Reading the Landscape: 21




Riding home in the evening, I park my bike alongside the Caldwell Parsonage in Union, New Jersey. James Caldwell was a Presbyterian minister and prominent local supporter of the American Revolution. On June 7, 1780, six thousand British and Hessian troops tried to march 20 miles from New York City to destroy the Continental Army’s camp in Morristown. They were stopped by the New Jersey militia at the Battle of Connecticut Farms in Union. As far as the American Revolution goes, it involved a large number of armed men, several times the number of troops at the much more famous Battle of Trenton. The Americans were also militia, not professional soldiers. When you here a member of the NRA going on about Americans with guns”defending their freedom” against tyranny, this is the place he’s talking about. One women was killed at the Battle of Connecticut Farms, James Caldwell’s wife Hannah, who was murdered by British soldiers.

During the capture of Connecticut Farms, a stray bullet killed a civilian named Ball. In addition, Hannah Caldwell, wife of the Reverend James Caldwell, a chaplain in Washington’s army, was shot dead as she sat in her house with her children. Thomas Fleming recounts the Caldwells’ maid, Abigail Lennington, seeing a British light infantryman outside the window. Fleming describes what happened next: “Nervously expecting trouble, the light infantryman approached the window, his finger on the trigger, … Abigail Lennington shrank back, pulling the little boy with her. Probably the…soldier caught a glimpse of her as she moved away from the window. It was a bright, sunny day, and it seems doubtful that a man standing several feet away from the window could see very far into a room that had no windows in three walls. But a movement, any movement, was all this jittery man … needed to see”. He fired his double-loaded musket through the window and both bullets struck Mrs. Caldwell. Moments later, more British troops arrived, breaking down the door, looting the house and checking Mrs. Caldwell’s body for jewelry.

My bike in the photos above is parked roughly on the spot where Hannah Caldwell was murdered. Note that the present day Caldwell Parsonage, which dates from 1782, is not the original, which was destroyed by a “loyalist” mob during the battle. I’ve ridden my bike over most of the important Revolutionary War battle sites in New Jersey, Trenton, Princeton, Springfield, Monmouth. The course between New York, Union and Morristown taught me why George Washington built his camp at Morristown. The Watchung Mountains, which lie between Union and Morristown, aren’t very impressive as far as mountains go, but they are a steep incline of between 500 and 1000 feet. These days during a snowy Winter, they’re still hard work to plow, and tough to drive over. In 1780, marching six thousand men over those hills with a supply train would have been a brutal slog. Any large, well-organized body of men with guns would have made it almost impossible, as the New Jersey militia demonstrated twice, once at Connecticut Farms, the second time at the Battle of Springfield a few weeks later. Maybe if the British had bikes they would have won the war, and, gasp, we Americans would all be speaking English.



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