|The history of the 4th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers is presented in 2 parts. Click below to skip to:|
A History of the 4th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers - Part 1 of 2
The Autumn of 1776 proved bleak for the Rebel cause. General William HOWE of the British Army had led a force of 30,000 British, Hessian and Loyal American troops victoriously through Staten Island, Long Island, Manhattan Island, the Bronx and Westchester. Hundreds and later thousands of loyalist Americans flocked into the British lines to seek protection and offer their services to the Royal army.
One of these Loyalists was a Teaneck, Bergen County, New Jersey surgeon by the name of Abraham VAN BUSKIRK. VAN BUSKIRK was a member of an old Dutch family that had been settled in the country for many years.
Like so many others he had served in the county militia but waited for the day when the British would arrive. With the clandestine help of numerous other prominent Bergen County Loyalists, VAN BUSKIRK secretly raised a regiment for British service that would rise and form when the British entered the province.
On November 20th, 1776, Lord CORNWALLIS led a force of 5,000 men up the palisades overlooking the Hudson River and sent the Continental Army in headlong flight towards Pennsylvania. VAN BUSKIRK and his men could now associate freely and set about the raising and disciplining of a military regiment.
The unit was named the 4th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers. It was one of six battalions of volunteers then raising in New Jersey under Brigadier General Cortland SKINNER. SKINNER was the attorney general of the province under the crown, and a man of considerable influence.
The men serving in the corps under his command came from all walks of life, all ethnic groups and all social classes. The typical officer was a farmer/gentleman settled on several hundred acres of land while the rank and file were usually smaller farmers, mechanics, tradesmen or laborers.
The 4th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers was composed of ten companies of varying strength. The authorized strength of the battalion was 500 Rank and File but it never achieved this strength at any one time. However, during the course of the war, over 750 officers and men would serve in their ranks.
Losses by death, desertion and discharges would be sporadically replaced by recruits throughout the war. Many of the recruits in the later years of the war tended to be deserters from the Continental Army rather than pure loyalists. This led to a situation where men who had possibly fought against each other were now serving side by side in a common cause.
The initial services of the battalion included raids into their home County of Bergen and garrisoning the lower portion of Bergen Neck and Staten Island. These raids often involved the taking of prisoners, collecting of cattle and the occasional skirmish with local militia or Continental troops.
The largest battle fought by the New Jersey Volunteers occurred on August 22nd, 1777. Due to the effectiveness of the N.J.V. raiding, the Continental General John Sullivan decided to attack Staten Island and eliminate the raiders. With a force of about 2,000 Continentals and some militia, Sullivan crossed over to Staten Island at three points with the hope of surprising the Loyalists.
Elements of the 1st, 3rd and 5th battalions were surprised and made prisoner, but the 4th and 6th battalions were warned in a timely manner and retired to regroup and join together. The 4th battalion distinguished itself in attacking their counterparts in the New Jersey Continental line while reembarking and a detachment of MaryIand, Delaware and Canadian Continental troops while in the act of plundering.
The different battalions of N.J.V. lost about 130 officers and men taken prisoners, mostly from the 1st and 5th battalions. The loss of life was relatively small in number, but they lost two valuable officers in Lieutenant Colonel Edward Vaughan DONGEN of the 3rd battalion and Major John BARNES of the 6th battalion.
They had inflicted a good deal of casualties on the enemy, including the capture of over 250 officers and men. Many of the prisoners taken by both sides would never return to their corps.
Retaliation by the British would come quickly. A force of over 1,500 British, German and Provincial Troops, including 300 New Jersey Volunteers, entered Bergen County at several points simultaneously on September 12th, 1777. The different columns gathered cattle and forage and drove off the Continental and militia troops in several skirmishes.
For the next several months raids between the opposing sides became the norm. One raid launched by the New Jersey Militia under General Dickinson captured Lieutenant Jacob VAN BUSKIRK (son of the lieutenant colonel) and Surgeon John HAMMELL, both of the 4th battalion.
During this period the British started to consider reducing the number of N.J.V. battalions due to their many losses and over-abundance of officers. When they attempted to muster the battalions in September of 1777 to ascertain their strength, a violent storm blew down must of their huts, scattering the men all over Staten Island.
