"One of the best in the army."
An Overview of the New Jersey Brigade, 1775-1783

John U. Rees
© 1998, 2002

(originally published in The Continental Soldier,
vol. XI, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 45-53. )

The Jersey Brigade had a long, varied, and distinguished history, but General George Washington's brief, candid comment to Major General William Alexander, Lord Stirling, concerning the condition of the brigade at the midpoint of its career speaks volumes about its shifting fortunes:

22 January 1780, "... I am sorry to find the Jersey brigade appears to have fallen off from what it formerly was – one of the best in the army. The emulation of the officers I am persuaded will not permit them to let it remain inferior to any."1

By the winter of 1779/1780, the New Jersey Brigade had indeed "fallen off from what it formerly was," through no fault of its own. The previous summer and autumn had exacted a severe toll on the soldiers, clothing, and equipment of the three New Jersey regiments which had taken part in General John Sullivan's expedition against the Iroquois in Pennsylvania and New York. The service was arduous, involving hard marches through rough and heavily wooded country, far from any place of supply. Nathan Davis, 1st New Hampshire Regiment, described the clothing worn by most of the troops under Sullivan; these "consisted of a short rifle frock, vest, tow trousers, shoes, stockings, and blanket." Davis also mentioned the condition of the clothing when they reached Fort Sullivan (Tioga) at the end of the campaign. "Marching nearly the whole time in the woods, among thick underbrush, it may well be supposed that we had but little left of our clothing, on our return to the garrison ..." The New Jersey soldiers were in the same situation. Jonathan Peck, 2nd Regiment paymaster, noted that in October 1779 "I was dispatched from Tioga ... [to] receive the Clothing of the Regt., and forward it to Easton, that it might be ready for the troops (who were then almost naked) ..." (In actuality, sufficient new clothing of good quality was not received by the Jersey regiments until late February or March 1780.)2

The condition of the New Jersey troops in late 1779 mirrored that of the war-weary United States during the same period, but just as the newly-founded nation's tide ebbed and flowed, so too did the fortunes of the Continental Army. The winter of 1779-1780 was a low point, but not the end; the Treaty of Paris, recognizing the country's independence, was still four years in the future and many men of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment would continue to serve for three and a half more years until their final furlough in June 1783.

* * * * * * * * * *

New Jersey first raised regiments for Continental service in late 1775. The state's initial contingent consisted of only two units, the 1st and 2nd Battalions; early in 1776 a 3rd Battalion was added. The term of enlistment for these units was only one year, and all were reconstituted at the end of 1776 by re-enlisting many old soldiers and gathering new recruits. With the reorganization of the Continental Army during the winter of 1776/1777 a fourth regiment was added, and in May 1777 the New Jersey Brigade was first formed under General William Maxwell, formerly colonel of the 2nd Regiment. Spencer's Additional Regiment was also authorized in 1777; this unit contained large numbers of Jersey men and was sometimes called the 5th New Jersey, though this was never an official designation.

The 2nd New Jersey was in many ways typical of the state’s other Continental regiments, both in its breadth of service and the actions it fought. During the regiment's seven year existence it had three colonels (William Maxwell in 1776, Israel Shreve from 1777 to 1780, and Elias Dayton from 1781 to 1783), participated in six battles and one formal siege (Short Hills, Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Springfield, Connecticut Farms, Yorktown), as well as several minor actions (Haddonfield/Cooper's Ferry, April 1778; Newark, February 1779; Newtown, 29 August 1779; Spencer's Ordinary, June 1781), and numerous skirmishes. The regiment also took part in several large winter encampments (Valley Forge, 1777/1778; Morristown, 1779/1780; and the final cantonment at New Windsor, 1782/1783), and was separated from the main army during other cold seasons (by itself at Trenton Barracks, winter 1775/1776; with the New Jersey Brigade at Elizabethtown and Newark, 1778/1779 and at Pompton, 1780/1781).

