An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Presented and Published in 1894
I have written on many, many occasions about the Revolutionary War Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776. For an extensive list of such articles, with links where available, see the list at the end of this posting.
Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an account of the Battle of Pelham published by the New York Sons of the Revolution in 1894. The account reflects remarks delivered by Isaac N. Mills during "The Evacuation Day Banquet" hosted by the New York Sons of the Revolution at Delmonico's on the 111th anniversary of the evacuation of New York by the British. It offers an interesting summary of the battle at a time when very little scholarly research had been undertaken to clarify the elements of the event.
"Remarks by Hon. Isaac N. Mills.
Mr. President and Gentlemen:
The campaign in Westchester County in the autumn of 1776 constitutes, in my judgment, made partial, perhaps, by my long residence there, one of the most interesting chapters of Revolutionary history. Although exhibiting no great battle, it abounded in minor conflicts, some of which reflected the highest credit upon the American arms. It demonstrated the ability of the Continental forces to cope with and baffle in the open field the troops of the king; and also displayed the superior generalship of Washington and gave fair promise of that splendid strategy on his part, which later planned the capture of Burgoyne and consummated as well as designed the final triumph of Yorktown. My purpose is not to indulge in criticism of military plans, or their execution, or to weary you with minute recital of details of movements, but is merely to recall leading features, and especially to bring to our attention two of those minor contests, which have received little notice in general history, but which appear to me to be nobly illustrative of the valor of our ancestors, and to have been of weighty import in the result of the campaign, and, all in all, to be worthy of our patriotic memory. I allude to the engagements at Throggs Neck and at Pelham.
On the 12th of October the main part of the royal army under the immediate leadership of General Howe, the Commander-in-Chief, landed upon the eastern end of Throggs Neck, at about where Fort Schuyler now stands, and opened the Westchester campaign. The American Army, under Washington, lay some seven miles to the westward, strongly entrenched along the heights of Harlem, but in entire ignorance of the hostile movement up the Sound, and with its rear and lines of communication open and unprotected, except for a few paltry outposts of observation, stationed here and there at commanding points. Throggs Neck, as doubtless most of you well know, is a long peninsula stretching for about two miles eastwardly into the Sound. It terminated on the west in a narrow causeway, which extended across a marsh, and was divided by a creek crossed by a bridge. One of those outpost, consisting of a captain and only twenty five riflemen, was posted at the bridge, and a similar party at the neighboring ford of the creek. Immediately upon landing, Howe pushed forward a strong detachment to occupy the bridge, and another to seize the ford, intending thus to secure the passes to the main land. Had he gained them, a march of three hours only would have enabled him to plant his army full across the line of the retreat of the patriot forces, and to compel them shortly to accept battle in the ope country. In all human probability the entire destruction of those forces between the hostile army below and that above would have followed such a result. Undoubtedly it was Howe's purpose to make such a movement into the interior. For the time being only those two bands of twenty-five men each stood in the way of the accomplishment of his design and the consequent destruction of the Continental Army, which had then made no adequate preparation to meet an attack from the rear. But every one of those fifty patriots was a hero, and they resolved to defend the passes even at the sacrifice of their lives, each one of them doubtless realizing that upon his own individual valor and good conduct depended for the hour the salvation of his country. The party at the bridge destroyed it, sheltered themselves on the main-land side behind an improvised breastwork of cordwood, and with deliberate and certain aim, fired into the head of the British column, advancing along the causeway, driving it back pell mell upon the main body of the enemy. At the ford the attacking force met wiht a like disastrous fate. For several hours until reinforcements came, those fifty Continentals held both the passes against substantially a British army of at least one quarter as many thousands, for the enemy had that number of troops on hand to force a passage. No braver deed was ever performed in American warfare; and yet, so scantily has it been treated in history, that I have been unable to ascertain the name of the captain who commanded the outpost. Although we may not know his name, yet we may honor his memory and that of all his brave comrades; and on this patriotic festival occasion tell over the stirring tale:
'How valiantly he kept the dridge
In the brave days of old.'
In the early morning of the 18th of October, Howe embarked his forces, crossed the bay of Eastchester and landed a large part of them at Pell's or Rodman's Neck in the town of Pelham, opposite to City Island. A small brigade of Continental troops commanded by Colonel Glover, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was stationed some little distance in the interior, not far from the present city of Mount Vernon. He was a brave, prudent, and skillful officer. With his own regiment, composed chiefly of the hardy fishermen of the Massachusetts coast, he had rendered most valuable service at the retreat from Long Island, in manning the boats and ferrying the patriot army across the East River.
