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, January 24, 2007

An Account of the October 18, 1776 Battle of Pelham and the "Grand Review" that Followed It, Published in 1897

Below is the text of an account of the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776. The account was published as part of a "series of papers on Historic New York" known as the Half Moon Series published by G. P. Puntnam's Sons "The Knickerbocker Press" in 1897. A full citation to the source appears after the quoted text.

"Howe now had New York, but it was of very little use to him so long as Washington's army occupied a strong position extending from the mouth of 'Harlem Creek' right across the island to the Hudson. The British commander, however, had two alternatives besides a direct assault; he could pass between Forts Lee and Washington with his fleet, ascend the Hudson, and make the position of the Americans untenable by landing in their rear. But to do this he would have to stand the fire from the forts, which might do considerable damage to his men-of-war and transports. The East River, or Sound, was, however, entirely free from forts, and afforded him almost as good an opportunity of getting into the rear of the Americans as the Hudson; this alternative was therefore selected, and on October 12, 1776, Howe embarked the greater part of his army and sailed up the Sound or East River as far as Throg's Neck (now a portion of Greater New York), where he landed, [Page 415 / Page 416] leaving Lord Percy to keep Washington occupied at Harlem. He hoped by this movement to get directly in the rear of the Continental army, and so force it either to surrender, or entirely to rout and scatter it; but the rebels had not been sleeping.

General Heath, with a force of several thousand men, had been sent to defend the causeway and tear down the bridges across Westchester Creek, so it would be impossible for Howe to gain the rear of the Americans without a fight. Howe did not care to advance through a marsh in the face of so strong a force, and delayed on the Neck six days, in which little but ineffective skirmishing was accomplished. At the end of this period he took to his boats again, proceeded northeast about three miles, landed his forces on Pell's Neck or Pelham Neck, (now Pelham Park), and advanced towards the Albany and Boston roads. Heath threw a couple of brigades in his way, and attempted to check his progress. For a time quite a spirited fight was the result; but the Americans were out-numbered and compelled to retire with a loss of about ten killed and forty wounded. Howe had at last succeeded in reaching the place he wanted, but it was too late for his purpose of capturing the Continental army; for the Americans had evacuated Manhattan Island, except Fort Washington, and were now comparatively [Page 416 / Page 417] safe on Chatterton Heights, near the village of White Plains. For a few days Howe's army covered a wide field, and we hear of some of his troopers almost as far north as the Connecticut line. This, however, was probably done merely in search of forage, for he soon concentrated them on the Albany Road near the scene of the recent engagement.

It was a beautiful autumnal morning, October 23, 1776, that the greatest military pageant took place that the fair county of Westchester ever saw, at all events in the eighteenth century. Howe, preparatory to following Washington, drew up his entire army for review, along the road and on the meadows (very near the present boundary line between the city, and the now much curtailed County of Westchester), then known as Pelham and Eastchester flats. Some ten thousand men took part in the ceremonies, and the effect must, indeed, have been inspiring and beautiful. The bright scarlet of the British regulars, contrasted well with the more sombre green of Knyphausen's Hessians, and with the background of the yellow sedge grass covered with sparkling frost. This was afine picture by which, on the chill October morning, to impress the inhabitants with the invincible power of England's chivalry, and the politic commander had thought it wise to invite a few of the more distinguished proprietors of loyal tendencies to witness the affair. There was the fiery Philipse, and the philanthropic colonist who is said to have sprung from the grand old House of 'Kourlandt' (Cortlandt), to witness the glorious return of their sovereign's banner, and, while the bands played and the sun glistened upon the bright arms of the troops, this little band of officers and gentlemen rode along the lines and inspected the army. As the sun rose higher in the heavens the day became warm and genial with that Indian summer balminess, so common to our American autumn. By noon the party before alluded to, were glad to halt for refreshments under the golden shade of what, even then, must have been a group of grand old chestnuts. That lunch just before the march to White Plains has become historic, and the old resident can still point out the trees with pride to any visitor who may be passing that way. Let us hope, however, that the meal of these fine gentlemen was not spoiled by the presence of that rough old German, the Count von Knyphausen, who, though a dashing soldier and a brave man, was no courtier, and anything but a pleasant dining companion. All that is left of this gallant assembly, are the old trees that have defied all change in this beginning of the winter (1897-98) still stood, the only landmarks of those long- [Page 418 / Page 419] departed days. But, old trees, you are not to stand here always. Though you may have seen the Indians of the seventeenth century; Washington, Howe, and Clinton, of the eighteenth; and all the celebrities of the nineteenth; yet those trunks of yours, sixteen feet in circumference though they be, are but hollow shells; the gales of two hundred winters have lopped many a fair limb, and ere the twentieth century shall grow old the squirrel will no longer play on your boughs, nor the frosts of autumn turn your leaves to gold!

In the fall of 1876, just a hundred years after the day of the 'Great Review,' two gentlemen were lunching under the same old trees. 'The days of old' were discussed, and the historic spot examined in all its bearings; but after a time the conversation flagged, and they sat gazing up into the shady trees, whose leaves were fast turning into those brilliant hues with which the American forest-trees bid good-bye to summer, when the elder man turned to his companion and said: 'Here is the pistol which my grandfather carried when with General Howe on the day of the 'Grand Review,' when they lunched under these trees just before the Battle of White Plains; now, as I want you to remember this occasion, I present you with the derringer as a memento of the anniversary of that parade.' As they gazed upon this weapon of a former age, the nineteenth century seemed to fade into the Indian sumer mist, and they could only see the scarlet of the British regulars and the green of their Hessian allies; the figures of the chivalric Cornwallis; the gallant but peace-loving Howe, and the rough old soldier, Knyphausen.

But to return to our narrative. The day after the 'Grand Review' Howe went in pursuit of the Continental army and on October 28, stormed Chatterton Heights near White Plains, and forced Washington to retire to North Castle. He himself, however, did not go farther, but soon withdrew to the city proper, to rest and refresh his troops, evidently thinking he had done enough for one campaign."

Source: Pryer, Charles, The "Neutral Ground" in Half Moon Series: Papers on Historic New York, Vol. II, No. XII, pp. 409, 415-19 (NY and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons The Knickerbocker Press 1897) (Edited by Maud Wilder Goodwin, Alice Carrington Royce and Ruth Putnam).

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