Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Directions

At the beginning of this month, I wrapped up a series of daily posts on the battle of White Plains, and the events leading up to it. As much as I enjoyed working on that project, I'm glad to be back to a slower pace of blogging. In the upcoming weeks there were be scattered posts on the history of the Revolutionary War interwoven with posts on military miniatures.

Several of the history posts will be concerned once again with the White Plains campaign. Among other things, I plan on arguing that George Washington deserves more credit for his decision making during the White Plains campaign than he has received and that the battle of Pell's Point was an important event of the Revolutionary War -- but not for the reasons that authors say it was important.

As far as miniatures are concerned, my plan is to paint up some additional units that served in the southern campaign of the American Revolution. The first ones I’ll be painting are the Volunteers of Ireland (background, below) and the 63rd Regiment of Foot (foreground, below). The figures are primed and ready to go (click to enlarge).

To the best of my knowledge, no one makes 15mm-high Volunteers of Ireland soldiers. The ones shown here are modified American light infantry figures sold by Stone Mountain Miniatures. Hopefully, when painted, they'll come out looking something like John D's 25mm-high version of the regiment.

Having these two units painted will help give me some additional options for modeling battles in miniature. The Volunteers of Ireland fought at Camden and Hobkirk’s Hill. The 63rd Foot fought at Hobkirk’s Hill and Blackstock’s Plantation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mapping Pell's Point

Several weeks ago, one of the folks on RevList, expressed an interest to me in seeing Revolutionary War-era maps of the New York campaign combined with modern satellite imagery. I recently came up with a way to do this using nothing more sophisticated than Microsoft Excel and MS Paint. The results appear below.

The Revolutionary War map used for this comparison is from a circa 1776 Charles Blaskowitz map that shows the movements of the British army from Throg’s Neck, to the roads leading to White Plains. Below is a segment of his map showing the place where the battle of Pell’s Point was fought.

Below are a series of images that show the area today either alone or in combination with part of the Blaskowitz map. The modern maps and the Blaskowitz map don’t align perfectly, but on the whole the comparison shows that the Blaskowitz map was executed skillfully and that it does providea good guide as to the appearance of the area in 1776.

In the part of the Blaskowitz map shown below, the British can be seen landing at Pell's Point on the bottom of the map and marching inland along a road leading north (towards the top). The skirmish site is at upper right.

A note to readers: Most of the people who visit this blog use Microsoft Explorer as their web browser. My recommendation is to use Google Chrome – when you click on one image, it will bring up a slideshow of full-sized versions of all of the images in a given post. It’s a pretty cool effect. Please note, however, that if you have a slow connection, the images in the slideshow may not instantly load.

Below is a copy of the map I used in my first blog post on Pell's Point. This roughly shows where the British and American units were in relation to the modern terrain during the main phase of the fighting. The red lines correspond with roads present at the time of the battle.

Three American units are represented by blue circles. They are: 1 = Joseph Read’s 13th Continental Regiment, 2 = William Shepard’s 3rd Continental Regiment, and 3 = Loammi Baldwin’s 26th Continental Regiment. These units were commanded by Colonel John Glover.

Two British units are represented by white circles with red letters. They are 1 = the British light infantry, and 2 = the British grenadiers. Some British and Hessian units that were in the vicinity at the time are not marked on the map for lack of clear guidance from the source material. For example, the 1st Jager Company and possibly Colonel Carl von Donop’s brigade of Hessian grenadiers were somewhere in the wooded area between #1 and #2 (cf. the accounts by Archibald Robertson and Carl Leopold Baurmeister [list]).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 1, 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 November 1st: The Americans pulled back from White Plains; the British abandoned the pursuit of Washington’s army.

Previous entry: October 31st.

In the early morning hours, the last of the Americans in the entrenchments pulled back. Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull (5th Connecticut State Battalion) noted in his journal:

“This morning our guards come off and leave the lines in the centre of the town called White Plains, and to distress the enemy [they] burn all the barns of hay and grain and houses, where the inhabitants had stores of wheat and corn and also stacks and barracks of hay and grain.”