He dared to lead where any man dared to follow; and the men of his command dared to follow where any man dared to lead. Upon being informed by his scouts of the landing of the enemy, he at once set out with the greater part of his force to check the hostile advance. As he marched along the Pelham highway, still existing for much of the distance, he conceived a bold plan and forthwith put it into execution. Selecting from his little body of about four hundred effective men, a company of forty, he divided the balance into three equal divisions and posted them, each behind a stone wall, the first on the right of the road, the second perhaps a quarter of a mile beyond on the same side of it, and the third a like distance in advance on the left side of the way. Taking the company of forty men, he proceeded rapidly along the road till he met, attacked and drove in the vanguard of the enemy and then spiritedly engaged the head of its main column. In a few minutes, at his preconcerted signal, the little band broke and bega to fall back in apparent disorder along the narrow winding way. Eagerly the German Chasseurs, and the English Light Infantry and Grenadiers, unsuspecting any device, rushed in solid column along the narrow road in hot haste to capture or bayonet the fleeing patriots, until on their right flank the third division of the Continentals rose from behind the wall and with accurate and steady aim poured their fire into the hostile ranks, at the close distance of thirty yards. Before that sheet of murderous flame the enemy quailed, wavered, broke and fled in abject terror. The invading forces occupied nearly two hours in re-forming their broken ranks and reviving their shattered courage. Then in line of battle with extended flanks, they advanced upon the position of the third division which the latter gallantly maintained until, having been out-flanked, it retreated up the road. The foe, untaught by the catastrophe of the morning, again pressed in ardent pursuit along the narrow way, until it found itself caught anew in Glover's Yankee trap; and the second division rose from its ambuscade and assailed with its deadly fire the enemy's column. Once more the hostile force was checked, beaten back and held at bay, until the Americans had discharged into it seventeen volleys. Then the second division retired as the third had done before. After long delay, the afternoon being well spent, the enemy, having at last learned something from its dearly bought experience, advanced again with extended lines of battle. Although the Americans at the position of the first division made a stubborn resistance, yet in the end they were compelled to retire across the creek at Pell's, now Hargous Bridge, which, after they passed it, they destroyed in the very face of the foe. Just as the sun wassetting behind the hills west of the Bronx, Colonel Glover re formed his force, or rather what was left of it, for its losses had been considerable, on the high lands to the westward of the creek, having with his little command of scarcely four hundred yeomen, all that day kept at bay in the open field a hostile army of four thousand of the best veterans of Europe, who were, man for man, vastly superior to his troops in equipment, discipline, military experience, and every soldierly attribute except personal courage and individual conviction of right. It is said that the enemy's loss in killed and wounded amounted to the relatively appalling aggregate of eight hundred men, mostly from the German regiments, or twice the entire number of Continentals engaged. Again was the day, thus saved to the patriot cause, of incalculable value. It prevented the enemy from piercing at Valentine's Hill the line of the American retreat and permitted Washington to seize and fortify the points of vantage on the hills west of the Bronx, behind which he now saw his army must at once retire. Our flag has to its credit in all our history no better planned or better fought engagement than this. It well deserves the dignity of the name of a battle, and ought to be known and recorded in history as the Battle of Pelham.
The story of that tedious, painful retreat from Harlem to White Plains, during which the patriot soldiers, from want of beasts of burden, harnessed themselves to the cannon and wagons, and with infinite toil dragged them along the hilly, difficult road; and the story of the spirited defense of Chatterton's Hill are well known and may be recalled by us all without word of mine. For two days after the later event, Howe waited on the plain, until on October 30, having completed his preparations, he gave orders for a general assault on the morrow upon the patriot intrenchments along the heights to the north and east; but Providence intervened in favor of our cause, and sent the fierce armies of his tempest to fence in and defend our lines. All that night and the most of the following day the pitiless storm from the northeast drove the lances of its chill torrents full in the front of the shivering foe, crouched unprotected along the plain. On the next day the British commander again designed an attack, but once more Almighty God interposed His arm of power, and with storm and tempest warded off the impending assault. While I am profoundly and reverently grateful, as every SON OF THE REVOLUTION should be, for each one of the numerous divine interferences in behalf of the patriot cause, I trust [Page 62 / Page 63] that I may not be thought impious, if I own the regret I feel, that upon that second occasion the battle was not permitted to come off and Howe suffered to deliver his meditated assault. I have that high faith in the courage of our ancestors to believe that then, after they had reformed and strengthened their defenses, they would manfully and successfully have repelled such an attack; or that at the worst the glory of Bunker Hill would have flamed anew along the heights of White Plains and North Castle.