On several occasions one or more of the regiments of the New Jersey Brigade were detached for special service. This first occurred in August 1777, when the 1st and 3rd Regiments were left near Elizabethtown, New Jersey, later taking part in the attack led by General John Sullivan on British-held Staten Island. During the same month the 2nd and 4th Regiments continued with Washington's main army, taking part in the encampment at the Crossroads in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. (It was at this camp that the Marquis de Lafayette probably joined the army.) The four regiments were reunited in September just before the Battle of Brandywine. During the Valley Forge winter camp, in March 1778, the 2nd Regiment was detached for service in New Jersey to counter British and Loyalist depredations along the Delaware River. The 1st Regiment joined the 2nd near Mount Holly in early May, where the entire brigade was reunited at the end of the month.

In February 1781, shortly after the mutiny of the New Jersey line, the brigade was again divided, this time in a different manner. In that month a force of 1,200 soldiers was assembled to march to Virginia and oppose British forces operating there under Benedict Arnold. The detachment, commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette, was formed into three provisional light infantry battalions. New Jersey's contribution consisted of the two light companies and three line companies of "fifty rank and file each with an additional serjeant" (about 260 men) under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Barber. Barber's detachment took with it the best of the New Jersey soldiers, leaving in their home state the 1st and 2nd Regiments at approximately half strength. Lt. Colonel Barber's New Jersey troops reached Virginia in April and were reunited with their parent regiments in Williamsburg, Virginia, in late September 1781, just prior to the Siege of Yorktown.3

In 1778 the composition of the New Jersey Brigade was altered by the first large-scale draft undertaken for the Continental Army and the only one during the war that garnered large numbers of men, albeit only for nine months service. The institution of the nine‑month draft led to a resounding success in recruiting men for Maxwell's Brigade. The actual number of levies in each regiment varied, the difference probably being due to the resourcefulness and activity of each unit's officers and the geographical area in which a regiment was stationed when the new men entered the service. The numbers speak for themselves; in August 1778 the Jersey Brigade contained 1,690 non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates, 670 of which were nine-months men (comprising about 39 percent of the whole). The 2nd Regiment alone had 258 soldiers enlisted for three years or the duration of the war, plus 218 drafted men.4

The number of nine‑month levies who enlisted in the New Jersey regiments from late May to August of 1778 was quite impressive, in the 1st Jersey Regiment alone they comprised 51.3 percent of the total number of enlisted men. In the entire New Jersey Brigade for the period from May 1778 to March 1779, out of rough total of 1,690 men, 670 were short‑term recruits making 39.7 percent of the whole. (8)

Number of Levies in the New Jersey Regiments

Regiment Total Number
of Enlisted
Men *
of Levies
in Proportion
to the Whole
1st Jersey 501 257 51.3%
2nd Jersey 476 218 46.0%
3rd Jersey 369 118 32.0%
4th Jersey 325   77 23.5%
* Non‑commissioned officers and rank and file

The New Jersey Brigade would never again attain the numbers that it had during the summer of 1778. This was due to the great success of the draft that, though of short duration, proved its worth. Never before during the war, except for a brief period in 1776, had the numbers of the brigade been as great. At the end of the campaign of 1776, when the state's contingent of three regiments were briefly united at Ticonderoga in October, one return gave a total strength of 1,355 soldiers. Since this was late in the campaigning year, the size of the three regiments in the spring of 1776 was undoubtedly greater and probably rivaled those numbers serving in 1778. With the new year of 1777, the number of regiments to be recruited under the second establishment of the Continental Army was increased from three to four. Numbers for the brigade's strength from May 1777 to July 1779 were as follows:

Month & Year Brigade
Month & Year Brigade
May 1777 1,259 September 1778 1,683
October 1777 1,142 October 1778 1,678
November 1777 1,148 November 1778 1,690
December 1777 1,085 December 1778 1,772
January 1778 1,144 January 1779 1,658
May 1778 1,059 February 1779 1,624 ‑‑|Reduced
June 1778 1,691 March 1779 1,114 --| to 3
August 1778 1,692 April 1779 1,082 --| Regts.
    July 1779 1,075 --|

