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American Revolution: Battle of Springfield

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American Revolution: Battle of Springfield

General Nathanael Greene

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Springfield - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Springfield was fought on June 23, 1780, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Armies & Commanders:

Americans

British

  • Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen
  • approximately 5,000-6,000 men

Battle of Springfield - Overview:

During the absence of his commander, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, Lieutenant General Baron Wilhelm von Knyphausen attempted an invasion of New Jersey in June 1780. Advancing from New York City, the Hessian leader sought to capture Hobart Gap with the goal of ultimately moving on General George Washington's encampment at Morristown. His numbers greatly reduced due to a savage winter and expiring enlistments, Washington's army numbered only 3,500 regulars and was badly outnumbered by the British.

Pushing west, von Knyphausen was engaged by American forces and militia at the Battle of Connecticut Farms on June 7, 1780. By nightfall, Washington had occupied Hobart Gap and von Knyphausen withdrew into a fortified camp. As Washington and his staff planned a nighttime assault on the British, von Knyphausen was informed of Clinton's imminent return with additional troops from the Carolinas. Rather than renew the battle, he elected to immediately retreat back towards New York to await reinforcements. Arriving on June 19, Clinton was angered the operation had gone forward without him.

While Clinton raged, Washington, concerned that the British would make a move against West Point, departed with a large convoy and half the army to resupply the vital post. To protect the army's artillery and stores at Morristown, he left Major General Nathanael Greene with around 1,500 regulars and 500 militia. Clinton learned of Washington's movement, though was unaware of the convoy and believed that it was simply a shifting of troops to West Point. Contrary to Washington's belief, he had no intention of moving against West Point as he anticipated obtaining it from the traitor Major General Benedict Arnold.

On June 23, 1780, Clinton ordered von Knyphausen to again attack towards Hobart Gap. While the Hessians marched towards Morristown, Clinton moved up the Hudson with the goal of trapping Washington if the American commander moved to his subordinate's aid. Alerted to the British advance, Greene prepared several defensive lines in the vicinity of Springfield, focusing on the bridges over the Rahway River. Near the town, his men removed the planks from the Galloping Hill Road bridge over the east branch, while leaving the bridge over the west branch intact in case they were needed to retreat.

A similar approach was used to the north with the bridges on the Vauxhall Road. Deploying his men, Greene sent Colonel Elias Dayton's 3rd New Jersey along with some supporting militia down the Galloping Hill Road to take a position near Connecticut Farms. Behind them, Colonel Israel Angell's 2nd Rhode Island was posted to defend the first bridge, while Colonel Israel Schreve's 2nd New Jersey held the second bridge. A final line was established on the heights behind the bridge where Greene oversaw Major General Philemon Dickinson's New Jersey militia.

To the north, Major Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee was assigned the defense of the Vauxhall Road bridges with the assistance of Colonel Mathias Ogden's 1st New Jersey. To support both lines, Greene placed the remainder of Brigadier General William Maxwell's New Jersey Brigade as well as Brigadier General John Stark's two New England regiments in reserve near Bryant's Tavern. The battle opened when elements of the New Jersey Volunteers, a Loyalist unit, and the Queen's Rangers attacked Dayton's lines.

Positioned in a defile, Dayton's men initially checked the Volunteers advance, but were flanked out of the defile by Lieutenant Colonel John G. Simcoe's Rangers. While his militia retreated in haste, Dayton conducted a skilled fighting retreat and fell back on Angell's lines on the far side of the first bridge. Arriving on the scene, von Knyphausen dispatched several units, including the Volunteers and Rangers, north to the Vauxhall Bridge with the goal of flanking Angell's line. Waiting until they were in position, he fired a gun to signal a simultaneous assault.

Advancing towards the Galloping Hill Road bridge, von Knyphausen's initial two efforts were blocked by stiff American resistance supported by a cannon to the rear. Realizing the river was only a few feet deep, von Knyphausen's men fanned out and pushed through the water. Meeting intense fire, they were held by Angell's men for around half an hour before their greater numbers forced the Americans back. Retreating to the second bridge, Angell's troops joined with Schreve to meet the advancing British.

Not pausing, they again waded across the river and opened fire. As the two sides battled, von Knyphausen brought his artillery to bear and pushed the 38th Regiment around the American right flank. Moving forward, they were caught by fire from American troops in nearby stone house and counterattacked by militia. Again pushing forward, von Knyphausen's troops were able to overwhelm the American line, forcing them to fall back to Greene on the heights outside of Springfield.

To the north, Lee's men had a similar experience and were overwhelmed at each bridge after stiff fights. As his situation was deteriorating, one of Greene's aides arrived on the scene. Realizing that Lee was about to be forced from the field, he raced to Greene who sent Stark's two regiments north. Reaching the fight as Lee's men were retreating on the slopes of the Short Hills, Stark's men halted the British advance. Unwilling to attack into the hills, the British moved south and rejoined with Knyphausen.

Reforming his lines on the heights overlooking Springfield, Greene occupied a strong position and desired another British attack. In the town, von Knyphausen elected not to advance and instead ordered Springfield burned. With the town ablaze, he began a withdrawal back towards New York. Pursuing the British, New Jersey militia attacked the columns' flanks all the way back to Elizabethtown.

Battle of Springfield - Aftermath

The Battle of Springfield was the last major battle of the war to be fought in the North and British losses numbered 307 killed, wounded, and captured. American casualties were approximately 15 killed and 40-61 wounded. The campaign was the last time the British attempted an invasion of New Jersey. At Springfield, Greene used the same defense in depth approach that later served him well in the South at places like Guilford Court House.

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