Morristown Winter Quarters, New Jersey

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Morristown Winter Quarters, New Jersey

MORRISTOWN WINTER QUARTERS, NEW JERSEY. 1 December 1779–22 June 1780. As 1779 dragged to a close without major military operations in the North, and after Admiral Charles Estaing failed to appear off Sandy Hook with his powerful French force, Washington decided on 30 November that the main army would go into winter quarters just outside Morristown, New Jersey. The weather turned bitterly cold and most units were faced with a hard march to reach Morristown. Units started arriving the first week in December, and the last arrived at the end of that month. Four Massachusetts brigades were left in the Highlands; Poor's brigade and most of the cavalry units were sent to Danbury, Connecticut, with the mission of guarding the coastal towns on Long Island Sound; and the North Carolina brigade and Pawley's New York state troops were posted with Lee's dragoons around Suffern, New York.

The winter quarters of 1779–1780 became an ordeal of almost unbelievable suffering because of the record-breaking cold. As desertions rose and his army declined to around ten thousand men, Washington wrote the governors of all the states on 16 December, "The situation of the Army with respect to supplies is beyond description alarming"(Washington, Series 3c, Letterbox 3). With his men already on half rations, conditions were about to get worse. The commissariat again broke down and the troops at Morristown faced death from cold and starvation. At least the army had the experience of previous winter encampments to draw on, and the soldiers built an extensive "log-house city," consuming about six hundred acres of woodland. Soldier huts had a standard floor plan of about fourteen by fifteen feet and accommodated twelve men; they were about six and one-half feet high at the eaves, with wooden bunks, a fireplace at one end, and a door at the other. Construction was of notched logs, and chinks of clay sealed the walls. Windows apparently were not cut until spring. The huts were in rows of eight, three or four rows to a regiment. Officers' cabins were larger and less crowded. Parade grounds and company streets were laid out at regular intervals. Most of the men were able to move into huts before the end of December, but it was another six weeks before all the officers were accommodated.

Jockey Hollow was the name of the site about three miles southwest of Morristown where most of the army was camped—here were seven infantry brigades: Hand's New York, the First and Second Maryland, the First and Second Connecticut, and the First and Second Pennsylvania; The three Virginia brigades (Muhlenberg's, Scott's, and Woodford's), Stark's brigade; and the New Jersey brigade occupied separate camps within a mile of Jockey Hollow. Knox's artillery brigade and the gun park were about a mile west of Morristown. "On the Lines" were detachments at Princeton, Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Rahway, Westfield, Springfield, Paramus, and other outposts. These detachments, totaling from two hundred to two thousand at different times, were periodically relieved.

The severity of the winter limited military operations during the first months of 1780, but it also made possible the remarkable (although unsuccessful) Staten Island expedition of Alexander on 14-15 January. The action at Young's House in New York on 3 February was a British attempt to annihilate a unit "on the Lines." The British operations around Springfield, New Jersey, from 7 June to 23 June heralded the start of the 1780 campaign in the North.

SEE ALSO Alexander, William; Estaing, Charles Hector Théodat, Comte d'; Hand, Edward; Morristown Winter Quarters, New Jersey (6 January-28 May, 1777); Poor, Enoch; Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen; Stark, John; Staten Island Expedition of Alexander; Young's House.


Smith, Samuel Stelle. Winter at Morristown, 1779–1780: The Darkest Hour. Monmouth Beach, N.J.: Freneau Press, 1979.

Washington, George. George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm. Library of Congress: Washington, D.C., 1961, series 3c, letterbox 3.

                             revised by Michael Bellesiles