When the storm had cleared away the cautious heart of Howe was daunted by the frowning appearances of the American works, upon which through rain and shine, night and day, the sturdy Continentals had unceasingly toiled; and he declined the bold challenge to battle, which Washington gave from the heights. Sullen, gloomy and disappointed the enemy retired, venting, as he went, the spleen of his baffled rage upon the patriot inhabitants of the lower part of the county and marking the path of his inglorious retreat with their pillaged and burning homes, to the lasting shame of the British arms.
By easy stages the bulk of the brave Continentals, with Washington, repaired to the Hudson, elated with the sense of substantial victory won and the consciousness that in Westchester they had, at least in some substantial part, retrieved the disaster of Long Island. The local tradition tells, that, as they marched over the intervening country, the storm and the north wind were stayed, and the belated Indian summer, that fairest gem of our sweet benediction of all her soft and gentle beauty. Thence they soon crossed the Hudson, thus ending the Westchester campaign, and passed into the Jerseys, where during the long and bitter winter the memories of Throggs Neck, of Pelham and of White Plains remained with them, to cheer their hearts to hold fast about their great leader the nucleus of their force, and to inspire and make possible the glad victories of Trenton and Princeton. Justly do we honor the great and decisive battles of the war, Saratoga and Yorktown; but as we pay to them the meed of our unstinted parise, we may well remember that even upon those famous fields was reaped, in some measure at least, the ripe harvest of the patriot seeds, which were so nobly sown in valor and constancy on the plains and hills of Westchester."
Source: "Remarks by Hon. Isaac N. Mills" in The Evacuation Day Banquet, The Spirit of '76, No. 4, Dec. 1894, pp. 59, 62-63 (NY, NY: The Spirit of '76 Publishing Co., 1894) (Remarks delivered by Isaac N. Mills during "The Evacuation Day Banquet" hosted by the New York Sons of the Revolution at Delmonico's on the 111th anniversary of the evacuation of New York by the British).
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I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776. See, for example, the following 30 articles:
Bell, Blake A., 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 Archive (visited May 9, 2014).
Mon., Feb. 28, 2005: Glover's Rock on Orchard Beach Road Does Not Mark the Site of the Battle of Pelham.
Mon., Apr. 18, 2005: Restored Battle of Pelham Memorial Plaque Is Unveiled at Glover Field.
Fri., May 27, 2005: 1776, A New Book By Pulitzer Prize Winner David McCullough, Touches on the Battle of Pelham.
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.
Fri., May 19, 2006: Possible Remains of a Soldier Killed in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Found in 1921.
Fri., Aug. 11, 2006: Article by William Abbatt on the Battle of Pelham Published in 1910.
Thu., Sep. 21, 2006: A Paper Addressing the Battle of Pelham, Among Other Things, Presented in 1903.
Mon., Oct. 30, 2006: Brief Biographical Data About Sir Thomas Musgrave, British Lieutenant Colonel Wounded at 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.
Tue., Jan. 16, 2007: Brief Biography of British Officer Who Served During the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.
Fri., Feb. 09, 2007: Extract of October 23, 1776 Letter Describing British Troops in Eastchester After the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.
Mon., Feb. 12, 2007: Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site Opens New Exhibition: "Overlooked Hero: John Glover and the American Revolution."
Thu., Jan. 18, 2007: Three More British Military Unit Histories that Note Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.
Mon., Jul. 16, 2007: Mention of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 in Revolutionary War Diary of David How.
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.
Wed., Jul. 18, 2007: Another British Military Unit History that Notes Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.
Tue., Aug. 7, 2007: An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Contained in the McDonald Papers Published in 1926.
Wed., Aug. 8, 2007: A Description of an Eyewitness Account of the Interior of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester During the Revolutionary War.
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.
Mon., Oct. 8, 2007: American Troops Who Guarded Pelham's Shores in October 1776.
Fri., Oct. 12, 2007: Images of The Lord Howe Chestnut that Once Stood in the Manor of Pelham.
Fri., Oct. 27, 2006: Orders Issued by British Major General The Honourable William Howe While Encamped in Pelham After the Battle of Pelham 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.
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.
Fri., Apr. 23, 2010: Charles Blaskowitz, Surveyor Who Created Important Map Reflecting the Battle of Pelham.
Thu., Feb. 06, 2014: A Description of the Revolutionary War Battle of Pelham Published in 1926 for the Sesquicentennial Celebration.
Mon., May 19, 2014: Biography of British Officer Who Fought in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.