BOOK REVIEW: The Battle of Gloucester 1777 by Garry Wheeler Stone and Paul W. Schopp (Yardley, PA: Westhome Publishing, 2022)
Garry Wheeler Stone’s and Paul W. Schopp’s The Battle of Gloucester 1777 comes to us as a part of Westholme Publishing’s new Small Battles series. The 152-page book highlights the small action that took place outside Gloucester City, New Jersey on November 25, 1777. A relatively unknown action, the conflict at Gloucester marked the end of the fighting that swirled along the Delaware River in the fall of 1777 as part of British Gen. William Howe’s Philadelphia campaign. On the American side, the Marquis de Lafayette’s prominent role in the fighting at Gloucester is the focal point of the narrative.
The 1777 Philadelphia campaign began in earnest during the summer, when Gen. Howe chose to transport 18,000 personnel to the Philadelphia region by sea rather than march overland from the New York City area. Following a grueling sea voyage, Howe’s army unloaded in northeastern Maryland on August 25 and began a slow, methodical approach towards the colonial capital. Lafayette joined George Washington’s army late that summer as a major general but basically served as an unattached officer on Washington’s staff. During the fighting of September 11 at Brandywine, Lafayette was severely wounded assisting the neophyte Continental Army even though he could have honorably remained at Washington’s side, out of harm’s way.
While Lafayette recovered from his wound in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, fighting continued to swirl around Philadelphia at places like Paoli and Germantown. Although Howe occupied Philadelphia on September 26, patriot forces maintained control over the Delaware River. Three fortifications and obstructions sunk in the river prevented the Royal Navy’s access to the city to supply Howe’s army. Following the Battle of Germantown on October 4, Howe’s focus shifted to eliminating the American threats along the river before it froze over for the winter. For the next six weeks, fighting raged at places like Billingsport and Fort Mercer in New Jersey and at Mud Island where Fort Mifflin sat in Pennsylvania. Eventually, British manpower and metal forced the evacuation of Fort Mifflin on November 16.
With the occupation of Mud Island, Howe sent a column under Gen. Charles Cornwallis into New Jersey which linked up with reinforcements from the New York City garrison to eliminate the patriot threat at Fort Mercer and finally open up the river to British navigation. After forcing the evacuation of Fort Mercer, Cornwallis moved to Gloucester–a small village in 1777–to begin the operation of ferrying his men back to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Washington had sent Gen. Nathanael Greene with several brigades into New Jersey to prevent Fort Mercer’s loss or perhaps attack Cornwallis. Lafayette, recently returned to the army from the hospital, tagged along with Greene but without a command of his own.
In the late afternoon on November 25, Lafayette returned from a scouting mission to Gloucester and convinced some of Daniel Morgan’s riflemen and some New Jersey militia to join him in an attack on Cornwallis’s Hessian jaeger’s that were manning his picket posts. The “battle” of Gloucester became the result.
Stone and Schopp’s study is broken down into an introduction, five chapters and an epilogue. Also included are twenty-one pages of endnotes, a twenty-one-page bibliography, three pages of acknowledgements, and a six-page index. It quickly becomes clear that the author’s focus will be on Lafayette, as the 101-page narrative’s introduction details the young marquis’ background and voyage to America. Their first chapter dives into details covering the terrain and geography where the fighting took place, the economics of the region, biographies of the leading settlers, and the demographics of the community. Next, they provide a history of the Gloucester County, New Jersey militia, background on Daniel Morgan’s riflemen and a history of the Delaware River defenses in chapter two. The third chapter sets the stage with a summary of the Philadelphia campaign prior to the fighting at Gloucester. In chapter four, after providing even more details on the opposing forces, we finally arrive at the battle of Gloucester; the fighting is covered over just eight pages. The final chapter includes praise for Lafayette’s role in the action, background on Adam Stephen’s dismissal from the army (which created a division command for the young Frenchmen), and more background on Lafayette’s life after Gloucester. The narrative concludes with an epilogue, which conveys the sense that the study was more a Lafayette biography then a study of the fighting at Gloucester. Twenty-two images, sixteen maps, and two tables accompany the text.
For such a short narrative, much time his spent on details about southern New Jersey’s history. Aside from the somewhat misleading title and occasional lapse of chronology, the book often lacks citations for significant facts. On pages xxiii and xxiv, the authors fail to provide their sources for Cornwallis’s and Greene’s force strength. Two pages later a New Jersey militiaman quote is given with no citation. A similar omission occurs on page 40, when no citation is provided for the Hessian strength for the attack on Fort Mercer. Further, in a subsequent attempt to verify a few sources from the ample endnotes, pages numbers provided in a note often did not match those of the original source.
Likewise, the choice of sources is at times confusing. When recounting the fighting at Billingsport, New Jersey on page 38, the authors relied on pension accounts rather than Silas Newcomb’s report written to the governor of New Jersey at the time. Additionally, the British perspective was provided by John Peebles and Archibald Robertson (according to the end note), two officers who were not present. On page 54, the authors claim about 1,185 New Jersey militia were available at Haddonfield in November 1777. The problem with that figure is that Joseph Ellis, the militia commander, wrote to Nathanael Greene, claiming no more than 500 were available on November 24. Finally, the writers at times seemed micro-focused on New Jersey and its militia’s role in the war, even failing to quote Richard Butler—commander of the detachment of Morgan’s riflemen at Gloucester—when recounting the fighting.
At other times, the narrative contains misleading statements. For example, the authors state, “At Iron Hill, Delaware, part of the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, Howe sent the [jaeger] corps . . . to drive Gen. William Maxwell’s rifle-armed infantry from the hill.” While some of Maxwell’s men were armed with rifles, many more were armed with smoothbores.
While one school of thought holds that Lafayette’s bravery and wound at Brandywine were instrumental to his rise to division command in the Continental Army, Stone and Schopp provide a convincing argument for the role that the battle of Gloucester played in Lafayette’s promotion. For those interested in the Philadelphia Campaign, southern New Jersey history, or the Marquis de Lafayette, I recommend this book for your library. I applaud Westholme Publishing for helping smaller engagements of the American Revolution like Gloucester rise from obscurity.
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Just finished this book two weeks ago. Astutely reviewed. While I enjoyed it, it was more about Southern New Jersey demographics and militia, with only one chapter devoted to the action itself. Still, I learned alot, and found it interesting that Cape May County militia finally found a place in a published piece.