[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.]
1779: A Crucial Year
Chapter 13: March to Morristown
Sullivan was no sooner gone when the Grand Army itself made an appearance. The anticipated attack on New York with French cooperation had vanished when His Most Christian Majesty's fleet departed seaward after the failed attack on Savannah, and with the lateness of season Washington's sole responsibility was the distribution of the army into winter quarters and the transferral of headquarters to Morristown in a carefully coordinated move that made full use of the river, the Clove and the mountain roads through the western Highlands.
Fifteen Massachusetts regiments were assigned the Highlands and one brigade and three regiments of horse were ordered to Connecticut, but all the rest – the Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut divisions, and the New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Rhode Island brigades and Hand's mixed brigade – were given orders for New Jersey.
The North Carolina brigade, which briefly had been in the Clove in 1778, was designated for another winter at Paramus with similar orders to withdraw “to the gorge of the Mountains by Suffrans” in case of an enemy attack; and there was talk about stationing “A Small Corps at the entrance of Smith's Clove above Suffran’s” - elsewhere described as a contingent of about 250 New York levies under Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Pawling, which was “to take Post at the Gorge of the Mountain at the old Barracks" - in other words, at the Sidman's bridge position of 1776.
Neither the Carolinians nor the Yorkers, however, took post where intended. Pawling's command, arriving in the Highlands in October, was sent to Stony Point and was still there in December when, demoralized and decimated by desertions, it was transferred to Poughkeepsie. As for the Carolinians, it was Washington's intent to send the brigade down the Hudson to King's Ferry and by way of Kakiat into Bergen, while the baggage was to be sent by water to New Windsor and through the Clove in wagons to Suffern's and Paramus.
The sudden arrival of a directive at headquarters from Congress that the brigade be dispatched immediately to South Carolina resulted in a complete change in plan. The Carolina regiments, 828 strong under Colonel Clark, were at New Windsor and ready to move by November 19, but instead of proceeding to King's Ferry and Paramus, they were rerouted through the Clove and along the new road to Ringwood and Pompton on the 700-mile journey that brought them to Charleston four months later.
During the four weeks between mid-November, when Nathanael Greene laid out the routes of march, and mid-December, when the last brigade arrived in Morristown, more than 10,000 troops drawn from the Highlands and lower Hudson and from east of the river moved through the Clove or across its mouth at the Point of the Mountains on their way to Morristown and other stations.
The shifting of the army was starting at the beginning of what was to be the worst winter ever remembered by the oldest inhabitant. Sullivan's soldiers had been in the Clove only one day in November when the weather began to turn blustery and snow squalls blew in, and by the middle of the month there was persistent cold. It snowed on the sixteenth and ten days later a day-long snowfall deposited eight inches; then came gales of wind and rain that continued for days and whipped drifting snow into the soldiers' tents. By the end of the month, when most of the troops were on the move, the roads, one officer wrote, were “very bad”. Snow piled on snow. On December 1 a violent storm enveloped the country, and after another day more snow came down. It was knee high on the fifth; by the fourteenth it was two feet deep. And this was but the beginning; worse was yet to come.
If the weather was bad, the army was no better off. Soldiers lacked clothing, many were without shoes, they were on half rations and marched on empty bellies and subsisted on pittances of salt beef and rice and little else. The scarcity of supplies and provision was alarming; magazines were empty and commissaries were without money or credit with which to make purchases, and luckily - if able - to gather more than a few days' supply of provision and forage before consumption.
Two of the brigades at Pompton that had returned with Sullivan continued on and were the first to arrive at Morristown; but Poor's, part of the 6th Massachusetts and the riflemen that had been with the Indian expedition, were ordered about and made their way back through New Antrim to the Hudson.
The remainder of the army, however, destined for Morristown, was heading into New Jersey. Woodford and the Virginia division came from Haverstraw, and from Westchester the Connecticut division under Parsons and Huntington and later the Rhode Islanders under Stark.