The British officers looked with surprise on the burning buildings and empty defensive works. When they rode forward they could see American forces encamped on a line of hills to the north, but the American army had been so reduced by sickness and other causes, that they thought this force was no more than a rear guard. Major Stephen Kemble wrote of this force, “[we] suppose them to be about 7,000 strong”.

The British concluded that the rest of Washington’s men had fled even deeper into the hills, which meant that their attack plans had gone to naught. However, as the British were not particularly eager to attack the American lines in the first place, there was undoubtedly some sense of relief.

Lieutenant-General William Howe opted not to attack this “rearguard”. He later explained that the Americans’ actions “plainly” indicated a “desire to avoid coming to action,” and added “I did not think the driving their rearguard further back an object of the least consequence.”

Instead, the British advanced and occupied the Americans’ former entrenchments. Ensign Henry Stirke (light infantry company, 10th Foot) wrote: “At half after 9 o’clock we got under arms, and pushed into the village of the White Plains, which the enemy had just abandoned, and the army advanced at the same time”.

This advance brought the armies within range of each others’ cannons. Major-General William Heath, on the left of the American army, wrote:

“In the morning, the British advanced, with a number of field-pieces, to the north of the road near late headquarters… and commenced a furious cannonade on General Heath’s division, which was nobly returned by Captain-Lieutenant Bryant and Lieutenant Jackson, of the artillery.”

During this cannonade, according to Heath, George Washington rode up to him and expressed concern over one of Heath’s regiments that was separated by a hollow from the rest of the division. “Take care that you do not lose them”, he warned. But the British did not attack this force. Instead, Heath wrote, the British guns withdrew from his front, “made a circuitous movement, and came down toward the American right.” As these guns moved into position, they were fired upon by some American heavy guns. Heath noted that “upon the discharge” from the American guns, the British crews “made off with their field-pieces as fast as their horses could draw them. A shot from the American cannon, at this place, took off the head of a Hessian artilleryman. They also left one of the artillery horses dead on the field.”

Sergeant John Smith (Lippitt’s Regiment, Lee’s division) witnessed the British movement towards the American right. He wrote:

“we saw the enemy advance down the hill towards us in three parties[,] one party coming towards the road the other [two] through a swamp[.] We sent some 25-pound shot to them that stopped some before they could get over the bridge to us and the others passed through the swamp to a hill opposite to us… we sent over some shot… that knocked down a light horse”. [see footnote]

British Major Stephen Kemble summarized the day’s action by writing: “[they] cannonaded us… the greatest part of the day; we lost 9 men [killed] by this business. Six of them Hessians.”

Isolated fatalities were noted by several British officers.

Ensign Henry Stirke wrote:

“We received a few straggling shot, which did no execution. The 15th regiment had one man killed, and another wounded, by the rebel cannon”.

Captain Francis Rawdon observed:

“We had some cannonading with their rear guard, by which my brother John (who is an excellent soldier in every respect) was very near killed. Two men who stood close to him were killed by a twelve-pounder, and a splinter of one of their skulls stuck in his thigh, but did not hurt him much.”

American losses were even fewer. Apparently one man in Levi Paulding’s New York militia regiment was killed, and two other New Yorkers were wounded. Their brigade commander (George Clinton) commented, “I have heard of no other injury done [to] us.”

Brigade-Major Benjamin Tallmadge characterized the American withdrawal from White Plains as something of a victory: He claimed that Howe was “baffled” by this maneuver, and as a result gave up the pursuit of Washington’s army. Thus, Washington’s army, brought perilously close in this campaign to capture or collapse, had survived to fight another day.

William Howe had a rather different perspective. Howe did not wish to place his own army at risk by chasing the Americans into the wild hills on the New York-New England border. He was sure, too, that if Washington did make a firm stand, it would only be on some set of steep and heavily fortified hills. Howe had had enough of this business. He felt he could now turn his back on Washington without losing face and proceed once again to wage war on his own terms. Howe’s preference was to capture Fort Washington and consolidate his hold on the New York City area. His developing plan also came to include sending expeditions into New Jersey, Rhode Island, and, if all went well, the American capitol at Philadelphia.

