Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23, 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 23rd: The British sent a reconnaissance in force towards Mile Square.

Previous entry: October 22nd; next: October 24th.

The Hessians of Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen’s newly arrived division were inspected at New Rochelle. George Osborn scoffed that “they are in every respect far inferior to the first [division]”. Actually, the men of Captain Johann von Ewald’s 2nd Jäger Company were found to be excellent troops, and that morning they were called upon to participate in a reconnaissance in force towards Mile Square.

Captain Johann von Ewald recalled, “I was delighted with the message, for there was nothing I dreaded more in the world than a rest camp, and I wished for nothing more than to get to know the enemy.”

Archibald Robertson (Royal Engineers) thought the British sent two or three thousand men on this mission. The two jäger companies were placed at the head of the advance, with Captain Carl August von Wreden’s 1st Jäger on the right of the road, and Ewald’s 2nd Jäger on the left. Ewald turned to his company and “informed each officer and corporal what they were to do during the march and exhorted the jägers to demonstrate their good conduct, since they would get their first test today.”

The jägers then began to fan out and advance, but, according to Ewald, “The area was heavily intersected by woods, hills, and fields enclosed by walls; hence it was impossible to see far around, and I lost sight of most of my company.”

Also on the move this morning was Sergeant John Smith (Lippitt’s Regiment, Nixon’s brigade). He recalled:

“I having not much business to do I went out of the camp with Sergeant Harvey and a lad to take a walk to get If I could something for myself as most of the others had done [in other words, he was looking for plunder]… we went over a hill about 2 miles from our camp and going down the hill I espied a number of Hessians in an orchard getting apples which we took for our own men but… one… on seeing us stepped behind some bushes… to wait [for] our coming [and] gave us some suspicion of their being enemies[.] We turned back and ran up the hill again for we had no arms with us and as soon as we got to the top of the hill we heard a volley of small arms beyond the orchard[.] An affray soon began”.

The affray was started by a much larger party of Americans –200 or so men – that Colonel John Glover described as “a scouting party, principally from my own regiment”.

Ewald recalled:

“We had marched only a few minutes when several shots rang out on our left. As I tried to gain a hill from which I could look around, our left wing suddenly came under fierce fire [from Glover’s men]. With the half of the platoon I had taken with me I rushed toward the sound of the firing, where I found a handful of my jägers engaged with several battalions of Americans. I could not retreat… and I could not advance with my few men, since I caught sight of a camp nearby which must have belonged to the enemy army.”

“I maneuvered as well as I could to cover both my flanks, which had formed into a circle lying an acre’s length apart under heavy fire. I discovered a house on a hill to the right toward which several jägers were crawling. Through their fire I gained some air on the right flank, but on my left I was completely hemmed in.”

Soon Colonel Carl von Donop came to his aid with a battalion of light infantry and two field pieces. Ewald wrote that their “bayonets and grapeshot provided the precious air by which I was saved. I got off with a loss of six dead and eleven wounded, including [Second] Lieutenant [Carl von] Rau, who was shot in the foot, and two taken prisoner.”

The Americans lost 1 man mortally wounded in Baldwin’s Regiment and six or eight others who were less severely wounded [see footnote].

Major-General Charles Lee wrote later with satisfaction:

“Glover, an admirable officer… fairly beat ‘em—a shooting match betwixt the riflers and Hessian chasseurs [jaegers] demonstrated our superiority at this time [when] the parties were equal in numbers, and we won the match”.

The sound of heavy firing brought the British general officers onto the field. Ewald noted that “[Lieutenant] General [Leopold Philip von] Heister, who seemed to be unfriendly, gave me a sharp reprimand. But [Lieutenant] General [William] Howe, who apparently noticed that the Hessian general must have said something unpleasant to me, expressed his satisfaction to me through one of his adjutants.”

The reconnaissance-in-force then continued forward. Ensign Henry Stirke (light infantry company, 10th Foot) saw “small parties” of the Americans “at a great distance, but [they] always retreated as we advanced.”

The British force did not attempt to cross the Bronx, and after several hours they returned to camp, having made no great discoveries.

Sergeant Smith meanwhile had hurried back to Mile Square. He was afraid that:

“I should come under blame for leaving the camps as it was against general orders to cross over the [Bronx] River without a pass from the general[.] The regiment was at their alarm post and I got into camp without being discovered by anybody there[.] About sundown the regiments turned into quarters again[.]”

Footnote: Ewald’s company consisted of approximately 125 men. Various claims were made about Ewald’s losses, These include 2 killed, 2 wounded, 2 missing (Carl Leopold Baurmeister); 4 killed, 3 wounded, 2 missing (historian Edward Lowell, citing a Hessian source); 4 killed, 9 wounded (Archibald Robertson); 6 killed, 11 wounded, 2 captured (Ewald); 9 killed and 2 captured (John Smith); 10 killed, 2 captured (Robert Harrison); 10 killed, 3 captured (Charles Lee); 12 killed, 3 captured (John Glover); 13 killed, 2 captured (Benjamin Trumbull).

William Heath claimed that the Americans had 200 men; Robert Harrison gave the number as 240; he also stated they were some of Edward Hand’s Pennsylvania riflemen. Benjamin Trumbull wrote that one American was mortally wounded (“an Indian fellow”), and six or eight were less severely wounded. Glover also admitted to one mortally wounded man, and said that he was in Baldwin’s Regiment. John Smith heard that “we had a rifleman killed and an Indian wounded in the action”.

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