The march of the Pennsylvania and Maryland divisions from West Point and Buttermilk Falls, where they had been stationed since July, was more involved in their use of the Clove and Highland crossroads. In accordance with Greene's order of November 16, the baggage of both divisions, like that of the Carolinians, was ordered shipped from West Point to New Windsor to be taken in wagons through the Clove by way of June's and Ringwood to Pompton, while the troops marched “through the wood” to Jacob Thiell's forge on the upper Minisceongo at Haverstraw, then along the Mahwah escarpment to Suffern's and Pompton, where they were to await their baggage and then continue to the hutting ground. It would seem obvious from the devious route laid out that Greene's intent was to keep the Clove as clear of troops as possible to allow its use for the baggage convoys coming from New Windsor - the Pennsylvanians alone having between sixty and seventy wagons when they entered the Clove in June.
General Orders issued at West Point ordered the Pennsylvania division to march on November 20 and the Marylanders on the following day. Greene's ambiguous order, however, that they move “through the wood” gave no clue as to the route taken through the mountains, but a Maryland officer's remark that the march was by way of Smith's Clove suggests the road (now Route 293) to the Forest of Dean and into the Clove, from where the only access to Thiell's forge was by the Haverstraw crossroad that branched at June's and led to lower Orange and Kakiat. Brigadier-General William Irvine, who commanded one of St. Clair's brigades, described it as “a tedious and severe” march during which they were four days without bread. On November 22 the division passed through Pompton and three days later was at Rockaway on the Morristown outskirts.
The departure of the Maryland division was delayed five days, when de Kalb and the two brigades of his 2,030-man division left Buttermilk Falls and marched, one of his captains wrote, “as far as Smith's Clove through a heavy Snow that was falling” and “by the way of Ramapaugh Clove.” “Our march," the baron said, “lasted six days and traversed a country almost unpeopled; it proved fatal to many of the soldiers, in consequence of the cold, the bad weather, the horrid roads, the necessity of spending the night in the open air and our want of protection against snow and rain.” On November 30 an artillery lieutenant at Morristown wrote that the 1st Maryland Brigade arrived that day.
At noon the same day, Washington himself, departing West Point and travelling by the familiar passage of the river, King's Ferry and southern Orange, stopped at Suffern's on his way to Pompton where he spent the night and continued to Morristown the next day in snow and rain. The Life Guard, also leaving West Point when the commander-in-chief left, was taken up the Hudson to New Windsor, and on December 1 marched eighteen dreary miles through the snow-covered Clove to Ringwood, and stayed for two days until the weather cleared before continuing to Morristown.
For the last contingent to arrive, the nine-day march was harrowing. Brigadier-General John Stark, victor of Bennington, and his Rhode Island brigade, coming in from Connecticut, did not leave Danbury until December 5 and walked right into the storm and plodded ankle deep in snow, some men barefoot and almost naked. The lucky ones were quartered at night in houses and barns, but others, lacking even blankets, had to shovel away the snow and huddle on the ground and try to sleep with nothing to cover them but the brushwood they drew about themselves.
On December 7 they crossed King's Ferry and marched to Kakiat, and on the next day reached “Soverens tavern in Ramonpough” and drew flour and pushed on to Pompton, where they were held up for five days by rain and snow while waiting for the baggage; during which one of the colonels wrote “there came Two deers by my Quarters, and was purs[ud]d by the Soldiers but they Could not Ketch them.” When the brigade set out again it was, he said, a “great part of the way over Shoe in mud and Some Places up to the mens knees in water.” When they finally reached Morristown, the snow was two feet deep.
For the army gathering in the upland Morris valley, it was to be a fight for survival. Nineteen years later, in the quiet of his Massachusetts home, an aging Major-General Heath remembered the year when the Grand Army moved into the cruel winter camp and, scribing his memoirs, wrote that many of the soldiers who painfully trod the Orange roads into New Jersey, “as fine men as ever stood in shoes,” went barefoot over the frozen ground with “astonishing patience. Remember these things, ye Americans, in future times.”