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Old Bergen

Chapter XXX.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

SIR HENRY CLINTON, persuading himself that South Carolina was subdued, embarked for New York on June 5th, 1780. On the 17th, the fleet arrived, and Clinton landed troops at Staten Island and then reembarked them, attempting to disguise his intention, which was to destroy the stores at Morristown and get control of the patriots' stronghold. In this he was thwarted, and commencing a retreat, he crossed into Staten Island on June 23rd, and New Jersey was at last evacuated by the enemy, with the exception of Paulus Hook.

British Report, July 26, 1780.

At a skirmish at Col. Cuyler's Post (near Weehawken), eight miles from New York, on the Hudson River, on Friday, 21st of July, three men were killed. The refugees under Capt. Ward pursued the rebels, and retook twenty head of cattle.
August 24, 1780, Lee with his command marched to the brow of the hill east of the town of Bergen (near Magnolia Avenue and Henry Street), took observation there of the movements of the enemy, and continued foraging as low down as Bergen Point.

British Report, New York Mercury, August 28, 1780.

Generals Washington, Lafayette, Greene and Wayne, with many other officers, and large bodies of rebels, have been in the vicinity of Bergen for some days past. They have taken all the forage from the inhabitants of that place. The officers were down to Prior's Mill last Friday, but did not seem inclined to make any attack.
The same paper states under date of September 18, 1780:
Four refugees that went over to Secaucus last Saturday, took three rebel officers and brought them to town yesterday morning.
Sir Henry Clinton, presuming on the disaffection existing among the Jersey troops on account of the privations and sufferings to which they were subjected, on January 4th, 1781, hurried troops, cannon and supplies of every description on board his vessels, so that he might land them on Staten Island, and then invading the Jerseys, encourage and take advantage of such disaffection. He found, however, that he had been deceived as to the actual sentiment of the American troops, and consequently failed in his object.

On July 1st, 1781, Washington received intelligence that a part of the garrison of New York had been ordered to forage the jerseys. He therefore determined upon counter action, and he with some of his officers, crossed to Fort Lee to reconnoiter Fort Washington and the vicinity from the cliffs above. He found the troops that had been sent out into Jersey had been recalled in anticipation of some such movement, and he turned his attention to aiding in carrying out another part of the movement, the capture of Harlem Heights. About the middle of July, Washington crossed the river with Count de Rochambeau, General de Beville, and General Duportail, to reconnoiter the British posts on the north end of New York Island. They were escorted by one hundred and fifty of the New Jersey troops, and spent the day on the Jersey heights, ascertaining the exact position of the enemy on the opposite shore. On the 21st of July, at eight in the evening, the troops commenced their march, and assumed so threatening an attitude that Clinton requested Cornwallis to send him three regiments to New York from Carolina.

After this reconnoissance, Washington urged reinforcements, and the French troops soon arriving (September, 1781), ground was surveyed and marked out on the Jersey shore (Bergen Heights), as if to aid in the siege of New York.

Washington now determined to attempt if possible the investment of New York, and in June took the field in person. He crossed from the western to the eastern side of the river, and was joined by the French army at Dobbs Ferry, July 6th. Clinton receiving a reinforcement of three thousand men from England, countermanded his requisition from Virginia. On consultation with the French commander, Washington determined to act in unison with him, and to dispose of the forces so as to move them most readily against New York or Staten Island, or, if deemed more judicious, to concentrate against Cornwallis.

Washington favored primarily the attack on Staten Island, as by its capture and possession by the Americans, the danger of an incursion up the Hudson would be greatly lessened. Sir Henry Clinton was in some way apprised of the design, and strengthened his corps in Staten Island and his post at Paulus Hook. Washington drew large bodies of his troops from the east side of the Hudson, and continued his offensive operations. All the boats that could be procured were collected at places convenient to Staten Island, and mounted on wheels ready for immediate transportation when required. The last division crossed the river on the 25th, assembling in the neighborhood of Paramus, preparatory to a forced march over Bergen Neck.

Washington here received a despatch from Lafayette, who was closely watching Cornwallis in Virginia, the purport of which decided him in favor of an immediate campaign against the latter. Necessary instructions were issued, and his army had actually crossed the Delaware before Clinton realized his real intention. It was Washington's design to mislead the British commander in case he decided to move against Cornwallis. Accordingly, pretended plans were drafted and allowed to fall into Clinton's hands; and to still further diminish the chance of his real design being made known, he gave orders for movements and operations that should mislead his own army. As he wrote,

No less pains were taken to deceive our own army, for I always conceived, when the imposition does not completely take place at home, it would never succeed sufficiently abroad.
Having thus completely outwitted Sir Henry Clinton, Washington passed through Philadelphia, and eventually completed the movement that resulted in the defeat and surrender of Cornwallis. On his return he remained four months in Philadelphia, and then stopped at Morristown on his way to Newburg.

While here, a plan was submitted to him by Col. Matthew Ogden, of the New Jersey troops, to surprise Prince William Henry, son of the King of England, who was serving as a midshipman in the fleet of Admiral Digby, at his quarters in New York City, and bring both the prince and admiral off as prisoners. He was to be aided by a captain, a subaltern, three sergeants and thirty-six men. They were to embark from the Jersey shore on a rainy night, in four whale boats, well manned, and rowed with muffled oars, and were to land in New York at half-past nine, at a wharf not far from the quarters of the prince and admiral, which were in Hanover Square. Part of the men were to guard the boats, while Col. Ogden, with a strong party, was to proceed to the house, force the doors, and carry off the prisoners. Washington approved the plan, but Col. Ogden was specially charged that no insult or indignity should be offered the prisoners. It is not known whether any actual attempt was made to carry out this plan, but it was probably abandoned, as extra precautions were taken by the British at this time, on account of the many rumors and extravagant reports circulated in New York.


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