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Sullivan’s descent on Staten Island. – American Account

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

August 23. –Yesterday morning, before daybreak, a body of rebels, under the command of Messrs Sullivan, Smallwood} and De Bourg, landed in two divisions upon the west end of Staten Island. By the acknowledgment of some of their officers, now prisoners here, their number was at least two thousand. One division of them soon fell in with a part of the New Jersey volunteers, which brigade was posted, in small detachments, along the side of the island, from Decker’s ferry to the point opposite Perth Amboy, a distance of fifteen miles. The rebels, greatly superior in numbers, had the fortune with success to. engage the detachments that were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Laurence, and Lieutenant-Colonel Barton, who were both made prisoners, with several other officers, and a considerable number of men. They then marched down to Decker’s ferry, where they burned about thirty-five tons of hay, and set fire to a barn. As soon as the alarm had reached head-quarters, Brigadier-General Campbell marched with the 52d British and 3d battalions of Waldeck, leaving a regiment of Anspack to guard the camp and redoubts. Upon the approach of the regular troops, the rebels instantly marched off with all speed. In the mean time Brigadier-General Skinner had collected those of his corps which had been dislodged from their stations, and detached Major Tympany, with twenty-five men, to gain information of the route which the enemy had taken. The major came up with a number of them at the house of Doctor Parker, which they were plundering. He attacked them immediately, killed several, and took the rest prisoners; among the killed was Mr. Smallwood’s brigadier-major.

It was now known that the rebels on this side had gone off towards Richmond; they were eagerly pursued, and on the road beyond that village an account was received from Lieutenant-Colonel Dongan, that his post had been attacked by the second division of the enemy, and obliged to retire, (which they did with very little loss,) towards Lieutenant-Colonel Allen, who had himself very seasonably retired, and taken post on a height near Prince’s Bay, where Lieutenant-Colonel Dongan had joined him. A large body of the rebels had twice made a show of attacking them, but finally declined it, and marched off towards the Old Blazing Star. Those two gallant officers soon determined to pursue them, and now gave information to Brigadier-General Skinner that they were on the way, and requested orders which were immediately despatched to them, to proceed, and at all events to attack the enemy as soon as possible, informing them at the same time, that their brother volunteers from the right were coming up with all speed to join them, and that the regular troops, with General Campbell, were at hand to support them. These orders were executed with equal spirit and success. Notwithstanding a great disparity of numbers, these new troops attacked the rear of the enemy, consisting of Smallwood’s and other corps that are foremost in reputation among the rebels, with an intrepidity and perseverance that would have done honor to veterans. A considerable number of the enemy were killed, and about three hundred taken prisoners, including twenty-one officers, viz., one lieutenant-colonel, three majors, two captains, ten lieutenants, three ensigns, one surgeon, and one officer wounded. By this time General Campbell had got up one piece of cannon with a detachment of the artillery. That piece was soon followed by two or three more, and a well-directed fire of round and grape shot had a great effect on the rebel boats, and on those of their people who had got over to the Jersey shore. Our loss, in the whole affair, is five killed, seven wounded, and eighty-four missing. Among the wounded were Lieutenant-Colonel Dongan1 and Major Barnes, both officers of distinguished bravery.

The rebels, by this attempt, have, indeed, got a good deal of plunder, chiefly from the inhabitants, of which they may possibly be ready to boast, for they have often boasted of exploits which honest men would deem a disgrace; and they have reason on this occasion to blush for their conduct.2

An American who took part in this expedition gives the following account: About eleven o’clock last night (August 23) I returned to Hanover3 from an excursion from Staten Island. Thursday, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the division marched from this place, and arrived at Elizabethtown; at ten in the evening moved down to Halsted’s Point, where there were boats collected, and at daybreak the division had completely crossed. Colonel Ogden with his own regiment, Colonel Dayton’s, and about one hundred militia, crossed at the same time at the Old Blazing Star. General Sullivan moved with General Deborre’s brigade to attack Colonel Barton’s regiment that lay at the New Star. General Smallwood, with his brigade, moved in another column to the Dutch church, to attack Colonel Buskirk’s regiment; and Colonel Ogden marched in another column to attack Allen’s, Laurence’s, and Dongan’s regiments, that lay about the Old Star. General Smallwood’s guide, instead of bringing him in the rear of the regiment, led him in full front of them; they formed on the east side of the bridge, and the general was moving over in a solid column to attack them; but the enemy, unwilling to be shot at, retreated to their lines in the northeast part of the island. Instead of Buskirk’s, it was a British regiment, which retreated so precipitately that the general took their stand of colors, burnt seven small armed vessels and a large barn full of forage. The general being ordered not to go any farther than that place, joined General Sullivan at the New Star, who had in a little time settled the matter with Colonel Barton’s regiment, they being but few in number, and the greatest poltroons I ever saw.

They made a show of fighting, but did not stand to receive our fire; we took about thirty of them, and their colonel. Colonel Ogden’s party advancing with the utmost precipitation, drove the cowardly enemy before them, took Colonel Laurence, three captains, six subalterns, one doctor, and eighty privates. General Sullivan marched the division to the Old Star, and got them all over except the rear guard, which the enemy advanced upon and took. The bravery of the little party commanded by Major Stewart would do honor to the first troops in the world; they were posted behind a hedge, and kept up such a blaze upon the enemy, that they were forced to retreat every time they advanced; the little party, consisting of not more than fifty men, having bravely maintained their post and expended their ammunition, Major Stewart, whose gallant behavior would do honor to the first of characters, told his party that he had too great respect for their bravery to sacrifice them, that he would surrender himself and give those that could swim an opportunity to get off; they all pulled off their hats, and begged of him not to surrender; that some of them had two cartridges left, that they would fire them, and stand by him till they were cut to pieces. They were, however, obliged to surrender, and Stewart, fixing a white handkerchief on the point of his sword, walked as coolly as if he had been going to shake hands with a friend; many of the party got over the river. The action was grand, though horrid. I plainly saw the whole. We have lost three majors, some captains, subalterns, stragglers, and in all one hundred and twenty-seven privates.4


1 Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Vaughan Dongan died of his wounds soon after the action. He was the commandant of the third battalion of New Jersey Volunteers; the youngest son of Walter Dongan, Esq., late of Staten Island; was bred to the law, and supported a most amiable character. He was in his twenty-ninth year, and left a young distressed widow to lament the death of an affectionate husband. Their only child died a few hours before him. —Gaine’s Mercury.
2 Gaine’s Mercury, September 1.
3 In New Jersey.
4 New York Journal, September 15.

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