.  Clinton had relied on that when he issued his edict in June, 1780, just before leaving for New York, that all colonists, even rebels on parole, would be expected to join loyalist militias or be considered traitors.

Fort Ninety-Six
Relying on the growth of these loyalist militias, Clinton left Cornwallis with a rather small force of a little over 3000 soldiers - a mix of regulars, Hessians, and loyalist regiments raised in the north.  Brigadier General James Patterson took command of Charleston, while General Cornwallis took the bulk of his army into the backcountry.  

By the time Clinton left for New York on June 5, the British had moved into the backcountry, setting up outposts that covered most of the state.  These included Georgetown, a little over 50 miles up the coast from Charleston, then extending inland northwest to Camden, near the North Carolina border, across to Fort Ninety-Six, which had been a center of rebel activity, and then down to August, Georgia.  Spreading out the army was designed to facilitate recruiting loyalist militia, and keeping troops of soldiers close to any area where small groups of rebels might try to organize or fight back.

In the backcountry, Clinton had given primary responsibility to Major Patrick Ferguson, who you may remember played some key roles in several northern battles before sailing south with Clinton.  Ferguson had received an appointment as Inspector of Militia in South Carolina.  His primary mission was to organize loyalist militia groups in the backcountry to supplement Cornwallis’ army, and to put down any rebel activity.  

Ferguson has a reputation for honor and gallantry, exemplified by his refusal to shoot an American officer in the back at Brandywine, who may have been George Washington.  He noted in South Carolina that they were not there to harm women and children, but to relieve their distress.  Ferguson was not afraid to use force and violence against rebels, but also saw the need to win the hearts and minds of the civilian population.

To Ferguson’s north in the backcountry, Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s legion took a rather different approach.  I already discussed Tarleton’s massacre at Waxhaws.  His legion also roamed the countryside, killing suspected rebels, and burning their homes.  They were not above roughing up civilians, including women and children, whom they suspected of aiding the rebels.  At one point, Ferguson wanted to shoot several of Tarleton’s men who had raped Tory women.

Despite their very different methods, both Ferguson and Tarleton managed to recruit and organize large numbers of loyalist militia, while at the same time forcing unrepentant rebels to flee into the swamps or into North Carolina.

Ramsour’s Mill

As the British pacification plan in South Carolina was taking hold, it inspired loyalists in North Carolina to organize more openly, with the expectation that a British army would soon enter North Carolina.

Cornwallis had sent representatives into North Carolina, to spread the word that the British would arrive soon, but that loyalists should continue to lay low so that the patriots would not take them out before the British army arrived in force.  Instead, Cornwallis wanted the loyalists to harvest and store their crops, which the British army would need when it moved into North Carolina.

Lieutenant Colonel John Moore of the North Carolina Loyalist Militia, had been fighting under Cornwallis in South Carolina.  He rode into North Carolina to known Tory strongholds around Ramsour’s Mill, about 30 miles northwest of Charlotte, to pass along Cornwallis’ instructions.  Another officer from Moore’s loyalist regiment, Major Nicholas Welch also began speaking to local loyalists, spreading word of the British victory at Waxhaws and began gathering up volunteers for a Tory regiment, despite the orders against it. By June 20, about 1300 loyalist volunteers from the region had assembled on a ridge near Ramsour’s Mill.  Many had brought their own arms, but about one-quarter did not have weapons.  They expected the Regulars would provide them with arms when they arrived.

A few miles away in Charlotte, North Carolina militia General Griffith Rutherford received news of the Tory gathering.  Since he did not have soldiers on-hand to challenge this growing threat, he ordered Colonel Francis Locke to raise the local patriot militia and disperse the loyalists.  On June 13, Locke had about 200 militia volunteers assembled at Ramsour’s Mill. Within a few days, the arrival of other militia units doubled his numbers to about 400.  Locke planned to meet up with additional reinforcements being gathered by General Rutherford, and launch a night attack on the loyalists.  On the appointed night, Rutherford was a no-show.  His forces had gotten lost somewhere on the back roads in the North Carolina countryside.

