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.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

A Description of the Revolutionary War Battle of Pelham Published in 1926 for the Sesquicentennial Celebration

The Battle of Pelham fought during the Revolutionary War on October 18, 1776 has fascinated local historians and Pelham residents for centuries.  On October 16, 1926, the Pelhams held a "Colonial Pageant" commemorating events important in the history of the area including the Battle of Pelham that occurred on October 18, 1776. There were more than five hundred members of the cast. Thousands watched the spectacle. The event was held along Split Rock Road which, at that time, extended from today's Shore Road near the Bartow-Pell Mansion to the Boston Post Road.

The pageant was an important and major commemoration in the life of the three villages that formed the Pelhams at that time. There is an ample historical record of the event which included one of the earliest uses of outdoor amplified sound using electrical speakers in Pelham. The event was well reported in local newspapers. 

In advance of the pageant, the Town Historian at the time, John M. Shinn (a former Town Supervisor), published an account of the battle.  Though the account misplaced the location of the start of the battle at Glover's Rock (as did most accounts of the day), it is still an interesting summary of Shinn's research regarding the battle.  The account is transcribed in its entirety below, followed by links to many of my prior Blog postings that deal with the Battle of Pelham.  

OCTOBER 18, 1776
Town Historian

The only engagement in the neighborhood between the armies of the British and Continentals during the Revolutionary War was fought October 18, 1776.  In the official records of two of the British regiments, the 16th and 17th Lancers, the engagement was called that of Pelham Moor.  Others designate it as Pell's Neck.  Under whatever name it may be known it is certain that it was of great importance to General Washington in its checking the advance of General Howe's army toward White Plains.

After the battle of Harlem Heights, which in its successful conclusion had partially restored the morale of the Continental army after the disastrous Long Island experience, Washington determined to vacate his position and make at least a temporary stand at White Plains.

General Howe, leaving only about two thousand men in New York, embarked with his army and sailed up the Sound as far as Throgg's Neck, where he landed a large part of his troop on October  12, the rest of his army continued on to New Rochelle.

[Image of Split Rock]

General Howe, no doubt, intended to get in front of Washington's troops with the Throgg's Neck contingent.  He made the mistake of landing on Throgg's Neck instead of Pell's Point.  His attempt to get to the main land [sic] was checked by the Continentals under Hand and Prescott, and no further attempts were made until October 18, when he once more embarked with his army at one o'clock In the morning, and crossing Eastchester Bay, landed on Pell's Point, in the Manor of Pelham.

Unfortunately, there is no complete record of the British forces which landed on that occasion.  It is certain, however, that there were four regiments of Hessions [sic], and the Third Grenadier Battalion.  The Hessian regiments each consisted of 633 men, white the Grenadier Battalion had 500, a total of over 3,000 men.  Historians vary in their estimates of the strength of the British forces.  Some estimate it as high as sixteen thousand which is improbable.  As there were over 3,000 Hessians, there surely must have been an equal number of England's regulars, so we will assume, which seems reasonable, that the British forces on that memorable morning consisted of about 6,000 troops.

Washington's army, being without a sufficient number of horses for his artillery and army wagons, was slowly making its way across the county in a long line, one part of it having encamped the night of the 17th of October at Mile Square in the Township of Yonkers, about four miles from Pell's Point, and about three miles from Glover's Rock where the first conflict occurred.  [Editor’s Note:  This placement of the beginning of the Battle of Pelham is now known to be incorrect.  Click here to learn more about the error.]  General Clinton commanded this division.

Col. John Glover of "Glover's Regiment" also known as the "Fishermen" was then commanding a brigade composed of the skeleton of four regiments, which includes, Glover's, the 14th with 179 men; Joseph Read's, the 13th, with 226 men; Shephard's, the 3rd, with 204 men; and Loami Baldwin's, the 26th with 234 men.  All of these were Massachusetts regiments, totaling 843 men, were part of General James Clinton's division.

Glover's regiment was left at the Hutchinson River as a rear guard. 

William Abbott's history of the battle claims that Col. Glover had only 750 troops able for duty on the morning of October 18th, the before given number having been returned on October 5th. 

As Col. Glover was in charge of Gen. Clinton's division during the General's absence, he was naturally more than usually precautious and, as he said in a letter to a friend in New Hampshire, "I went on the hill with my glass and discovered a number of ships in the Sound under way, the small boats, upwards of two hundred, all manned and filled with troops."

As General Charles Lee was the next in rank to Washington, Col Glover therefore reported to him for orders.  There is no record of Lee's having paid any further attention, nor did he ever appear on the scene of action, although only three miles away. 

