George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, 22 July 1780

From Brigadier General Anthony Wayne

Totowa [N.J.] 22nd July 1780

Dear General

In pursuance of the plan which your Excellency was pleased to adopt1—the first & Second Pennsa Brigades with four pieces of Artillery belonging to Colo. Procters Regiment and Colo. Moylans Dragoons, took up their line of march on the 20th at 3. OClock P.M. & arrived a little in the rear of New Bridge at 9. in the Evening, moved again at One in the morning in order to Occupy the Ground in the Vicinity of Fort Lee & the Landing Opposite Kings Bridge—by the dawn of the day, and agreeable to the Inclosed order we advanced towards Bulls ferry, Genl Irvine with part of his Brigade along the Summit of the Mountain & the first Brigade under Colo. Humpton with the Artillery & Colo. Moylan’s horse on the common road, about 10. OClock part of the first Brigade had reached that place—Colo. Moylan with the horse and a Detachment of Infantry remained at the fork of the road leading to Paulus Hook & Bergen, to receive the Enemy if they attempted anything from that Quarter—on reconnoitring the Refugee post near Bulls ferry, we found it to consist of a Block house surrounded by an Abbatis & Stockade to the perpendicular Rocks next North River—with a kind of Ditch or parapet serving as a Covered way, by this time we could discover the Enemy in motion on York Island—which began to open a prospect of our plan taking full effect.

Genl Irvine was directed to halt in a position from which he could move to any point where the Enemy should attempt to land—either in the Vicinity of this post or Fort Lee—where the 6th & 7th Regiments were previously concealed with Orders to wait the Landing of the Enemy—& then at the point of the bayonet—to dispute the pass in the Gorge of the Mountain at every expence of blood, until supported by Genl Irvine & the remainder of the troops.

the first Regiment was posted in a hollow way on the north side the block house—& the 10th in an other hollow on the south, with orders to keep up a Constant fire into the port holes—to favor the advance of the Artillery—which was Covered by the second Regiment—when the field pieces arrived at the Medium distance of 60 Yards they Commenced a Constant fire which was returned by the Enemy & continued without Intermission from 11, until After 12, OClock—by that time we had expresses from Closter that the Enemy were Embarking their troops from Voluntines hill at Phillips Landing—we also saw many Vessels and boats moving up with troops from New York—which made it necessary to Relinquish a lesser for a much greater Object—i.e. drawing the Enemy over towards the posts already mentioned, and Deciding the fortune of the day in the defiles thro’ which they must pass before they could gain possession of the strong Grounds.

In the Interim we found that our Artillery had made but little Impression (altho’ well & Gallantly served) the metal not being of Sufficient weight to traverse the loggs of the Block house, but when the troops understood that they were to be drawn off—such was the Enthusiastic bravery of all ranks of Officers & men—that the first Regiment no longer capable of restraint—(rather than leave a post in their rear) rushed with Impetuosity over the Abbatis & advanced to the Stockades from which they were with difficulty withdrawn—altho’ they had no means of forcing an Entry—the contagion spread to the Second—but by very great efforts of the Officers of both Regiments they were at last restrained—not without the loss of some Gallant Officers Wounded, & some brave men killed—happy it was that the Ground would not admit of the further advance of the 10th Regiment—& that the Situation of Genl Irvines Brigade, prevented them from experiencing a loss proportioned to those Immediately Engaged—as the same Gallant spirit pervaded the Whole—which might be a means of frustrating Our main Object by Incumbering us with too many Wounded.

the Artillery was therefore drawn off & forwarded towards the wished for point of Action—the Killed and Wounded were all moved away except three that lay dead under the Stockades. during this period Colo. Moylans horse drove the Cattle &ca from Bergen up towards the Liberty pole whilst a Detatchment of Infantry destroyed the Sloops & Wood boats at the Landing—in which were taken A Capt. & Mate with two Sailers—some others were killed whilst attempting to escape by swiming—having thus effected part of our plan—we pushed forward to oppose the troops from Voluntines hill that we expected to land at the nearest point to New Bridge—which if effected we were determined to drive them back or to cut our way thro’—but in this project we were Disappointed, the enemy thought proper to remain in a less hostile position—than that of the Jersy shore—we therefore passed the New Bridge & by easy Degrees returned to this place about an hour agoe.

