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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Remnants of the Battlefield on Which the Battle of Pelham Was Fought on October 18, 1776

In the last week or so I have been contacted by a number of students in the Advanced Placement History class at Pelham Memorial High School. Various members of the class are engaged in research regarding the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776. I have tried to respond as helpfully as possible to each inquiry, but one question keeps coming up: where was the Battle actually fought?

Local historians continue to this day to argue over precisely where and how the battle was fought. To put it bluntly, the few first hand accounts of the battle, including Col. John Glover's letter, are not sufficiently specific to allow historians to determine exactly where and how the battle was fought. It seems clear that much of it was fought along portions of Split Rock Road that still remain within the Split Rock Golf Course in Pelham Bay Park. Indeed, sunken portions of the ancient road still exist along a couple of the holes of the golf course (holes 2 and 3, for example) with remnants of stone walls that likely stood at the time of the Battle.

Although the Golf Course does not permit visitors who are not golfing onto the course, I have had the opportunity as part of organized historical inquiries (and with the permission of the administrators of the Split Rock Golf Course) to visit the site. I, and others, were able to climb down into the overgrown and bramble-infested sunken roadway that once was a Native American trail and later evolved into the old Split Rock Road along which much of the Battle of Pelham was fought. The photograph below shows the brush filled sunken roadway near the first hole of the Split Rock Golf Course.

One year ago on October 18, 2004, the Executive Director of St. Paul's National Historic Site (used as a field hospital by German troops after the Battle of Pelham), I and a handful of others who have studied the Battle extensively met and walked the route of the old road with full-sized color copies of the Blaskowitz map and the Sauthier map (both created at about the time of the Battle by engineers involved with the troops). There was fairly animated disagreement over precisely where the events described in Col. Glover's letter describing the Battle took place. Conventional wisdom among most who have studied the battle closely seems to be that the small "rise" described by Col. Glover where the initial skirmish (marked with an X on the Blaskowitz map) took place likely is near the tee box for the third hole on the Split Rock Golf course.
The troops fought for much of the day, moving along the old Split Rock Road back toward Prospect Hill.

Only a tiny portion of the road still exists, technically, inside Pelham Manor. The Battle was not necessarily fought immediately along the roadway, however. Most feel that it is unlikely that the British and German troops stood in the midst of the narrow roadway while being fired upon though, of course, that would have been possible. In any event, the events moved across an area now beneath the New England Thruway and onto Prospect Hill. (There is a monument to the Battle near the western tip of the Prospect Hill School playground). Below is a photograph of remnants of one of the stone walls that once stood next to Split Rock Road. This particular wall is near the sunken roadway along the fairway of the second hole on the Split Rock Golf Course.

Portions of the Battle likely were fought between there and further to the west to what remains of Split Rock road. The rise of Prospect Hill is likely the hill described by Col. Glover in his letter where the Americans realized that as they continued their fighting retreat and backed down the hill, the British would have the advantage shooting from higher ground. It is from that point that they began their true "retreat" back to what was left of the bridge across the Hutchinson River where today's Colonial Avenue crosses the river (see below).

The Americans likely began their retreat in earnest down the remainder of Split Rock Road and onto Wolf's Lane (which was located slightly differently in those days -- there was no "Boston Post Road" as we know it now. (The "Boston Post Road" of those days was actually today's Colonial Avenue as we know it). The troops continued a fighting retreat along today's Wolf's Lane to the old Boston Post Road (Colonial Avenue) where they turned west / left (toward today's Mount Vernon which did not exist at the time).

They crossed the Hutchinson River where the bridge that now exists on Colonial Avenue beneath the Hutchinson River Parkway stands. (American Troops had pulled up the planks of the bridge earlier in the day.) The British and German troops stopped their pursuit at the river and camped on the grounds of PMHS and, in effect, on both sides of today's Colonial Avenue from the Hutchinson River eastward toward New Rochelle. The Americans set up artillery on the Mount Vernon side of the river. The British set up artillery on the PMHS side of the river. The two sides shelled each other without really doing much damage to each other for the remainder of the evening and into the night. There are monuments to local events involving the Battle at two nearby locations: inside the chain link fence on PMHS's Ingalls Field at the corner of Colonial Avenue and Wolfs Lane; and immediately inside the entrance to Memorial Stadium (by the flag pole) where Colonial Avenue turns into Sandford Boulevard in Mount Vernon.
The Americans then slipped away eventually to join Washington's retreating army.

The text of Col. Glover's letter describing the Battle may be found here: http://www.historicpelham.com/Articles/BellVillagePelham3.htm

The description of the Battle contained in William Abbatt's book, The Battle of Pell's Point, is considered to be an inaccurate depiction of the progress of the Battle. The text of the book may be found here: http://www.historicpelham.com/eBooks/AbbattPellsPoint.htm

A better description of the progress of the battle may be found in Chapter V of Otto Hufeland's book printed in 1926. The text may be found here: http://www.historicpelham.com/eBooks/Hufeland1926.htm However, don't be fooled by the fact that Hufeland -- like Abbatt -- seems so certain of his conclusions. It truly may never be possible to match the text of Col. Glover's letter against today's layout of the land, so to speak, in a fashion that allows us to say with certainty where all the troops were positioned and how they moved during the Battle.

Another excellent resource, which is not available online because it is not in the public domain and, thus, remains subject to copyright restrictions, is a booklet on the battle by Dr. Alfred Franko of Mount Vernon. There are three versions of the booklet: one printed in 1963, another revised version printed in 1966 and a reprint issued in 1975. The 1975 version would be the version to use since Dr. Franko made numerous revisions and corrections by that time. A citation appears below.

Franko, Alfred Michael, Pelham Manor: The Forgotten Battle of the Revolution: Near Mount Vernon, N.Y. (Pelham Manor, N.Y.: The Bicentennial Committee of the Town of Pelham, New York Oct. 1975) (republication of 1963 publication, revised in 1966; 67 pp., 12 pp. of plates, ill., 22 cm with bibliographic references).

The Town of Pelham Public Library has a copy of Sue Swanson's book / pamphlet entitled The Neutral Ground. It tells a lot about the years during which the Pelham area was part of the "neutral ground" between the two warring armies.

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At 7:51 AM, Blogger gary stewart said...

I think the horse path along the edge of the golf course was the split rock oath. does anyone know how old the horse path is? it goes to the split rock


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