Col. Glover was fortunately a man of deeds; diminutive in size, he was a giant in action; while he could initiate activities, he nevertheless desired the approval of his superiors, and even their co-operation, as he says in his letter  ‘1 would have given a thousand worlds to have had General Lee, or

[Image of Glover’s Rock]

some other experienced officer present, to direct or at least approve, but" he adds "it was very lucky, the enemy had stolen a march one and a half miles on us."

Glover immediately formed his men, and without delay started for Pelham.  Upon arriving he posted his men in three of the most advantageous positions behind the stone walls on both sides of the road leading from Pell’s Point to the Old Boston Post Road.  (Now Colonial avenue).

The true location of the battle is shown by the position of at least two well-known points, viz. Glover's Rock and Hutchinson River bridge on the Old Boston Road, the present Boston Post Road was not in existance [sic]; Tradition, which always has a basis of fact, also establishes Glover's Rock as the place where the first attack took place; besides this, the discovery of cannon
bails nearby when building the street railway, is additional testimony.  At least two historians mention that a heavy fire was kept up by the ships, while the troops were disembarking.  Then again it is certain that Wolf's Lane or Split Rock Road is the shortest route to Pell’s Pint, and Col. Glover’s statement that he posted his men on the ‘left of the road’ made it more certain.

Col. Glover in his account of the retreat says ‘we retreated to the bottom of the hill and had to pass through a run of water (the bridge I had taken up before) and then marched up a hill the opposite side of the creek where I left my artillery.’  This must have referred to Split Rock Road, Wolf’s Lane, Hutchinson River and the hill in Mount Vernon opposite the Memorial High School.

On the 18th day of October 1776, as it continued to be up to the year 1910 – Wolf’s Lane was a narrow, winding and most picturesque country lane from the Old Boston Post Road up to the top of Prospect Hill, and for upwards of 150 years it continued over the hill in a direct line until it merged into what is now called the Split Rock Road near its junction with Washington avenue.  When the present Boston Turnpike was cut through from Hutchinson River bridge to the toll gate in New Rochelle (Drake avenue) the road was straightened to its present location.

Col. Glover marched over the land which is now the city of Mount Vernon and having crossed the Hutchinson River at Colonial avenue, Pelham, took his men up Wolf’s Lane and along Pelham Road, Split Rock Road, to Pell’s Pint and posted on the way, at three of the most favorable points, one of his skeleton regiments.  He accompanied Col. Read with his regiment to the vicinity of a large glacial boulder on Pell’s Point, since named in his honor, Glover’s Rock.

It is not possible from any existing records to establish with certainty the location of the various detachments though it is certain that Col. Read held the most advanced position on the eastern side of the road and that Col. Shephard held a position on the western side, while Col. Baldwin’s force was posted farther to the north on the eastern side of the road. 

Not having met the enemy until his arrival at Pell’s Point, Col. Glover sent forward a skirmishing party of forty men, and in the vicinity of Glover’s Rock was met by an equal number of the enemy. 

The British attacked when only about fifty yards away but without inflicting any loss to the Americans who returned the fire, which either killed or wounded four of the enemy.  These antagonists even at this short distance from each other exchanged five rounds of firing, when the British having received reinforcements and the Americans having two men killed and several wounded retired, as Col. Glover said, in good order, when the enemy was less than one hundred feet away.

The British continued to advance cheering and confident of a speedy victory.  They were ignorant of the fact that their march led them past a point where behind the stone walls lining the road were about two hundred resolute men from Massachusetts, some of whom may have been neighbors of the Embattled farmers who at Lexington fired the shot heard around the world, but there they waited stern, determined, fearless, knowing that upon their stand that day might depend the destiny of their country. 

The enemy came on cheering until within about thirty yards, marching as usual in solid column, offering a mark it was difficult to miss. 

These two hundred of Col. Read’s men were faced by two regiments of over eleven hundred trained troops who at the distance of less than one hundred feet were met by a most destructive fire with heavy muskets, light hunting guns and long rifles.  The cheering stopped, clouds of powder hid the foe from the Americans who peered through the darkness listening for the dread command, ‘charge bayonets!’ which in their inexperience they knew they could not withstand.

The lifting smoke revealed not the fierce faces of foreign emissaries with bristling bayonets set in deadly charge, but the backs of their foes as they fled in hasty retreat towards the main body of their army, while the grass lined lane and beaten road were thickly strewn with the dead and wounded foe.