In March 1779, according to a strength return for the army, 487 nine‑months men were discharged. A comparison of the returns for the remaining years of the war show the overall decline in the number of troops serving in the New Jersey regiments:

Month & Year Brigade
June 1780 920 Three regiments
June 1781 852 Two regiments
June 1782 885 Two regiments
May 1783 832 One regiment and
one battalion

During the final three years of the war the size of the brigade was only slightly more than half the number of troops serving in August 1778, and just prior to their dissolution in June 1783 the strength of the two New Jersey units had fallen to its lowest point.5

Battle casualties during the War for Independence seem minimal compared to the American Civil War (1861-1865) but it must be remembered that fewer battles were fought, smaller numbers took part, and the implements of warfare consisted of edged weapons, and smoothbore muskets and cannon. The Maxwell's Jersey Brigade took part in a number of engagements with the enemy; below is a synopsis of the casualties incurred in the more important battles compiled from muster rolls, letters, and other primary sources.6

The Short Hills, New Jersey, June 26, 1777

Colonel Israel Shreve, 2nd New Jersey Regiment: the "3 pounders ... began to play verry Briskly. Just at this time My Regt. Receivd a heavy fire ..." Colonel Shreve wrote on July 6, 1777 that Maxwell's Brigade "had 12 kiled and about 20 wounded and as many taken prisoners ...;" he also noted in his journal, "We had between 20 & 30 Wounded ... mostly slightly Except 3 or 4 ..." Two men are known to have been lost in the 2nd Regiment: Captain Ephraim Anderson, killed, and Captain James Lawrie, captured.7

Brandywine, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1777

"The enemy outnumbering us four to one, turned our right flank and broke us off platoon after platoon." (Lieutenant John Shreve, 2nd New Jersey Regiment.) During the British assault on the right of the army near Birmingham Meetinghouse, Colonel Shreve was wounded. The 2nd Regiment also had 2 privates killed, 7 privates wounded, and 4 men listed as missing. (Captain Joseph Stout and a sergeant were killed earlier in the British bombardment.) The total for the New Jersey Brigade was 7 killed, 12 wounded, 19 captured and 13 missing.8

Germantown, Pennsylvania, October 4, 1777

The British "soon gave way, and were pursued from field to field with great loss on their side." (Colonel Elias Dayton, 3rd New Jersey Regiment.) In this action the 2nd and 4th Regiments seem to have been held in reserve near the Chew House; the 2nd Regiment had 1 private killed, 2 captured, and 1 missing. By contrast, the 1st and 3rd Regiments suffered severely during their assaults on Chew's Mansion. Total casualties for the New Jersey Brigade in the battle were 22 killed, 43 wounded, 3 captured, and 12 missing.9

The Monmouth Campaign (June 17, 1778 to July 6, 1778, including the Battle of Monmouth), differed from others in that it consisted of a series of actions fought by the Jersey troops over a very narrow time period. Maxwell's Brigade was stationed in New Jersey when the British evacuated Philadelphia and began their movement across the state. In conjunction with the New Jersey militia and Morgan's riflemen, the brigade harassed Sir Henry Clinton’s British army as it marched northeast toward New York. Most of the losses in the Jersey regiments occurred in the daily skirmishing during the days leading up to the battle. In the action at Monmouth Courthouse on 28 June, casualties in the New Jersey Brigade were light, its main activity being the long march to Freehold in the morning under General Charles Lee, and the retreat back to meet the main army under General Washington. The four regiments had little contact with the enemy and most of their casualties were probably incurred during the heavy cannonade between the armies in the afternoon.10

