Excerpts from The Dragoon Diary
The History of the Third Continental Light Dragoons, the cavalry unit nicknamed “Mrs. Washington’s Bodyguards”
Military histories tend to focus on the strategic actions of the commander. Recent authors have begun to reach into the ranks and pay particular attention to tactics of the individual soldier, his squad or the members of the rifle company. The cavalry of the American forces during the Revolutionary War has been barely commented on by historians and when mentioned, is painted with the widest brush strokes. The place of the “swift arm,” or the “eyes and ears” of the commander during this early period has long been neglected. Seemingly, the only time the cavalry is recorded in history is when the cavalry carries out its mission as part of a larger and, mostly successful, plan of battle. Suddenly, in these few cases, the cavalry is found at the right spot at the right time, equipped and capably commanded. The everyday life that reflected the patriotism of the unit, the bravery of the men and the many hardships of both man and horse are usually overlooked. Neglected are the deserving heroes of the Continental dragoons, the cavalry commanders and more specifically, the individual troopers. In past excursions on the battlefield, the American colonies had provided the raw militia and were usually supplemented by the King’s Royal (and professional) Army. When the American revolt began and an American Army was needed to fight against George III, the pattern of this army was to be modeled after the strong – and successful – European forces. Lessons learned from combat alongside the British regular army and against the fine French army set a template to guide the formation and the functioning of each militia and “regular” unit.
The two most expensive units to raise and organize were the cavalry and the artillery. Both were mainstays in fighting the “European” type war. While these expenses never seemed to bother warring kings, the expense of horse and cannon was daunting to the Continental Congress and the sponsoring colonies. Not only was there an almost impossible cost in providing and obtaining cannon for the artillery units, there was training that had to be done. The enemy, however, did have cannons and the captured guns would soon be turned around to fire at their red coats.
As to forming the cavalry, as one Commander noted, the Continental Congress could not pull farm boys onto horses and expect them to function against the enemy in the field. However, there were certainly more horses available to the army than there were cannons. Therefore, almost by necessity, quite early in the history of the Continental Army the four Regiments of Light Dragoons were authorized by Congress and several more independent units of horse began to see service. Once organized, man and horse would need to be trained. Once properly equipped and trained – and then led – the cavalry would soon influence the course of the war and win key victories in the fight for freedom some two hundred and twenty-five years ago.
History books, much original source material and even some diaries of the period, report that the Third Continental Dragoons contributed little more to the American Revolution than being bayonet targets for the British when the horsemen were caught sleeping in barns in “old Tappan” in the fall of 1778. Recent research illustrates that the individual officers and men of the Third Dragoons were often chosen from George Washington’s personal military family, were the children of his friends and when called upon, showed the personal courage and American spirit historically epitomized by our soldiers. This spirit of individuality, so early in American military history, is seen in this cavalry unit from its conception at the Battle of Trenton to the end of the war.
The Third Dragoons did not appear for this one “massacre” and then disappear and fade into history. As in all wars, there had to be a reason for a military unit to be formed; a unit that would fit into the strategic plan of battle and be organized, trained, supplied and properly led to fill the perceived need of the commander. Whether the need is for more specialized troops as in today’s modern army using Special Forces, Ranger battalions, Mountain troops or the complete range of Special Operations, the expense of organizing, staffing and supplying an elite unit demands a major funding commitment.
Cavalry (and artillery) units raised during the American Revolution fitted the criteria of specialized units, and provided a way that General Washington, the Commander in Chief, could repay young officers of his favored families with a prestigious position. A troop of horse while expensive to the young army was also seen as the gentleman’s way of going to war.
The history of the Third Regiment of Light Dragoons begins differently from many regiments in the way the personnel of the unit were selected. From the formation of the Regiment, the unit received favors and considerations directly from George Washington. The young officers and many men in the “ranks” were from the finest family connections in Virginia and Maryland. This unit, initially raised and paid for by Virginia, came to contain men enlisted and commissioned from Massachusetts Bay colony down to the Carolinas and was a true cross section of the individuals who fought for independence.
The Massacre — September 28, 1778
Early on Sunday morning, the 27th of September, the Third Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons left Paramus to take a position between the Brigade of Major General Putnam – now located at Clarks Town – and the British foraging troops thought to be around “Liberty Pole” and Hackensack. When Colonel Baylor and his troops came to the little stream of the Hackensack River often called the “over the kill” neighborhood, some three miles from the Tappan village, the troop was already familiar with the countryside. After the Battle of Monmouth the previous spring, the regiment had passed that way en route to positions around Hackensack and Paramus. The location was known by various names. Because it was the place of residence of a family named Haring, some called it “Haring town”; others, because it was “outside” of Tappan, thought of it as “Old Tappan”. Today the site is in the township of River Vale, New Jersey. Baylor’s force consisted of about twelve officers and 104 enlisted men. Many officers and enlisted men were being utilized on detached service and were scattered about. An advance party traveling with the Quartermaster, probably commanded by Major Clough, had previously scouted the area, had met the residents of the community and had identified likely prospects for quartering the unit. When Baylor and his officers arrived at Haring town at the quarters previously selected, the Cornelius A. Haring family allowed them billets and space for the night.