Ramsour's Mill
Locke called a council of war with his fellow militia officers to decide what to do.  His group of 400 militia could not attack an enemy more than three times their size and holding the defensible high ground.  Rather than risk a counterattack against his own camp, Locke suggested they pull back and await Rutherford’s reinforcements.  Some of the less experienced officers, however, wanted to go forward with the attack anyway.  They suggested that pulling back would not be an act of military prudence.  It would be an act of cowardice.  

With the “c” word out there, none of the officers could support pulling back.  They agreed to launch an attack at daybreak.  Since almost all the militia on both sides were wearing civilian clothes, the loyalists put twigs in their hats to identify themselves.  The patriots put scraps of white paper in their hats.  Just before dawn, the patriots were within a mile of the enemy lines.  

They marched forward, driving in loyalist pickets, who fired warning shots and alerted the loyalist camp.  The loyalists scrambled from their tents and were still trying to form a line when the patriot horseman had gotten within about thirty yards.

Despite the confusion, the loyalists realized that there were only a few enemy cavalry, and managed to drive off the attackers. The horseman turned and retreated.  As they did, some of the approaching infantry believed this was an all-out retreat and turned around before even getting to the battlefield.  Loyalist riflemen began picking off the advancing patriot militia who had to cross a flat open field to engage with the enemy.  No patriot officers were really in charge, but the men kept advancing anyway.  Several small units made their way against both loyalist flanks and began to turn them.

Amazingly, the militia advance continued, despite taking heavy casualties.  They reached the enemy lines about the same time the flanking companies attacked on both sides.  The fight devolved into brutal hand to hand combat by the former neighbors in both militias.  Despite having far greater numbers, the stunned Tories fled the field.  Some of them simply removed the twigs from their hats and pretended to be patriot militia until they had a chance to escape safely.

Some distance away, the fleeing loyalists reassembled and viewed their opponents from a distance.  They realized they far outnumbered the enemy and prepared for a counterattack.  The patriots prepared to defend against a counter attack but had just over 100 men.  They had taken about 170 casualties in the initial assault.  The remainder had fled the field.

Locke ordered two of his officers to ride hard and see if they could find Rutherford’s reinforcements.  The general was still about seven miles away from the sound of the fighting when the officers reached him.  He immediately deployed his 65 dragoons on horseback to ride at a gallop and support Lock’s militia.

As the patriot militia awaited the counterattack by overwhelming numbers, a loyalist came forward under a flag of truce.  He asked for a suspension of hostilities so that they could care for their wounded on the field and bury their dead.  The patriot major sent out to speak with them sensed a tone of defeatism and countered with a demand that they surrender within ten minutes or be attacked.  

As it turned out, no one wanted to attack. Colonel Moore had used the negotiation time to tell his loyalists to scatter and find safety wherever they could.  By the time the officer who had ridden out under a flag of truce returned to his camp, the loyalist army of over 1000 men had dwindled to about 50, and those soon fled as well.  In total, about 140 men were killed and over 200 wounded, with about equal casualties on both sides.

Colonel Moore returned to the British base at Camden with only about thirty men, and news of the disaster.  British officers, apoplectic that he had disobeyed orders and allowed the large group of loyalist militia to rise and gather before they were ready, considered a court martial.  In the end, they decided against it, realizing that punishing well-meaning but incompetent loyalist volunteers might have a negative impact on future recruiting efforts.

Cedar Springs

Back in South Carolina, patriot militia were still organizing and hiding from mostly loyalist militia who were assigned to crush any such gatherings.  They needed to prevent these smaller outfits from moving north to combine with the gathering army of militia and Continentals that would inevitably mount some attack at some point. 

One of the militia officers that the British had arrested was Colonel John Thomas who commanded the Spartan militia regiment from the area around Spartanburg, South Carolina.  They had taken him to be held at the prison at Fort Ninety-Six, under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson. 

