Orange County Historical Society

Corridor Through the Mountains

Smith's Clove: Wartime Line of Communication and Passageway for the Continental Army, 1776-1783

Richard J. Koke

[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.]

Part II:
War in the Clove
Chapter 8:
The Reluctant Militia

The move to Ramapo, however, brought problems other than those of defense. Trying to defend the country was one thing; trying to hold the militia together was another. They were restless and anxious to return home. Even before Clinton came to Ramapo by the roundabout way of King's Ferry, Haverstraw, New City, eastern Orange and northern Jersey, there was grumbling among the men.

While still at Paramus, he called the Convention's attention to the prevailing discontent, pointing out that the militia considered their lot "exceeding hard" to be called into service while those in other counties equally concerned with the protection of the Highland passes, were exempt from duty. They felt deceived, having thought the expedition would be of short duration, but instead, with Heath moving back to Westchester and Tylerand Huntington being withdrawn, were finding themselves pressed into duty to defend positions from which they saw no prospect of relief.

There was no need, the officers said, that all the militia had to be called out at the same time, half the number would have been enough, and, considering the business was nearly finished, Clinton affirmed, "I am of their Opinion." A thousand men would cheerfully serve, but if the whole force was continued in the field it would be with reluctance.

Another thing that turned them sour was the shortage of provisions. Clinton had hoped to provide for most of his regiments from the stores Heath informed him were "at the Post near Sydman's Bridge," but, to his great disappointment, the commissary there informed him he had only enough meat on hand for the two Contimental regiments that were ready to depart.

When Clinton brought up the matter with Colonel Hay, who was handling much of the provisioning, Hay explained he never received the slightest intimation from Convention that such a large body of men was being sent into his district, and consequently had made no provision for them; and when Clinton mentioned it to Convention delegates, expressing regret, they conveniently excused themselves from responsibility by assuming Heath would handle the matter of subsistence.

Clinton was a realist. On the twenty-third, after arriving at Ramapo, he again informed Convention that the militia had "good Reason to complain" and would go home and leave him. "Many have already gone," he said, "nor can I expect but that the rest will be as good as their Word. Indeed they must desert or starve; & however well disposed, they will not submit to the latter. The Consequences may be fatal to the Country. I am not to blame. I have done every Thing in my Power. I have no further influence over them."

It was the same story at Tappan, where Goshen and Warwick regiments were stationed; the colonels sending word that their men, "almost barefooted & many nearly naked for Cloaths," were performing their duties, but were distressed in being kept from home. They pleaded with Clinton to use his influence to release the militia, warning it would be impossible to hold the men longer than for three more days.

And Clinton, in reply: "I am fully sensible of the Distress of the Militia," but "for Heaven's sake, for the sake of your Bleeding Country, keep your Men together a few Days longer, dont let them basely Desert so honorable [a] Cause & suffer our Enveterate & Cruel Enemy to plunder & distress our Friends."

Not only that, but the British were back in Hackensack. On Christmas Day five hundred or more of the enemy, coming in from the south, reoccupied the town, and in following days Clinton sent scouting parties from his decimated and troubled command into the Jersey snow to find out what was going on.

Two-thirds of his militia were gone by the twenty-seventh, some regiments almost to a man, when Clinton and a council-of-war agreed to send out officers to round up the deserters and bring them back. Things were so bad as far as the strength of the Ramapo garrison was concerned, that Clinton warned Convention that if he continued to keep his other regiments at Tappan he would not be answerable for the defense of the Clove, and besides this, though there were a redoubt and lines at the bridge so far complete as to be well defended in case of attack, he still did not have a single piece of artillery to place in them.

In a reply of December 25, the Convention delegates explained to Clinton that they were "sensible" of the "inconveniences" endured by the militia, and it was their hope to relieve them as soon as possible were it not for fear of exposing the passes. They begged him to hold his men "a few days longer" until they could be relieved by New England contingents that were hourly expected on the Hudson, but they did grant him discretionary power to discharge any man whose absence from home could be considered, so the record said, a "great injury" to himself and his family." Of course, they could all claim that.

The situation changed within days - so much so, that Clinton was able to report on New Year's Day that the militia were "daily returning with spirit to their Duty." A Committee of Safety, sitting at Fishkill in recess of the Convention, further helped to resolve matters on January 1 when it ordered one thousand militia levies to be drafted in four river counties to take over the defense, and three days later directed that all the Orange and Ulster militia be dismissed, except for five hundred men who were to remain until the new levies arrived. These five hundred, Clinton said, were to guard "the Pass at Sidman's Bridge, near Ramepough."

Clinton left Ramapo on January 3 to expedite the dismissal of militia, and was well into the Clove when he received the first resolves of the Committee; and from "Galloway's in the Clove" dispatched orders for the drafting of the levies. Two days later, heading back towards the mouth of the valley, he sent a letter to the Committee from "Near Galloway, in Smith's Clove" in which he begged the members to "excuse the Incorrectness of this scrawl; I am so cold I can hardly write."

With the militia problem eased, Clinton immediately turned to the British in Hackensack. He arrived back at Suffern's on the evening of January 5 and was surprised that two field pieces were on their way from Heath; and on the next morning was preparing orders for his regiments to advance into New Jersey from Ramapo and Tappan for simultaneous attacks on the British from two directions, when, to his surprise and "mortification," as he said, a messenger arrived with information that the enemy had precipitately abandoned the town the day before.

Readily - and correctly - surmising that Washington's approach towards Morristown forced "my neighbors' sudden removal," he commented that "They have disappointed me exceedingly. I am almost certain I could have destroyed the whole of them, had they continued two days longer, had I been indulged in my request of artillery that much sooner."

He spent another busy week at Ramapo and in northern Jersey. On January 7 he was reinforced with the arrival from Peekskill of a detachment of Massachusetts militia under Colonel Nathan Sparhawk with the two field pieces promised by Heath, which Clinton, then at Paramus, ordered placed in the little redoubt north of Sidman's bridge, and he suggested that Sparhawk could quarter his men in the "little houses" nearby.

He debated the possibility of another raid into the English Neighborhood and down Bergen Neck. On the twelfth he rode to Morristown to consult with Washington; on the thirteenth he was back at Paramus, and on the fourteenth he left Ramapo and traversed the entire wintry length of Smith's Clove to his Ulster home at New Windsor to continue the slow raising of levies. Clinton's service in the Clove was over, but his acute and perceptive watchfulness of all the Highland fortifications continued.

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