During the period from June 22 to June 29, 1778 (not including the Monmouth battle) the 2nd New Jersey Regiment lost 5 captured, 1 missing, and 1 killed. In the 28 June battle, 1 gentleman volunteer and 1 or 2 privates were wounded, with 1 private listed as missing. Below are losses in the New Jersey Brigade for the entire campaign.11

New Jersey Brigade Casualties, Monmouth Campaign
I. The March to Freehold, June 20, 1778 to June 27, 1778

1 missing in June, date unknown

4 captured in June, date unknown

5 wounded in June, date unknown

1 captured 6/20/78

1 killed 6/20/78

1 dead, possibly killed, 6/20/78

2 captured 6/22/78

1 captured 6/26/78

1 captured 6/27/78

1 killed 6/27/78

General William Maxwell, 19 June 1778: "The Enemy set off late to day from Haddonfield & is coming on the Road to EvesHam. They got a full fire from Capt. Ross [3rd New Jersey] this morning with 50 men which threw them into a great confusion. He came off some distance \ & Post[ed] them to give them More in a nother place."12

Major Richard Howell, 2nd New Jersey, 20 June 1778: "The Enemy march'd in 3 Columns ... Their March has been obstructed as much as possible & their flancks harrass'd by our parties."13

Major Richard Howell, 24 June 1778: "I ... Detach'd my Corps in three Divisions hoping that by that means [to] Collect a number of prisoners, Captn. Ross had a smart fire with the Enemy as they were taking up the Bridge tis thought he Kill'd some of them. The success of the other parties is as yet unknown."14

Private James Jorden, 2nd New Jersey, recounted in his pension application: We "went into Quaker Meeting house [at Black Horse] ... the whole regiment was there about the middle of the night [of 21/22 June, when] the British came and surrounded the Meeting house where he and his regiment were / we retreated out of the Back door of the Meeting house and through the grave yard to a town in New Jersey called Crossicks four miles from the Black Horse / this retreat was performed in the night / In the morning there was a command ordered to watch the motion of the enemy to see which way they would come he was included in this command / in the morning following [the command was] ... compelled to retreat from before the enemy in a swamp ... they were chased by the enemy light horse for three days before the command which was separated from the regiment ... came up with the regiment / on this retreat there were three men lost in this flanking party" (Jorden was a nine-months man and 29 years old at the time of his enlistment in May 1778);15

II. Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778

7 (possibly 8) wounded 6/28/78

4 missing 6/28/78

Private John Ackerman, 1st New Jersey, recalled "that his regement on that day was ordered by the Colo to retreat which was effected by passing through a morass in which he lost his shoes ‑ After retreating through this morass, his regement came to the road just as the troops under the immediate command of Gen Washington were passing – Gen Washington halted his troops, and the retreating Regement was immediately paraded having become disordered in retreating throug the [morass] He well recollects that Gen Washington on that occasion asked the troops if they could fight and that they answered him with three cheers ..."16

Colonel Shreve: "Our Brigade was not Immediately Engaged But Drawn up in the Second Line, where Cannon Ball flew plentyfully ..."17

III. British March to Sandy Hook, June 29, 1778

2 missing 6/29/78

1 died of fatigue 6/29/78

One of the most severe actions in which the New Jersey soldiers fought during the war took place in June 1780 when a large force of British and German troops crossed over Staten Island Sound to the mainland at Elizabethtown. On 7 June, the day after their crossing, the enemy advanced towards Connecticut Farms where they were opposed by Maxwell's Brigade and the New Jersey militia. Colonel Shreve called the ensuing "Action ... the warmest that has Ever Happened since the war with Our Brigade" noting that "I have had but two men killed, Eight Wounded, and three Missing a Number very inconsiderable after an Action from Morning untill Night, more than half Engaged at a time & sometimes all ..." The casualties for the brigade were 1 lieutenant and 5 privates killed, 1 colonel, 3 subalterns and 28 privates wounded, and 8 privates missing. (A 20 June 1780 return listed Maxwell's Brigade as having had 1 subaltern and 6 privates killed, 3 subalterns and 35 privates wounded, and 11 privates missing since 6 June.) At the end of the battle the British withdrew to Elizabethtown and constructed fortifications.18