Thomas’ capture, however, did nothing to dissuade his regiment from continuing to organize.  His son, Colonel John Thomas, Jr. simply took his father’s position in commanding the regiment.  The younger Colonel Thomas continued to keep his men, four companies totaling about 60 men, in the field near Cedar Springs. They hoped to join up with the gathering patriot militia army under Thomas Sumter.0

Ninety-Six Jail
When the British learned of the position of the patriot militia, Major Ferguson deployed about 150 loyalists to kill or capture this rebel force.  The loyalists planned a pre-dawn attack on the rebel camp in the early hours of July 12.  They crept toward the camp in the dark, seeing the enemy’s campfires.  The loyalists stormed the camp, expecting to bayonet the sleeping soldiers in a Paoli-style massacre.  Instead, they found empty bedrolls and no one in camp.  Then, shots rang out from the forest nearby.  The patriot militia let loose a volley against the attackers, causing the surprised loyalists to flee the field.  

The patriots had been tipped off.  News of the attack became a topic of discussion among some of the loyalist wives camped at Fort Ninety-Six.  Presumably many of their husbands were with the loyalists who had been deployed to contend with these rebels.  One of the wives who overheard these discussions was not a loyalist.  Jane Thomas was the wife of Col. John Thomas, and had been at the fort to visit her husband in prison.

Upon hearing that the British planned to attack her son’s regiment, Mrs. Thomas mounted her hours and rode at a brisk pace, covering the sixty mile distance in one day.  She managed to beat the loyalists back to Cedar Springs, and warned her son that night, July 11.  Colonel Thomas then ordered his men to stoke the fires but then move into position in the forest near the camp.  When the loyalists struck the camp, his men were ready to ambush them.

The battle was over almost before it started.  The surprised loyalists immediately fled despite still outnumbering the patriots.  The patriots did not have the numbers to pursue and engage them, so they simply packed up and moved on before the loyalists could strike again.

Throughout July, there were many of these little raids back and forth.  Another group of patriots attacked a loyalist force at Stallions Plantation the same night the loyalists at Cedar Spring.  I already mentioned the attack on Christian Huck’s men in an earlier episode, which happened also around this time.  A day later, a group of about 35 Georgia patriots attacked a loyalist camp at Gowen’s Fort.  A few days later a loyalist force hit a group of patriots at Earle’s Ford.  There were probably another then or so incidents over the next couple of weeks, all involving no more than a few dozen men. 

The fighting was relatively uncoordinated and involved small units on both sides, both intent on obstructing the enemy from doing whatever they were trying to do.  Although the British claimed to be in control of South Carolina, these many skirmishes told another story.

I will continue my discussion of these skirmishes next time.  But much like the British in New Jersey during the forage wars of 1777, the British in South Carolina were quickly discovering that defeating a large army and claiming control of a region would not end the resistance.

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Next Episode 256 Hanging Rock

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Further Reading


Runyan, Conner “Did the first Cedar Springs Skirmish Really Happen?” Journal of the American Revolution, May 12, 2016.

Battle of Ramsour's Mill:

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill:

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill:

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Fanning, David Col. David Fanning’s Narrative of his Exploits and Adventures as a Loyalist of North Carolina in the American Revolution, Toronto: (reprint form The Canadian Magazine) 1908. 

McCrady, Edward The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1780-1783, New York: The Macmillan Co. 1902.  

Millspaugh, Arthur Loyalism in North Carolina during the American Revolution, University of Illinois, Master’s Thesis, 1910: 

Moultrie, William Memoirs of the American Revolution, so far as it related to the states of North and South Carolina, and Georgia, Vol 1 and Vol 2, New York: Printed by D. Longworth, 1802.

Ramsay, David The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina, from a British province to an independent state, 1749-1815, Vol. 2, Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. 

Simms, William G. The Life of Francis Marion, New York, Derby, 1854. 

Weigley, Russell Frank The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782, Columbia: Univ of South Carolina Press, 1970 (borrow only). 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Bass, Robert D. Gamecock: The Life And Campaigns Of General Thomas Sumter, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961 (borrow on

Buchanan, John The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, Wiley, 1999. (borrow on 

Edgar, Walter B. Partisans and Redcoats: The southern conflict that turned the tide of the American Revolution, New York: Morrow, 2001 (borrow on

Ferling, John Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 

Lumpkin, Henry From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South, Univ of SC Press, 1981 (borrow on

Oller, John The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, Da Capo Press, 2016 (borrow on

Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. McFarland & Company, 2000 (borrow on

Wickwire, Franklin B. Cornwallis and the War of Independence, Houghton Mifflin, 1971 (borrow on 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

AR-SP16 History Daily on Princeton

This week, we have a special episode.  Podcaster Lindsay Graham of the History Daily Podcast gives us his take on the battles of Trenton and Princeton. 

