Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October 18, 1776 (Part 2)

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 the afternoon of October 18th: The British army attacked Glover’s brigade; afterwards they cut one of Washington’s primary supply lines.

Previous entry: Morning of October 18th; next: October 19th.

On the morning of October 18th, the British landed at Pell’s Point and began streaming inland towards New Rochelle and the Boston Post Road. En route, the light infantry received a check from Colonel John Glover’s brigade of Massachusetts Continentals.

The British then halted and Glover anxiously waited for the attack to be renewed. Glover saw in his front “about four thousand [men], with seven pieces of artillery”. He later recalled:

“Oh! the anxiety of mind I was then in for the fate of the day — the lives of seven hundred and fifty men immediately at hazard, and under God their preservation entirely depended on their being well disposed of; besides this, my country, my honour, my own life, and everything that was dear, appeared at that critical moment to be at stake”.

Lieutenant-General William Howe surveyed the scene. He saw “a considerable body appearing in front behind stone walls and in woods”. He then dispatched “some companies of light infantry and a party of chasseurs [jaegers]… to dislodge them”.

Ensign Henry Stirke (light infantry company, 10th Foot) wrote that “The 1st Battalion of Light Infantry pushed the rebels from fence to fence”.

Glover’s Continentals were forced to withdraw, but the withdrawal was conducted slowly and skillfully. Glover was with Joseph Read’s 13th Continental Regiment when the British advance began. He wrote:

“we kept our post under cover of the stone wall… till they came within fifty yards of us, [then we] rose up and gave them the whole charge [i.e., volley] of the battalion; they halted and returned the fire with showers of musketry and cannon balls. We exchanged seven rounds at this post, retreated, and formed in the rear of Colonel Shepard and on his left; they then shouted and pushed on till they came on Shepard, posted behind a fine double stone wall; he rose up and fired by grand divisions, by which he kept up a constant fire, and maintained his part till he exchanged seventeen rounds with them”.

When Shepard’s men were forced back, the British pressed against Colonel Loammi Baldwin’s 26th Continental Regiment. Baldwin observed, “Our troops were as calm and steady as though expecting a shot at a flock of pigeons, and not in the least daunted or confused.” When the British came within range, he wrote, “We galled the enemy very much”.

Finally, Baldwin’s Regiment was also made to retreat.

According to Glover:

“we retreated to the bottom of the hill, and had to pass through a run of water, (the bridge I had taken up before) and then marched up a hill [on] the opposite side of the creek, where I [had] left my artillery; the ground being rough and much broken I was afraid to risk [bringing] it over. The enemy halted, and played away their artillery at us, and we at them… without any damage on our side, and but very little on theirs.”

Glover’s own 14th Continental Regiment had been left with the guns. The regiment had erected a crude fortification while the rest of the brigade was in action and this gave Glover another strong position to defend.

The cannonade drew more of the British army into the battle, including some of the British grenadiers and Hessian Regiment von Knyphausen.

Captain George Harris (grenadier company, 5th Foot) noted, “The grenadiers did not suffer, being only exposed to the fire of the American batteries, which were very ill served.”

Lieutenant Andreas Wiederholdt (Regiment von Knyphausen) wrote, “The enemy had dug in on the high ground facing us and greeted us with a number of cannon shots, but these had no effect because they flew wide. I skirmished with the enemy and they wounded one of my men, for which I sent one of them into the next world with my rifle.”

Artist Charles Lefferts painted these representations of British soldiers. At left is a light infantryman in the 10th Regiment of Foot (Stirke’s company); at right is a grenadier in the 5th Regiment of Foot (Harris’ company).

Glover’s men blocked the route westward, which led towards the Bronx River and the rear of the American army. However, Howe did not attempt to force Glover from his post. Instead, he kept some men facing the Americans while others were sent to occupy high ground to the east. That night, according to Howe, the men “laid… upon their arms with the left upon a creek opposite to East Chester [i.e., opposite Glover’s position] and the right near to [New] Rochelle.”

Glover had done everything in his power to harass and delay the British army. Now it was time to pull back to a safer position:

“At dark we came off, and marched about three miles… after fighting all day without victuals or drink, laying as a picket all night, the heavens over us and the earth under us, which was all we had, having left our baggage at the old encampment we left in the morning. The next morning [we] marched over to Mile Square. I had eight men killed and thirteen wounded, among which was Colonel Shepard, a brave officer.”

British losses were heavier, but not as heavy as the volume of American fire would suggest. Ensign Stirke claimed there were 34 killed and wounded in the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. Accounts by others suggest that the total British loss was not much higher.

Situation of the armies on October 18th (click to enlarge). Howe’s army crossed from Throg’s Neck (7) to Pell’s Point, and fought Glover’s brigade on his march inland. By the end of the day, the leading elements of his army were near New Rochelle (8). Meanwhile, Charles Lee prepared to defend Mile Square (9) lest the British attempt to cross the Bronx River and surround the American army.

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