Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hallowed ground: New Jersey's Revolutionary battlefields

Growing up in Union, I was acquainted very early with the story of one of the last Revolutionary War engagements fought in New Jersey: the June 1780 Battle of Connecticut Farms. Parts of the battle took place on the grounds of my grammar school, though my classmates and I weren't aware of that as we played kickball and hopscotch on the playground.

Considering that, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the committee planning the city of Elizabeth's 350th anniversary was staging a weekend-long series of reenactments in both Springfield and Union. Both towns, along with the rest of Union County, were once part of Elizabeth, so it made sense to be part of the party.

We've featured the Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield in Hidden New Jersey before. They're essentially two halves of the same unsuccessful effort. The British, with the help of Hessian mercenaries, twice attempted to make their way through the communities to reach Hobart Gap and ultimately capture General George Washington at Morristown. In both cases, severely outnumbered Continental soldiers and local militia put up far more of a fight than the British and Hessians had anticipated. In the midst of the Connecticut Farms battle, Hannah Caldwell, wife of the "fighting parson" Rev. James Caldwell, was shot and killed, a martyr whose death brought greater sympathy to the American cause. Both towns were burned to the ground by the retreating invaders.

The 2014 edition of the battle used some of the same roads as the original fight, though this time police were needed to block off traffic. Far fewer soldiers and militia were in force, though the proportion of Americans to British, Hessian and Loyalists appeared pretty accurate. And the mayor of Union was in attendance, perhaps to reassure the locals that their homes would be safe from flames. A reenactor set the stage by relating the events that led up to the battle, then narrated the action with helpful insights on the various weapons, uniforms and troop movements.

As stirring as it was to see a historic battle reenacted where I'd spent so much of my childhood, the real impact came near the end of the program. In his closing statements, our narrator observed that we were standing on truly hallowed ground. Men had fought and died on that very land for the independence of the young United States of America. Some of the combatants are interred in the graveyard of the Connecticut Farms Presbyterian Church across the street, including a number of Hessians whose mass grave had been unmarked for over 200 years. Perhaps they'd been buried where they fell. In its own way, that corner of Union was just as notable as any of our most celebrated battlefields. Blood had fallen there, lives had been lost, from people who wanted to be free from tyranny.

Most New Jerseyans don't think much about that, not because they don't want to, but because they're just not aware. Though some of our larger battlefields -- Princeton and Monmouth -- have been preserved to some extent, there are more that are lucky to get a small commemorative marker. Others were covered by roads or buildings or parking lots long ago.

As frustrating as it might be to see hallowed ground occupied by a Walgreen's, it's still out there for all of us to find and reflect on. This map gives you an idea of the potential for discovering the revolutionary past of your own community. Let us know what you discover!



5 comments:

  1. Wow! Where can I find a copy of that cool map? Love it!

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  2. Great Post!

    Ellen. That map certainly is great! It looks like the direct link to the map is:

    http://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/HISTORICALMAPS/REVOLUTIONARYWAR/RevolutionaryBattles.gif

    If you check out their main site, there is some contact info:

    http://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/

    You might want to contact them to see how you can get it / use it with the proper permissions.

    -Jeff

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  3. Hi Ellen and Jeff - Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    The map was originally published by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. According to the legend in the bottom right corner, copies are available through the DEP's Maps and Publications department, and I could swear I saw some at a state event once. The folks at the NJ 350 office in the Department of State might have some ideas.

    Sue

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  4. Hello sue. great post! In years past I enjoyed seeing a reenactment of the battle of monmouth. At that battlefield park I picked up a copy of the book "Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier Paperback – December 1, 1979, by Joseph Plumb Martin (Author)" I'm reminded of that book because, while private martin was involved in some larger battles -- NYC/Harlem Heights, the most difficult engagement was one that is lost to all but the most engaged historians. I had never heard of connecticut farms or springfield before, and I'd never heard of Private Yankee Doodle's battle on a muddy island on the delaware either off the coast of burlington or trenton, if my erratic memory serves at all. it was so far from the main lines, it probably did not even warrant a name, but Martin said it was some of the worst combat he endured during the war.) Keep up the posts, I enjoy them.

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    1. Thanks, David! Private Martin's book is one I definitely need to read.

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