Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15, 1776

From October 8th to November 1st, I am blogging about the White Plains “campaign” of 1776. Click here for an overview of this project, a listing of the sources used, and other general information.

Synopsis for October 15th: The standoff at Throg’s Neck continued; the armies prepared for another movement; Hugh Mercer led a raid onto Staten Island.

Previous entry: October 14th; next: October 16th.

The uneasy standoff at Throg’s Neck (commonly called Frog’s Point) continued into a fourth day. American Major General William Heath noted, “The scattering fire across the marsh continued, and now and then a man was killed.” Sergeant John Smith (Lippitt’s Rhode Island State Regiment) was witness to one of these incidents:

“in the morning… I walked out to see the country and found plenty of… apples and peaches and [I] went as far as our lower lines and saw the enemy on Frog’s Point where they was at an house over a creek[,] a little beyond musket shot of our guard[.] One who appeared like an officer ventured down to the creek and was shot down by one of our men and was carried up by them to the house”.

Archibald Robertson of the Royal Engineers noted that he spent the day “raising two mock batteries… opposite the bridge… and a line opposite theirs on our right” by the head of the creek. These batteries made it look as if the British would attempt an overland push across Westchester Creek. In actuality, the British were preparing to bypass the American defenses by landing on another part of the coast.

Newly-arrived American Major General Charles Lee did not know what move the British would make next, but he felt that the Americans should not wait for it in their present position. According to Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull (5th Connecticut State Battalion)*:

“General Lee… thought that the situation of the army of the States of America was much too confined and cramped, and that it could not be good policy to lie still in such a situation, or to hazard the great cause in which we were embarked in one general action, in which if we should not succeed, the army might be lost, as a retreat would be extremely difficult if not impossible.”

George Washington was also troubled by the situation of the army. He doubted that he had enough men to prevent the British from taking control of the Hudson, maintain the army’s fortifications in upper Manhattan, and counter the British advance into Westchester County. He wrote that:

“…we are obliged to divide our force, and guard every probable place of attack as well as we can; as most of our stores are here [in upper Manhattan] and about King's Bridge, and the preservation of the communication with the States on the other side of Hudson’s River [is] a matter of great importance… I have sent two regiments of the Massachusetts militia up the river to watch the motions of the [British] ships [cf.October 9th & 10th], and to oppose any landing of men that they may attempt. I am also extending every part of my force that I possibly can… to oppose the enemy [inWestchester County], and prevent their effecting their plan… but our numbers being far inferior to the demands for men, I cannot answer for what may happen: the most in my power shall be done.”

The American stance at this time was not wholly defensive.

In Connecticut, Governor Jonathan Trumbull and Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Livingston (2ndNew York Regiment) had begun to wage war on British Loyalists occupying Long Island. They were in the process of rounding up men and boats so as to make a major raid.

In New Jersey, Major-General Nathanael Greene and Brigadier-General Hugh Mercer led on this date a raid onto Staten Island. Staten Island was the first base of operations for the British army in the New York City area. However, by this date the island was largely stripped of troops.

Colonel Samuel Patterson was present with a battalion of Delaware militia. He later wrote:

“in the evening, General Mercer ordered part of four battalions to… go on board boats at eight o’clock that evening. We did, in the whole about six hundred men, with two pieces of brass artillery. We crossed all about ten o’clock at night, in order to attack a small fort at the east end of that island, at the watering-place, and to be there by break of day,--seventeen miles, our battalion in front”.

While the Americans were marching across the island, a messenger caught up with the generals and informed them that Washington had called for a council of war that would convene in the morning. Greene left, but Mercer continued ahead.

According to Patterson, “At the same time” we were “informed… that the fort was reinforced the day before by the arrival of fresh troops… to about twelve hundred men.”

Mercer gave up the idea of taking the fort and sent back the artillery. However, he also learned of a target of opportunity. He afterwards reported, “I was then advanced within a few miles of Richmond town [on Staten Island], and received information… that a company of British troops, one of Hessians and one of [Cortland] Skinner’s [Loyalist] militia [the New Jersey Volunteers], lay there.” He issued orders to surround and capture these men.

According to Patterson, Mercer ordered Patterson and one Colonel Samuel Griffin to take the Delaware militia and two rifle companies to a point “about a mile below the town… and to lay about there till near break of day”. There they would cut off the retreat of the British troops. “General Mercer’s plan was—he to attack, with his party, in three places, and we to be ready at the same time in the other quarters.”

Patterson added: “[Mercer] is… as cool in his plans as a philosopher. I love him.”

*The letter was anonymous; Ezra Stiles believed Trumbull was the author.


  1. This is an interesting series AD. Oddly enough I was watching a TV program here a couple of days ago which featured the ancestral home of the Hyde Parker family, Melford Hall in Suffolk. The library has a fine collection of paintings commemorating the Hudson River action (for which Hyde Parker received a knighthood)and on display was a folio of original maps from the campaign including a series of 5 watercolour sketches called 'perspectives from the water' painted as a navigation guide and showing the cliffs and river banks etc along the Hudson as seen from the deck of a ship.

    Great stuff, and I fully appreciate the work and depth of research that goes into each of your posts.


  2. Thanks, Lee. I didn't know Parker received a knighthood for that action or about the campaign maps. Wish I was able to see them.