On 23 June the enemy advanced again. A Massachusetts sergeant succinctly described the Battle of Springfield which followed: "the Enemy march[ed] for Springfield about 10.000 of them / they were Opposed by Colo Angells [Rhode Island] Regt and the Jersey Brig[ade] on there Coming over a Bridge where was a Large Creek that hindered there passing otherways / the Engagement Continued about 2 hours a very Constant hot fire of Cannon and Musquetry our troops Retreat[ed] to the Heights. the Enemy took the town and set the most part [of] it on fire." This action was not as bloody as the previous battle. Colonel William Smith of the 4th New Jersey, wrote that "one of their shot took out two men from the Centre platoon" of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment, and Colonel Israel Shreve noted, "My Regt. ... Retreated in Good Order ... with the Loss of one man killed with a Cannon shot out of Johns [John Shreve, the colonel's son] Plattoon ... Our whole Loss but trifleing ..." A return sent in by General Nathanael Greene listed the following numbers: the 2nd Regiment had 1 private killed, 1 sergeant and 2 privates wounded, and 2 privates missing; losses in Colonel Dayton's 1st New Jersey were 2 privates killed, 1 subaltern and 6 privates wounded, and 4 privates missing, and Spencer's Additional Regiment had only 1 sergeant wounded.19

In 1783, their services no longer required, the New Jersey soldiers were given a final furlough, returning to the vagaries of civilian life. Many men went back to the places where they grew up, staying there to the end of their days; others pursued new lives in various parts of the fledgling United States, as far afield as the Ohio and the Illinois territories Most never became wealthy or earned any further distinction than that of having been a common soldier in the army of the Revolution. Like many other men who fought for their country they never received their full due, but their sufferings and actions continue to inspire those who have benefited from their labors.


1. George Washington to William Alexander, Lord Stirling, 22 January 1780, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm, (Washington, DC, 1961), series 4, reel 63, (henceforth cited as GW Papers).

2. Nathan Davis, "History of the Expedition Against the Five Nations, Commanded by General Sullivan, in 1779", Historical Magazine, April 1868, memoir of a soldier in the 1st New Hampshire Regiment. Testimony of Jonathan Peck, paymaster 2nd Jersey Regiment, 11 April 1780, New Jersey State Archives, Revolutionary War Manuscripts (Numbered), Military Records, reel 5807941917, document #5863.

3. December 1780 army return, New Jersey regiments, rank and file present fit for duty, 552; May 1781 army return, New Jersey regiments, rank and file present fit for duty, 134 in two regiments, on command and extra service, 542, Charles H. Lesser, Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago, Il. and London, 1976), pp. 192, 202. For an overview of Lafayette's 1781 Campaign see John U. Rees, "'... the multitude of women': An Examination of the Numbers of Female Camp Followers with the Continental Army", The Brigade Dispatch (Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution), vol. XXIII, no. 4 (Autumn 1992), pp. 9-15; vol. XXIV, no. 1 (Winter 1993), pp. 6-9. Francis Barber to Washington, 21 February 1781, "I yesterday morning received your Excellency's letter addressed to the commanding officer of the brigade respecting the formation of the two Light and three other companies. The present circumstances of the brigade will I fear not afford the companies to be larger than forty men each, especially the three battalion companies, yet you may rely upon it that every exertion is making to comply with the order punctually." GW Papers, series 4, reel 75. George Washington to Lafayette, 22 February 1781, "Inclosed you have a letter for the officer commanding the Jersey Brigade. The five Companies from thence and the three under the command of Majr. Reid are to form a Battalion to be commanded by Lt. Colo. Barber." Stanley J. Idzerda, ed., Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution ‑ Selected Letters and Papers, 1776‑1790, vol. III (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980), pp. 338‑339. Lafayette to Arthur St. Clair, 27 February 1781, "The Detachement of Arnold is Our object. The Gentleman is Blockaded By the french, and their Naval Assistance Has Been Requested. His Excellency Has Given to Me A detachement Mostly Under the Denomination of Light Infantry and Composed of 1200 Men Rank in file." Stanley J. Idzerda, ed., ibid., p. 330. Washington to Elias Dayton, 16 February 1781, "You will immediately, agreeable to the General Order of this day, augment the two light Infantry Companies to the number directed, and you will also be pleased to order three other Companies of equal numbers to be formed by detachment from the Brigade, taking the same care in the choice of Officers and Men as for the light Companies. To enable you to do this more effectually, you may, if necessary, lessen the command at Ringwood and Sufferans, especially the latter. The whole detachment to be held in readiness for a march at a days warning. The service will be but a temporary one. Lt. Colo. Barber will command the detachment from your line. ... P.S. You will procure for and send with the detachment a spare pr. of shoes for each Man." John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745‑1799, vol. 21 (Washington, DC, 1937), p. 181 (henceforth cited as Fitzpatrick, WGW).

