The Battle of Short Hills
(or the Battle of Metuchen Meetinghouse
) was a conflict between a force of Americans
commanded by General William Alexander
("Lord Stirling"), and an opposing British
force commanded by General William Howe
, that took place on July 26
, at Scotch Plains
, in New Jersey
, during the American Revolutionary War
. Despite the name, no fighting occurred in modern day Short Hills
, a section of Millburn
Prior to the battle the British tried to lure George Washington's army into a place where it could be conquered by the larger British army.
Before the battle, in the early days of June, General William Howe's British force of almost 17,000 withdrew from Somerset Court House at New Brunswick
, to Perth Amboy
, after they failed to draw Washington's central army from their post at Middlebrook Heights
, the plan having been foiled by the tactics of Lord Stirling. The failure of the British ploy proved a major setback: success would have forced the small poorly-equipped American force to fight the larger British army on the flat plain of New Jersey.
Instead of falling for this trap, Washington followed the retreating British, having left his post in Middlebrook in the Watchung Mountains, as well as considering the possibility of assaulting their poorly armed rear guard. Washington harassed the British as they withdrew into Somerset and Middlesex counties, while troops under Stirling further irritated the retreating British.
After withdrawing to Perth Amboy, Howe counterattacked, meaning to devastate Lord Stirling's forces, cut off Washington's retreat back to Middlebrook, and engage the Americans in a pitched battle.
Stirling's command, guarding the left flank of Washington's main army,comprised William Maxwell’s
New Jersey Brigade, Thomas Conway’s
Pennsylvania Brigade, Daniel Morgan’s
Corps of Riflemen and Ottendorf's Corps
The ensuing battle between the American forces of Stirling, which numbered only about 2,200, and the British and Hessian forces of Howe, proved extremely intense, but with Stirling suffering relatively minor losses. However, Stirling was gradually forced backward, leading both of the armies into the Ash Swamp and Scotch Plains
Severe cannon fire forced Stirling, as determined as he was to stand against his foe, to retreat even further back, toward Westfield
. There the pursuit ended and Stirling was able to fall back in good order to to the post at Middlebrook. The noise from the Battle alerted Washington to Howe's proximity and gave him the chance to withdraw to a more secure position beyond Bound Brook. Later in the day, Howe arrived to inspect Washington's lines and adjudged them too strong to attack. Because Stirling's resistance may have saved Washington's main army from disaster, the Battle is considered a strategic victory for the Americans. Thwarted, the British returned to their post at Perth Amboy, leaving the American forces to ponder on what Howe's next action would be.
The Battle of Short Hills produced the legend of Aunt Betty Frazee. Frazee shared her baked goods gladly with the revolutionary forces, but bravely told Lord Cornwallis he was not welcome after British forces looted her Scotch Plains, NJ home.
The British and Hessian casualties were 5 killed and 30 wounded. The only officer casualty was Captain the Honourable John Finch of the Guards Light Infantry. He had been to the forefront of the attack and, at one point, called out to Lord Stirling, “Come here, you damned rebel, and I will do for you!”. Stirling’s response was to instruct four marksmen to concentrate their fire upon the captain. Finch soon received a wound, from which he died three days later.
The Patriot casualties are not fully known. Ottendorf's Corps, who had formed Stirling's advance guardappear to have been hardest hit: “out of 80 men, 32 were killed & taken”. Colonel Israel Shreve, commander of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment wrote on July 06, 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 officer are recorded as having been lost in the 2nd New Jersey: Captain Ephraim Anderson, killed, and Captain James Lawrie, captured. No record is known of the losses of Conway’s Brigade and Morgan’s Corps of Riflemen. About 70 Patriot troops were captured altogether.