Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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north to south, and several skirmishes
ensued between the outposts. The great
desire of the Americans to get hold of
that slippery rogue, Colonel Rogers, was
very nearly being gratified. Howe, when
encamped beyond New Rochelle, ordered
Rogers with his Queen s Rangers to take
possession of Mamaroneck, and there es
tablish an outpost. Lord Stirling, who
had now rejoined the army (having been
lately exchanged), heard of the where
abouts of Rogers, and determined, if pos
sible, to entrap him. A detachment of
Colonel Haslet s " Delawares and Mary-
landers" were selected for the purpose,
and the night was chosen, in or
der that darkness might increase
the chances of a successful surprise. Ev
erything was conducted with great cau
tion, and the Americans succeeded in
coming upon the "Rangers" and taking
them unawares. The guard and an offi
cer were put to the sword, thirty-six were
taken prisoners, and a pair of colors, sixty
stand of arms, and a supply of clothing
and provisions, captured. Rogers, how
ever, succeeded in making his escape,
having skulked off in the dark.

These skirmishes became quite fre
quent, and the spirit with which the
Americans conducted them forced Howe
to extreme vigilance, and checked the
confidence and rapidity of his move
ments. Washington thus, together with
Howe s delay in landing., was enabled to


[PART n.

outflank him. The whole movement of
the Americans was well conducted. By
keeping the Bronx river on his right, and
presenting a constant front of well-pro
tected posts to the enemy, Washington
was enabled to remove his stores and bag
gage, and rapidly to extend his line so
far into the country, as to defeat the en
emy s intention of getting in his rear and
hemming him in.

At White Plains, where Washington
had proceeded with the advanced divis
ion, he chose and fortified his position in
such a manner as to afford a cover for
his whole army. He defended the front
of his camp, which was situated on high
ground, by a double line of intrench-
ments. The right wing, as well as part
of the rear, was protected by a bend of
the river Bronx, while the left was se
cured by a deep lake. As the British
continued to advance, and after Wash
ington had succeeded in bringing up all
his baggage and stores, he ordered the
detached posts to be abandoned, and with
drew all his army, with the exception of
the garrison at Fort Washington, within
his fortified camp at White Plains.

Lee, of course, came in with his divis
ion, and none was more conspicuous than
he, looked up to as he was by all for his
supposed military skill, and made not the
less remarkable by his whims and oddi
ties. He lodged in a small house near
the road by which General Washington
and his officers frequently passed when
out reconnoitring. On returning, they
would occasionally stop and take a din
ner with Lee not, perhaps, so much on
account of the good fare of the house, as



for the amusing characteristics of the host.
Lee, however, affected to be annoyed by
these frequent visits, and said one day to
his aids: "You must look me out anoth
er place, for I shall have Washington and
all his puppies continually calling upon
me, and they will eat me up !" The next
morning, seeing Washington, surrounded
by a suite of officers, coming up the road,
the eccentric Lee, expecting another vis
it, ordered his servant to chalk upon the
door of his house, " No victuals dressed
here to-day." When the cavalcade of
the chief passed by and read the obvious
hint, they spurred on their horses, and
laughingly returned to dine that day at
their own quarters.

Lee, notwithstanding, was one of the
most frequent companions of Washington
on these reconnoitring expeditions, and,
with no modest reserve, was always of
his opinions very free in criticising the dis
position of the army. Washington had
a deservedly great opinion of Lee s mili

tary talents, and always listened to his
suggestions with marked attention. On
one occasion, the two rode out together,
in company with some officers, when Lee
objected to the ground occupied by the
army, and, pointing to some heights in
the distance, said, " Yonder is the ground
we ought to occupy." "Let us, then,
go and view it," answered Washington.
He had, however, hardly turned his steed
in that direction, when a light-horseman
rode up in haste, and quickly exclaimed,
"The British are in the camp, sir!"
" Then, gentlemen, we have now other
business than reconnoitring," said Wash
ington ; and he galloped with all speed
back to the camp, followed by his com
panions. On reaching his headquarters,
he was informed that the advance-guards
had been driven in, and that the enemy
were advancing. Washington then dis
missed his officers, saying, " Gentlemen,
you will repair to your respective posts,
and do the best you can." :S:


