The Battle of Monmouth

By Charles W Griswold

May 7, 2010

My ancestor, Epaphras Thompson was a Trooper in the Continental Light Dragoons during the Revolutionary War. Per Connecticut Men in the Revolutionary War, he enlisted as a Private in Colonel Sheldon’s 2nd Regiment of Dragoons on May 24, 1777 in Saybrook, CT. He was a farmer, 5′ 10″ tall, with dark complexion, eyes and hair. He was in the 6th Troop and served for the duration of the war.

He applied for his pension “Cont Line (CT), S40566 on April 22, 1818 in Luzerne Co., PA. His pension application contains a document certifying that he was a Trooper in Sheldon’s Regiment. It is signed “Benj M Tallmadge late Major 2nd Reg. Lt. Dragoons. It is dated Litchfield, Conn. Feb’y 6th 1818.

His application states that he was in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth. After Germantown in October 1777, the regiment was initially posted to Valley Forge. However, records indicate that due to a shortage of forage during the winter the regiment was moved to Chatham, NJ which is approximately 100 miles from Valley Forge and there was no record of Sheldon’s Horse at Monmouth.

So how could a Trooper from Sheldon’s Regiment have been at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28th 1778? Subsequent research showed how it was possible.

The Valley Forge Muster Roll for December 1777 to June 1778 indicated that 20 to 30 members of Sheldon’s Regiment were still at Valley Forge at that time, including Epaphras Thompson. This was very likely as some of Sheldon’s troops could have been left at Valley Forge to serve as Headquarters guards and messengers. However, it was later found that some of the men listed as being at Valley Forge at that time were not there, including Colonel Sheldon. Therefore, the muster roll was inconclusive as to who was there at that time.

I wrote to the Monmouth County Historical Association. They replied that they did not have anything in their collection regarding the 2nd Light Dragoons at the Battle of Monmouth and suggested that I contact the David Library of the American Revolution.

The Library was very accommodating with copies of several original letters from Colonel Moylan to George Washington, but nothing regarding the 2nd LD.

The Historian at Monmouth Battlefield State Park confirmed that there were small detachments of Continental Dragoons at Monmouth. Most prominent were officers of the 4th LD (Colonel Stephen Moylan), but members of the 1st and 3rd regiments can also be identified. He suggested consulting the letters of George Washington. That was the right path.

On May 24, 1778, General Washington wrote to Colonel Moylan of the 4th Dragoons (who was in Trenton, NJ, about 50 miles from Valley Forge) that enough forage was now available to accommodate the Cavalry in the Neighbourhood of the Camp. “I therefore desire that you will immediately come over with all the Horse of your own, Bland’s and Baylor’s regiments that are in good order, Sheldon is to remain at Chatham.”

By May 28th it appeared that the British were planning to evacuate Philadelphia and may move thro Jersey and Washington “wished Moylan to continue there until their intentions are more clearly and fully known.” However, a footnote stated “Should you be near Camp you need not return.” Based on later letters they were apparently near to Camp and continued on to Valley Forge.

In a letter of May 29th Washington requested Sheldon “to proceed immediately to the North River and to put himself under the command of Genl. Gates with all your Cavalry that are in condition to march. With such as remain you will leave proper officers”.

Washington wrote to Colonel Moylan on June 1, 1778, “I am not a little surprised that the arms of three regiments should be reduced to 120”. He also noted that “a Brigadier or Major General is directed to administer the Oath which your officers will have an opportunity of taking upon joining us”. (Note: a biography of Moylan on a site entitled Fourth Continental Light Dragoons contains the following passage. “An adequate cavalry arm would have been invaluable to Washington in the 1778 Monmouth Campaign. Despite inadequate numbers and worn equipment, Moylan struggled manfully to do the job with the 30 troopers left in service by 25 June”. This seems a little hard to believe if there were 120 available only three weeks earlier.)

I found a list of the officers that took the Oath of Allegiance at Valley Forge in June 1778.There were about 20 from the 1st, 3rd and 4th regiments of dragoons. Also, among the dragoon officers listed, I was able to identify William Stanton as a member of Sheldon’s regiment. In addition, Captain Sal Tarantino, Commander of Sheldon’s Horse, a re-established military and historical organization, was able to identify two other of Sheldon’s officers on the list. They were Jeronimus Hoogland, later a Captain of the 3rd Troop and John Shethar, Captain of the 6th Troop at one point.

Sal also provided a quote from the diary of a woman who noted that on June 3, 1778 she saw several squads of cavalry passing off Skippack Road (Philadelphia-Valley Forge area). They belonged to Colonel Sheldon’s regiment of Dragoons and one of the Captains (Stoddard) came to see her and her friends.

A search on Captain Stoddard turned up a reference to his visit to Miss Sally Wister on June 2, 1778. She recorded in her journal that he and several other officers visited in her parlor before leaving with about 150 other horse. This could possibly be “all the available cavalry “that Washington directed Moylan to gather and hold on stand-by. The reason they were at the Wister farm was to billet 25 troopers. This reference is on page 93 of Dragoon Diary: The History of the Third Continental Light Dragoons, by C. F William Mauer.

I then checked Connecticut’s Revolutionary Cavalry: Sheldon’s Horse. Page 19 also has a reference to the visit to Sally Wister, however, no date is cited, only the month of May. It states that Captain Stoddard was on a special duty assignment from Major Tallmadge.

I then found a published copy of her actual journal which confirmed all of the above.

In addition to searching for officers I also looked for pension applications of other Troopers from the regiment. Several were found, but none mentioned Monmouth. I then contacted James F. Morrison, a well known Revolutionary War researcher, who maintains a large pension site on the Internet.

Jim found the final proof, another pension application stating that the applicant was also at Monmouth. It is No. S14522 for Benjamin Smith. He enlisted in the regiment in March 1778 at Poundridge, NY. He was in a company commanded by Captain John Webb (Epaphras’ application also states that he was in Captain Webb’s company at one time). Immediately upon enlisting Benjamin was marched to Chatham, NJ where Colonel Sheldon was in winter quarters. Then in May he “was sent in a detachment to the Philadelphia lines and continued there until the British evacuated that place.-the detachment then marched on with the main army and pursued the British passed through Jersey and crossed over the Ferry at Trenton and then came on to Monmouth and there had an engagement with the British”.

He has a couple of errors in his statement: (1) in the May following 1778 and (2) they crossed the river after passing through Jersey, however, he correctly cites all of the elements leading up to the battle of Monmouth.

Could the detachment have been part of Captain Stoddard’s special duty assignment?

These facts show that there were at least four of Sheldon’s officers at Valley Forge in June of 1778. Three took the Oath there. One, Captain Stoddard, was there on a special duty assignment and may have been part of the cavalry being gathered by Moylan.

Also, there was a minimum of two enlisted men and one, Benjamin Smith, was part of a special detachment from Sheldon’s regiment that marched to Monmouth and engaged the British. It is possibly that he was he a member of Stoddard’s troop.

I believe that there is sufficient hard evidence to prove that some members of the Second Continental Light Dragoons were at Valley Forge in late June 1778 and took part in the Battle of Monmouth.