Heath noted that during the rest of this day, November 1st:

“The two armies lay looking at each other, and within long cannon-shot [range]. In the night time the British lighted up a vast number of fires, the weather growing pretty cold. These fires, some on the level ground, some at the foot of the hills, and at all distances to their brows… seemed to the eye to mix with the stars, and to be of different magnitudes. The American side, doubtless, exhibited to them a similar appearance.”

The bright orange flames licked the cold November sky, and another chapter of the Revolutionary War came to a close.

Footnote: Smith indicated that this event took place on Friday the 31st. Friday was November 1st. A comparison of Smith’s description of other events occurring at the time with the journals of other Americans suggests that he was right about it being Friday and wrong about it being the 31st.

Concluding Comment: The standoff at White Plains did not end on November 1st. For a few days the two armies glowered at each other, and during that time more men were killed in little brushes or perished from illness. The British left White Plains on November 5-6 and soon joined Knyphausen’s division near Manhattan. On November 16th, Howe captured Fort Washington and completed the conquest of Manhattan.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31, 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 31st: The British assaults on White Plains and Fort Washington were postponed by rain; Washington was alarmed by the state of his army; Washington ordered the troops to a stronger post.

Previous entry: October 30th; next: November 1st.

A downpour struck White Plains in the early morning hours. The rain increased Lieutenant-General William Howe’s unease, but he did not alter his plans to attack the American army at dawn.

George Washington was expecting an attack, and he had the Americans lie on their arms in the fortifications at White Plains. Brigadier-General George Clinton (Heath’s division) wrote:

“Our lines were manned all night… and a most horrid night it was to lie in cold trenches. Uncovered as we are, drawn on fatigue, making redoubts, fleches, abatis and lines… I fear [these things] will ultimately destroy our army without fighting. This I am sure of, that I am likely to lose more in my brigade by sickness occasioned by extra fatigue and want of covering, than in the course of an active campaign is ordinarily lost in the most severe actions”.

At 5 AM, the British army was in motion. A powerful blow was to be made on the left, where Mirbach’s and Lossberg’s Hessian brigades, the 4th British brigade, the Brigade of Guards, the 2nd and 3rd light infantry battalions, and the 5th and 49th regiments of foot assembled for battle. These forces were entrusted to Lieutenant-General Leopold Philip von Heister who apparently had replaced Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton as Howe’s favored subordinate.

Clinton commanded the center, and Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis the right. The forces in this sector included the 1st Light Infantry Battalion, the 1st British brigade, the Hessian grenadiers, the British Reserve, and the 28th, 35th, 44th, 64th, and 71st regiments of foot.

As the troops formed up and moved into place, they looked upon the forbidding American lines. The British redcoats and Hessian bluecoats were cold, wet, and no doubt fearful of what was to follow.

Then, around 7 AM, the men were told that the attack was cancelled, and they marched back to camp.

Hessian Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister later wrote: “a heavy rain, fortunately perhaps for the army, frustrated all our plans. The enemy, well advised of everything[,] were prepared and ready to repulse us, sleeping on their arms that night.” Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton noted that the rain “much swelled the river,” and Charles Stedman claimed that the rain “made the ground so slippery that it was thought it could not be possible to mount the face of the hill”.

The cancellation was only temporary. Headquarters ordered that “the army [is] to be in readiness to move upon the shortest notice.” Commissary Charles Stedman claimed that “the weather proved fine about noon, but the commander in chief did not think proper to put his former intentions in execution.” Instead, Howe seemingly preferred to wait until early the next morning when poor visibility would partially mask the attack.

Baurmeister wondered why Howe did not take other steps to hide his intentions:

“Much might have been done on our left wing to mislead them [i.e., the Americans]. For example, we might have built some bridges [over the Bronx] and constructed roads to them—but nothing was done.”

