Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen

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Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen

SPRINGFIELD, NEW JERSEY, RAID OF KNYPHAUSEN. 7-23 June 1780. Prior to the return of Clinton from his Charleston expedition, General William Knyphausen (who was temporarily in command in New York) received reports that Washington's army was mutinous and might be won over. Being led to believe also that the civil population might rally to support him, Knyphausen organized a force of five thousand for a large-scale raid, landed it at De Hart's Point, near Elizabethtown, and on 7 June marched toward Morristown. Washington received this disturbing information the evening of the 7th, but when he reached Short Hills the next day he learned that Colonel Elias Dayton's regiment of Maxwell's brigade, promptly reinforced by neighborhood militia, had so successfully blocked the enemy advance that it had gotten only as far as Springfield Bridge and had then pulled back and started entrenching. Knyphausen's position on the afternoon of 7 June was on high ground northwest of Connecticut Farms (later Union, New Jersey), a settlement about two and a half miles southeast of Springfield.

British intelligence had obviously erred badly: the natives not only were hostile but efficient. General Thomas Stirling, who commanded Knyphausen's vanguard, was wounded. At Connecticut Farms, the rebels held off the Hessian vanguard with fixed bayonets. The invaders burned about thirty buildings in Connecticut Farms and, to the mystification of Washington, withdrew during the night of 8-9 June to De Hart's Point and dug in. It was a peculiar situation: Knyphausen had withdrawn simply because his original mission, based on faulty intelligence, obviously could not be accomplished. Washington, on the other hand, had no way of knowing that the explanation for the enemy's peculiar conduct was this simple—he suspected they were up to something logical, such as feinting in New Jersey before making a main effort up the Hudson. "Our situation," said Washington on the 14th, "is as embarrassing as you can imagine," and then he had to add: "When they unite their force, it will be infinitely more so." He recalled Henry Lee's Light Horse (which had received orders on 30 March to prepare to move to South Carolina), sent for other mounted troops to perform the reconnaissance missions that were now so important, and organized a force of five hundred men under Brigadier General Edward Hand to harass the enemy position at De Hart's Point.

When Washington learned on 20 June that six British warships had sailed up the Hudson to Verplancks Point and, "with as little apparent reason for going as for coming, had dropped down the river again," (Freeman, vol. 5, p. 172) he had to redeploy his forces so as to meet an attack against West Point and also to watch for a main effort in New Jersey. So he moved his main body to Pompton, where it would be closer to West Point yet still within sixteen miles of Springfield, and he left Nathanael Greene at the latter place with about one thousand Continental troops to watch Knyphausen. General Maxwell's Continentals and General Philemon Dickinson's militia were still in the field to support Greene.

Clinton had reached Sandy Hook on 17 June. Learning then of Knyphausen's operation and its lack of success, he also received information from Benedict Arnold (dated 12 June) that the French expeditionary force of comte de Rochambeau would soon reach Newport, Rhode Island. The British commander realized that by committing troops to support Knyphausen's stalled offensive against Washington, he would leave New York City open to a possible French attack. The mysterious British movement up the Hudson (see above) had been prompted by Clinton's fear that Washington might try to cross the river and join forces with the French, a movement Washington actually did not make until 31 July. (The French did not actually reach Newport until 12 July, and Clinton did not get word of their arrival until the 18th.)


Meanwhile, Clinton prepared to advance into Westchester County, and Knyphausen built a pontoon bridge between Elizabethtown and Staten Island for a rapid junction with the main army after the British learned of Washington's movement toward West Point. Clinton and Knyphausen therefore organized a feint against Springfield and a stronger effort against Morristown on 23 June. Although one reason might have been to save face, Knyphausen's new thrust was ordered by Clinton to retard Washington's suspected movement of his entire army up the Hudson and to gain time for the troops just returning from Charleston to be transported up the Hudson to block Washington.

