[Editor's Note: Richard J. Koke authored a series of five articles that appeared in Volumes 19 -23 of the OCHS Journal between 1990 and 1994. These articles will be presented in multiple sections over the next few years.]
War in the Clove
Sidman's Bridge: The Last Holdout
The isolated post of Sidman's bridge in the western pass was the last holdout of the Highland fortifications captured or abandoned to the enemy in early October with a dubious distinction of outlasting – if but by days — the river fortifications it was intended to cover and shield.
The last garrison came in compliance with Israel Putnam's order of September 27 for the dispatch of two hundred militia from Fort Montgomery to Smith's Clove when Malcom was ordered away; in response to which Brigadier-General Clinton sent two companies of new levies for Allison's Goshen regiment, totalling 120 men, under command of Major Thomas Moffat of Blooming Grove, who in turn was joined at the bridge by Major Henry Wisner, Jr. and about eighty men from Hathorn's Warwick regiment to make up the deficiency. More were probably on their way, Wisner said, but Moffat was of opinion that even if more showed up their number would still be insufficient in case of an attack because many of the firearms were poor and the flints bad.
Moffat was no sooner on his post when, like the others before him, he had to face the troublesome problem of the disaffected when tavernkeeper Suffern complained to him on October 3 about the robbery of two of his horses on the night before by “Tory Rascals” who often made their way with stolen horses to New York through a wooded tract below the tavern, and he was willing to guide any party Moffat would send to waylay them.
A detachment of about twenty militia under Captain Wood appeared at the tavern about dusk, and in accordance with Suffern's direction most of them encircled two suspect houses and kept watch while the captain and the remaining six lay in wait in the thick woodland. About 2:00 in the morning, so the report said, they had the “good fortune” to encounter eight or ten of the villains, whom they challenged and when they refused to stand, opened fire and killed one “dead on the spot” and badly wounded four others, one mortally.
Not realizing their opponents as numerous as they were, Wood fell back a short distance to collect his men, which gave the scoundrels time to make off with their wounded and continue their interrupted and bloodied journey. The wounded man left behind died in the morning after Wood and his militia were back on the ground; and the dead man was identified as an enemy recruiter bringing in men from the Sterling Iron Works, near where he had been seen the night before and overheard drinking health to King George and damnation to Congress.
The appropriate cover of darkness of the night of October 3 and early morning of Saturday, the fourth, enveloped more than a woodland encounter with horse thieves at Ramapo, for in the dark hours of this same night Sir Henry Clinton and his 3,000 troops and ships of the Royal Navy were starting on the move up the Hudson; and in Pennsylvania, Washington's army was on a long, all-night march that was taking it into the bungled battle at Germantown.
On Sunday, the fifth, by courtesy of Lieutenant-Colonel William S. Livingston on his way to Fort Montgomery, Moffat sent a report to Clinton detailing conditions at “Ramapough Clove” and the dispersal of the horse thieves. The last account he received of the enemy was that they were in Haverstraw Bay, and he was looking into what other militia assistance he could get in case of necessity; and a desire to be free of responsibility for the post was evident when, knowing Malcom was home in Ulster, suggested he would be glad if the colonel could be ordered back to take command “if you think proper”.
Moffat was still at “Ramapough Clove” three days later when, on the eighth, he informed Governor Clinton that he had just sent four prisoners of war to Goshen gaol who had been taken near King's Ferry two days earlier, and the existing tranquility was apparent when he added that “No Enemy have as yet appeared in this Quarter”.
With the river forts gone and the Hudson in enemy control, the post at Sidman's bridge no longer was of military significance and the purpose for its existence was gone. Sometime within the next five days, no doubt on the governor's order, the position was evacuated and Moffat and the last garrison of two-hundred levies and militiamen marched up the Clove Road past the taverns amid tinges of early autumn foliage to join the regrouped American force in Ulster under the indomitable Clinton brothers; for on October 13 Major Moffat was serving as duty officer for the river guards stationed at New Windsor and Murderers Creek.
On October 26, Sir Henry Clinton relinquished the Hudson Highlands and withdrew to New York after an occupation of twenty days — a reluctant abandonment forced upon him by Sir William Howe's demand that 4,000 reinforcements be sent from the New York garrison to Pennsylvania. Sir Henry had accomplished what Howe had refused to do with his entire army. For twenty days he held the key of America. “Good God, what a fair prospect blasted,” he wrote.