This fighting is often known as the "ten crucial days" when the Continental Army began its counter-attack against the British and Hessian invaders in December, 1776 and continuing into January, 1777.

For more details on the History Daily Podcast, part of the Noiser Network, please visit their website:

If you enjoy their work, you can subscribe to them on your favorite podcast platform.

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As always, I welcome your feedback.

 Contact me via email at

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Sunday, September 4, 2022

ARP254 Springfield

Last time, we covered General Wilhelm von Knyphausen’s foray into New Jersey on June 6-8, 1780, where he hoped to attack the Continental Headquarters at Morristown, but did little more than burn the village of Connecticut Farms.

Battle of Springfield
When Knyphausen launched the attack, he had done so at the urging of men like Governor William Franklin, Governor and General James Robertson and former governor and still current Major General William Tryon.  These men, and other leading loyalists had been receiving word that the Continental army was on the brink of collapse after its harsh winter at Morristown, and was not getting the spring reinforcements that they had expected.  The loyalists were all saying that the people of New Jersey were tired of war, and would gladly rally around any British advance into New Jersey if only to end the fighting.  Knyphausen came to believe he had an opportunity to deal a death blow to the Continental Army before the French Army could land in America, and perhaps getting full credit for the victory by attacking before General Clinton returned from South Carolina.

Kyphausen’s failed attack showed that the Continentals were still very much a force to be reckoned with, and that the New Jersey militia was still more than willing to turn out against the British whenever they set foot in New Jersey.

As with any loss, there was plenty of finger pointing.  Knyphausen said he had been duped by loyalist leaders who gave him bad intelligence about the state of the Continentals and the resolve of the state militia.  Loyalist leaders pointed right back at Knyphausen and the Hessians, saying that he and Colonel Wurmb had moved far too slowly, sitting around for hours in what was supposed to be a lighting strike that would catch the enemy off guard.

Clinton Returns

On June 8, the same day that Knyphausen was bringing his defeated force back to New York, General Henry Clinton boarded a ship in Charleston.  Having defeated the southern army under Benjamin Lincoln, Clinton hoped to make it back to New York in time to confront the French Army that was expected to land any day.  

Gen. Henry Clinton

Clinton was unaware of Knyphausen’s raid that had led to the battle at Connecticut Farms.  He had sent word via junior officers, including by some accounts Major John André, that Knyphausen was to be prepared for an attack after the main army returned from South Carolina.  According to one account, an officer had arrived to inform Knyphausen of this on the afternoon of June 6, just as he was launching his raid.  Knyphausen later said the officer only told him that Clinton would return soon, not that the general was planning his own attack after his arrival.

General Clinton made it back to New York in a relatively speedy 10 days, arriving on June 18.  In his later reports, Clinton said that he had planned a two pronged attack with Knyphausen launching an attack similar to what Knyphausen did at Elizabethtown, while Clinton launched another raid to the south at Amboy, knowing that Washington would be unable to defend against both attacks at the same time.

Kyphausen’s raid before he had returned, however, had put the Americans on alert and had greatly reduced the chances of success for a second raid.  At the same time, Clinton also received intelligence from General Benedict Arnold, commander at West Point, who had already agreed to switch sides at an appropriate time.  Arnold reported to Clinton that the French Army was due to land at Newport, Rhode Island.

Washington Scrambles

Knyphausen’s raid that ended at Connecticut Farms certainly put Washington and the Continentals on alert.  After some thought, Washington concluded that Knyphausen’s raid must not have simply been a failed attack.  Rather, it was a feint to encourage Washington to move more of his army further south and closer to New York City in anticipation of the next raid.  If that was what the British wanted him to do Washington believed the next real attack would be for the British to sail up the Hudson River and attack West Point.   It was only late June, with the whole summer and fall fighting season ahead of them, and with Clinton’s main army on its way back to New York, Washington surmised that the British would attempt a much larger offensive, and the most likely target was West Point.

