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Millburn: 1857 - 1957
The Revolution

By the Millburn Centennial Committee

Originally appeared in 1957
This Web version, copyright 2004

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A 4-pound cannon ball was buried in this ancient elm (still standing on property of Mark Oliver at 298 Main Street), during the battle of Springfield. It was removed in recent years.
By the time of the Revolution the settlement of scattered houses seems to have become united in a struggle against a common enemy. We do not know how many left their homes to join the Revolutionary Army, but a militia was formed, and in 1780 when Washington was living out his desperate days in Morristown, guards were posted on every mountain pass, and beacon fires were ready on every height to shout their warning by smoke and fire to Washington's forces of any advance by the enemy. Those fires were lighted and the guards alerted that day in early June when word was received that the enemy, 5000 strong, sent by General Sir Henry Clinton, under the Hessian, General Knyphausen, was approaching from Elizabethtown, General Washington took his position among the short hills.

The account in the newspapers of the day present the picture:

Morristown, June 9, 1780
The day before yesterday the enemy turned out from New York via Staten Island and landed in Elizabethtown about 5,000 men. Our army moved to meet them. The militia turned out in spirit skirmishing in abundance. One militia captain with 4 men took 16 British . . . They have been between Connecticut Farms and Springfield and burned every house in the former (about 20 in number) except one. They have been driven back to Elizabethtown Point where they lie behind our old intrenchments. Our army is at the short hills this side of Springfield. Militia are near the enemy and keep popping at them. . . .
And another,
Baskingridge, June 10, 1780
General Washington remains with the main body of our army at the short hills ...
Nicholas Parsil of White Oak Ridge seems to have been one of the victims of those abundant skirmishes, for his headstone in his family cemetery at the northeast corner of White Oak Ridge Road and Parsonage

Hill Road gives the date of his death as June 10, 1780, and his epitaph,

Behold me here as you pass by
Who bled and dyd for liberty
From British tyrants now am free
Prepare my friends to follow me.
certainly indicates that he fell in the cause of the Colonies.
Those June days must have been filled with anxiety and fear in the land below the mountain. Connecticut Farms (Union) was burned to the ground; Mrs. James Caldwell was murdered by a Hessian soldier; the armies shuttled back and forth for days between Elizabethtown and the vicinity of Springfield, skirmishing and "pop- ping" at each other. Finally, on the morning of June 23rd, it was apparent that this was the fateful day. Major General Green reported to General Washington the next day in detail.

Springfield, June 24, 1780

I have been too busily employed until the present moment to lay before your Excellency the transactions of yesterday.

The enemy advanced from Elizabethtown Point about 5 in the morning, said to be about 5,000 infantry with a large body of cavalry and 15 or 20 pieces of artillery. Their march was rapid and compact. They moved in two columns, one on the main road leading to Springfield, the other on the Vauxhall Road. Major Lee with the horse and piquet opposed the right column and Colonel Dayton with his regiment the left. Both gave as much opposition as could have been expected with so small a force.

... I disposed of our troops in the best manner I could ...

Colonel Angell was posted to secure the bridge in front of the town.

Colonel Shrieve's regiment was drawn up at the second bridge to cover the retreat of those posted at the first.

Major Lee with his dragoons and piquet com- manded by Captain Walker was posted at Little's Bridge on the Vauxhall Road, and Colonel Ogden was detached to support him ...

Their right column advanced on Major Lee. The bridge was disputed with great obstinacy, and the enemy must have received very considerable injury, but by fording the river and gaining the point on the hill they obliged the Major with his party to give up the pass.

At this instant their last column began the attack on Colonel Angell. The action lasted about 40 minutes when superior numbers overcame obstinate bravery and forced our troops to retire over the second bridge. There the enemy were warmly received by Colonel Shrieve's regiment . . .

As the enemy continued to press on our left on Vauxhall Road which led directly into our rear ... I thought it most advisable to take our post upon the first range of hills in the rear of Byram's Tavern.

.. I lament that our force was too small to save the town from ruin. I wish every American could have been a spectator. They would have felt for the sufferers and joined to revenge the injury.

I have the honor to be, etc.

N. Green, Maj. General.

The statistics which follow the report state that Lee lost 1 killed, 4 wounded; Shrieve lost 1 killed, 1 wounded, 2 missing, and Dayton lost 2 killed, 7 wounded, and 4 missing.
The Springfield Presbyterian Church. Present Church was built in 1791 to replace one burnt by British in 1780.
Major Lee's stand at the bridge on Vauxhall Road, just a few hundred feet southeast of Millburn Avenue, is commemorated by a tablet which reads:
At this site during the battle of Springfield June 23, 1780, the Americans consisting of Continental Dra goons and militia of this and surrounding neighbor- hoods under Colonel "Light Horse" Harry Lee, Colonel Matthias Ogden, and Captain George Walker, encountered the right column of the British forces which were being led to an attack on General Greene at Short Hills and maintained the post until the enemy diverted his course.
A tablet on the bridge over the Rahway River on Morris Turnpike pays like tribute to Colonel Angell. On the heights above the town General Washington watched his little army hold back a vastly superior force and thereby save his precious stores at Morristown. Today the cliff is known as "Washington Rock" and a tablet placed there reads:
Tradition places George Washington here in the summer of 1780 observing American troops thwart British efforts to reach Morristown and destroy his base of supplies. . . .
The British troops who left this area on the night of June 23, 1780, were the last British forces to appear in New Jersey.

On the side of the enemy engaged in battle that day were two Hessian brothers named VanWert. Perhaps they were sick of war; the country that June day was beautiful, and they were young and no doubt lonely for home. Whatever the reason they decided to desert. At this point the story breaks up into two versions – one, that they hid that night in the attic of the Reeve house (now 155 Millburn Avenue); the other, that they sought refuge in Stephen Meeker's barn at the head of Glen Avenue near Farley Road, and eventually were given employment by Mr. Meeker on his farm. Wherever they hid, they remained until after the British had left New Jersey. They married here and are believed to be the progenitors of many of the VanWerts found in this locahty. The name "Hessian House" has long been fixed on the Reeve home, however, and popular usage has a way of giving credence to a legend, so as long as the building at 155 Millburn Avenue remains, it will, no doubt, stand as the center of one of the folk tales of the Revolutionary War in these parts.

As battles go, the battle of Springfield is not numbered among the world's great battles, but in his preface to "Cockpit of the Revolution" Professor Leonard Lundin says,

It is hardly too much to say that the fate of Morristown was more important for the outcome of the war than the fortunes of any other town in the United States except Albany, and that the Watchung Mountains, of which probably few schoolboys outside New Jersey, have heard, were of greater significance in the contest than was Breed's* Hill.
Breed's Hill is commonly known as "Bunker Hill."


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