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Stories of New Jersey
The Story Of Fort Nonsense
(Period, 1776-80.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

DURING three years of the Revolution the American army, under General Washington, wintered in New Jersey. Of course, we understand, that, when an army goes into winter quarters, it does so because the weather prevents operations in the field ; and although Washington did not in the least object to fighting in the cold weather if a good opportunity showed itself, as we know from the fact that he fought the battle of Trenton on Christmas Day, still the winters in New Jersey were for the most part periods of inactivity.

Histories give us full accounts of the important battles and marches which took place in New Jersey; but the life of the army in the long, cold months in which fighting and marching were almost impossible, is something with which we are not so well acquainted; and when we understand what the men of our army were obliged to suffer and to endure, and the responsibilities and anxieties which were so conscientiously borne by Washington and his officers, we are compelled to give as much credit to the soldiers of the Revolution for their heroism in their winter camps as for their courage upon the battlefield This winter life in New Jersey, of men and officers from New England, the Middle States, Virginia, and the South, appears to us now as very interesting, and in many ways a curious life. Into a quiet country neighborhood there came an entirely novel element, – an army which had not come there to fight, but to live.

Washington's first winter in New Jersey was spent in Morristown in 1777. This place was chosen because it was a productive country, and well situated for sudden expeditions against the enemy in that part of the State. Although there was no fighting done in Morristown, so many small detachments of troops went out from the place, and so many sudden attacks were made upon the outposts of the enemy in the country round about, that by the end of the winter the British had no hold in New Jersey except at Perth Amboy and New Brunswick.

But, as has been said before, it is not with the military operations that we are concerned, but with the winter life of the army in the camp. The first thing that has to be done when an army arrives to settle and make itself a home in and about a country town, is to provide a good house for the commander in chief and officers, and a suitable camping place for the men. Washington went to Arnold's Tavern, a large house on the corner of the Green; and the army encamped in the valley of the Loantika, a beautiful place in summer, but not particularly attractive in cold weather. Here they built themselves huts of logs, and here they tried to keep themselves warm and to be satisfied with what they had; for the government was poor, and found it hard to keep an army. There was plenty to eat and drink in the surrounding country, but there was very little money with which to buy it.

It was a great thing for the Morristown people to see the tavern surrounded night and day by a guard of twenty-six soldiers, and to have their streets and roads made lively by soldiers on foot, clad in the various uniforms worn by the men from different States, – some with cocked hats, some with round hats with feathers stuck in them; some with green coats, some with blue; some with buckskin breeches, others with black, – while Washington, with the officers of his staff, galloped here and there, dressed in the regular Continental uniforms of blue and buff.

Among the most conspicuous uniforms of the American army was that of the Jersey Blues. This was a volunteer organization formed in Essex County; and the first uniforms of these soldiers were furnished by the patriotic women of that region. They were not able to afford anything handsome or costly : so each soldier was provided with a frock coat and trousers made of tow cloth, which was dyed a bright blue by the same women who made it into soldiers' clothes. These Jersey Blues, although they must have presented a very peculiar appearance in the field, became famous soldiers, and were known throughout the war, and occupied high positions in the Continental army. The Jersey Blues were never disorganized, and still remain prominent among the citizen soldiers of the State.

It was Washington's habit during the war, as soon as he had settled himself in his winter quarters, to send for Mrs. Washington to join him; and accordingly she came to Morristown very soon after his first arrival there. Men and officers were always delighted when the wife of thc commander in chief came down to live among them, and they welcomed the sight of the carriage drawn by four horses, with the postilions and grooms dressed in Washington's own hvery of scarlet and white. On this occasion, Washington went some distance to meet his wife, and waited in a little village until she should arrive. When the lady at the house where he was stopping saw the grand carriage drive up, she was prepared to behold an illustrious personage alight from it, and she was somewhat surprised when she saw a very plainly dressed, quiet lady step down from the high coach. She thought there surely must be some mistake ; but when she saw the courteous affection with which the grand gentleman in the fine uniform and cocked hat greeted this plainly dressed lady, she knew that she had made no mistake.


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