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Staten Island, New York

Staten Island, New York

STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK. 22 August 1777. Sullivan's raid. Once Lieutenant General William Howe set sail, Washington started the bulk of the main army south to protect Philadelphia. Major General John Sullivan, in command of the division composed of the First and Second Maryland Brigades, lagged behind. On 3 August Washington told Sullivan to hold in place at Hanover, New Jersey, where the division could move north to reinforce the Hudson Highlands or south to Philadelphia once the situation clarified. The Americans sought to keep Sir Henry Clinton, left by Howe as the British commander in New York, immobilized by giving indications that they would attack the city's defenses at Kings Bridge, Long Island, and Staten Island. The first two threats turned out to be feints, but Sullivan actually landed on Staten Island with his division. According to Clinton, they

effected an almost total surprise of two provincial battalions belonging to Skinner's Brigade, and after setting fire to the magazines at Decker's Ferry were on their march to Richmond; while another corps, that had landed on the west part of the island for the purpose of cutting off three other provincial battalions, had taken Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence, with the great part of his battalion, prisoners, and only missed the remainder by Lieutenant Colonels Dongan and Allen having the presence of mind to throw them into some old rebel works at Prince's Bay. (American Rebellion, 68 n.)

Despite Sullivan's initial success, Brigadier John Campbell used the regular regiments stationed on the island, especially the Fifty-second Foot and the Waldeck Regiment, to stop him cold. The Americans rapidly lost cohesion and withdrew to the Jersey shore with the loss of between somewhere between 170 and 259, mostly troops captured during the withdrawal.

American histories of the war usually pass over this action rather casually as an embarrassingly inept sideshow for which Sullivan was court-martialed and acquitted. Clinton on the other hand obsessed over the tenuous nature of his hold on New York and believed that the defeat prevented Washington from taking advantage of Howe's departure to make a major attack. In reality, the greatest impact of the operation was political. The middle states' delegates in Congress used the defeat to attack the New Englander, Sullivan, in retaliation for the New England delegates' role in replacing General Philip Schuyler with Horatio Gates.

SEE ALSO Philadelphia Campaign.


Clinton, Sir Henry. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton's Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. Edited by William B. Willcox. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1971.

Pearce, Steward. "Sullivan's Expedition to Staten Island in 1777." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 3 (1879): 167-173.

Whittemore, Charles P. A General of the Revolution: John Sullivan of New Hampshire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.

                              revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.

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