Washington takes a Final Survey. The Battle of White Plains. "A Brilliant but Formidable Sight." A Sudden
Change in Howe s Tactics. The Struggle. The British twice driven back. Young Alexander Hamilton secures his
Fieldpieces. The End. The Loss. The " Terrible Horse." The Sufferings and Hardships of the American Troops.
Contempt of the British. Hard Work with Spade and Pick. A Night of Expectations. An Incident. Washington
retires with his Whole Army. Howe outmanoeuvred. Evacuation of White Plains. Burning of the Church. The
Denunciation of the Act by Washington.


THOUGH the intelligence of the
advance of the enemy came some
what suddenly to Washington and his re
connoitring-party, the army had already


been posted in order of battle, and was
not unprepared to meet the threatened
attack. Washington, however, rode along

* Heath s Memoirs, p. 77.




the lines to take a final survey, to en
courage his men, and make such changes
in the disposition of his troops as the cir
cumstances of the moment might suggest.
On the right, within a short distance of
the camp, there was a height called Chat-
terton s hill. This was an advantageous
position, as it commanded the right wing,
which, however, was somewhat protected
by the river Bronx, which enclosed by its
windings that part of the camp within an
elbow. Some militia had already been
posted upon the hill ; but Washington
now sent Colonel Haslet, with his spirit
ed Delawares and Marylanders, and two
pieces of artillery under Captain Alexan
der Hamilton, to reinforce the position,
while General M Dougall was ordered to
take the command of the whole.

The enemy now showed them
selves, advancing in great force
along the acclivities of the heights upon
which they had been encamped. They
came on in two columns, their right un
der the command of Sir Henry Clinton,
and their left under the Hessian De Heis-
ter. It was a fine October noon, and the
arms and gay accoutrements of the well-
appointed army glistening in the mid-day
sun, appeared to the eyes of the Ameri
cans "a brilliant but a formidable sight."
The solid British columns moved stead
ily on, bearing directly for Washington s
front, apparently with the view of driving
everything before them by main strength.
As they approach the village of White
Plains, and toward the American breast
works, there is a sudden pause in the
march, as if momentarily hesitating in
their purpose. The general officers ride

Oct. 28.

up and gather together in the middle of
a wheatfield, and hold council. Soon the
result is apparent: Howe changes his pur
pose. His right and centre are still mo
tionless., but there is a great stir on his
left. The artillery is rapidly drawn into
position and pointed toward Chatterton
hill, on Washington s right ; and working-
parties hurry forward to the Bronx river,
followed by a large detachment of Brit
ish and Hessian troops, commanded by
General Leslie. At the same moment, a
Hessian brigade, under Colonel Rahl, falls
back to some distance from the left wing,
and covers the Bronx below.

General Leslie, under the cover of the
artillery, which keeps up a constant and
heavy fire, passes over with his whole de
tachment,and, leaving his cavalry to skirt
the base, pushes directly up the hill with
his body of grenadiers and lightrinfantry.
His troops are th nned by the two field
pieces under the skilful handling of the
young Hamilton, and severely galled by
the musketry of the Marylanders. Rahl
has in the meantime crossed the river be
low, and is ascending the hill toward the
right flank of the Americans. The two
detachments now form a junction and
throng up the heights together, filling
every ravine and covering every acclivi
ty with their numbers.

The American militia soon disposed of
themselves. A shot from the enemy s
artillery at the beginning of the engage
ment had carried away one man s thigh,
and so frightened the others, that Gener
al M Dougall had great difficulty in keep
ing them from running away. He finally
posted them,however, behind some stone-




walls, and had got them in a fair way of
doing some service, when the sight of
about two hundred and fifty British light-
horse, dashing about the base of the hill,
so alarmed them, that they at once took
to their heels !

