A Second Forage War
|Mad Anthony Wayne|
British Move into the Jerseys
On March 17th, Mawhood led a force of 1,200 British regulars and Loyalist companies of New Jersey Volunteers as well as John Graves Simcoe's Queen's Rangers, across the Delaware River into Salem County, New Jersey. Scouts alerted Wayne to the British movement. He had finished his work and was preparing to return to the Continental Army encampment at Valley Forge.
|19th Century Map of Salem Co.|
Alloway Creek in Salem County formed a natural line of defense, and the local militia (who were very active in NJ), after learning of the British movement, established strong defensive positions at the two crossings nearest the Delaware, Quinton's Bridge and Hancock's Bridge, to prevent the British from crossing. Mawhood led his force to Salem, where they were met by some local Loyalists who told them that Colonel Asher Holmes, along with 300 militia, was at Quinton's Bridge, only three miles (4.8 km) to the southeast. Holmes had established his position on the north side of the bridge, and had taken up the bridge's planking to prevent its easy use.
|The Militia had good positions along the creek|
Ruse de Guerre
Before dawn on March 18th, Mawhood moved several detachments of men into position on the side of the creek opposite the American forces. Captain William Smith was the senior officer with 300 local militiamen under his command defending the area around Quinton Bridge. Mawhood realized the rebels held good defensive positions behind the creek so he devised a plan to draw out the patriots. Under cover of darkness the British concealed small detachments of the 17th and Simcoe's Rangers in and around one Weatherby's Tavern on the Salem side of the creek, and just northeast of the road. On the morning of the 18th, Mawhood baited his trap by ordering an element of the 17th Foot to stage a retreat in the direction of Salem.
|Simcoe's Queen's Rangers|
The rebels fell for the ruse. Captain Smith left one third of his force to secure the defenses while he led some 200 went across the creek in what turned into a disorderly pursuit. Failing to post flank security, the militiamen headed up the road past the tavern. When they had gone about two hundred yards past the bridge, the British and Loyalists opened fire from all sides. Caught in a hail of musket balls from their front, flanks and rear, they broke and ran in a panic toward the safety of the creek. But not before leaving around 40 of their comrades who fell in the hail of fire. In addition, some of the fleeing patriots drowned trying to cross the creek. One of the patriots, Andrew Bacon, braved the "sizzling" British fire to raise the draw bridge and prevent the British from exploiting their ambush and further. Bacon was hit and his wound left him a cripple for life.
|Smith's Militia Retreating (Rare color photo!)|
By that time, help arrived in the form of Colonel Elijah Hand's militia and two cannons. They reinforced the south side of the creek. At that, a frustrated Mawhood pulled back his forces and moved on to another objective - Hancock's Bridge before ultimately returning to Philadelphia. The engagement at Quinton's Bridge was a small one, but typical of the war. No real winner or loser. The relatively large loss of lives was off set by the rapid reinforcement of the creek and Mawhood's decision to try his luck elsewhere.