Although the British did not make a major feint, Washington was anxious for their flanks. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Harrison (Washington’s secretary) wrote:

“The enemy are throwing up some lines and redoubts in our front, with a view of cannonading as soon as they are ready, and at the same time [they] are extending their wings further by our right and left. It is supposed that one of their objects is to advance a part of their troops, and seize… the bridge over Croton River, that the communication may be cut off with the upper country” [i.e., upstate New York].

Washington dispatched Brigadier-General Rezin Beall to secure this crossing with several regiments of Maryland militia.

Washington was unable to detach many men because his army was rapidly losing strength. Harrison noted:

“Our army is decreasing fast: several gentlemen who have come to camp within a few days have observed large numbers of militia returning home on the different roads”.

General orders from American headquarters on this date admonished the troops for being away from the fortifications:

“The General, in a ride he took yesterday, to reconnoitre the grounds about this [place], was surprised and shocked to find both officers and soldiers straggling all over the country, under one idle pretence or other, when they cannot tell the hour or minute the camp may be attacked, and their services indispensably necessary. He once more positively orders that neither officer [n]or soldier shall stir out of camp without leave… The provost marshal is to take up all stragglers; and it is enjoined upon all officers to seize every man who fires his gun without leave, and to have him tied up immediately and receive twenty lashes.”

Once again, there were small clashes between the armies.

Lieutenant Colonel William Henshaw (Moses Little’s 12th Continental Regiment, Nixon’s brigade) was stationed on the American right where the armies lay especially close together. He wrote:

“The enemy are now encamped within gunshot of us, so that there is a continual firing of small arms…. We daily expect an engagement with the enemy.”

Brigadier-General George Clinton noted that on this date one Captain Van Wyck was killed while commanding a company of rangers.

“He went out in the morning, with about thirty men, fell in with about one hundred of the enemy, and at once, not far distant from their lines, charged them with spirit, gave them a brisk fire, but unfortunately when loading his piece the second time, was shot in the head and fell dead. His lieutenant shot down the man who killed his captain. The enemy fled. Our party brought off their captain [i.e., Van Wyck]… He was a good man and valiant officer.”

During the day, a British deserter provided Washington with a detailed description of the planned British attack. Washington decided that the new position his men had begun to occupy on the night of October 28-29 was a better place to meet this attack. He ordered the troops to withdraw to the new position during the night.

This image uses a White Plains map of 1891 to illustrate the positions held by Washington and Howe at White Plains. The road network is substantially more developed at this time than it was in 1776; nevertheless, the area was still predominately rural (unlike today). The American positions were chiefly within the blue lines, and the British positions were chiefly within the red lines.

Washington’s initial position was on high ground north just north of the village of White Plains, with his flanks bounded by the Bronx River and St. Mary’s Lake. Part of the British army crossed the Bronx River on October 28, and remained on the high ground west of the river in the days that followed. These forces were opposite the American right, but to attack this flank they had to re-cross the Bronx River.

Washington’s initial position was a good one, but his army was more secure in the position they occupied on the night of October 31-November 1 (the area at the top of the map).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30, 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 30th: The American medical service cannot cope with the sick; William Howe prepared to attack upper Manhattan and White Plains; Henry Clinton balked at Howe’s plans.

Previous entry: October 29th; next: October 31st.

The American army at White Plains grimly held on to their redoubts and trenches. The men continued to suffer from a lack of food, medicine, proper clothing, and all other materials necessary for an army’s survival.

The Americans had established a general hospital in a church in the town of North Castle, 9 miles to the northeast, but it was poorly staffed due to a shortage of physicians.

The head of the American medical service (Doctor John Morgan) later wrote:

“I cannot but feel for the hospital surgeons [at North Castle], who… were suddenly overwhelmed with numbers of sick sent to them, as well as the wounded … at a time when an engagement was considered as inevitable, there were few at hand to give aid… the wounded, who were conveyed to the hospitals, naturally demanded the attention of the whole body of surgeons, to administer aid to them.”

The sick, it seems, were largely left to the informal care of their comrades.