Inclosed is a Copy of the Orders of the 20th together with a return of the killed & Wounded2—64 in Number among which are Lieuts Hammond & Crawford of the first & Lieut. De Hart of the 2nd all very Worthy officers the latter mortally Wounded.3

I cannot attempt to Discrimenate between Officers Regiments or Corps—who with equal Oppertunity would have acted with equal fortitude.

should my Conduct & that of the troops under my Command meet your Excellency’s Approbation—it will much Alleviate the pain I experience in not having it in my power to carry the Whole of the plan into Execution—which was only prevented by the most Malicious fortune.4 I have the honor to be with Singular Esteem Your Excellency’s most Obt & very Huml. Sert

Anty Wayne

ALS, DLC:GW; ALS, NHi: Reed Papers.

1See GW to Wayne, 20 July, and notes 1 and 3 to that document; see also Wayne to GW, 21 July.

2Wayne enclosed three orders: his orders to a commander of dragoons; his orders to Col. Stephen Moylan; and his division orders for the attack.

Wayne’s orders to the commander of the dragoon detachment, dated 20 July, directed that he take post at Lower Closter Landing, N.J., by dawn on 21 July and watch the motions of the British on the opposite side of the Hudson River. In case of a crossing by the enemy, the commander was to signal by smoke and send horsemen to notify Wayne. The dragoons and the militia company assigned to their support were to oppose any landing (DLC:GW).

Wayne’s orders to Moylan, dated 21 July, directed that officer to mount an infantryman behind each of his dragoons and proceed to Bergen, N.J., and, taking proper defensive precautions, drive cattle north to Liberty Pole, N.J. (DLC:GW).

Wayne’s “After Orders,” dated at 12:00 A.M. on 21 July at New Bridge, N.J., read: “A field Officer with two Companies or one hundd Rank & file properly officerd to take post at this place, which if attacked in the Absence of the Division, must be defended to the last extremity.

“The Sixth Regiments will advance to the look out Immediately opposite, Spikendivel Creek or Kings Bridge—the Seventh to Fort Lee in order to Observe the Motions of the Enemy on York Island; the Officers & men will secrete themselves so as not to be Observed from the Opposite side the River—Lieut. Colo. Harmer will leave a Capt. and forty men on the bank over looking the landing place, in order to defend that Defile—whilst he with the remainder advances along the Summit of the Mountain about one Mile lower down between that and fort Lee, so as to be in a Position to move to either place or point in case the Enemy attempt a landing, but the Capts. Command must continue in the post assignd him at all events, Patroles to pass constantly between these posts & up the River, should the Commanding officer observe the Enemy Embarking—they are to send Immediate Notice to Genl Wayne towards Bulls ferry, and to make every possible Opposition when the Enemy begin to assend the Hill, & as the situation of these Regiments will admit of Acting in Conjuction in Case of Necessity; the General has the fullest Confidence that they will maintain the Posts assign’d them; and at the point of the Bayonet, meet the Enemy in the gorge of the Defiles and dispute that ground at every expence of blood until the Arrival of the Division—when they may be assured of effectual support and in all human probability of a Glorious Victory.

“Genl Irvin with the remainder of his Brigade will move by Fort Lee on the Summit of the Mountain for Bulls ferry and endeavour to Introduce a sufficient Number of Men between the block house & the river if practicable so as to prevent the retreat of the Garrison, great caution must be Observed on this route least the Troops may be drawn into an Ambush, should that be the case the Bayonet will be their true resort—which they will use with a Confidence—of being Vigorously supported by the first Pennsa Brigade moving parrallel with them—attended by Colo. Moylands Dragoons & the Artillery along the open road—Genl Irvins will direct a Chain of flankers to observe the advance of the right Column, the Situation of the Ground being favorable for it—if he makes any Material discovery he will be so obliging as to Communicate it—the soonest possible.

“a Detatchment from the first will prevent the retreat of the Refugees towards paulus hook, whilst this is performing, the Artilery will be preparing to demolish the Block House.

