Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19, 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 19th: The British consolidated their gains at Pell’s Point.

Previous entry: Afternoon of October 18th; next: October 20th.

On October 18th, the British landed at Pell’s Point and advanced into the New York mainland. This placed Washington in a delicate situation. The only important barrier separating his army from the British was the Bronx River. If the British pushed across the Bronx, the result would be catastrophic: Washington’s army would be hemmed in near Manhattan and possibly forced to surrender. Washington’s army was not strong enough to drive the British back from Pell’s Point nor mobile enough to quickly escape the potential trap (the troops could march quickly, but there was a shortage of wagons to move the provisions and other baggage). Washington therefore focused on defending the crossing points on the Bronx while the stores kept in Manhattan were moved to places of safety.

Meanwhile, the British were enthusiastic about their prospects. Ambrose Serle heard Vice Admiral Richard Howe boast “that the army had landed, and posted themselves upon the heights beyond Kingsbridge; so that now the rebels are nearly surrounded.” But how to finish the campaign was not obvious, and Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton later recalled, “Many plans for our further proceedings became now… the subject of deliberation.”

While the British commanders held their discussions, the men in the ranks discovered many temptations in the neighborhood of Pell’s Point. Almost all of the residents had fled upon the approach of the British army, and abandoned homes dotted the countryside.

According to Colonel Loammi Baldwin (Glover’s brigade), “The enemy lay pretty still this day, only plundering the Point [i.e., Pell’s Point] indiscriminately, showing no more favor to a Tory than a Whig.”

British headquarters tried to curtail this behavior by proclaiming that “The Commander in Chief is greatly disappointed that the repeated orders… for the suppression of plundering and marauding, have not been attended to by the troops,” and warning that there would be “no mercy to any person proved guilty” of these crimes.

The Americans, although hungry and poorly clothed, had largely abstained from this sort of behavior. However, Baldwin found that the men were upset to see that by being “careful of the property of the country people and farmers,” they were “only saving it for our enemies”. Therefore, “near the disputed ground” (East Chester) they began to behave in the same manner: “the fields of corn and stacks of wheat serve for fodder for our horses,” and “the pigs, poultry, etc.” provide a “change of diet for the soldiers”.

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