Private Solomon Nash (Knox’s Artillery Regiment) wrote, “Today it being rainy[,] Luke was taking not well[, and] I still being not well… we both set out for North Castle hospital… and we got within 4 miles of the hospital and put up for this night.” They slept in the woods and then completed the arduous journey, unaided, in the morning.

Doctor John Pine, who had recently joined Washington’s army, found that it was impossible to take care of the sick men from his native Maryland. He wrote that on the 29th:

“I waited on Doctor Morgan, Director-General of the hospitals here, for medicines, etc. He told me he had nothing to say to the Maryland troops, and that it was not his business to supply the regimental surgeons with medicines, and that it must have been a mistake [for Maryland]… to send their surgeons here without them and think they were to be supplied here.”

Dr. Pine then sought out Colonel William Smallwood of the Maryland Battalion, who was 15 miles away and recuperating from two wounds (one in the arm, one in the hip) he received during the fighting on Chatterton’s Hill. Smallwood wrote a letter for the doctor which gave Pine a little leverage.

When Dr. Pine sought out Dr. Morgan again, he was told that “I might have some few things, if I could go to New-York for them”.

Pine was aghast:

“I told him by the time I went there and got back, that… most of the [sick] Maryland troops would be expired. He told me he could not help it, and that medicines were very hard to be got.”

After the battle of White Plains, Lieutenant-General William Howe deferred attacking the American army again partially because he did not like the strength of the American position and partially because he decided to wait for reinforcements. Once those reinforcements arrived, he planned on attacking Washington’s army. At the same time, he wanted Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen to attack the American forces in upper Manhattan.

According to Hessian Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, Knyphausen’s preparations went smoothly:

“[The Americans had] demolished the bridge at Kings Bridge and those called Dyckman’s bridge and Williams’ bridge. Lieutenant General von Knyphausen had them repaired and sent the Grenadier Battalion Köhler and Wutginau’s and Stern’s [i.e., von Stein’s] regiments across the river to encamp at places where they would be safe from the fire of the rebels’ batteries. The rest of his corps encamped behind Fort Independence”.

The Kingsbridge area, circa 1776 (click to enlarge). On October 30th, Knyphausen occupied Fort Independence and crossed some men into upper Manhattan.

Howe’s reinforcements reached him late in the day. Among these troops was the 46th Regiment of Foot. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Enoch Markham, later wrote:

“On the 30th of October we embarked at Hellgate, and after a passage of about thirty miles by water in flat-bottomed boats, we landed at New Rochelle, and immediately marched to join General Howe’s army at the White Plains.” [see footnote]

After the reinforcements arrived, Howe could see no cause for further delay. He had, it seems, accepted that a full-scale attack on the American works was necessary and inevitable. That night (10pm) he issued orders for the troops to be under arms at 5 am. In the ensuing attack, Lieutenant-General Leopold Philip von Heister would command the left division of the army, Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton the center, and Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis the right.

In the past, Howe typically consulted with Clinton about any major moves, but the campaign severely strained their relationship. Howe made his plans without Clinton’s input, and Clinton took the omission badly. Clinton later complained that “I received [the] orders late at night”, and protested that he was not ready to attack. In fact, Clinton had convinced himself there would be no further attacks on the American army, because he had previously argued against it. He then reminded Howe of his objections:

“I took the liberty of intimating to the Commander in Chief that it might prove rather hazardous to make any attack from center or right until we saw what would be the effect of one from the left… and that even then they [i.e., the attacks] ought to be pressed with caution, as the enemy had a very strong position in the gorges of the mountains behind them.”

Howe was already aware of these concerns and he ignored Clinton’s protests.

Footnote: Captain William Bamford (40th Foot) recorded in his journal that these reinforcements embarked on the 29th.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29, 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 29th: The Americans strengthened their position at White Plains while the armies skirmished; Knyphausen advanced to Kingsbridge, and Howe vacillated.

Previous entry: Evening of October 28; next: October 30th.