Washington grew even more concerned after learning that the British were concentrating larger forces at Elizabethtown and had even built a pontoon bridge between Staten Island and the New Jersey coast to transport men and equipment much faster.

Even before Connecticut Farms, Washington had been frustrated by the failure of Congress and the states to supply him with enough soldiers to conduct a credible campaign in 1780.  Not only that, Congress had ordered him to send some of his forces south to contest General Cornwallis in the Carolinas after the loss of the southern army under Benjamin Lincoln.  

Samuel Huntington

The President of Congress, Samuel Huntington had specifically written to Washington to let him know that Congress wanted the Continental cavalry under Light Horse Harry Lee to proceed immediately to the Carolinas.  Huntington’s letter included a contingency that said Washington could hold off if the transfer would upset some of his immediate plans.  The normally compliant Washington relied on that to ignore Congress’ request and keep his much-needed cavalry available to monitor the enemy following the attack on Connecticut Farms.  Washington sent an urgent note to the Board of War in Philadelphia requesting the immediate return of Lee’s brigade.  Lee’s infantry had already moved further south, but his cavalry returned to Morristown to assist Washington.

Washington also put General Von Steuben in command of the advance guard, tasking the former commander Lord Stirling with riding through New Jersey and trying to rouse more militia.  Almost 3000 militia had answered the call when the British marched on Connecticut farms, but Washington had to allow about half of them to return home.  Had he tried to force them to stay in the field, they would be less likely to turn out the next time he needed them.  Washington also put General Greene in overall command of the forces in New Jersey, while Washington himself focused on securing West Point, where Benedict Arnold commanded.  Units in upstate New York who were deployed to oppose the attacks by the loyalists and Iroquois from Niagara had to move to West Point to prepare for a defense of that important fort.

General Maxwell 

Still in command at the front lines was General William Maxwell.  In my last episode, I mentioned Maxwell’s key role in preventing the British advance, but I’ve never really given much detail on Maxwell. 

Wm Von Knyphausen

General Maxwell was of Scottish descent, but was born in Northern Ireland.  When he was a young boy, his family moved to Warren County, New Jersey, northwest of Trenton.  At age 21, Maxwell enlisted in the provincial militia and was one of many future generals who had one of his early military experiences on the Braddock Campaign near what is today Pittsburgh.  As a lieutenant in the New Jersey Blues, Maxwell fought in the French and Indian War, participating in the British assault on Carillon where British General Howe’s older brother was killed.

After the French and Indian War, Maxwell continued to serve in the British army as a commissary officer on the frontier.  He spent time at Fort Michilimackinac in what is today Michigan.

Despite his long standing role with the British Army, Maxwell remained a committed patriot.  In 1774, he resigned his commission and returned to New Jersey.  The following year he took a commission as colonel of the Second New Jersey Regiment.  After his regiment joined the Continental Army, Colonel Maxwell led his regiment on the Quebec Campaign under General John Sullivan.

As the war moved to New York in the second half of 1776, Congress appointed ten new brigadier generals in August and September. Colonel Maxwell was not among them.  Finally, in October, after the British had taken New York and were on the verge of invading New Jersey, Congress finally promoted Maxwell to brigadier.

He fought under Washington during the retreat from New York and in the Philadelphia Campaign.  Maxwell has also played a leading role in the Sullivan Campaign of upstate New York.  

Despite his active role, Maxwell did not seem to stand out.  He was known as Scotch Willie to the men and had a rather rough hewn, hard-drinking persona that probably kept him from the favor of gentlemen like General Washington.  In 1777 Washington had authorized him to form the New Jersey Brigade, which was supposed to be an effective light infantry force.  Maxwell did credibly well at Cooch’s Bridge and Brandywine, but did not seem to impress the leadership.

Despite four years of combat as a brigadier by 1780, Maxwell had failed to see promotion.  One reason was probably that New Jersey already had a major general and that two from that state would have been seen as excessive. Another reason was Maxwell’s reputation for drinking, something that would not necessarily prevent his promotion, but certainly did not help.  Washington found Maxwell most useful in his home state of New Jersey, mostly organizing local militia for defense against British raids.

