George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Samuel Ward, Jr., 23 October 1777

From Major Samuel Ward, Jr.

Red Bank [N.J.] 23d Octobr 1777


By the desire of Colo. Greene, I congratulate your Excelly on the Success of the Troops under his command, Yesterday. On the 21st Inst. Four Battalions of Germans amounting to 1,200 men commanded by the Baron Donop Colo. Commandant landed at Coopers ferry & Marched the same Evening to Haddonfield. At 3 oClock Yesterday Morning, they marched for this place; when the Guard at Timber Creek bridge were informed of their approach, They took up that Bridge & the Enemy filed off to the Left, and Crossed at a Bridge four miles above.1 Their Advanced Parties were discovered within a quarter of a mile of the fort at 12 oClock; at half after 4 oClock P.M. They sent a flag to summons the Fort, who was told, that it should never be surrendered; At three quarters after four, They began a Brisk Canonade, and soon after advanced in two Columns to the Attack. They Passed the Abattis, gained the ditch & some few got over the Pickets, but the fire was so heavy that they soon were drove out again with considerable loss, and retreated precipitately towards Haddonfield. The Enemys loss amounts to—1 Lieut. Colo.—3 Capts.—4 Lieuts. and near 70 killed, and the Baron Donop, His Brigade Major a Captain Lieutenant and upwards of 70 non Commissioned officers & Privates wounded & taken Prisoners.2 We are also informed that several waggons are taken—The Colo. proposes to send the wounded Officers to Burlington—He also enjoins me to tell your Excellency that both officers & Private men behaved with the greatest Bravery—The Action Lasted 40 minutes—Colo. Greens Regt has 2 Serjts—1 fife & 4 Privates Killd—1 Serjt & 3 Privates wounded and one Captain (who was reconnoitering) taken prisoner—Colo. Angel has 1 Capt. killed—3 Serjts 3 Rank & file—& one Ensign 1 Serjt & 15 R. & file wounded. 2 of Capt. Duplessis Company were Slightly wounded; too many handsome things cannot be said of the Chevalier, who as well as his Officers shewed a truly heroic bravery—there has been Already brought into the Fort near 300 muskits a Considerable number of Swords Cartridge Boxes &c.

There has been a smart firing between ours & the Enemys fleet this morning several fire ships have been sent down the river. and we have seen with the greatest Pleasure the Phenix blown up and a sloop of war in flames.3

Colo. Greene[,] Colo. Angel[,] Olney[,] Comstock & all our Officers wish to be most Respectfully presented to you—After wishing you every Blessing I am with the Greatest respect Your Excellys most Obedt Humble Servt

Sam Ward

Copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 24 Oct. 1777, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, R-Ar.

Samuel Ward, Jr., who had been captured at Quebec at the end of 1775 and had been exchanged several months later, served as major of Col. Christopher Greene’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment from January 1777 to May 1778 when he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Ward resigned his commission on 1 Jan. 1781.

1For accounts of the Hessian crossing of the Delaware River at Cooper’s Ferry and their march to Haddonfield, N.J., on 21 Oct., see GW to Hancock, 21 Oct., and note 4. For accounts of their crossing of Big Timber Creek at Clement’s Bridge on 22 Oct., see Charles Stewart’s first letter to GW, 22 Oct., and note 2.

2Capt. Johann Ewald says in his diary that the Hessian column arrived in some woods near Fort Mercer “about one o’clock in the afternoon” of 22 Oct., and that on moving forward to within rifle-shot range of the fort, he “found that it was provided with a breastwork twelve feet high, palisaded and dressed with assault stakes.” While returning to the column, Ewald met Lt. Col. Charles Stewart and a drummer on their way to summon the fort to surrender, and a short distance farther Ewald encountered Capt. Johann Georg Krug, a veteran of the Seven Years’ War, who said: “We 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. But now they [the Americans] will make themselves ready, and if our preparations are not being made better than I hear, we will get a good beating.”

“After a lapse of a half an hour,” Ewald writes, “Colonel Stuart returned with the following reply: ‘Colonel Greene, who commands the fort, sends his compliments and he shall await Colonel Donop.’”

Donop, the Hessian commander, who apparently was surprised by Greene’s rejection of his summons to surrender, ordered his troops to prepare for the attack by making fascines, tied bundles of sticks and branches, to fill the ditches around the fort, but, Ewald says, “no one thought about axes or saws with which the obstructions and palisades could be cut down.”

Late in the afternoon Donop apparently again called on the Americans to surrender, and again his summons was refused. A short time later, Ewald says, “the [Hessian] battery began to play, and the three [Hessian] battalions advanced against the fort with indescribable courage. But they were received so hotly by the garrison, and by the vessels which had moved into position during the summons to rake the fort’s flank, that they were repelled with great loss, although several officers and a number of grenadiers scaled the breastwork. . . . Night ended the battle, and the attacking corps reassembled at the spot from which it had departed for the attack. . . . 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 [of 23 Oct.] the corps set out again, and crossed the Delaware [to Philadelphia] during the night.”

Ewald says that eight German officers and 143 enlisted men were killed in the engagement and that thirteen officers, including Donop, and 253 enlisted men were wounded (Ewald, Diary, description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends 97–102; see also Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman, description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends 43–44; Baurmeister, Revolution in America, description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends 125–27; Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side, 41; and Scull, Montresor Journals, description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends 469–70). Donop, who had his “right leg shot apart” and was captured by the Americans, died of his wounds on 29 Oct. (Ewald, Diary, description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends 102). He was buried near Fort Mercer.

3For an account of the burning of the British warships Augusta and Merlin on this date, see Robert Ballard to GW, this date, n.2.

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