Back again behind their friendly walls crept Read’s tired and hungry patriots, in the shelter of their ramparts they patiently waited, knowing well that General Howe would not so easily surrender his hope of crushing the army of Washington.  They had plenty of time to consider their [position] and to anticipate their fate.

At last after waiting one and a half hours the foe appeared, but not as before with two regiments, but in full force of over four thousand men with seven cannons which covered the advance with a heavy cannonade, which however, was with scarcely any effect because of the sturdy stone walls behind which the patriots were concealed.

This time there was no surprise attack, it was expected.  And Read’s two hundred were not dismayed by the overwhelming odds against them.  Coolly and steadily, at the distance of thirty yards as before, the patriots poured their leaden hail into the ranks of the enemy; this first deadly volley halted the onslaught but the fire was returned ‘with showers of musketry and cannon balls’ as Glover says.  Read’s men from their shelter behind the walls steadily withstood the enemy’s fire and for at least twenty minutes they fired at will amid the booming of cannons and the rattle of musketry. 

Retreat was then ordered, which was acomplished [sic] in fairly good order until they had reached the position occupied by the third regiment under Col. Shephard.  Here Read’s men once more took their places behind stone walls and awaited the enemy. 

From the beginning of the fight and the time required to reform a scattered regiment with the time engaged in the conflicts it was then about or after ten o’clock and Shephard’s men were awaiting the enemy somewhere on Split Rock Road, probably near the old house which in 1848 was occupied by B. S. Collins as related by Bolton in his History of Westchester County. 

Here occurred the sharpest and hottest conflict of this eventful day.  Read’s and Shephard’s forces were now united and a force of about four hundred now opposed the six thousand British and Hessians. 

As the enemy approached, the Americans met them with a steady and well directed fire at short range, which at first halted the enemy for a short time, but who quickly recovered and with the usual bravery and pugnacity of the British soldier they kept up a long and continual fire upon the patriots for over an hour, during which the Americans fired seventeen rounds, some of which must have caused a retreat for a considerable distance, for at one time at least, one patriot leaped the stone wall and took a cap and canteen from a fallen officer.

Col. Glover realized that further resistance to such a superior force was futile and ordered a retreat to the point where Col. Baldwin’s men were concealed awaiting their turn to join battle with the enemy.  There the entire force of about 800 patriots awaited the foe but at what particular spot is uncertain.  From the descriptions of Glover, Heath’s Memoirs and Scharf’s history, as well as the opinions of military officers, I believe the last stand taken by the Americans was in Wolf’s Lane, somewhere near the top of the hill in the vicinity of what is now that road’s junction with the Esplanade. 

This engagement was of short duration; Col. Glover says the ground was much in the enemy’s favor, especially as all their cannons had been brought up.  Discovering that the British were attempting a flanking movement, a general retreat was ordered and the remainder of the three regiments, crossing the Hutchinson River at Colonial avenue, rejoined the regiment which, with three cannons had been left on guard on the high land near the stone quarry on the western bank of the Hutchinson River.  This regiment took no part in the battle, but was stationed there to secure the retreat of Col. Glover’s troops and to prevent the enemy’s advance.  The entire force then marched back to or near the point which they had left in the morning.

The British did not attempt any pursuit but turned up the Old Boston Post Road and encamped on what they called the Heights of New Rochelle, probably near what is now the Catholic Cemetery.

The loss of the Americans this day was only six patriots killed and Col. Shepard [sic] and twelve privates wounded. 

No historian has attempted to give the exact figures of the enemy’s loss, which was mainly incurred by the Hessians whose loss was only reported to their German superior officers. 

The British reported a loss of only three privates killed and twenty wounded.

The Hessian loss must have been great, as several officers of that army are buried in St. Paul’s Church yard, that church having been used as a hospital after the battle.  Then there is the testimony of Hessian and British deserters who for several days came into the American camp.  Abbott’s history says that each was questioned separately and without the other’s knowledge and the sum of their testimony was that Howe’s total loss was between eight hundred and a thousand.

Davoran also says ‘It is difficult to believe that four hundred Americans, familiar with the use of firearms, sheltered by ample defenses from which they could fire deliberately and with their guns rested on the tops, could have fired volley after volley into a large body of men, massed in a compact column in a narrow roadway, without having inflicted as extended damage as this.’

The experiences of the British at the battle during the Boer War surely showed just such a disparity as those claimed at the battle of Pell’s Point. 

The day after the battle, General Lee, who was next in command to Washington, came to the camp and publicly thanked Colonel Glover, his officers and soldiers under his command for their noble-spirited and soldier-like conduct during the battle.