The combined force of Leslie and Rahl
did not gain the summit of the hill with
out a hard fight. M Dougall, by the cow
ardice of the militia, had been left with
only six hundred men. but these were
the brave troops of Haslet, Smallwood,
andRitzema,and they clung to the ground
with such resolution, and resisted the en
emy so spiritedly, that the British were
twice driven back, and did not finally win
the position until after a hard struggle,
wdiich lasted for nearly an hour. Gen
eral M Dougall brought off the remnant
of his men in good order, who disputed
every inch of ground with the enemy, as
the latter pursued them down the hill,
until they were met by General Putnam
and a detachment of troops to cover their
retreat to the camp. Young Hamilton
succeeded in securing his two effective
fieldpieces, and nothing was left behind
but the bare breastworks upon the hill.
Even the wounded were carefully carried
off the field. The loss on both sides was
about equal, amounting to some three
hundred each in killed, wounded, and ta
ken prisoners.

The British, in possession of Chatter-
ton hill, busied themselves in strengthen
ing the position by additional intrench-
ments and breastworks. General Howe
contented himself for the rest of the day
with the success of the morning, and tow
ard evening merely moved his right wing

closer to the American camp, so that his
whole front presented a semicircle. The
British troops, resting on their arms du
ring the night, waited for further actio
until the coming of the next day.

The American militiamen, who had
been so frightened by the sight of the
English cavalry, gradually in scattered
groups found their way back to the lines
from the neighboring hills to which they
had fled. The undisciplined provincial
troops seem to have had as great a dread
of a horse with a trooper on his back as
the ancient Mexicans when they beheld
the mounted warriors of Cortez. Wash
ington, perceiving that this absurd fear
of cavalry was creating a great deal of
mischief, found it necessary to issue an
order, in which he says : " Observing that
the army seems unacquainted with the
enemy s horse, and that when any par
ties meet with them they do not oppose
them with the same alacrity which they
show in other cases, thinks it necessary
to inform the officers and soldiers that,
in such a broken country, full of stone
walls, no enemy is more to be despised,
as they can not leave the road." Wash
ington then tells his militiamen that they
can at any time attack a body of horse
to advantage by taking post in the woods
by the roads, or along the stone-walls,
where mounted troops will not venture
to follow them. Moreover, "as an en
couragement to any brave parties who
will endeavor to surprise some of them,"
the general " offers one hundred dollars
for every trooper, with his horse and ac
coutrements, who shall be brought in,
and so in proportion for any part, to be




divided according to the rank and the
pay of the party."

General Howe was no less disposed to
take advantage of this terror of cavalry
than Washington was to remove it. Hav
ing early observed how apt the militia
were to be scared away by a show of
mounted troops brandishing their swords,
Howe took care to collect throughout the
country all the horses he could, in order
to keep up his cavalry regiments, which
had been greatly thinned by the losses
at sea in the course of the long voyages
of the transports. He also wrote to the
British government for an additional sup
ply ; and, whenever occasion offered, he
was sure to send out his mounted troop
ers, to make as clattering and brilliant a
dash as possible, in order to frighten the
weak nerves of the uninitiated.

Washington was expecting an attack
at any moment. His lines were accord
ingly manned during the whole night,
and the men kept at work at the redoubts
and breastworks, with but rare intervals
of repose, when they were forced to lie
down in the " cold trenches." So much
exposed, so hard-worked, and in such a
wretched condition (from want of proper
food and clothing), were the American
troops, that some of the officers began to
believe that if the enemy did not destroy
the American army, it would perish of
itself without fighting. The British offi
cers looked on all this misery with undis
guised contempt, and spoke mockingly
of " the tatterdemalions who have but a
few coats among them but what are out
of elbows," and of " whole regiments in
which there is scarce a pair of breech-

Oct, 29,

es."* We shall find, however, that these
" tatterdemalion," ragged and shirtless as
they were, succeeded under Washington
in checking and outmanoeuvring all the
brilliant and haughty battalions mar
shalled by Sir William Howe and his
proud staff of officers.

Meager as Washington s resources were,
he made the most of them ; and in justice
to his troops it may be stated that how
ever poor a military show they might
make in battle array, they were indefati
gable in their labors with the pick and
the spade. They worked well and long
during that night of anxious expectation,
and, before morning, had doubled the in-
trenchments and raised three re
doubts. The breastworks were
rudely made of the best material at hand.
Cornstalks were plucked from the neigh
boring fields, and served, with the earth
clinging to their roots, the purpose of
sods and fascines.