During the night, the American army at White Plains began moving their camps to a line of hills to the north. Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull (5th Connecticut State Battalion, Spencer’s division) wrote, “at 2 o’clock [AM] the troops in General Spencer’s division had orders to strike their tents and carry them out about one mile and an half by hand and then return to the lines [i.e., the fortifications at White Plains].” The troops then made the roundtrip again, this time carrying their camp kettles and other cooking utensils. It was hard work for the exhausted men. Trumbull wrote that many “had no sleep at all” “though they had been engaged almost all day [yesterday] with the enemy and had been obliged to wade through a river [the Bronx] and were very wet”. “I was afraid I should be sick for I had been in the river almost all over, and could not change [clothes]… [and] was much fatigued with the action… but I am today well and vigorous”. Trumbull praised God for seeing him safely through the battle, and wrote that this protection “lay me under new obligations to live wholly to God and to seek his honor and glory in the little time I have to live in the world”.

Joseph Plumb Martin, who was also in the 5th Connecticut, was not so fortunate. He recalled:

“During the night we remained in our new made trenches, the ground of which was in many parts springy; in that part where I happened to be stationed, the water, before morning, was nearly over [our] shoes, which caused many of us to take violent colds… I was one who felt the effects of it, and was… sent back to the baggage to get well again, if I could, for it was left to my own exertions to do it, and no other assistance was afforded me. I was not alone in my misery; there were a number in the same circumstances. When I arrived at the baggage, which was not more than a mile or two, I had the canopy of heaven for my hospital, and the ground for my hammock. I found a spot where the dry leaves had collected between the knolls; I made up a bed of these, and nestled in it, having no other friend present but the sun to smile upon me. I had nothing to eat or drink, not even water, and was unable to go after any myself, for I was sick indeed. In the evening, one of my messmates found me out, and soon after brought me some boiled hog’s flesh (it was not pork) and turnips, without either bread or salt. I could not eat it, but I felt obliged to him notwithstanding; he did all he could do—he gave me the best he had to give, and had to steal that, poor fellow;--necessity drove him to do it to satisfy the cravings of his own hunger, as well as to assist a fellow sufferer.”

Beginning in the morning and continuing throughout the day, the two armies skirmished.

For Captain Peter Kimball (Stickney’s New Hampshire militia regiment), it was a tense day:

“we lay on our arms. The enemy appeared all round on every hill[,] the riflemen [were] firing on their guards. One of the riflemen [was] killed this day and at night our guard was alarmed. Another fired and killed Captain Buntin.”

Matters were no easier for the British light infantry across the way. Ensign Henry Stirke (light infantry company, 10th Foot) noted:

“I had a very troublesome picket, at the entrance of the village[;] at daylight my sentries were fired on which continued by popping shots all day. I had one man wounded”.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General William Howe had an enormously difficult decision to make. He had at last caught up with Washington’s army, but he loathed sending his troops against the Americans’ entrenchments. Although he was sure he could carry these works, he believed the assault would lead to the death of many of his men and produce little strategic gain.

The obvious alternative was to force the Americans from their trenches by threatening their flank. He later stated that this was his preference:

“I do not hesitate to confess, that if I could by any manoeuvre remove an enemy from a very advantageous position, without hazarding the consequences of an attack, where the point to be carried was not adequate to the loss of men to be expected… I should certainly adopt that cautionary conduct, in the hopes of meeting my adversary upon more equal terms.”

But on this occasion, Howe was unable to find a low-risk way of turning the Americans’ flank. Thus Howe was left with the unpalatable choices of either making a bloody frontal assault, or retreating.

Howe vacillated. His official excuse for not attacking was that the situation at White Plains had changed and that he now needed more men. He later explained:

“The enemy drew back their encampment on the night of the 28th, and observing their lines next morning much strengthened by additional works, the designed attack upon them was deferred, and the 4th brigade, left with Lord Percy, with two battalions of the 6th brigade were ordered to join the army.” [see footnote]

Curiously, when pressed by Parliament several years later to explain his conduct at White Plains, Howe mysteriously claimed that “I have political reasons, and no other, for declining to explain why that assault was not made”.