In an interesting attempt to bolster their numbers, Captain Arthur MADDOX of the 4th battalion enlisted 32 men off of a rebel prison ship in New York Harbor. The British did not appreciate this flagrant violation of their rules and the men were removed from the corps and returned to their confinement. It is interesting to note that within three years, the British would raise whole new Provincial corps by enlisting Continental prisoners.
Another event that would hasten the reduction of the N.J.V. was a bout of small pox that swept through the 4th battalion in February and March of 1778.
General SKINNER had decided on a plan to reduce the N.J.V. from six battalions to four by April of 1778. At the muster of April 24th, the three battalions on Staten Island stood for muster in their new configuration.
The new first battalion was the amalgamation of the 1st and 5th battalions under Lt. Col. Joseph BARTON; the third battalion was a combination of the third and sixth battalions under Lt. Col. Isaac ALLEN; the fourth battalion was reduced from ten companies to five and remained under Lt. Col. VAN BUSKIRK's command; the second battalion under Lt. Col. John MORRIS was at that time serving at Philadelphia, attached to the Royal Artillery, and remained unaffected. All the officers who were surplus became "seconded" and were put upon half pay.
The Spring of 1778 saw some other changes in the N.J.V. that were quite noticeable. The initial uniform for the regiment was issued in April of 1777. It consisted of a green regimental coat with white facings, white wool smallclothes, brown wool leggings and black cocked hats with white binding. This uniform was probably supplemented over the summer by linen trousers.
The next batch of clothing to arrive for the Provincial Forces consisted of red coats with blue, green or white facings. The N.J.V. were issued new uniforms from this batch of clothing on May 20th, 1778. While the coats were definitely red, we can only guess as to the facing color.
The year 1778 progressed rather uneventfully for the 4th battalion. They chiefly garrisoned Staten Island along with the 1st and 3rd battalions and made a few raids into New Jersey. At the end of September, they were a part of the army under Lord CORNWALLIS that foraged in Bergen County and led to the destruction of the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons near Old Tappan.
While the battalion did not take part in that action, they did take a few prisoners at this time and took the opportunity to recruit some men and bring many of their families within the British Lines. It was one of the tragedies of the war that families of the combatants of both sides were often left to tend the farms in a hostile countryside.
As an added burden to the minds of the loyalist officers and soldiers, the various states passed confiscation laws against their property to finance the rebel cause and discourage loyalist activism. If the family still occupied the house, they were obliged to abandon their property and seek refuge with the army.
The British were obliged to feed not only loyalist soldiers, but now their wives and children as well. These women followed their husbands with the army and were obliged to act as nurses in the regimental hospitals when the occasion required.
February of 1779 would see the beginning of an extended presence of the battalion in Bergen County. At the end of that month the unit was moved from the North end of Staten Island to a new post at Hoebuck, modern Hoboken, New Jersey.
The strength of the corps at this time was about 250 Rank & File and two iron 4 Pounder cannon that had been loaned to them by the Royal Artillery. Some men of the battalion had previous experience with cannon from serving as "additionals" at various times with the Royal Artillery Regiment.
Hoebuck consisted mainly of the large estate of William BAYARD, a very prominent loyalist then residing in New York City. The battalion committed numerous excesses on the property, some for military reasons, most not.
This led to numerous protests by Mr. BAYARD, which led to the inevitable orders from New York to cease abusing the property. The situation lessened in the summer of that year when the battalion moved into the nearby works at Paulus Hook, now Jersey City.
An effort to put a stop to the raiding of the N.J.V. was made by Lt. Col. "Light Horse" Henry Lee on August 19th, 1779. With a force of several hundred Continental Infantry, Lee made his way to Paulus Hook and nearly captured the entire post.
Unfortunately for Lee, over 200 of the N.J.V. under VAN BUSKIRK and most of the principal officers had left for a raid up Bergen Neck earlier in the evening. VAN BUSKIRK's column briefly clashed with Lee's rear guard near English Neighbourhood, with the Provincials taking 4 continentals prisoner.