General How r e, when he observed the
result of one night s work upon Washing
ton s line, seemed in no disposition to be
gin a general attack ; and, waiting for
reinforcements, he limited himself to an
occasional skirmish with the more ad
vanced American posts. Early in the
morning, however, he moved his right
wing still closer to the left of the Ameri
cans. Washington supposed that Howe s
design was to get to his rear, according
to his original plan. Every measure was
taken, therefore, to prevent this move
ment. The stores and baggage were hur
ried toward the rear as fast as possible,
and the left of the army fell some dis-

* Quoted by Irving.




tance back, to prevent being outflanked
by Howe s advancing right wing. When
this manoeuvre of the enemy began, Wash
ington s secretary was writing to Congress
thus : u Our post, from its situation, is not
so advantageous as could be wished, and
was only intended as temporary and oc
casional, till the stores belonging to the
army, which had been deposited here,
could be removed. The enemy coming
on so suddenly has distressed us much.
They are now close at hand, and most
probably will in a little time commence
their second attack ; we expect it every
hour; perhaps it is beginning. I have
just heard the report of some cannon."

The firing which was heard by the sec
retary came from a hot skirmish between
a detachment of Hessians and Colonel
Glover s brigade. The colonel held pos
session of a height in advance of the
American camp, where he had posted his
troops behind a breastwork mounted with
one brass twenty-four, a six and a three
pounder, and three iron twelve-pounders.
As the British closed in with their col
umns, in order to approach nearer to the
American camp, Glover determined to
harass them. Their line extends from
right to left, with the cavalry and artil
lery in front, as far as can be seen, and
no less a number than twelve thousand
men appear to be under arms. They ap
proach Glover s position, but he withholds
his fire until some of the troops have en
tered a valley and are about to ascend
the heights which bound it. He then
begins with his three-pounder, next with
his six, and finally w r ith his twenty-four.
The British are much confused by this

brisk cannonade, but persevere in trying
to mount the high ground with their
light-horse and artillery. After firing a
few rounds, however, they are obliged to
retire, and content themselves with a po
sition farther back, and out of reach of
Glover s cannon.

Howe evidently was not disposed to
risk a general engagement ; and, having
encamped his army within " long cannon-
shot" of the American lines, he
awaited the arrival of reinforce
ments under Earl Percy, who had been
ordered up from Harlem, where he was

While the two armies lay opposite to
each other, an incident occurred which a
diligent annalist has not thought too friv
olous to record, in the absence, during
that night of expectation, of more impor
tant events. It happened that a garden
of a widow woman, which lay between
the two hostile camps, had been repeat
edly robbed. Her son, a mere boy, and
"little of his age," asked permission to
try to find out and secure the thief, in
case he should return. His mother hav
ing consented, the lad, armed with a gun,
concealed himself at night among the
overgrown weeds of the garden. Soon
a great strapping Highlander came gro
ping his way among the cabbages, and,
having filled a large bag he carried, pre
pared to decamp. The lad stole softly
after him, and, coming close to the fellow,
cocked his gun and called out : " You are
my prisoner. If you attempt to throw
your bag down, I ll shoot you dead ! Go
forward in that road." The man did not
venture to turn around, but went on as



[PART n.

Oct. 30,

he was bid, with the boy and his gun
close after him, and was thus driven into
the American camp, where he was se
cured. The strapping grenadier was now
permitted to come to a halt, whereupon
he threw down his bag, and turned to
look at his captor. When he discovered
that he was a mere boy, and "little of
his age," he gave vent to his indignant
vexation, exclaiming, " A British grena
dier made prisoner by such a d d brat

by such a d d brat!"*

Another day passed without
any show of active hostility. The
British general, however, kept his troops
at work in entrenching his camp. In the
evening Earl Percy arrived, and the next
morning was appointed for the attack
upon the American lines. But at mid
night, a heavy storm with wind and rain
began, and continued during the whole
of the following day, so that the British
commander was again forced to remain

Washington, having learned from a de
serter, of the arrival of Earl Percy, and
of Howe s intended movements, deter
mined to shift his position. According
ly, in the course of the night, he
withdrew his army from White
Plains, for a distance of five miles, to the
higher ground toward Newcastle and the
Croton river, leaving a strong rear-guard
on the heights and in the woods of White

* Gordon.

