American Revolutionary War Battles

The Battle of Chestnut Neck

October 6, 1778 at Chestnut Neck, near present-day Port Republic, New Jersey

Battle Summary

The Battle of Chestnut Neck was fought in southern New Jersey at Chestnut Neck, a settlement on the Little Egg Harbor River (now known as the Mullica River) near the present-day city of Port Republic, New Jersey. It was used as a base by American privateers. The British retrieved some supplies and destroyed others, as well as destroying some residences and other buildings.

Learning that Brigadier General Kazimierz Pułaski was on the way, the British quickly left by ship the following day. They had an encounter with Pulaski's forces a week later and caused heavy losses.

Facts about the Battle of Chestnut Neck

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Count Casmir Pulaski and consisted of about 50 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Capt. Patrick Ferguson and consisted of about 400 Soldiers.
  • Casualties - American casualties were unknown. British casualties were 1 wounded.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was a British victory. The battle was part of the Northern Theater 1778-82.
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Prelude

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Chestnut Neck was a busy thriving trade center on the Little Egg Harbor River near the New Jersey coast, about 10 miles north of present-day Atlantic City, New Jersey. Local vessels traveled to New York and elsewhere, carrying mail, trading goods and merchandise.

With the coming of the war, American privateers took over the harbor facilities to use as a home base. They would attack and seize British ships and take their captured prizes into Chestnut Neck. The captured vessels and their cargoes were sold, and the captured vessels were often adapted for use as privateers.

With the British holding Philadelphia and New York City during the winter of 1777–78, General George Washington at Valley Forge was cut off from his sources of supplies. Supplies were brought into Little Egg Harbor, unloaded at Chestnut Neck, taken up the river in flat-bottomed boats to the Forks, carted across the peninsula to Burlington, across the Delaware River, and transported overland to Valley Forge. Many British cargoes intended for General Henry Clinton in New York were seized by American privateers and reached Washington via Chestnut Neck and the described route.

Clinton became so exasperated by this constant loss of his ships, that he decided to "clean out that nest of Rebel Pirates." Accordingly, on September 30, 1778, a fleet of nine British ships and transports, under the command of Captain Henry Collins, with 300 British regulars and 100 New Jersey Loyalists, under Captain Patrick Ferguson, sailed from New York, bound for Chestnut Neck.

Governor William Livingston learned of their sailing, and sent riders to warn the people. Washington dispatched Pułaski and his Legion to assist the Patriots, although they did not arrive until the day following the battle.

Battle Begins

Because of bad weather, the British fleet did not arrive off Little Egg Harbor until late in the afternoon of October 5, and were prevented from getting over the bar. Knowing the people had been warned and that Pułaski was on his way, the British troops made their way up the river to Chestnut Neck as quickly as possible.

On October 6, the troops were put aboard the galleys and armed boats and left at daybreak. They were delayed when two boats grounded, and did not reach Chestnut Neck until four o'clock, in heavy fog. They fought against American defenders and retrieved some supplies.

Having destroyed any supplies that they could not retrieve, and having received intelligence that Pułaski was on his way, they quickly left at noon on October 7, stopping at the mouth of the Bass River to destroy the salt works and mills of Eli Mathis. They also burnt the houses on his plantation, his home and barns and then rejoined their ships.

Aftermath

As soon as Pułaski arrived at Chestnut Neck, he crossed the river and marched to Tuckerton, arriving there on October 8. Pułaski (with 50 troops) and the British (with 200) watched each other until October 15.

On October 15, the British surprised an outpost of Pułaski's men, bayoneting the sentry and almost all of the other men while still sleeping. The British withdrew and sailed back to New York.

Americans call this the "Little Egg Harbor massacre."

Although they retrieved some supplies and destroyed others at Chestnut Neck, the British and American Loyalists were not able to capture any of the American privateers or recapture any of the prize vessels present in the area.

After the battle, Chestnut Neck never regained its status as a trade center.