Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 22, 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 22nd: The Americans concentrated at White Plains; the British received a large reinforcement.

Previous entry: October 21st (Part 2); next: October 23rd.

Two American divisions (those of William Heath and Joseph Spencer) marched to White Plains on the night of October 21-22 [see footnote]. They reached White Plains early in the morning in an exhausted condition. Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull (5th Connecticut State Battalion, Spencer’s division) wrote:

“The men slept on the ground in the streets [and] had nothing to cook with or to cover them, and many of them were exceeding[ly] hungry as well as sleepy and weary.”

It took some time for the new arrivals to become established. Major-General William Heath noted that his division “took post on the high strong ground… on the left of the line”. Looking around at the situation of the rest army, he saw that:

“The ground, from General Heath's left to the right, descended gradually a very considerable distance, and then gradually ascended up to the plain, and still on to the right to more commanding ground. On this was the American army formed, the line running nearly from northeast to southwest. There were some strong works thrown up on the plain, across the road, and still to the right of it… Headquarters were on the plain, near the crossroads.”

It wasn’t until the evening that a decision was made as to where to place Trumbull’s battalion. At last they were ordered from the center of the village over to the right side of the line, which meant, according to Trumbull, recrossing “with weary steps the ground we had… with so much labour travelled over [earlier].” Trumbull groused, “The men are worried in a manner to death and are treated with great hardship and severity, and in my opinion are put to much unnecessary hardship and fatigue.”

More men were on the way. On this date John Sullivan’s division marched for White Plains; probably so too did the division of Israel Putnam, which had been manning the defenses in upper Manhattan [see footnote].

Major-General Charles Lee’s men continued to occupy the Mile Square area. They had been defending the left flank of the army. However, the movement of Washington’s army to White Plains meant that their role was becoming one of defending the right flank of the army. In this position they safeguarded the slow-moving procession of provisions and other stores from upper Manhattan to White Plains.

As the British remained near the coast, Lee’s men had the opportunity to forage and look for plunder in the surrounding countryside. According to Sergeant John Smith (Lippitt’s Regiment, Lee’s division):

“Amaziah Blackmore[,] a sergeant in Captain Blackmore’s company[,] went to Eastchester amongst the deserted houses to see what he could plunder[. He] was surrounded in the house with a lieutenant and a fifer and was made prisoner by about 30 Hessians and plundered of his shoe and knee buckles and 18 dollars in paper money and carried away… he watched [for] an opportunity and sprang from between [his guards]… and kicked away his shoes that were loose on his feet and got clear of them and came into camp again… Last night Captain Bailey and Lieutenant Richmond went down and plundered some houses at East Chester of household furniture to the value of 400 dollars and one colt[,] which the general made a present of to Captain Bailey”.

The British were aware of the desperate condition of the American army. As Commissary Charles Stedman later put it:

“The American army was now in a disagreeable situation. The soldiers were very poorly clothed, and a scarcity of provisions among them had been followed by much illness. Nor, amidst these disadvantages, was their position either secure or eligible in other respects. Their sole resource was to avoid action”.

Meanwhile, the British awaited fresh provisions and welcomed the arrival of more reinforcements. A second division of Hessians had recently crossed the Atlantic and was at New York City. This force consisted of six Hessian regiments (plus jaegers and artillerists) under the command of Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, and an additional regiment from the German state of Waldeck. On this date, the division left New York City and landed near New Rochelle.

Ambrose Serle witnessed the passage of these troops northward:

“This morning the Hessians… passed in flat-boats up the Eastern River towards the grand army. They were all in high spirits, and rowed along with drums beating, trumpets and fifes sounding, and colors flying in a very gallant order. They made a fine appearance altogether.”

The New York Gazette noted:

“It being a very fine day, the scene was rendered extremely beautiful by the crowds upon the water, [and the Hessians] cheering their military brethren and other spectators on shore, and making the hills resound with trumpets, French horns, drums and fifes, accompanied by the harmony of their voices.”

Among the new arrivals was Captain Johann von Ewald, who commanded the detachment of jaegers. Ewald wrote:

“…early on the morning of the 22nd[,] the flatboats appeared and took in the troops. As soon as the boats, each containing fifty men, had assembled on the western side of the city, the journey toward land was started up the East River. It was very pleasant. On the right we observed the well-cultivated shore of Long Island, and on the left the shore of York Island [i.e., Manhattan]. Everything was new to us and we liked it all.”

“Night overtook us and we continued our journey for several more hours in utter darkness. Since no one knew when or where we would land, we were plagued with boredom and curiosity. But at last we set foot on the coast of the province of New York in the vicinity of New Rochelle…. In the darkness all we could see was that the area was wooded. Dogs were barking nearby, hence we could assume that people must reside in the area.”

“The commanding general ordered the regiments to encamp and light fires… which was carried out promptly… sooner had several fires blazed than we heard cries of chickens, geese, and pigs which our resourceful soldiers had discovered. Within the hour, several roasts hung from long sticks before each fire. The whole camp was as busy as an anthill. From this one can see how easily a good soldier knows his way about.”

Footnote: The exact position of Washington’s divisions from one day to the next is difficult to piece together from the source material. That Alexander’s brigade (Spencer’s division) arrived in White Plains on the 21st is indicated by Rufus Putnam’s memoir, the journal of James McMichael, and the presence of men from this brigade in the action at Mamaroneck. That Heath’s division, followed by the remainder of Spencer’s division, reached White Plains on the morning of the 22nd is indicated by William Heath’s memoir, and Benjamin Trumbull’s journal. That Sullivan’s division reached White Plains on the night of the 22nd is indicated by Heath’s memoir and the journal of David How. At about the same time that Sullivan’s men moved, three companies of Knox’s Artillery marched from a point near Kingsbridge to White Plains. An artillerist in this detachment (Solomon Nash) recorded in his journal, “today about 10 o’clock we struck our tents and set out for White Plains and arrived there about 12 o’clock at night and encamped.”

I don’t have a copy of a journal by an infantryman in Israel Putnam’s division, but the overall pattern of activity in the army strongly suggests that Putnam’s men at least started the move from Manhattan to White Plains on the 22nd and that they completed the move no later than the 23rd.

No comments:

Post a Comment