Either the prior scouting of the area had been incomplete or the officers of the Third were displaying a dangerous degree of overconfidence, if not neglect. The neighborhood was definitely a Tory stronghold. Cornelius had been arrested in 1777 as a “disaffected person.” His son, Ralph, and his new bride, Elizabeth, were living in the same home now being offered as a billet for the dragoon officers. Elizabeth was the sister of Teunis Blauvelt, a known Tory. Dirck Haring, brother of Abraham and John – both known Tories ^ had married Sophia Bogert, whose brother, Peter, also a Tory, lived just north of the Haring home. Baylor his troops were about to bed down among dedicated enemies.
Tradition has it that Ralph opened the door and welcomed the Dragoons into his father’s home. The senior Haring then received them but warned forthrightly that the British were thought to be lying at New Bridge and might come upon them. Baylor did not appear alarmed by this statement. He moved his gear into the space reserved for himself, Major Clough and other staff in the Haring’s home and directed his other officers to the neighboring home of Cornelius Blauvelt, whose wife was a member of the Haring family – probably the only household in the area truly sympathetic to the American cause. Others were billeted in a third home along Overkill Road owned by the Bogerts, a true Loyalist family. Enlisted men were quartered by troop in some six barns belonging to these homes.
As a precaution, a guard was posted at the bridge about one half mile south of Mr. Haring’s house. It was under the command of Sergeant Isaac Howe Davenport from Dorchester, Massachusetts, a member of the First Troop, and consisted of twelve privates. Their orders were to maintain a patrol of two men on each road the road to Hackensack and the south and the road to Tappan and the east and to keep watch for a distance of a mile below. They were to be relieved every hour. For a night late in September, the weather was severely cold. The moon was in the last quarter. The Third Dragoon guards on the bridge, as well as the guards detailed from Hay’s militia to protect the cattle herd, complained to their officers three successive times that they found it impossible endure the bitter cold. They were told they must protect themselves from the cold as best they could until relieved. Nearby, sentinels detailed from Hay’s militia to protect the cattle herd protested too, and with as little effect.
Hay commanded two battalions of about 250 militiamen, one of which seems to have been located about a mile north of the Third Dragoon quarters. Close by, across the trail from the bridge, on the property of Mr. Blauvelt, were three abandoned tanning vats, covered with fallen oak leaves and overgrown with weeds, and a large stone tanning wheel that had long ago fallen over.
Major Andre wrote in his Journal:
…At ten o’clock the same evening in consequence of a preconceived plan with Sir Henry Clinton, detachments from Lord Cornwallis’ Division of the Army marched in two columns to endeavor to surprise some Light Horse and Militia lying in or near Tappan. At the same time some Troops were to cross from the other side of the North River to land above them. General Grey marched at 10 with the 2d Light Infantry, 2d Grenadiers, 33d and 64th Regiments and fifty dragoons, up the road on the west side of the Hackensack River. Lord Cornwallis marched two hours after, up the Kloster Road, with the 1st Grenadiers, the Guards, the 42d and 37th Regiments.
The troops that crossed from General Knyphausen’s Division were the Rangers, Emerick’s Corps, and the 71st Regiment; they landed at daybreak. General Grey advancing received certain intelligence of the situation of the Dragoons, a whole Regiment of which lay at Old Tappan, ten miles from New Bridge. He was successful enough to come unperceived within a mile of the place, so as to enable him to detach six Companies of Light Infantry by 3 in the morning to spread round the houses and barns where they lay, whilst the rest, after a little halt, marched on upon the road to them.
Grey ordered his Light Infantry to attack from two sides. Major John Maitland with six companies continued along the road to kill or capture the patrol stationed at the bridge. Major Turner Straubenzee, with the remaining six companies, were led by the Tory guides along the pathways and narrow lanes to the dragoon encampments from the west.
General Grey had won the sobriquet “No Flint” just a year earlier against General Wayne’s American forces at Paoli, Pennsylvania. His chilling practice then ^ and now ^ was to order his troops to remove the flints from their muskets so that the pieces could not be fired and to attack by stealth only, with the bayonet. Americans had condemned the Paoli affair as a massacre; Grey evidently considered a surprise bayonet assault by night a legitimate tactic, at least against rebels.
Accordingly, the British light troops, ready to ply the cold steel, surrounded the barns and houses where the unsuspecting American dragoons were soundly sleeping. The guard at the bridge under Sergeant Davenport was quickly dispatched and, though an alarm was given, the Redcoats were still able to catch the dragoons unawares. Crying “No quarter,” “Skiver him,” “Kill Him!” they burst open the doors of the American billets and, wielding their bayonets, threw themselves on the dragoons. Instantly realizing the hopelessness of their situation, the Americans offered little resistance. But this did not appease their assailants; many troopers were stabbed where they lay, even as they begged for “quarter”. A few did manage to surrender; emerging into the frigid night with hands raised high.
The Haring home was alerted by one of the guards from the bridge in time for Colonel Baylor and Major Clough to attempt concealment by somewhat ingloriously climbing up a large Dutch chimney. The senior Haring hastened to the door to learn the reason for the commotion, but before he could open it, a party of British soldiers broke in. They had been ordered to “show no quarter to the rebels.” They obeyed, rushing to the chimney where the two American officers had taken their dubious refuge, poking and jabbing upward with their bayonets. Clough, lodged in the chimney below Baylor, was quickly brought down, severely wounded. He was then pulled from the fireplace and Baylor immediately received three severe stabs in his thigh and groin. Baylor then descended, only to receive yet another wound, a sword-swipe across both hands.
