By Frank R. Stockton
Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003
But he did not stay there long. Washington could not do without the services of this man, who was not only a most earnest patriot, but an educated and efficient soldier; and, as the Americans held several English officers as prisoners of war, one of them was exchanged, with the least possible delay, for Lord Stirling.
One of the earliest and most daring exploits of this brave soldier was the capture, by an infantry force, of an armed British ship which was on its way to Boston with stores and supplies for the English army there.
This vessel, which was called the "Blue Mountain Valley," had met with rough weather, and, having been badly damaged, was lying off Sandy Hook, waiting for assistance from two British men-of-war then in New York Harbor.
But Lord Stirling, who was stationed not far from the coast, and to whom the situation of the vessel became known, determined that, if possible, he would get to this valuable storeship before the enemy's men-of-war could reach her. So, with a number of the regular soldiers under his command, and some volunteers from the neighborhood, he put out to sea in some small craft, one of them a pilot boat. The English vessel had for her defense six guns, and was what is called an armed transport, but Stirling's men carried only ordinary muskets. However, they boldly attacked the vessel, and bearing down upon her as if she had been a column of infantry, in spite of the cannon and guns of the crew, captured her.
As soon as this victory had been won, Lord Stirling had all sails set; and the "Blue Mountain Valley" waited no longer for the men-of-war to come to her assistance, but sailed away for Perth Amboy, which was in possession of the Americans. Here she was found to be a most valuable prize, although Lord Stirling was sorry, as he afterwards stated when he made his report to Congress, that her cargo was not arms, instead of coal and provisions.
Lord Stirling fought well in the battles of New Jersey. At Monmouth he especially distinguished himself by the way in which he managed the artillery which was under his command ; and it is said that the enemy were amazed to find batteries so splendidly handled in the ranks of the Americans, who were not supposed by most British officers to be possessed of great military ability, although the erroneousness of this supposition was gradually impressed upon their minds as the war went on.
Our nobleman, however, had given another proof of his ability to adapt himself to military circumstances. When Washington and his army were wintered at Morristown, there was an evident desire among the British commanders to attack him at that place, and there was constant danger of an advance from the forces about New York. Lord Stirling was with the troops under General Greene, defending the principal approaches to Morristown on the east, and he very often had fights and skirmishes with British detachments sent out to reconnoiter the country, or to break into the American lines.
At one time a very large force, led by Clinton, advanced towards Morristown ; and this was believed to be a serious and determined attempt to attack Washington, whose army was in a pretty bad plight, and not at all prepared to fight large bodies of well-appointed troops. Lord Stirling, with the other officers of the regular army, aided by forces of militiamen greatly excited by atrocities which had been committed by the British troops in the neighborhood, made a determined stand in the region of the "Short Hills," and a battle was fought near Springfield. Although the American forces were not able to defeat the British, they so harassed them, placing themselves in all the passes through which it was necessary to advance, that at last the Redcoats gave up the attempt to reach Morristown, and retired to Elizabeth.
Throughout the war, this gentleman with the grand house, the park, the deer, the splendid carriages, the butlers, and the hairdressers, fought as earnestly and as patriotically as if he had been a sturdy farmer who had left his cornfield for the battlefield, with an old blunderbuss over his shoulder. Not only was he a good soldier, but he was a trustworthy friend to the cause of the Colonies and to General Washington; and it is said that it was through his means that the conspiracy among some of the officers of the army against General Washington, of whom they were jealous, was discovered and broken up.
Officers of the army were frequently quartered at his house at Basking Ridge, where they found most delightful company; and in every way our American lord did what he could for the cause and the people who were defending it. His title was generally recognized; and Washington, who was very particular in regard to matters of rank and social propriety, always called him "my lord." He was said to be a fine-looking man; in fact, he and Washington were of more imposing and dignified appearance than any other officers of the American army.
Of course, as he was a very notable person among the Continental officers, the British were very anxious to capture him. In 1781, when he was in command of the Northern Department at Albany, this design of the enemy came very near being carried out, but was frustrated by the faithful services of one of those good women who were continually turning up in colonial history. A servant girl in the family of a house near Albany, where Lord Stirling was staying, had been visiting her parents during the day, and had there heard a plot of the Tories of the neighborhood to capture
Lord Stirling. Being of a patriotic disposition, she told her mistress of the plot as soon as she got home; and when in the night a large body of the enemy came to the house, they were met with a surprise. Lord Stirling had not gone out of town without taking with him a guard of dragoons; and these men, instead of being quartered at a distance, as the Tories evidently supposed they would be, had all been brought into the house; and when the attack was made in the night, the bullets and pistol balls which whizzed and whistled from that ordinarily peaceful mansion astonished the Tories, who fled.
But although Lord Stirling did so much for American independence, he did not live to enjoy the fruits of it, for he died in Albany, while still in command of the Northern Department. After his death, the estate at Basking Ridge was sold, and payment for it was made in Continental money, which afterwards became of almost no value; so that for this fine property, it might be said, his family received nothing but a pile of badly printed paper. The mansion and the deer park and the emblazoned carriages are gone and forgotten; but the brave soldier, who gave up all the pleasures of a lordly position for his country, will live in history.
"Life of Lord Stirling." W. Duer.
"Historical Collections." Barber and Howe.
"Story of an Old Farm." A. D. Mellick.