To the west, Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen continued his operation against upper Manhattan. First he detached Major General Martin Conrad Schmidt with regiments von Wissenbach and von Huyne to hold Valentine’s Hill. Then he proceeded with grenadiere battalion Köhler and regiments Wutginau, von Stein, and Buenau to Kingsbridge.

Footnote: The 4th brigade consisted of the 17th, 40th, 46th, and 55th regiments of foot. The two regiments drawn from the 6th brigade were the 44th and 64th regiments of foot. The 6th brigade had been encamped near Mamaroneck since October 25th.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28, 1776 (Part 4)

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.

This is the fourth of four posts chronicling the events of October 28.

Synopsis for the evening of October 28th: The battle of White Plains came to an end; Washington prepared for the next British move; Knyphausen occupied Mile Square.

Previous entry: Afternoon of October 28; next: October 29th.

The battle of White Plains gradually petered out after the British and Hessian infantry broke the American line on Chatterton’s Hill.

Joseph Plumb Martin (5th Connecticut State Battalion) recalled that after his regiment was driven from Chatterton’s Hill, “We fell back a little distance and made a stand” and at the same time “detached parties [were] engaging [the enemy] in almost every direction. We did not come in contact with the enemy again that day, and just at night we fell back to our encampment.”

The “detached parties” probably included some groups of Continentals on the northern end of Chatterton’s Hill. Colonel John Haslet of the Delaware Regiment recalled:

“The left of the regiment took post behind a fence on the top of the hill with most of the officers, and twice repulsed the light troops and [light] horse of the enemy; but seeing ourselves deserted on all hands, and the continued column of the enemy advancing, we also retired.”

Captain William Hull of the Webb’s 19th Continental Regiment stated that his command also held out for awhile:

“Colonel Webb’s regiment maintained the conflict for a time, after the other part of the brigade had abandoned the field, and it had the honour to receive the particular thanks of Washington for its bravery and orderly retreat.”

One observer (Sergeant John Smith of Lippitt’s Regiment) wrote, “this battle lasted from 9 in the morning till night tho the hottest of the battle… was but about 20 or 30 minutes”.

During this prolonged phase of the fighting, Washington sent some reinforcements towards Chatterton’s Hill, including Brigadier-General Rezin Beall’s brigade of Maryland militia (the Maryland “flying camp”) and Sargent’s 16th Continental Regiment. However, as Jacob Francis of Sargent’s Regiment noted, before these troops could cross the Bronx, “the British got possession of the hill, and we retreated back to the camp.”

Afterwards, the British made no further attacks. According to Captain Johann von Ewald (2nd Jäger), “Since the soldiers had climbed over nothing but hills, cliffs, and stone walls the whole day, constantly dragging their guns over all obstacles, it was impossible to ask anything more from them.”

The British lost around 230 men during the battle: Most of these losses occurred in the 28th Foot (67 men), 35th Foot (about 60 men), 49th Foot (28 men), and Regiment von Lossberg (about 46 men). The Americans lost more than 200 men [see Footnote 1], but the exact total is not known. Among the regiments that had considerable losses were the Maryland Battalion (44 men), the 3rd New York Regiment (34 men) and the Delaware Regiment (32 men).

During the evening, the British discovered that Chatterton’s Hill was of dubious value. Charles Stedman noted: “The possession of that hill… [did] not enable the royalists to annoy their camp, for it rose so gradually from the Bronx that its crest was not within random cannon shot”. In other words, the British could hit the main American defensive works with their cannon, but the range was too great for the fire to be accurate or destructive.

Stedman couldn’t understand why the Americans had detached a part of their army to defend Chatterton’s Hill. He wrote: “The reason of their occupying” the hill “is inexplicable… It seems to have been a blunder of General Washington’s to have placed so considerable a corps entirely out of the capacity of supporting the rest of the army”.

Stedman believed that if the British had attacked the center of the American line instead (as he wanted), the men on Chatterton’s Hill would have had a hard time aiding in the defense. [see Footnote 2]

The Americans kept close watch on the British, not knowing when another attack might come.