The scene was grimly similar throughout the American quarters. Cornet Robert Morrow remembered counting seven wounds, and, after surrendering, begging for his life. But the quarter he sought was refused; he was stabbed again and stripped of his clothes. Dr. Thomas Evans, the Surgeon’s Mate, also wounded was carried off as a prisoner. Throughout the barns, the British freely used bayonet and musket butt. Lieutenant John Stith, who was in one of the houses, called out in vain that the Americans were surrendering, and was then struck on the head with a sword. The blow knocked him to the floor. Recovering his balance, he, with some of his men, made a desperate effort to escape, jumped a fence, and plunged into a dense thicket nearby.
In every barn and house, the story of pitiless massacre was told and retold. A part of Sir James Baird’s British company surrounded a barn in which sixteen dragoons were sleeping. Bounding up from their pallets, the brave troopers answered with some dozen pistol shots, killing the only British casualty, an enlisted man of the British Second Battalion. Then, lacking the time to reload, they defended themselves with their broadswords. Nine of these dragoons were bayoneted; seven were taken prisoner. The Fourth Troop, all taken as prisoners, were the only ones uninjured, thanks to the humane disobedience of a single British Captain.
The British supporting column under Major Maitland, having finished their business at the bridge, now arrived on the scene. The other houses and barns of the neighborhood, owned by the Blauvelts, Demarests, Holdrums, Harings, and Bogarts, were quickly searched for Americans, while the slaughter was still under way at the other locations. American Lieutenant William Barrett succeeded in making good an escape. Captain John Swan, Lt. Robert Randolph, and Cornets Parson, Francis Dade and Chiswell Barrett were taken prisoners. Cornet Perigrine Fitzhugh was also captured, though at first he was formally reported as having been killed. Robert Morrow, the acting adjutant, badly wounded and stripped of his clothing, was left in a barn and presumed dead. The next morning Lieutenant Stith and a party of the dragoons who had escaped the horror of the night carried him away and tended to his wounds.
Vivid individual remembrances of British brutalities and American heroism have come down to us. Samuel Houston, Jr. of East Belfast – now Searsport – in Maine, had enlisted in the American army when he heard news of the battle of Bunker Hill. He joined Captain George Reid’s Company of Londonderry as a private. In January 1777, Samuel reenlisted and was promoted to corporal, probably ^ so his family reported – as a result of his heroic efforts at the crossing of the Delaware. He then served in the First Troop of the Third Dragoons under the newly appointed captain of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, George Lewis. He would remain in the unit from March of 1776 until December of 1779.
In 1889, Houston’s grandson wrote of the incident at Old Tappan as told to him by his father, who remembered that the unit had been quartered for the night in five barns, not the six that are generally reported. The British, said Houston, first attacked the barn where he was quartered. Houston was awakened by a cry of the guard at the door to the effect that the Americans were in the barn because they needed quarters. When recorded a hundred years after the incident, the sentinel’s shout was poignantly misrepresented. He was asking to surrender; he was crying, “Quarter, quarter!”
“We’ll quarter them all right,” replied the British. Houston took in the situation at a glance and darted through the open barn door. He ran a gauntlet of a double line of gleaming bayonets so quickly that the Redcoats had no time to react and threw himself over a nearby fence. According to this family tradition, he ran to the edge of a bay – probably the “kill” that appeared much, much larger under the pressure and confusion of the evening – and swam into the dark where the British could not see to follow him. Paddling far downstream, he then climbed out of the kill and walked until dawn, when he met a Dutchman driving a wagon drawn by a pair of horses. He asked the man to take him back to the barns to see if anyone was alive. They found one American covered by the hay. He had thirteen bayonet stabs in his body but was still alive. His comrades were all dead.
Houston and the Dutchman put the wounded man into the wagon and took him to the Dutchman’s house, where Houston attended to his wounds. The man speedily recovered. In his account, Houston denounced the British actions at Tappan as wholesale butchery without regard to the rules of warfare. Private Samuel Sherman and the baggage party, who had finally repaired the broken axle that had detained them on the road, were proceeding to rejoin the regiment when they encountered a wounded dragoon ^ Private Brooking – with a bayonet sticking in his arm. Brooking informed them of the fate of the Regiment.
Militia Major General Peter S. Van Orden remembered in 1832 that he remained at Harrington in the company of one regiment of New York militia under the command of Colonel A. Haws Hay and in the company of a corps of horse commanded by Colonel Balior (Baylor,), until they were surprised by a party of British commanded by General Grey, where the most of Colonel Balior’s corps was killed and taken, and the greater part of Captain Craner’s (Crane) company of New York militia was killed and taken prisoner, and that he very narrowly escaped to the State of New York and there joined the company again at a place called Clarkstown and when the British army returned to New York, Captain James Christie and his company returned to Scrawlinburgh…
His descendant, Rockland County historian, Wilfred B. Talman, added that Van Orden had been on a scouting expedition near the British camp. He was seen by the enemy and chased till he found refuge in the swamp near the log tavern that formerly stood on the property owned by John A. Bogert. In this swamp the fugitive remained for a night.
