From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
June 30. –On Sunday morning, the 22d, the British left Brunswick, in Jersey, apparently with an intention to embark; they gave out that they were going to Philadelphia by water, but their real design was to draw General Washington from the mountains above Quibbletown. and force a general engagement. Their policy, however, was not an overmatch for our prudence. Light parties harassed him, but not in such numbers as to produce any considerable action. Great part of our army, however, had left the mountains, and General Lord Stirling was posted at the short hills with about one thousand men.
On Thursday morning, General Howe having reinforced his army with all the marines that could be spared, began his march towards the American camp. By accounts of deserters and others, his numbers were from twelve to fourteen thousand. He met with Lord Stirling’s party early in the morning; a smart engagement ensued, and the Americans stood their ground manfully for a considerable time; but the amazing superiority of numbers obliged them to retreat; and, the enemy having flanked them, they lost two pieces of cannon with a number of men. No return having yet been made, the exact number of killed, etc., cannot be ascertained. The British continued near the place of engagement that day, and are now at Westfield. The Americans are encamped in the old spot, only large bodies are posted at all the passes, and in some advantageous places below the mountains. It is suspected that the enemy would force our camp if possible; but to attack us in the mountains is a thing devoutly to be wished for by every one that desires to see the destruction of the British army.
We must not omit to mention a little affair that happened in the engagement. The fire growing hot, and our men beginning to retreat, a British officer singly rode up to a cannon that was playing on the enemy, and with his pistols and hanger forced every man from it; then seeing Lord Stirling, he cried, “Come here, you damned rebel; and I will do for you.” Lord Stirling answered him by directing the fire of four marksmen upon him, which presently silenced the hardy fool by killing him on the spot.1 Our men recovered the field-piece, which their want of small arms obliged them to abandon.2
General Howe, in a letter to Lord George Germaine, gives the following account of the above: —
Having established a corps sufficient to the defence of Amboy, the army assembled at Brunswick on the 12th of June.
The enemy’s principal force being encamped upon the mountains above Quibbletown, with a corps of two thousand men at Princeton, it was thought advisable to make a movement in two columns from Brunswick on the 14th, in the morning, leaving Brigadier-General Mathew with two thousand men to guard that post. The first division, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, advanced to Ailsborough, and the second to Middle Bush, under the command of Lieutenant-General De Heister, with a view of drawing on an action, if the enemy should remove from the mountain towards the Delaware; but on finding it to be their intention to keep a position which it would not have been prudent to attack, I determined without loss of time to pursue the principal objects of the campaign, by withdrawing the army from Jersey; and, in consequence of this determination, returned to the camp at Brunswick on the 19th, and marched from thence to Amboy on the 22d, intending to cross to Staten Island, from whence the embarkation was to take place.
Upon quitting the camp at Brunswick, the enemy brought a few troops forward, with two or three pieces of cannon, which they fired at the utmost range, without the least execution, or any return from us; they also pushed some battalions into the woods to harass the rear, where Lord Cornwallis commanded, who soon dispersed them with the loss of only two men killed and thirteen wounded; the enemy having nine killed and about thirty wounded.
The necessary preparations being finished for crossing the troops to Staten Island, intelligence was received that the enemy had moved down from the mountain, and taken post at Quibbletown, intending, as it was given out, to attack the rear of the army removing from Amboy; that two corps had also advanced to their left, one of three, thousand men and eight pieces of cannon, under the command of Lord Stirling, Generals Maxwell, and Conway, the last said to be a captain in the French service; the other corps consisted of about seven hundred men, with only one piece of cannon.
In this situation of the enemy, it was judged advisable to make a movement that might lead on to an attack, which was done on the 26th, in the morning, in two columns; the right, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, with Major-General Grant, Brigadiers Mathew and Leslie, and Colonel Donop, took the route by Woodbridge, towards Scotch Plains; the left column where I was, with Major-Generals Sterne, Vaughan, and Grey, Brigadiers Cleveland and Agnew, marched by Metuchin meeting-house, to join the rear of the right column in the road from thence to Scotch Plains, intending to have taken separate routes about two miles after the junction, in order to have attacked the enemy’s left flank at Quibbletown. Four battalions were detached in the morning, with six pieces of cannon, to take post at Bonam-Town.
The right column having fallen in with the aforementioned corps of seven hundred men, soon after passing Woodbridge, gave the alarm, by the firing that ensued, to their main army at Quibbletown, which retired to the mountain with the utmost precipitation. The small corps was closely pushed by the light troops, and with difficulty got off their piece of cannon.
Lord Cornwallis, soon after he was upon the road leading to Scotch Plains from Metuchin meeting-house, came up with the corps commanded by Lord Stirling, whom he found advantageously posted in a country much covered with wood, and his artillery well disposed. The King’s troops, vieing with each other upon this occasion, pressed forward to such close action, that the enemy, though inclined to resist, could not long maintain their ground against so great impetuosity, but were dispersed on all sides, leaving behind three pieces of brass ordnance, three captains and sixty men killed, and upwards of two hundred officers and men wounded and taken.
His lordship had five men killed, and thirty wounded. Captain Finch of the light company of the guards was the only officer who suffered, and to my great concern, the wound he received proving mortal, he died on the 29th of June, at Amboy.
The troops engaged in this action were the 1st light infantry, 1st British grenadiers, 1st, 2d, and 3d Hessian grenadiers; 1st battalion of guards, Hessian chasseurs, and the Queen’s Rangers. I take the liberty of particularizing these corps, as Lord Cornwallis, in his report to me, so highly extols their merit and ardor upon this attack. One piece of cannon was taken by the guards, the other two by Colonel Mingerode’s battalion of Hessian grenadiers.
The enemy was pursued as far as Westfield with little effect, the day proving so intensely hot that the soldiers could with difficulty continue their march thither; in the mean time it gave opportunity for those flying to escape by skulking in the thick woods until night favored their retreat to the mountains.
The army lay that night at Westfield, returned the next day to Rahway, and the day following to Amboy. On the 30th, at ten in the forenoon, the troops began to cross over to Staten Island, and the rear guard, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, passed at two in the afternoon, without the least appearance of an enemy.
The embarkation of the troops is proceeding with the utmost despatch, and I shall have the honor of sending your lordship further information as soon as the troops are landed at the place of their destination.3
1 The person who was killed in attempting to take the cannon in the affair of Lord Stirling, was the Honorable Mr. Finch, son of the Earl of Winchelsea, who came out this spring as a volunteer. After he fell, his horse came over and was taken by our army. Finch was buried with great pomp by General Howe. —Pennsylvania Journal, July 16.
2Pennsylvania Journal, July 2.
3Upcott, v. 55.