A History of the 5th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers
While the British army continued its progress through New Jersey in late fall of 1776, one area it did not march to was the northwestern part of the state, Sussex County. That did not, however, preclude that county’s sizable Loyalist population from being embodied.
Joseph BARTON of Newton stood forth and received a warrant from Brigadier General SKINNER to raise a battalion from amongst the Loyalists of Sussex, bringing drafts from the militia if need be. While there is no record to indicate such a step was ever taken, about 250 officers and men were raised and officially designated the 5th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers in November of 1776.
Among these were such notables as Major Thomas MILLIDGE, one of the chief surveyors for New Jersey, and Ensign James MOODY, who would lead in scores of Loyalists to the British lines, intercept Rebel post riders, capture militia officers, free jail-bound Loyalists and eventually try to break into the Continental Congress itself.
The rendezvous for the corps was not at New Brunswick but rather alongside the 4th battalion in Bergen County and later Staten Island. BARTON personally led raids as far as Paramus and English Neighbourhood in early 1777 before the battalion settled down to garrison duty on Staten Island. In that situation they were surprised by Sullivan's invasion of the island on 22 August 1777, losing about 30 men captured, plus one officer - BARTON.
Significantly weakened, the corps fell into chaos. One officer, Benjamin BARTON, returned home to Sussex County, without even accepting his commission. Another, Ezekial DENNIS, resigned his then returned home. Captain Silas HOPKINS went home and threw himself on the mercy of the Rebel Government. Stunned by these losses of officers, the remaining contingent protested vigorously one man who attempted to join them - John B. SCOTT, formerly an officer in the New Jersey Continental Line who had deserted to the British.
Disaster also struck when a contingent of over 100 recruits for the NJV, primarily the 5th battalion, were ambushed after a lengthy march. These Loyalists, led by James MOODY and primarily from Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Hunterdon and Sussex Counties of New Jersey, were dispersed after a brief fight, with 35 of them captured and sentenced to death.
James ILIFF and William MEE, who had warrants as officers to recruit men, were indeed hanged, but the others were pardoned on condition of serving in the New Jersey Continental Line. They agreed and promptly deserted to the NJV as soon as opportunity presented. MOODY, who was not captured, escaped onto Staten Island with a handful of recruits, venturing out again several times to bring in whoever he found.
The battalion contributed little more in the way of offense. Some members took part in the September, 1777 incursion into Bergen County under Sir Henry CLINTON, but that was all. They lost men in two actions in November on Staten Island, on the 9th and 27th, the latter being Philemon DICKINSON's excursion with about 1,500 New Jersey Militia.
In this debilitated condition, the battalion was set to cease its independent existence on 25 April 1778. Most of the officers continued on as before with the same rank in the “new” 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, including Joseph BARTON and Thomas MILLIDGE. James MOODY would end the war a lieutenant (with captain’s pay) and publish a narrative of his “exertions and sufferings” in England.
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