As he had under General Stirling at Connecticut Farms, Maxwell would command a mix of Continentals and militia at the front of the American lines, where the British were expected to attack.

Plan of Attack

Back in New York City, General Clinton blamed the whole state of alert in New Jersey among the Americans in New Jersey on General Knyphausen’s ill-advised assault of June 7.  The two officers were barely on speaking terms after that.  With reports from Arnold that the French were going to land very soon in Rhode Island, Clinton decided that an assault on West Point was out of the question.  Even if British forces captured West Point, the combined Continental and French Army could take it back, and possibly capture a sizable chunk of the British army in the process.

Battle of Sprinfield
Instead, Clinton planned an attack that he hoped would force Washington’s Continentals into combat in open field in New Jersey.  He ordered Mathew and Knyphausen to take 6000 men back across to Elizabethtown and march toward Springfield.  Notably, Clinton put Major General Mathew in charge of the operation, only supported by Lieutenant General Knyphausen.  Clinton would then deploy a second force of 4000 men under the command of Major General Alexander Leslie to Haverstraw Bay, up the Hudson River and about 15 miles south of West Point.  This would put Washington’s Continentals in between two armies, and keep them close enough to New York that his armies could still defend that city against any surprise attack.  The British could then capture or destroy the Continentals before they could escape into the mountains.

The British still held a beachhead at Elizabeth town, which was regularly taking hit and run attacks from the Americans, often Lee’s cavalry who were trying to determine their numbers.  On the night of June 22, a group of Queen’s Rangers, led by Colonel John Graves Simcoe, and Hessian Jaegers sent out a raiding party from Elizabethtown to capture a few American pickets.  They managed to capture a few prisoners, but also lost two men killed, several wounded, and a couple of their own captured by the Americans, who remained on full alert.

That night, in the pre-dawn hours of June 23, the British launched their offensive.  General Mathew was already in Elizabethtown with a division that included the Queen’s Rangers, and a number of other Hessian, loyalist, and regular units.  Knyphausen commanded a second division that would cross the pontoon bridge and support Mathew.  A third division under General Robertson would remain in Elizabethtown to keep open a line of supplies and communication with New York, and also a possible line of retreat.

The Mathew and Knyphausen division would march to Connecticut Farms as they had weeks earlier.  There, they would divide so that Knyphausen would march directly toward Springfield, while Matthew would march back to the east, away from the enemy, and make an unobserved advance toward Springfield from a different direction.

Battle of Springfield

Mathew’s division, led by Colonel Simcoe and the Queen’s Rangers, led the advance beginning around 4:00 AM.  They came into contact with Maxwell's Continentals and New Jersey Militia at Connecticut farms, or what was left of it.  The Americans had set up their defenses amidst the ruins of the house burned their weeks earlier.  In a planned retreat, the Americans pulled back across the Rahway River.  Behind them was the village of Springfield.

General Greene anticipated that the British would probably mount a direct assault as a distraction, while they hit their target with a flanking maneuver.  It was a plan of attack the British had used successfully in many prior battles against the Americans.  So instead of keeping his main force at Springfield, Greene positioned most of his soldiers at Short Hills, a few miles to the north.

A relatively small number of Continentals and militia fought a slow retreat against the advancing British, ultimately sacrificing possession of Springfield with the intent of staying between the British and Hobart Gap, a more defensible area that would be necessary for the British to capture if they wanted to march on Morristown.

As Greene anticipated, Knyphausen pushed directly against Springfield, while Mathew’s division crossed further upriver with the intent of flanking the Americans at Springfield from the side.  Knyphausen used a few small field artillery to amuse the Americans at Springfield while Mathew crossed at the Vauxhall Bridge virtually unopposed.

Knyphausen’s soldiers entered Springfield by late morning.  Apparently against orders, the invading force burned all of the homes in the village.  According to an after-action report, Knyphausen ordered one house to be burned because his troops were taking fire from enemy soldiers in the house.  Other soldiers, seeing that house set on fire, took that action to mean open season on the entire village of thirty homes being burned to the ground.