Historian Talman in a letter to the author added that …The swamp seems to be the one south of Pearl River, west of Middletown Road as it runs south to River Vale, making it probably that this is the same incident. The portion of River Vale Road up to Middletown Road near Grand Avenue (if the name goes that far back) from the north end of the River Vale Golf Club was put through in the 1800s, and in Revolutionary times the route turned easterly and then north (now Orangeburgh Road). This would bring it to the wide switch back, now realigned, that from its nature was probably an Indian trail and swung 180 degrees around the low part of the ridge from about the present “T” near the Lake Tappan shore at the Blue Hill Golf Club past the Perry House that was lately the home of M. Montgomery Maze to what is now Middletown Road…
It seems probable that Peter Van Orden fled along the line of Cherry Brook’s exit from the swampy land below Blauvelt’s Ponds. Tanner Bogert’s house and vat on Pearl River’s Washington Avenue would seem to have been on that street’s lowest dip as now seen when you go westward down Washington Avenue from Middletown Road from the Bogert cemetery. Cherry Brook crossed the later built Central Avenue and crossed the athletic field of the now evacuated large school building.
The most interesting and also the most controversial report of the “massacre” was written on the 29th of December, 1833, when William Bassett ^ a resident of the County of Ripley in Indiana – appeared before the Honorable Joseph Robinson, a judge of the Ripley County Circuit Court. Seventy-nine year old Bassett was unable to appear before an open court for the purpose of making his Declaration for a Pension in order to attain the benefits of the Act of Congress passed on June 7, 1832. The pension, incidentally, was granted. Because of the importance to this history, it is quoted in full and the misspellings are left intact.
In the month of August 1776 he Enlisted in the Service and served for two years and nine months under Gen. Paulaski, Col. George Baylor, Maj. Clough (who was afterward killed in the night by the British at Tappan) and Lieut. Custis. He left the service in the month of May 1779, after serving faithfully for TWO YEARS AND NINE MONTHS for which service he now claims a pension. At the time he entered the Service he resided in Bottentourt County Virginia and continued to reside there until his services were rendered. He was in the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse and also in the Massacre at Tanporo (or Tappan) thirty miles from the city of New York where Maj. Clough was killed and Col. Bailor severely wounded.
He marched from Bottentourt County to Fredericksburg, Virginia where he remained stationed for one year or thereabouts. He then marched to Winchester, Va., from Princeton to Frederickstown, Md. Where he remained for sometime, and there was inoculated together with many more for the smallpox. From Frederickstown he marched to Redding, Penn. From thence he marched in pursuit of the British who had left New York, until he arrived at Trenton. From Trenton he marched to Princeton and went there into winter quarters in the Wallace Edifice. He remained there until the following spring when the British Army left Brunswick and entered Amboy. He was then marched to Amboy but the British had marched to New York. He passed through Amboy and marched within about five miles of New York City when he halted and remained there on the lookout till the whole British army took (?) shipping for Philadelphia when he was ordered to march to the White Plains. He was on the bank of the Delaware at the time of the battle of the White Plains was fought. From thence he marched to Trenton, from thence to Brunswick, from thence to Springfield, from thence to Amboy, from thence to Elizabethtown, from thence to Morristown, from thence to Trenton. After the battle there and at Princeton was fought where he was stationed for the winter (the winter previous to the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse).
He remained at Trenton until the following spring when he marched to Monmouth Courthouse and was there in the battle. He served that day with eleven others out of his Company in the command of Capt. John Stith with the guard of General Lee under the command of General Lee.
From Mon mouth he was marched to Hackensack. He remained there for some time when he marched to Old Tappan and was stationed there in a stone barn when the Americans were betrayed by the Torys and all who were stationed there were either killed, wounded or taken prisoners except seven exclusive of Capt. Stith. At the time when the affair just spoken of took place Col. Baylor’s men were quartered at Tappan and the inhabitants of the place pretended to be very friendly to the cause of the Americans, and some of them made parties for the American soldiers and furnished large quantities of spirits of the choicest kind for the troops ^ and the American soldiers supposing themselves safe and in the homes of their friends became merry to asleep.
In the meantime the Torys sent off runners to New York to inform the British of the situation of the troops. This applicant was sleeping that night in a stone barn at Tappan with many more of the troops. There were troops quartered at almost every house in the place and he must say with regret that few of them were in a situation to defend themselves had they been apprised of the danger which was surrounding them, owing to the carousal a few hours previous as before stated.
He was aroused from his sleep by the breaking of doors without and the cries of the soldiers for quarter ^ two men were sleeping close to him ^ the same corner and he attempted to awake them for he knew that the troops were supprised by the enemy ^ but he could not succeed in arousing any of the men, being insensible through drinking, and therefore proceeded to make his escape and run to the large door and slipped (out) a sliding door (which was contained in the large door) but notwithstanding the darkness he could see plainly the barn was surrounded by armed men, he therefore asked for quarter, They replied to him “goddamn your Rebbel soul we will give you quarter” and they demanded of him “how many men are in the barn” ^ he answered that he did not know how many. At this time the men within had become alarmed except those who were drunk, and were running out to the various places in the barn where they could make their escape, whereupon the British and Tory’s cried out “Shiner them ^ Shiner them” (which meant bayonet them) (this could be “Skiver them). The whole party however were killed, wounded and taken prisoner except a few of those in the barn (eight in all with Capt. Stith escaping).