4. John U. Rees, "'The new Leveys are coming in dayly ...': The Nine Month Draft in the Second New Jersey Regiment and Maxwell's New Jersey Brigade", p. 29, appendix to "'I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime ...' An Account of the Services of the Second New Jersey Regiment, December 1777 to June 1779", unpublished manuscript, The David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing, PA (henceforth cited as "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime ...").

5. Ibid., p. 32.

6. All casualties for the 1777 battles are from John U. Rees, "Losses in the New Jersey Brigade at the Battles of: Short Hills (June 26, 1777); Brandywine (September 11, 1777); Germantown (October 4, 1777)," appendix to "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime ..."

7. "'We... wheeled to the Right to form the Line of Battle': Colonel Israel Shreve's Journal of 1777", The Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXII, no. 1 (Spring 1992), pp. 10, 14. Israel Shreve to Mary Shreve, 6 July 1777, Buxton Collection, Prescott Memorial Library, Louisiana Tech University.

8. John Shreve, "Personal Narrative of the Services of Lieut. John Shreve of the New Jersey Line of the Continental Army", Magazine of American History, vol. 3, part 2 (1879), p. 567.

9. "Papers of General Elias Dayton", Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, vol. 3 (1848‑1849), p. 185.

10. John U. Rees, "The Action was renew.d with a very warm Canonade": Diary of a New Jersey Officer, June 1777 to 31 August 1778, unpublished manuscript, author's collection.

11. John U. Rees, "Losses of the New Jersey Brigade in the Monmouth Campaign, June 17, 1778 to July 6, 1778", appendix to "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime ..."

12. William Maxwell to Philemon Dickinson, 19 June 1778, GW Papers, series 4, reel 50.

13. Richard Howell to Philemon Dickinson or Washington, 20 June 1778., ibid., reel 50.

14. Richard Howell to William Maxwell, 24 June 1778, ibid., reel 50.

15. James Jorden, pension deposition, "'... in reduced circumstances': Pension Papers of the Soldiers of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment," p. 20, appendix to "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime ..."

16. John Ackerman, pension deposition, "'from thence to the Battle ...': Gleanings From the Pension Depositions of the Soldiers of the New Jersey Brigade," p. 2, ibid.

17. Israel Shreve to his wife, from Englishtown, 2 July 1778,  Dreer Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, "Soldiers of the Revolution", Box IV [Series 52:2, Vol. IV].

18. John U. Rees, "'The enemy hove in a tollerable fire ...': Casualties in the New Jersey Brigade in the Actions of Connecticut Farms and Springfield, June 1780," unpublished manuscript, author's collection. John U. Rees, "'The Combat was Renewed very Briskly ...': Maxwell's Brigade in the 1780 British Incursion into New Jersey," unpublished manuscript, author's collection.

19. Ibid.