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.