Jacob Francis (Sargent’s Regiment) recalled, “I stood sentinel that night in a thicket between the American camp and the hill, so near… that I could hear the Hessians”.

Joseph Plumb Martin observed that:

“The enemy had several pieces of field artillery upon this hill [Chatterton’s], and, as might be expected, entertained us with their music all the evening. We entrenched ourselves where we now lay, expecting another attack. But the British were very civil, and indeed they generally were, after they had received a check from Brother Jonathan, for any of their rude actions”.

Meanwhile, Washington decided that the American army would be in a stronger position if it occupied the hills further north (agreeing with the assessment Major-General Charles Lee made that morning). Therefore, some of the troops were ordered to begin moving their camps to the new position.

Washington expected that the British would either launch a major assault against his defensive works or move to threaten his flank. To shore up his right flank, he sent William Alexander’s brigade (Spencer’s division) to occupy high ground between White Plains and the Hudson River.

Alexander’s brigade moved quickly, and without their baggage. It was a hard night for men already exhausted by the day’s fighting. Lieutenant-Colonel Gunning Bedford of the Delaware Regiment had been shot in the arm on Chatterton’s Hill (it was a flesh wound). He wrote that he and his men spent the night “without a tent or anything but the ground to lay on, and not a blanket to cover us”. Similarly, Lieutenant Enoch Anderson of the Delaware Regiment remembered that “This night we lay in the woods without tents or blankets. It was cold and we made a fire in the woods,--turned our feet to the fire and slept comfortably, although it snowed in the night.”

Situation of the armies on October 28th (click to enlarge). While Howe fought Washington at White Plains (11), Knyphausen advanced on the Mile Square (9) / Valentine's Hill area.

Off to the west, Colonel John Lasher had a detachment of men guarding the landward approaches to Manhattan. After the British raided Mile Square he was ordered to abandon his position and join the American army at White Plains. On this date he burned the American barracks at Kingsbridge and set out on a wide arch that would take his men north and east towards White Plains, and around the British army.

The same day, Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, occupied Valentine’s Hill with his division of Hessians. These troops missed cutting off Lasher’s command by a matter of hours. However, by seizing Valentine’s Hill they did cut off the landward retreat of the American forces garrisoning upper Manhattan.

Footnote 1: I’ve estimated a greater American number of casualties than are stated by most authors. If one simply totals up all the numbers available in Peter Force’s American Archives, the total is 53 killed, 96 wounded, and 24 missing (or 175 in total). The relatively high proportion of killed to wounded is at least partially due to the fact that two regiments reported only the former total, not the latter. After estimating, through extrapolation, the number wounded in these regiments, the total American loss becomes about 197.

Doctor John Pine of Maryland wrote after the battle, “the number of killed and wounded, as the report is in the camp, amounts only to about 90, but from the wounded I saw myself in the hospital, and adjacent houses, there must at least be an hundred and twenty or thirty wounded[,] the number of killed I don’t know.”

Documents show that there were several casualties between the Pennsylvania State troops and New Hampshire militia not listed in Force. Brooks’ and Moseley’s Massachusetts militia regiments likely suffered a fair number of casualties on Chatterton’s Hill, but no return exists of their losses. A conservative estimate of losses in these units, added to the losses in the other units, raises the American total to close to the reported British total.

Footnote 2: To the best of my knowledge, Washington did not describe why he chose to defend Chatterton’s Hill. Tallmadge claimed he alerted Washington to the presence of American militia on Chatterton’s Hill and the advance of British troops in their direction. Afterwards, Washington directed several units to the hill, and ordered a trusted officer (John Haslet) to take command of the militia. Perhaps Washington intended simply to support troops (militia) that were well-positioned to impede the British attack. In other words, the defense of Chatterton’s Hill may have been another manifestation of Washington’s general strategy of harassing the British at every opportunity (consider how Washington used his forces on the 21st, the 26th, and the morning of the 28th). The Staten Island raid, the American defense of Pell’s Point and the engagement near East Chester can be understood in these terms as well.