Oct. 31.

Plains. Washington s ground was admi
rably chosen ; and with the breastworks
which he threw up, extending from hill
to hill, he could bid defiance to the ene
my. Howe, becoming aware in the ear
ly morning of this movement, discovered
that, with all his brilliant advantages, he
had been outmanoeuvred, and that it w r as
hopeless to attempt by an assault to dis
lodge the Americans from their new po
sition. He therefore contented himself
with making a demonstration against
Washington s rear-guard on the heights
of White Plains; but, before his troops
could advance to the attack, they were
driven back again into camp, to take shel
ter from the heavy rain.

During the night while the Americans
were evacuating White Plains, the village
church, the courthouse, and other build
ings, were set on fire and burnt by the
order of a major in the command of the
guards and sentries, w r hile " heated with
liquor." Washington was indignant at
this act, and warmly expressed himself
upon the subject, saying in the general
order of the next day : " It is with the
utmost astonishment and abhorrence that
the general is informed that some base
and cowardly wretches last night set fire
to the courthouse and other buildings,
which the enemy had left. The army
may rely on it that they shall be brought
to justice, and meet with the punishment
they deserve."




The Enemy decamp. Puzzling Conduct. Washington still worried about the Army. Rebellion among the Troops.
The Americans abandon Fort Independence, &c., on the Approach of the Enemy. Fort Washington strengthened.
Doubts about holding it. Washington opposed, Greene in favor, and carries the Day. Washington at Peekskill.
The Great Preparations of the Enemy against Fort Washington. Description of the Fort. The Fort invested. Sum
mons to surrender. Magaw s Spirited Response. The Defences. Operations of the Assailants.


THE British, after remaining sev
eral days in front of the American
lines without attempting anything, final
ly broke up their encampments on the
4th of November, and marched toward
the North river and Kingsbridge. Their
purpose was a matter of anxious specu
lation in Washington s camp. Some sup
posed that they were going into winter-
quarters, and would sit down in New York,
content with doing nothing more than in
vesting Fort Washington. The general
himself wrote : " I can not subscribe whol
ly to this opinion myself. That they will
invest Fort Washington is a matter of
which there can be no doubt ; and I think
there is a strong probability that General
Howe will detach a part of his force to
make an incursion into the Jerseys, pro
vided he is going to New York. He must
attempt something on account of his rep
utation ; for what has he done as yet with
his great army ?" Governor Livingston,
of New Jersey, to whom this letter was
written, was then urged by Washington
to place the militia of his state on the
best possible footing, and recommended
to see that the inhabitants contiguous to
the water should be prepared to remove
their stock, grains, effects, and carriages,

upon the earliest notice. Washington
believed that New Jersey was to be the
scene of the coming campaign, and de
clared that, as soon as he was satisfied
that the movement just made by the en
emy was a real retreat, and not a feint,
he would, with the utmost expedition,
throw over into Jersey a body of troops,
to assist in checking Howe s progress.

Washington was still anxious lest he
should be left almost without troops. The
dissolution of the army was fast approach
ing, and there seemed but little prospect
of levying a new one. " The situation of
our affairs," he says, " is critical and alarm
ing."* He wrote to the assembly of Mas
sachusetts to raise at once four thousand
men properly accoutred and equipped, to
supply the place of those under General
Lincoln, who it was feared would not be
prevailed upon to stay a moment longer
than the time they first engaged for.

The New- York militia were in a state
of mutiny, and, refusing to do duty, de
clared that General Howe had promised
them peace, liberty , and safety, and that was
all they wanted. " What is to be done
with them ?" writes General Greene, who
had come over from Fort Lee, and found
the New-Yorkers stationed at Kingsbridge




in this condition of almost open revolt.
"This spirit," he declares, "should be
checked in its infancy I propose," he

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 49 of 126)