“every precaution will be used to guard against any serious Consequences from up the River, and should the enemy be hardy enough to attempt the relief of this Post from Fort Washington it may add never faiding laurels to troops which has always stept the first for Glory, & who has every thing to expect from Victory—nothing to dread from disgrace! for altho it is not in their power to Command Success, the Generel is well assured they will produce a Conviction to the World that they deserve it” (DLC:GW).

The “Return of the Killed & Wounded of that part of the Pennsylvania Troops engaged at the Block House at Bulls Ferry on the 21st July 1780,” signed by Lt. Col. Josiah Harmar, indicated that the detachment from Col. Thomas Proctor’s artillery regiment sustained one corporal, one bombardier, two gunners, and eight matrosses wounded; the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment suffered two sergeants and eight rank and file killed, and Lt. David Hammond, Lt. Edward Crawford, two sergeants, and twenty-four rank and file wounded; the 2d Pennsylvania Regiment sustained one sergeant and four rank and file killed, and Lt. Jacob De Hart and three rank and file wounded; and the 10th Pennsylvania Regiment suffered one sergeant and four rank and file wounded. The report gave the totals as: artillery, twelve wounded; infantry, fifteen killed and thirty-seven wounded; for a summary total of sixty-four killed and wounded in the division (DLC:GW).

3David Hammond (c.1749–1801) served as a sergeant in the 1st Continental Infantry Regiment in 1776 before joining the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment as an ensign in May 1777. He became a second lieutenant in September 1777 and a first lieutenant in December 1778. He transferred to the 3d Pennsylvania Regiment in January 1783 and left the army the following June.

Jacob De Hart (d. 1780) joined the 2d Pennsylvania Regiment as an ensign in June 1778 and became a lieutenant in May 1780. He died from his wounds on 25 July. For GW’s opinion of him, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 26 July.

4The British praised the defenders of the blockhouse in effusive terms. Gen. Henry Clinton wrote Lord George Germain on 20 Aug. from East Hampton, N.Y.: “I have the satisfaction of communicating to your lordship an instance of courage which reflects the greatest honour on a small body of the refugees.

“About seventy of them had taken post on a part of the opposite shore of the North River called Bulls Ferry where they had fortified themselves with a blockhouse and stockade, to be protected in cutting wood, the labour they were employed in for their maintenance.

“A corps of near two thousand rebels under their Generals Wayne, Irving and Proctor, with seven pieces of cannon, made an attack upon them on the 21st ult. Notwithstanding a cannonade of three hours, almost every shot of which penetrated through the blockhouse, and an attempt to carry the place by assault, they were repulsed by these brave men with the loss of a great many killed and wounded. The exertions of the refugees did not cease after having resisted so great a force. They followed the enemy, seized their stragglers, and rescued from them the cattle they were driving from the neighbouring district.

“The blockhouse which I visited was pierced with fifty-two shot in one face only, and the two small guns that were in it dismounted. Six of the refugees were killed and fifteen wounded, the far greater part in the blockhouse” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, 18:144). Germain reported the engagement to King George III, who, through Germain, expressed his desire that the “survivors of the brave seventy” be acquainted “that their intrepid behaviour is approved by their Sovereign” (Germain to Clinton, 4 Oct., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 18:178–79).

In his diary entry for the evening of 21 July, William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, called the efforts of the garrison “a gallant Defence” and noted that the Loyalists “had but 1 of their small Cannon and 5 Shot” at the end of the engagement, “the other was dismounted. We had 4 killed and 9 or 10 wounded. 30 of the Rebels were found dead. Others with the wounded were carried off. We took Wayne’s Servant Prisoner. … Sir H. Clinton went over and thank’d them” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 308; see also Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:94, and Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 235–36).

A modern estimate based on contemporary sources agrees with Wayne’s casualty report and gives Loyalist casualties as twenty-one (Peckham, Toll of Independence description begins Howard H. Peckham, ed. The Toll of Independence: Engagements & Battle Casualties of the American Revolution. Chicago, 1974. description ends , 73). For an overview of the operation, see Leiby, Hackensack Valley description begins Adrian C. Leiby. The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground, 1775–1783. New Brunswick, N.J., 1962. description ends , 257–60.

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