This applicant was taken prisoner and ordered to stand while an armed man stood by to guard him. He took the opportunity when (the) sentry of the enemy was at some distance and sprang over a fence to make his escape. The guard sprang at him and as he was jumping over the fence he was stabbed in the back by a plunge of his pursuer’s bayonet which entered near the backbone which wounded him very bad. He, however, made his escape notwithstanding he was almost fainting under the pain of his wound. The horrors of that night will never be effaced from his memory.
Amidst the curses of an infuriated soldiery were heard the cries and groans of the wounded and dying. Major Clough was run through with a bayonet while asking for quarter. After this to Trenton, from thence to Philadelphia where he remained until the spring of 1779 when he went to Baltimore where he was honorably discharged in writing by Capt. John Stith by the Command of Col. Bailor in the month of May 1779.
The British slaughter in the area was not over. The militia encamped above the dragoons was also visited by British wrath when, …after scouting some time at different places, marched on their return…as far as the barn of a person named Hogenkamp, when, worn out with fatigue, laid all night in the barn, which was but a few miles south (southeast) of the place of the massacre…The company slept quietly until morning when they were alarmed and informed that the British were above them. Captain Crane immediately paraded his men and marched upon an eminence, and..discovered that the British had surrounded them, and gave orders for every man to make his escape, when part of the company was killed or wounded…among those that were killed… John Burges and Jacob Archer, and Lieutenant Blauvelt were among the wounded.
Upon leaving the massacre site, the British took their few prisoners and headed north on what was recorded in Andre’s Journal as “Cackiat Road,” now River Vale Road, turned to the right and crossed the Hackensack at Perry’s Mills, came to Tappan where the Light Infantry on approaching the village had been detached to the left, in order to surround any body of the Enemy which might be there. They had, however, to the number of 200, escaped an hour or two before and the Troops could only kill or secure a few fugitives of a Rear Guard.
On the morning following the massacre, the local militia was given the task of burying the dead. John Haring, whose company had retreated to Paramus when the British drove them from the New Bridge, recalled later that he was detailed, among others, to this sad duty. The burial of the Sergeant’s Guard, among them Sergeant Isaac Howe Davenport, was indeed a hasty one. Arie Blauvelt of Colonel Hay’s militia put six of the dead in tanning vats that he owned. Two more dragoons later died in Paramus, part of sixteen men who had escaped in that direction, most of them wounded.
Blauvelt later told American authorities that when he found that a vastly superior force surrounded him, he had …offered to surrender himself, but that instead of quarters, he was instantly fired upon and wounded in the thigh, and afterwards stabbed in the breast with a bayonet, and left for dead…He heard the British officers and soldiers swear that they would give no quarters to no militiaman.
The commanders in the area were soon informed of the “massacre out of Tappan.” Individual soldiers and small bands of survivors began to drift into the camps of the other American units. At eight o’clock that evening, General Putnam from Highlands sent a message to General Washington that Sergeant Robinson of Colonel Baylor’s Regiment of Light Dragoons, informed him that this morning just before day, the Enemy found means to surprise Col. Baylor with his whole Regiment, then laying at Harring Town. They come upon them when they had only one man out to Reconnoitre, which they took and advanced immediately to where the Regiment lay; They was so completely surprized that Sargt. Robinson tells me, only himself, and two officers effected an escape. It is probable he may exaggerate a little, but I believe they met with a very severe blow.
September 28, 1778 ^ Private Samuel Sherman and the baggage party proceed towards the unit and meet a dragoon with a bayonet sticking in his arm who informed the party of the fate of the regiment. According to later depositions, this was Private Brooking.
September 28, 1778 – Captain John Peebles, 42nd Grenadier Monday 28th, march’d last night at 10 oClock, one Column under Lord Cornwallis conissting of the Guards 1st Battalion of Grenadiers, & the 42d moved from the Picquet Ground in front of the Liberty pole at 12 on the road to Tapawn where we arrived about sunrise & found the Village evacuated by about 500 militia who had got intelligence of our coming by two deserters, another column under Genl Grey consisting of the 2d Battalion of Light Infantry & Grenadiers and 2 Regts march’d by another road to the northward and about an hour before day surprized a Cantonment of the Enemys Light horse of about 100 whom they Bayoneted some 40 or 50 took between 30 and 40 prisoners the remaining few escaped, they were Lady Washingtons Light Dragoons The Col:(Bailer) & the Major both very badly wounded & taken. .. Lt. Ebenezer Mott of New York, once also a prisoner of the British, kept A Return of the American Officers Prisoner of War on Long Island. This lists the following as captured at Old Tappan, 28 September 1778: Captains: John Swan, Baylor’s Joseph Crane, NY Militia Lts: Robert Randolph, Baylor’s Cornet: Perg Fitzhew, Baylor’s Surgeon: Thomas Evans, Mate, Baylor’s Staff: Balden Dade, Volunteer, Baylor’s John Kelty, Volunteer, Baylor’s Leonard V Buren, late Deputy Commissary General of Forage, Northern Department
In Mott’s log, both Crane and V(an) Buren were noted as not being later exchanged but “runaway.”