The garrison of Paulus Hook that Lee captured consisted mostly of men from the Garrison Battalion, soldiers invalided or worn out primarily from the regular regiments. In addition to them, a number of Hessians, Royal Artillery (including three men from the 2nd Battn. N.J.V. attached to them), Artificers and about 50 men from the 4th battalion were taken prisoner.
The scapegoat for this loss was to be Sergeant John TASWELL of the battalion. TASWELL was in charge of the guard occupying the blockhouse covering the causeway that led into the fort.
His orders were, in case of attack, to not open the door and to definitely not leave the blockhouse. He and the guard did both, and he was court martialed and sentenced to death.
Lt. Col. VAN BUSKIRK quickly wrote to the British commander Sir Henry CLINTON to plead for TASWELL's life and he was eventually reprieved and turned out of the lines. TASWELL was immediately imprisoned by the rebels but found a way to escape from them and somehow was allowed to re-join the battalion as a private in August of 1780. He ended the war with the rank of corporal.
The N.J.V. were soon after removed from Paulus Hook and sent to the middle of New York Harbor, or more specifically, Governor's Island. This installation was a major part of the harbor defenses of the city and an attack by the French Fleet was greatly feared. When it was learned that the French were not in the area, the battalion was moved to its old home on Staten Island.
The winter of 1779-1780 would prove an historic one. Sir Henry CLINTON sailed to the Southward in December of 1779 with an army of 8,000 men that included about 80 N.J.V. These men were drawn from the first, second & fourth battalions and were joined to about 100 other Provincials under the famous Captain Patrick FERGUSON in a temporary corps stiled the American Volunteers.
Forty of the N.J.V. came from the 4th battalion and were led by Captain Samuel RYERSON and his cousin Lieutenant Martin RYERSON. They comprised an entire "division" of the corps, which was armed half with muskets and half with rifles, probably the famous breechloaders invented by FERGUSON.
The men they left behind on Staten Island would have to endure the severest weather then known to man. New York Harbor froze solid clear down to Sandy Hook. Staten Island was provisioned by sleighs drawn over the ice from New York City. British and Provincial cavalry often crossed the Hudson River from New York to New Jersey on the ice to make excursions.
In this state, the Continental General known as Lord Stirling led a force of close to 3,000 troops with cavalry and artillery over the ice to Staten Island. General SKINNER, being warned of the coming attack through his intelligence network, warned the 4th battalion, who evacuated their post at Decker's Ferry and marched to the redoubts at the Watering Place and the Flag Staff.
Stirling, finding all the Crown Forces safely secured in their forts, settled down for the night in sub-freezing temperatures. When morning arrived, almost 500 men had to be removed because of frost bite and the invaders withdrew, being attacked in the rear by a party of cavalry and losing 16 men.
The snow and ice however, also proved an advantage to the N.J.V. Lt. Col. VAN BUSKIRK led a force of 120 men of the 1st & 4th battalions on January 25th over the ice in secret to Elizabethtown, where they surprised and captured 47 Continental and militia troops without loss.
Through the rest of the winter and spring, they took part in several raids, including one to Paramus, New Bridge and Newark. When summer finally approached, the army at New York massed together for one great thrust into New Jersey aimed at destroying Washington's supplies at Morristown and, hopefully, Washington's army itself.
On June 6th, 1780 the 1st and 4th battalions of N.J.V. joined 5,500 other British, German and Provincial troops in the adventure. The attack bogged down at Connecticut Farms near Short Hills and they withdrew in the night on learning that Sir Henry CLINTON was on the eve of returning from his successful excursion to the South.
Encamped for two weeks on Elizabethtown Point, the corps suffered greatly from the heat, rain and lack of tents. Reinforced by a part of the returning Southern Army, the army once again advanced into the state, this time advancing as far as Springfield before retiring.
During the two plus weeks they spent in New Jersey, the two battalions lost about ten men killed, wounded and taken. These losses were more than made up for by the new recruits that joined them at that time.
The first eight months of 1780 were a time of great recruitment in the N.J.V. Conditions in Washington's army had deteriorated to such a degree that hundreds of men deserted to the British and enlisted in the Provincial Corps. Jacob VAN BUSKIRK, exchanged the year before, received a warrant as captain and enlisted many of these men, together with real loyalists into a new company.
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4th Battalion New Jersey Volunteers, Part 2
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