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Topography of Short Hills Helped George Washington Win

by: Sue Adler
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The rolling uplands of New Jersey now provide homeowners in Short Hills with great views and a sense of seclusion, but during the Revolutionary War, they allowed the Continental Army led by General George Washington to escape encirclement by British forces.  The Colonial Militia had camped in the region following the Battle of Connecticut Farms which took place on June 7, 1780.  After determining their whereabouts, British General Henry Clinton devised a two column assault.

One brigade would march north along Galloping Hill Road through Springfield.  A second would advance along Vauxhill Road towards Short Hills from the south.  Both would pass through Hobart Gap into open country where Washington’s forces would be lured into attacking near the Watchung Mountains that rise west of Newark.  Some 6,000 British troops were dispatched up the Hudson River to cutoff any retreat the colonialists might attempt while British reserves were positioned in Elizabethtown.  This region is obviously steeped in history right down to the roads which are still prominent thoroughfares.

On June 23, British units overwhelmed a small American force near Elizabethtown during a dawn attack.  The victory however alerted Washington that the British were coming, and he sent reinforcements down Galloping Hill Road.  Four lines of defense were set up behind it.  After fierce fighting, these defensive units had to retreat and reposition at Galloping Hills Bridge.  The wooded countryside here proved more advantageous to the colonialists who better knew the lay of the land and were more used to fighting in rugged terrain.  The British were better at fighting across level country where they could attack en masse.

We think now of the graceful bridges that abound here over rivers such as the Rahway as bucolic scenes with a peaceful feel.  Indeed, the area now makes for prime suburban value, but to our forbearers both the Galloping Hills and Vauxhill Bridges were places to make a desperate stand.  The Continental Army made good use of artillery positioning their cannons on the high ground behind both bridges.  These places offer good views today and on that fateful day in June of 1780, the British Army was in clear view and took a pounding.

Just as they had advanced in two columns so also did the British retreat.  One column used the Vauxhill Road, the other the Galloping Hills Road.  Again the Colonialists took advantage of the terrain and their skills at fighting in the woods on an individual basis.  Sniper fire took a terrible toll on British forces.  They regrouped in Elizabethtown with their units straggling in under the cover of darkness.  After a brief assessment, they fled by boat across the Hudson River to Staten Island.

British forces suffered many times the losses that the Continental Army did in this engagement.  These battles effectively ended the Revolutionary War in the north. Washington would have to wage numerous more battles further south before achieving victory, but the fighting around Short Hills proved a turning point in the Revolutionary War.

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