Reports to the commanders from both the British and the American forces confirmed the savaging of the dragoons. Scouts from the British army reported back to New Bridge and to Lord Cornwallis, who sent the good news of the “victory” on to Sir Henry Clinton. His matter-of-fact account of the affair went on to praise in sweeping terms the perpetrators of the atrocity. He had, he said,
received intelligence that a considerable body of militia and a regiment of light dragoons were assembled in the neighborhood of Taapan, in order to interrupt our foraging. A plan was formed on the evening of the 27th for surprising them. Three deserters from the right column alarmed the militia, who were posted near New Tappan, by which means they made their escape; but the left column, commanded by Major general Grey, were so fortunate as not to be discovered; and the Major general conducted his march with so much order and so silently, and made so good a disposition to surround the village of Old Tappan where the regiment of dragoons lay, that he entirely surprised them, and very few escaped being either killed or taken. He likewise fell in with a small party of militia, a few of whom were killed, and some taken prisoners. The whole loss on our side was one man killed of the 2d battalion of light infantry, which corps had the principal share in this business, and behaved with their usual spirit and alacrity. Cornwallis continued his report by detailing the actions of the northern arm.
The 71st regiment, commanded by Lieutenant colonel Campbell, and the Queen’s Rangers, under Lieutenant colonel Simcoe, who crossed the North River from Lieutenant general Knyphausen’s division, and were to have co operated with the other columns, were prevented, by the desertion of the three men before mentioned, from surprising a body of militia, who by that means took the alarm and made their escape.
Two weeks later in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Spy, as back page news, reported an extract of a letter from Head-Quarters, dated Sept. 30, 1778
An express is arrived from the Jersies giving his Excellency an account that last night a party of Col. Baylor’s regiment of horse consisting of about 100, were surprised by the enemy who carried off the surviving commissioned officers, but in the most barbarous and unheard of manner murdered in cold blood (after they had surrendered) all the non-commissioned officers and privates – They also took a party of militia – Col. Baylor and Major Clough are supposed to be prisoners. Capt. Swan, a brave and active officer from Maryland is among the slain, Serg. Davenport a valuable man belonging to some part of Massachusetts state is also killed.” The British reported the massacre differently. From The Gentleman’s Magazine of December 1778 a simple statement summarized the terrible massacre:
Gen. Washington did not seem to shew the least disposition to assemble his army, and the militia kept at a distance; however, by a well-projected plan of Lord Cornwallis, as almost entire regiment of light dragoons were assembled in the neighbourhood of Taapan. In order to interrupt his foraging, he determined to attempt to surprize them. Three deserters from the right column alarmed the militia, who were posted near New Taapan, of his design, who fled; but the left column, commanded by Major Gen. Grey, were fortunate as not to be discovered; and by the major’s prudent management he surrounded the village of Old Taapan, where the regiment of dragoons lay, and entirely suprized them, so that very few escaped being either killed or taken. He likewise fell in with a small party of militia, a few of whom were killed, and some taken prisoners. Thus ended this expedition.
September 29, 1778 – General Woodford sends the Third Virginia Regiment’s physican and chaplain, Dr. David Griffith, to attend to Baylor and the wounded at Tappan. General Woodford is staying at militia Colonel Hay’s house and General Washington is at Fredericksburg, NY:
My brigade has crossed the River and advanced as far as this place, the best accounts I have been able to collect inform that the Enemy lay just below Orange Town, there is a report that a large party is gone to take possession of the pass in the Clove but this wants confirmation……I met here with the inclosed letter, brought in this morning by a Flagg to an officer of Colonel Hay’s Militia. Your Excellency will observe that Doctor Evans, who wrote by order of Colonel Baylor, requests that a surgeon may be sent in to Tappan to dress the wounded. I have taken the liberty to send Doctor Griffith with a flagg for that purpose. Some time after Dark last night I fell in with the Baggage and remains of Colonel Baylor’s Regiment on the other side of the river. I have ordered what few could be mounted to follow me, and the remainder to continue at the Continental village till further orders of this I have advised General Putnam, I believe ordered an exact return of them which the officer has not yet sent in. The bearer is ordered to call for it.. Lord Cornwallis’ aid-de-camp, Alexander Ross, writes to Colonel Baylor confirming permission for Dr. Griffin to visit the wounded:
Sir, I am directed by Lord Cornwallis to request the acceptance of some Tea, Sugar and Wine, which I have sent by a Flag of Truce At present we have no Limes or Lemons, but when any can be procured from New York, they shall be sent to you.
Inclosed is a protection for your surgeon, but it is not in my power to give you a copy of your parole, the original having been sent to our Commissary of Prisoners from I presume, your commissary may have the Copy, by application
Lord Cornwallis was glad to hear from your Surgeon, that you are in a fair way of recovery. If there is anything here, that you think will contribute to your convenience, His Lordship has desired me to tell you that it shall be sent to you with pleasure…
September 30, 1778 Rivington’s New York Newspaper gives a valuable insight into Major Clough’s military record and his name. Again Major Clough is quoted – in British sources – as Major “McLeod.” The traditional Scottish pronunciation for “Clough” is “Cluff.” During the early campaigns, the Americans, with their phonetic spelling, have the name as “Clow;” and here the English newspaper carries this pronunciation further as “McLeod.”
McLeod, Major, native of Ireland, formerly an adjutant in the Norwich militia, then a non commissioned officer in the horse guards, later a lieutenant and adjutant under Lord Stirling in the rebel service, stationed at Ticonderoga, then preferred to a majority in Baylor’s Virginia cavalry lately wounded in action at Dobb’s Ferry when the rebels were attacked by the Queen’s Rangers.