On October 21st General Washington in General Orders issued a congratulatory address in which he said, the hurried situation of the last two days having prevented him from paying that attention to Col. Glover and the officers and soldiers who were with him in the skirmish on Friday last, their merit and good behaviours deserved, he flatters himself that his thanks tho’ delayed will nevertheless be acceptable to them as they are offered with great sincerity and cordiality."

Source:  Shinn, John M., Battle of Pell’s Point October 18, 1776, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 17, 1926, p. 13, col. 1.

Below are a few images relating to the Battle of Pelham.

The detail above, which shows a "skirmish" within "Pelham's Mannor" on October 18, 1776 is from a map entitled "A Plan of the Operations of the King's Army Under the Command of General Sir William Howe, K.B. in New York and East New Jersey, Against the American Forces Commanded by General Washington from the 12th of October to the 28th of November 1776, Wherein is Particularly Distinguished the Engagement on the White Plains the 28th of October", ca. 1776 by C.J. Sauthier (often referenced as The Sauthier Map and generally deemed an inaccurate depiction of events surrounding the Battle of Pelham).  The map is held in the collection of the Library of Congress (Call Number G3804.W7S3 1776 .S2 Faden 58; Control Number gm 71000649; Repository:  Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C., 20540-4650 USA).

Logo Designed for the Town of Pelham as Part of the
Bicentennial Celebration of the Battle of Pelham Held in 1976.

Portrait of Colonel John Glover.

According to tradition, the night after the Battle of Pelham ended, the British army encamped within today's Village of Pelham on the grounds of today's Pelham Memorial High School.  General Howe is said to have camped beneath a great chestnut tree that stood for many years afterward near Pelham's Boy Scout hut near the parking lot above today's Friendship Field in the Glover Field complex.  The photograph above, courtesy of The Office of The Historian of the Town of Pelham, shows the giant chestnut tree near its end.  Even the stump of General Howe's Chestnut, after the tree departed this life, was treated reverentially for many years.

I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776.  See, for example, the following:  

The Battle of Pelham:  October 18, 1776, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 41, Oct. 15, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.  

Bell, Blake, History of the Village of Pelham:  Revolutionary War, HistoricPelham.com (visited Feb. 6, 2014). 
Thu., Jul. 14, 2005:  Pelham's 1926 Pageant Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pelham.  

Wed., Oct. 26, 2005:  Remnants of the Battlefield on Which the Battle of Pelham Was Fought on October 18, 1776.  

 Mon., Apr. 18, 2005:  Restored Battle of Pelham Memorial Plaque Is Unveiled at Glover Field.  

Mon., Feb. 28, 2005:  Glover's Rock on Orchard Beach Road Does Not Mark the Site of the Battle of Pelham.  

Wed., Jul. 18, 2007:  Another British Military Unit History that Notes Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  

Wed., Nov. 1, 2006:  Two British Military Unit Histories that Note Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Thu., Jan. 18, 2007:  Three More British Military Unit Histories that Note Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Fri., May 19, 2006:  Possible Remains of a Soldier Killed in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Found in 1921.  

Fri., Apr. 23, 2010:  Charles Blaskowitz, Surveyor Who Created Important Map Reflecting the Battle of Pelham.  

Wed., Feb. 17, 2010:  British Report on Killed, Wounded and Missing Soldiers During the Period the Battle of Pelham Was Fought on October 18, 1776.  

Thu., Jan. 22, 2009:  Another Brief Biography of Sir Thomas Musgrave, a British Officer Wounded at the Battle of Pelham on October 18 1776.  

Mon., Oct. 30, 2006:  Brief Biographical Data About Sir Thomas Musgrave, British Lieutenant Colonel Wounded at the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Fri., Oct. 12, 2007:  Images of The Lord Howe Chestnut that Once Stood in the Manor of Pelham.  

 Mon., Oct. 8, 2007:  American Troops Who Guarded Pelham's Shores in October 1776

 Thu., Sep. 6, 2007:  Information About St. Paul's Church, the Battle of Pelham and Other Revolutionary War Events Near Pelham Contained in an Account Published in 1940

 Wed., Aug. 8, 2007:  A Description of an Eyewitness Account of the Interior of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester During the Revolutionary War

 Tue., Aug. 7, 2007:  An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Contained in the McDonald Papers Published in 1926.  

Tue., Jul. 17, 2007:  Mention of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 in Writings of Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Aide-de-Camp to British General Clinton

 Mon., Jul. 16, 2007:  Mention of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 in Revolutionary War Diary of David How

Mon., Feb. 12, 2007:  Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site Opens New Exhibition:  "Overlooked Hero:  John Glover and the American Revolution." 

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