Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 26, 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 26th: The British raided Mile Square.

Previous entry: October 25th; next: October 27th.

The Americans felt that they had bested the British by reaching White Plains before the British and fortifying the village, but apprehension remained over the looming showdown with the British army.

Colonel Joseph Reed (Washington’s adjutant general) wrote:

“We have taken post here in such a manner, that we hope they will not be able to execute their plan of surrounding us, and cutting off our communication. I can only conjecture that finding themselves baffled in this, they are now advancing to engage us. The business of this campaign, and possibly the next[,] may probably be determined this week.”

Adjutant Samuel Shaw (Knox’s Artillery Regiment) wrote:

“We shall remain at this place till we have a brush with the enemy. They are within three miles of us. Their movements have been such as to occasion us a great deal of trouble, and it is happy for us that they did not effect our ruin... In several skirmishes with the enemy, we have had constantly the better; so that our troops are in good spirits, and impatiently desire an action. Something decisive must soon be done, as cold weather approaches and we want winter-quarters.”

According to Lieutenant Tench Tilghman (aide to George Washington), When Major-General Charles Lee pulled out of Mile Square on the 25th, “he was obliged to leave [behind] eighty or ninety barrels of provisions… for want of wagons.”

A Loyalist informed Hessian Captain Johann von Ewald that the Americans' supplies “could be approached without discovery.”

Ewald was willing to raid this post with his jaegers, but Brigadier-General William Erskine decided a larger force was needed for this operation, and Erskine placed himself at its head. According to Ewald:

“General Erskine arrived at my post with a hundred dragoons from the 17th Regiment and the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry. He ordered me to march with sixty jägers and form the advanced guard, which was to be reinforced with one officer and twenty dragoons.” [see Footnote 1]

At this time, Westchester County, between Kingsbridge and White Plains, was defended by few American troops. Close to Kingsbridge, Colonel John Lasher of New York had 400 men detached from Major-General William Heath’s division (specifically, from two brigades of New York militia and from William Prescott’s 7th Continental Regiment). Lasher’s chief responsibility was to defend Fort Independence near Kingsbridge, but he also had men patrolling the roads to the north and east. It was a weak force, and Lasher lamented that “many of the detachments have not ten rounds a man”.

At Mile Square, Lee had left behind some troops to guard over the supplies that could not be moved. According to Sergeant John Smith (Lippitt’s Regiment), this included “a guard of about 30 men… under the command of Lieutenant [Abraham] Turtelow”.

When the British advanced on Mile Square, they first encountered one of Lasher’s detachments. Ewald described it as “an enemy patrol of riflemen which gave fire and ran back.” He noted that “Several dragoons gave chase, but could not overtake any of them.”

The British expedition continued on until they came to the American depot. The British then swiftly attacked.

Ewald recalled:

“The jägers deployed, supported by the light infantry, with the dragoons following. The enemy guard drew up behind the stone walls which surrounded the plantation and received us with a lively fire. I quickly separated the jägers into four to five parts to surround the enemy and advanced under steady fire from wall to wall. The light infantry likewise divided into three to four parts and attacked the guard with the bayonet. Nearly everyone was struck down and only a few officers and men were taken prisoner.”

Archibald Robertson (Royal Engineers), who was also present, wrote that “the rebels had a guard of 1 captain and 25 men who ran… The dragoons pursued, killed the officer and 2 others and took 16 or 18 prisoners.”

Lieutenant Turtelow of Lippitt’s Regiment escaped “from the light horse” but he reported (in the words of John Smith) that the British “took the stores… and killed the doctor and some of the men belonging to the hospital”. [see Footnote 2]

Afterwards, according to Hessian Major Carl-Leopold Baurmeister, “We dispensed the wine and rum we could not take with us in bottles and destroyed the flour magazine… We also found the two jagers who had been missing since the attack of the 23rd.”

Ewald summarized how the successful raid concluded:

“Several enemy patrols which ran into our outpost withdrew quickly after a few shots. After midnight we withdrew, the light infantry covering the rear, and at daybreak of the 27th we arrived back at the army. I had the honor to receive a compliment from the commanding general.”

Footnote 1. In addition to the above, Baurmesiter stated that Regiment von Rall was also sent on this expedition. Archibald Robertson wrote that “1 Battalion of Hessians” was present, but didn’t name the unit.

Footnote 2. A return for Daniel Hitchcock’s 11th Continental Regiment (Nixon’s brigade, Lee’s division) stated that 8 men were captured at Mile Square on this date. My guess is that these men were either left behind to help guard the baggage, or had been left at the hospital.

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