Others noted in the article as captured were Colonel Baylor, Captain Swan, and Lt. Randolph, Cornet Fitzhugh, Ensign Gilchrist, Mr. Dale, Mr. Evans, Mr. Vanbrugh, Mr. Sheetliff, and Mr. Kelty, paymaster.
The American’s called the landing site Sneden’s Landing on the west side of the Hudson River, and it is noted by the British as Dobb’s Ferry. The landing is due east of Tappan.
September 30, 1778 Major Baurmeister continues that some
…60 dragoons among them, 5 officers were cut down. Fifty seven dragoons and 9 officers were wounded and taken prisoner. Three dragoons on guard duty escaped…The Colonel, the Major, two officers, the doctor and paymaster were left behind on parole, since their severe wounds they could not be transported…The men and horses show what Virginia has to offer. Not a single dragoon was younger than 18 or older than 26…Colonel Campbell, not so fortunate to keep his march a secret, was discovered by General Heard, who escaped with 400 militia between Old Tappan and Harrington…
September 30, 1778 General Gates to General Washington:
…Colonel Baylor himself and Major Clough were left wounded at Orangetown on parole.
September 30, 1778 General Washington to General Woodford:
…I am much obliged by your sending Doctor David Griffith to the assistance of Colonel Baylor, Major Clough &ca. I regret the unhappy situation and the misfortune that has befallen their Corps…
The appointment by General Woodford and the approval of General Washington of Doctor Griffith being sent to aid the officers and men of the Third Dragoons adds a new diminsion to the aftermath of the massacre. Back in Dumfries, Virginia, on March 5, 1776, Colonel Mercer of the Third Regiment informed the committee that the officers were inclined to elect the Rev’d Mr. David Griffith to the offices of Captain and Surgeon to ye said Regiment for both which they thought him very well qualified, and that his merit intitled him to such indulgence, but did not care to unite the offices in the same person without the appropriation of this committee. On considering the subject the committee are of opinion that no inconvenience wil arise to the public from such union. General Washington had picked the right man for the job. David Griffith was born in New York City in 1742. His early education was obtained at home, after which he went to London, continued his studies, and graduated as a student of medicine. Upon his return in 1763, he began his medical career but soon desired to enter the ministry. He returned to England and was ordained by the bishop of London on 19 August 1770. The Venerable Society appointed him missionary to Gloucester County, New Jersey, and at the close of 1771 he took charge of Shelburne parish, Loudon County. Va. Here he continued until May, 1776, when he entered the army as chaplain and surgeon to the 3d Virginia regiment.
Most importantly, Dr. Griffith was a man that General Washington trusted. The relationship between Washington and Griffith went easily back to May 27, 1774, when the leadership of Virginia joined together to write and petition His Majesty with An Association signed by 89 Members of the late House of Burgesses with thought, words and actions that were echoed just two years later in Philadelphia. The opening paragraphs read:
We his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the late representatives of the good people of this country, having been deprived by the sudden interposition of the executive part of this government from giving our countrymen the advice we wished to convey to them in a legislative capacity, find ourselves under the hard necessity of adopting this, the only method we have left, of pointing out to our countrymen such measures as in our opinion are best fitted to secure our dearest rights and liberty from destruction, by the heavy hand of power now lifted against North America: With much grief we find that our dutiful applications to Great Britain for security of our just, ancient, and constitutional rights, have been not only disregarded, but that a determined system is formed and pressed for reducing the inhabitants of British America to slavery, by subjecting them to the payment of taxes, imposed without the consent of the people or their representatives; and that in pursuit of this system, we find an act of the British parliament, lately passed, for stopping the harbour and commerce of the town of Boston, in our sister colony of Massachusetts Bay, until the people there submit to the payment of such unconstitutional taxes, and which act most violently and arbitrarily deprives them of their property, in wharfs erected by private persons, at their own great and proper expence, which act is, in our opinion, a most dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all North America.