At 6 a.m. on 23 June, Washington heard the sound of cannon on Greene's front, and in midmorning he received an alarming report from Greene: "The enemy are out on their march towards this place [Springfield] in full force, having received a considerable reenforcement last night" (Freeman, 5, p. 173). According to the Hessian officer Carl Leopold Baurmeister, Knyphausen's original expedition had consisted of the British Guards; the Twenty-second, Thirty-seventh, Thirty-eighth, Forty-third, and Fifty-seventh Regiments; two battalions of Cortland Skinner's West Jersey Volunteers; two Anspach regiments; the entire Anspach and Hessian Jäger Corps; the Seventeenth Light Dragoons; von Diemar's Hussars; the mounted Queen's Rangers (Simcoe's); the Leib Regiment; and the Landgraf, Donop, Bünau, and Bose Regiments. Brigades were commanded by Generals von Lossberg, von Hachenberg, Mathew, Skinner, and Thomas Stirling. James Robertson, commandant of New York, and Governor Tryon accompanied Knyphausen as volunteers. The reinforcements mentioned by Greene were the Forty-second Regiment and the rest of Simcoe's Rangers. The Leib regiment and Jäger Corps returned to Staten Island to resupply their ammunition after the action of 7 June and, presumably, returned to New Jersey

The enemy's second advance on Springfield was, like the first, contested by Maxwell's brigade. Greene positioned his regulars and Dickinson's militia to cover the bridge at Springfield, and Lee's dragoons operated with Maxwell's delaying force. On approaching Springfield, Knyphausen sent half his force to envelop Greene's left by way of the Vauxhall Bridge and to get to his rear at Chatham. Lee's dragoons and Dayton's Third New Jersey delayed the enveloping column under General Edward Mathew at Vauxhall Bridge and then dropped back to hold another position on the Vauxhall Road to protect Greene's left. Knyphausen's frontal attack was held up for forty minutes by Colonel Israel Angell's Rhode Island Regiment, which then dropped back to a new position with Colonel William Shreve's New Jersey militia. Greene reinforced Lee with two regiments of regulars (Colonel Henry Jackson's Massachusetts and Colonel S. B. Webb's Connecticut) to block Mathew, and he concentrated the rest of his command on high ground behind Springfield. Knyphausen was reluctant to attack Greene and broke off the action. After burning all but four of the fifty houses in Springfield, he withdrew during the afternoon and crossed his bridge to Staten Island. Washington had had no alternative but to start back from Pompton to support Greene and to order supplies evacuated from Morristown, but he covered only five or six miles on 23 June and that night received the good news that Greene would not need his help after all.

New Jersey had once more been cleared of British troops. Jerseyites, far from being swayed back toward King George, were aroused by the destruction of Connecticut Farms and Springfield. They were particularly outraged by the Patriot propaganda which claimed that the Reverend James Caldwell's wife, killed at Connecticut Farms on 7 June, had been shot by an enemy soldier as she sat by a window with her children.


Patriot losses on 7 June were about fifteen killed and forty wounded, according to Colonel Sylvanus Seeley of the New Jersey militia. Major Baurmeister estimated that the eight hundred men under General Maxwell in Elizabethtown had been reinforced by militia and regulars to a total of twenty-five hundred by the time they withdrew to Springfield Bridge. Army surgeon Dr. James Thacher said the rebels took twenty prisoners in this first action, but enemy killed and wounded are not reported by either side.

According to Douglas S. Freeman, on 23 June the rebels lost fifteen killed, forty-nine wounded, and nine missing. This may, however, be the total casualties for the period 7-23 June, since it bears a strange similarity to the figures already quoted for the 7th, and in The War of the Revolution (vol. 2, 1952), Christopher Ward says American losses for the entire period were thirteen killed, sixty-one wounded, and nine missing. Seeley, however, is specific in saying that fifteen were killed and forty wounded on 7 June. Knyphausen's losses on the 23rd are not known; Thacher said American troops found fifteen bodies and several fresh graves, and that the inhabitants reported seeing eight or ten wagon loads of dead and wounded. Enemy strength on the 23rd was between five and six thousand. Greene had about one thousand at Springfield, and Maxwell may have had almost that many troops, including militia harassing the enemy's advance.

SEE ALSO Maxwell, William.


Fleming, Thomas. The Battle of Springfield. Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1976.

―――――――. The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey, 1780. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1973.

Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington. Vol. 5. New York: Scribner, 1952.

Lundin, Leonard. Cockpit of the Revolution: The War for Independence in New Jersey. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940.

Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

Ward, Harry M. General William Maxwell and the New Jersey Continentals. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

                               revised by Harry M. Ward

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