Short Hills (Metuchen), New Jersey

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Short Hills (Metuchen), New Jersey

SHORT HILLS (METUCHEN), NEW JERSEY. 26 June 1777. During the "June Maneuvers" of the Philadelphia Campaign, Lieutenant General William Howe maintained strong forces in the Brunswick-Amboy area close to the shore and yet in a position to carry out foraging activities. Washington concentrated his main force in an excellent defensive position on the high ground around Quibble Town (modern New Market) and Bound Brook. To hold the foragers in check he pushed forward a task force built around a division consisting of the New Jersey Brigade and Conway's Third Pennsylvania Brigade, led by William Alexander (known as Lord Stirling). Relying on his men's knowledge of the local area, Alexander camped near Metuchen Meeting House, about five miles northwest of Amboy. While in this position Howe made his last effort to bring Washington to decisive battle in the New York area before sailing to Philadelphia. At 1 a.m. on 26 June, the British moved out in two columns. Howe planned to annihilate Alexander and then capture the passes to Middle Brook, which would force Washington into the open. The movement of such a large force could not be hidden, and Washington easily fell back to a more secure location.

The British boasted of defeating Alexander, and historians have often depicted the operation as an example of the inferiority of the Continentals' training. However, the reality is more complex. Alexander's troops displayed great coolness in forming for battle and staged a successful withdrawal while covering Washington. The British pursued some five miles without being able to cut him off. Casualties were light, but Alexander's rear guard lost three field guns. The next day Howe withdrew to Amboy and embarked on 30 June, having accomplished nothing from this affair.

Although "Short Hills" is used here to designate the affair, the name is confusing because the Short Hills Meeting House (Milburn, New Jersey) was actually near Springfield, more than twelve miles away. The incident might more logically be called the Affair at Metuchen Meeting House.

SEE ALSO Philadelphia Campaign; Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen.

                     revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.