And signing this document were the leaders of Virginia and many fathers and sons familiar to the Dragoons: Peyton Randolph, Ro. C. Nicholas, Richard Bland, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, Archibald Cary, Benjamin Harrison, George Washington, William Harwood, Robert Wormeley Carter, Robert Munford, Thomas Jefferson, John West, Mann Page, junior, John Syme, Peter Le Grand, Joseph Hutchings, Francis Peyton, Richard Adams, B. Dandridge, Henry Pendleton, Patrick Henry, junior, Richard Mitchell, James Holt, Charles Carter, James Scott, Burwell Bassett, Henry Lee, John Burton, Thomas Whiting, Peter Poythress, John Winn, James Wood, William Cabell, David Mason, Joseph Cabell, John Bowyer, Charles Linch, William Aylett, Isaac Zane, Francis Slaughter, William Langhorne, Henry Taylor, James Montague, William Fleming, Rodham Kenner, William Acril, Charles Carter, of Stafford, John Woodson, Nathaniel Terry, Richard Lee, Henry Field, Matthew Marable, Thomas Pettus, Robert Rutherford, Samuel M’Dowell, John Bowdoin, James Edmondson, Southy Simpson, John Walker, Hugh Innes, Henry Bell, Nicholas Faulcon, junior, James Taylor, junior, Lewis Burwell, of Gloucester, W. Roane, Joseph Nevil, Richard Hardy, Edwin Gray. H. King, Samuel Du Val, John Hite, junior, John Banister, Worlich Westwood, John Donelson, Thomas Newton, junior, P. Carrington, James Speed, James Henry, Champion Travis, Isaac Coles, Edmund Berkeley, Charles May, Thomas Johnson, Benjamin Watkins, Francis Lightfoot Lee, John Talbot, Thomas Nelson, junior, Lewis Burwell. We the subscribers, clergymen and other inhabitants of the colony and dominion of Virginia, having maturely considered the contents of the above association, do most cordially approve and accede thereto. William Harrison, William Hubard, Benjamin Blagrove, William Bland, H. J. Burges, Samuel Smith M’Croskey, Joseph Davenport, Thomas Price, David Griffith, William Leigh, Robert Andrews, Samuel Klug, Ichabod Camp, William Clayton, Richard Cary, Thomas Adams, Hinde Russell, William Holt, Arthur Dickenson, Thomas Stuart, James Innes. Before the battle of Monmouth, Dr. Griffith came into General Washington’s camp and warned him of the treachery the next day of General Charles Lee. The report is found in an article by the Rev. Charles H. Woodman, in The American Clergy in the Revolution, written in 1880: The evening before the Battle of Monmouth found the army encamped on Matiapan Creek, near the Court House. Late at night a stranger suddenly appeared before Washington’s quarters. He wore no uniform and was instantly challenged. He replied that he was Dr. Griffith, chaplain and surgeon in the Virginia Line, on business of great importance to the commander-in-chief. The officer of the guard was called, but refused admittance. Washington’s orders were peremptory; he was not to be seen on any account. “Go and say,” replied the visitor, “that Dr. Griffith waits upon him with secret and important intelligence, and craves an audience of only five minutes.” The General ordered him to be admitted. Entering the chief’s presence, Dr. Griffith said: “The nature of my intelligence must be my apology for intruding upon you at this hour. I cannot divulge the names of my authorities; but I can assure you they are of the very first order, whether in point of character of attachment to the cause. I warn our excellency against the conduct of Major-General Lee in to-morrow’s battle.” So saying, he withdrew as suddenly as he came. How the chaplain became informed of Lee’s intended (and manifested) treachery is one of the “mysteries of the Revolution.” Dr. Griffith will take act as surgeon and chaplain and be tasked to report, in detail, by deposition, the details of the massacre to General Washington.
September 30, 1778 From General Washington to General Scott:
…PS. Desire Colonel Sheldon to order Moylan’s Regiment up to the Continental Village, there to wait orders either to cross the River or not as there may be occasion.
Private Samuel Sherman, First Troop, notes in his deposition that the baggage party remained in the country where some of the prisoners were exchanged.
September 30, 1778 General Gates, Danbury, Connecticut to General Washington:
…I am sorry for the disgrace we have suffered in the Jerseys; but imagine that the enemy take advantage of the supiness that constantly seizes our people, when they have been long unmolested. This is an evil, that even the best officers cannot remedy…
September 30, 1778 Orange Town, 12 o’clock, Dr. David Griffith writes to General Woodford:
I am this moment returned from the Enemy’s Pickets where I went to ask permission to remain with the wounded at this place. I found the picket (a Subaltern & 20) about two miles below this, but understand that they have parties on the roads leading to Hackensack, that have no fixed Stations, but patrols constantly. The lst Battl. Light Infantry is close in the rear of their Pickets.
The wounded left here are Colonel Baylor, the Surgeon and one private of his Regt., a Militia man & an old man 73 years of age, a resident; who besides shooting him through the thigh, they severely beat. Major Clough died yesterday morning and this day was buried. Colonel Baylor has a wound in his thigh, with a Bayonet, another in his groin, and several cuts in his hand with a Broad sword; I do not think that any of his wounds are very dangerous his Intestines are free from injury. He is in good spirits and free from all bad symptoms.
His Patrolls were taken, which occasioned his being surprized. Docr. Crosby* was here an hour ago, and tells me that, besides the men that you have seen that escaped, sixteen have come into Paramus; most of them wounded two since died.
I understood from Sir James Manning, who commands the Infantry, that they are soon to quit Jersey & that Sir Wm. Clinton ** & Lord Cornwallis are both returned to New York.
The officer that commanded the Picket told me, that Sir James Wallace came Express from N.York to the General and that a Packet was arrived. He did not mention any News; and I think he would not have concealed it if he had any to tell that was favorable to them.
I did not obtain the permission I desired. Sir James desired I would come to their Pickets tomorrow & he would have it ready with such necessarys as Colonel Baylor was in need of
* Ebenezer Crosby was the surgeon from General Washington’s headquarters. ** Spark notes that he was sent by Henry Clinton.
September 30, 1778 ^ The permission for Dr. Griffith to cross through the lines arrives:
To Mr. Griffith, Surgeon, Taapan Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis Hereby orders that Mr. Griffith, a Surgeon, belonging to General Washington’s Army, shall not be made a prisoner, nor Molested in any manner by any of His Majesty’s Troops during his attendance on Colonel Baylor and the rest of the wounded of his Corps at Taapan.
By order of Lt. Genl. Earl Cornwallis /s/ A. Ross Aide de Camp
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