Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, May 27, 2005

1776, A New Book By Pulitzer Prize Winner David McCullough, Touches on the Battle of Pelham

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Simon & Schuster has just published the latest book by Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough. As its title affirms, the book, 1776, addresses the events of that year and the birth of a young nation. In a book review that appeared in The New York Times Sunday Book Review on May 22, 2005, Tony Horwitz wrote "THIS is a sly book, beginning with its title, '1776.' It's a story of war, not words -- the great declaration in Philadelphia occurs offstage. Yet no combat takes place for most of the narrative. . . . [It is] a taut 294 pages of text, describing the trying months that followed the heroics at Lexington, Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The result is a lucid and lively work that will engage both Revolutionary War bores and general readers who have avoided the subject since their school days."

Given its subject matter, it should come as no surprise that McCullough's book touches on the Battle of Pelham (also known as the Battle of Pell's Point) fought on October 18, 1776. In Chapter 6, entitled "Fortune Frowns", Mr. McCullough tells the tale of the attempt by British forces to outflank the American army by landing in its rear first at Throgg's Neck (old style spelling) and, later, on Pell's Point. He describes the sailing of 150 British ships through Hell Gate and into Long Island Sound in a thick fog on October 12, 1776 as "a stunning feat of seamanship". He further notes that when General Washington first learned of the landing at Throgg's Neck, he "knew" that the Harlem Heights location of the bulk of his army "had become a trap" and that the army must move to the comparatively safer ground of White Plains eighteen miles to the north.

Mr. McCullough tells the story of the retreat of the American Army, making much of the fact that General Washington and his generals refused to label it a retreat -- preferring instead to call it "an alteration of our position" as the commander's orders for October 17, 1776 put it. In describing the unopposed landing of the British at Pell's Point and their swift advance inland, he notes that "they might have kept going had it not been for the intrepid John Glover and his men." After describing the tenacious fight in the Battle of Pelham, he notes that "[s]uch ferocity as the Americans had shown appears to have stunned Howe, leading him to conclude that, with stone walls lining every road and adjacent field, more deadly fire could be waiting at any turn." Of course, Mr. McCullough also notes that if Howe had kept advancing his troops, "they might have caught Washington's retreating army head-on."

1776 details important events leading up to the Battle of Pelham and after the Battle of Pelham at pages 229-237. Mr. McCullough even includes John Trumbull's well-known pencil sketch of then Colonel John Glover who led American troops in the Battle of Pelham (page facing page 53). An image of the portrait appears immediately below.

For many, many years scholars considered the Battle of Pelham one of the "forgotten battles" of the Revolutionary War. That simply can no longer be said. David McCullough's wonderful book is the latest in a series of scholarly works since George Athan Billias published his book General John Glover and His Marblehead Mariners in 1960 (Henry Holt & Co.) to recognize the importance of the British landing at Pell's Point and the stubborn, day-long fight led by Col. John Glover in Pelham. Mr. McCullough's work makes for compelling reading and is well worth the time and attention of students of the history of Pelham, New York.

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