James Caldwell
The Americans continued to pull back in good order, inflicting casualties and staying between the enemy and Hobart Gap.  There is one story, unclear if it is true, of the Reverend Caldwell fighting with the defenders.  Recall Caldwell’s wife had been killed a few weeks earlier at Connecticut Farms.  When the Americans began to run out of wadding for their guns, Caldwell gave them some hymnals by Isaac Watts to use for Wadding, crying “Give ‘em Watts Boys."

Some of the Americans received orders to launch a counter-attack on Springfield.  These orders were quickly countermanded by General Greene to pull back and take a better defensive position.  Greene did not want to fight the enemy except on the ground of his choosing.  Springfield was not a strategic target.  Keeping the British from reaching Hobart Gap was the goal.  Knyphausen’s forces eventually moved forward to the main American defenses, behind a second branch of the Rahway River. Once again, the Americans withdrew in good order, still inflicting casualties as they pulled back.

Unable to confront the Americans on favorable ground, the frustrated British divisions under both Mathew and Knyphausen ceased their advance by early afternoon.  The two divisions once again concentrated their forces in Springfield, but found the Americans in good defensive positions that could not be dislodged without great loss.

The British then opted to pull back to Elizabethtown.  Greene sent a harassing force of about 120 soldiers to pursue the British, but kept his main army in their defenses.  Lee’s cavalry also exchanged fire with the British rearguard and captured a few stragglers.

By evening the main British forces were back in Elizabethtown and using the pontoon bridge to cross back onto Staten Island.  By dawn the following day, the entire British army was back in New York and had dismantled the pontoon bridge, completely abandoning their toehold at Elizabethtown.

American losses were rather light, only 15 killed, 49 wounded and 11 missing.  British losses, as reported by Knyphausen, were also relatively light, 14 killed, 89 wounded and 11 missing. But several other unofficial reports indicate that British casualties were at least double that amount.  Both sides had acted with caution.  Neither side risked large casualties by engaging with the enemy where the enemy wanted.

Greene, in his first independent command in years, had proven that he knew how to give up ground tactically for a larger strategic victory, something that would serve him well over the next year or two.  The British had bet that the Americans would make the same mistakes they had made in previous battles.  The American generals, however, were becoming more experienced in strategy and were not likely to make those same rookie blunders again.  

The British had also received intelligence that the Continental army was on the verge of collapse and that New Jersey was on the ready to return to crown rule in order to put an end to the chaos under patriot rule. These attacks, both Springfield and Connecticut Farms, made clear that the Continentals could still very much hold their own against a large operation, and that the New Jersey militia was still a force to be reckoned with.

If anything, the attacks made the situation worse for the British.  The burning of Springfield Village handed the Americans another public relations victory.  They could portray the British and Hessians as ruthless savages who had no regard for civilians, which of course, encouraged New Jersey civilians to continue support for the patriots.  All the fighting over resources between the army and civilians over the winter seemed to wash away in the face of a British attack on the New Jersey countryside.

Next Week: British inroads into North Carolina result in the Battle of Ramsour's Mill

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Next Episode 255 Ramsour's Mill 

Previous Episode 253 Connecticut Farms

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Further Reading


Sobol, Thomas T. “William Maxwell, New Jersey’s Hard Fighting General” Journal of the American Revolution, August 15, 2016.

Battle of Springfield:

Battle of Springfield:


Battle of Springfield:

“To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 6 June 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From George Washington to the Board of War, 8 June 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From George Washington to Brigadier General Nathaniel Heard, 9 June 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From George Washington to Pierre Van Cortlandt, 10 June 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Duer, William  A. The life of William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, Major-General in the Army of the United States during the Revolution: with selections from his correspondence, New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1847. 

Klein, Milton M. (ed) & Howard, Ronald W. (ed) The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780-1783, Cooperstown, NY: New York State Historical Association, 1983. 

Nelson, William (ed) Documents relating to the revolutionary history of the state of New Jersey : extracts from American newspapers, Vol. 4,Trenton: State Gazette Pub. Co. 1914. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Fleming, Thomas, The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey - 1780, Reader’s Digest Press, 1973. (borrow on

Lengel, Edward The Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield, 1780, Westholme Publishing, 2020. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.