Elias Longstreet Raises Company for Continental Army
In late 1775, at the request of the Continental Congress, the New Jersey Provincial Congress began raising two regiments of troops for the Continental Army—one from East New Jersey and one from West New Jersey. Although the colonies had not declared independence from England, there were already hostilities around Boston (where the British had besieged the city) and in Canada, where the Continental Army had invaded in hopes of bringing Canada into the “Continental” rebellion.
Monmouth County’s response to the call for troops was modest in comparison to the size of the county. The county was tasked with raising only one company for the First New Jersey Regiment. Elias Longstreet of Freehold Township was tasked with raising this company and would be commissioned as its captain. Recruitng was a struggle for Longstreet; he had raised fewer than 40 men at the end of November—less than any of the seven other company commanders in the First Regiment. On December 3, the regimental commander, William Alexander (Lord Stirling), reported to the Provincial Congress on Longstreet’s difficulties:
Captain [Elias] Longstreet, of Monmouth County, reported to me at Brunswick that his company is near complete, but scattered at so great distance that it will be impossible to assemble them in less than ten days… These Captains all complain very heavily of the usage they meet with from the justices, who issue warrants against the men on the smallest pretense.
John Covenhoven of Freehold, a Monmouth County delegate in the Provincial Congress, further noted Longstreet’s recruiting problems on December 15. “Captain Longstreet has been under many disadvantages in raising a company… some people discourage the enlistment.”
On January 12, 1776, Longstreet’s company finally reached full strength. It now numbered three junior officers, four sergeants, four corporals, two musicians, and 60 privates. The company assembled at Freehold and marched to Perth Amboy, where it quartered in barracks recently abandoned by British troops. They then marched forward to Elizabeth to join with the rest of regiment. The combined regiment quartered in New York City for the rest of the winter.
The winter was hard on Longstreet’s company. According to a March 6 return of the First Regiment, the Monmouth Company had been whittled down to 45 privates “fit & present.” Five were absent from camp (probably sick), five more were deserted, one was taken prisoner. The company’s arms were adequate (44 guns, 56 bayonets, 70 cartridge boxes) but other important supplies were woefully short (only 22 blankets, 15 beds, 0 shoes).
Given the poor state of supplies, it is no wonder that the New Jersey regiment’s rank and file did not take kindly to orders to head to Canada. One of Longstreet’s men, Private Henry Vunck, recalled a near-mutiny in response to the order:
When the regiment ascertained that they were to be ordered to march to Canada -- a disposition to marching or refuse going manifested itself among the men in consequence of which Genl Washington caused the regiment to parade without arms which being done it was surrounded by other troops. A parley took place when a man by the name of Brown stated that the cause of dissatisfaction on the part of the regiment was that they were not paid nor clothed and that the hardship of the campaign could not be endured without clothing and if anything of an assurance could be given of their being paid the regiment would cheerfully go and reinforce the northern army.
Apparently, the New Jersey troops were mollified because, as reported by Vunck, “about the 10th May the troops destined to reinforce the northern army embarked on board of sloops at New York and sailed up the river to Albany where they landed and encamped on the hill, the whole under the immediate command of Genl Sullivan [John Sullivan of New Hampshire]."
Sullivan marched the troops into Canada. At the St. Lawrence River, the New Jersey troops met Massachusetts troops who had endured the previous winter in Canada. Vunck recalled that they were "much worn down with sickness and fatigue, numerous dying with smallpox.” The New Jersey troops were inoculated and moved to Ticonderoga. There, they stayed through the summer without seeing any action. The only event Vunck found worthy of mention was the celebration of the Declaration of Independence “which was followed by the firing of cannon and musketry.” After that, Vunck “was taken sick & with the invalids went to Fort George and afterwards [went] to Albany, where he remained."
As for Captain Longstreet, he never participated in any major battle, but was captured sometime that summer. His wife, Rebecca, recalled that “he was taken prisoner” and knowing nothing further about his status until 1779 when “he returned home on parole.”
At the end 1776, the company’s one-year enlistments expired. Four more companies for the Continental Army were raised from Monmouth County in June 1776. These men would be called Flying Camp or State Troops due to their short enlistments and different chain of command.
Sources: National Archives, New Jersey, 1st Battalion, Elias Longstreet's Company, from: http://www.fold3.com/image/14579224/; Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1983), pp. 255-7; National Archives, Revolutionary War Veterans Pension Applications, New Jersey - Carhart Walling; Franklin Ellis, The History of Monmouth County (R.T. Peck: Philadelphia, 1885), p133; National Archives, Revolutionary War Veterans' Pension Application, Joseph Van Note of Ohio, S.11617; National Archives, Papers of the Continental Congress, reel 179, item 162, #330; "Peter Force, American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution, 1774-6 (digitized: http://dig.lib.niu.edu/amarch/find.doc.html), v4: p 164; Peter Force, American Archives: Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Publick Affairs (Washington, DC: U.S. Congress Clerk's Office, 1853), 5th Series, vol. 4, p 279; National Archives, Papers of the Continental Congress, M247, I68, NJ State Papers, p134; National Archives, New Jersey, 1st Regiment; http://www.fold3.com/image/14579224/; National Archives, New Jersey, 1st Regiment, http://www.fold3.com/image/14579224/; National Archives, Papers of the Continental Congress, reel 179, item 162, #438; National Archives, revolutionary War veterans Pension Applications, New Jersey - Elias Longstreet.
Related Historical Sites: Perth Amboy Barracks