Excerpt of Memoir of American Officer Who, Though Wounded, Tore up the Planks of the Causeway During the Battle of Westchester and Joined His Comrades for the Battle of White Plains in October, 1776
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Recently I ran across the memoirs of an American military officer named William S. Smith included in a book published in 1841. Smith's memoirs indicate that Smith was wounded in the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776 and was carried from the field. Smith was placed under the care of a surgeon in the area of the Village of Westchester.
According to the memoirs, despite his wound, Smith was among the group of seven men who tore away the planks of the causeway over Westchester Creek on October 12, 1776 to check the advance of the British and German troops from Throggs Neck to the mainland.
The same memoirs indicate that thereafter Smith was placed under the care of "Dr. Bailey" in New Rochelle because his wound was "not well." When the British moved from Throggs Neck and landed on Pell's Point (today's Pelham Neck) on October 18, 1776, Smith received word of the advance of the British and German troops. He left his physician's care and joined his commanding officer for the move to White Plains where the Battle of White Plains was fought ten days later on October 28, 1776.
"MEMOIR OF WILLIAM S. SMITH.
THE editor is enabled to furnish the following sketch, chiefly collected from a private journal. In 22 battles of the revolutionary war, was the subject of this memoir engaged.
W. S. SMITH graduated in Princeton College, in the year 1774, and returning to the city of New-York, his native place, and the residence of his family, studied the law with Samuel Jones, Esq. until the revolutionary war commenced.
At an early period of the revolutionary war, the depredations committed by the British, upon the estate belonging to the father of Colonel Smith, upon Long-Island, were extensive. His maternal grandfather had been killed in the British service, on board of a man-of-war, and his widow received, until the age of ninety, the period of her death, the half pay of Captain Stephens, her husband. [Page 99 / Page 100]
She remained in the City of New-York, during the whole of the war, visited, by the permission of the British commander, by her daughter Mrs.Smith, who was her only child, and her grand-children, protected by a flag of truce.
Owing to these circumstances, there existed in the family a divided feeling. And when a sword and a major's commission, with the entire restoration of the property belonging to the family, were offered by the British commander to a young man not twenty years of age, provided he would enter the service of his Britainic Majesty, the mother of Col. Smith warmly advocated his acceptance of terms so advantageous to herself and children, extremely doubtful, as it then was, in what way the struggle for the independence of America would terminate.
A family council was called; the question proposed, when the son gave his answer in the following words:
"If it is your wish, madam, it shall be done; but from this hour, all intercourse with me and my family is cut off forever." His father, who had walked the room during the scene deeply agitated, applaudingly exclaimed, "I knew how my boy would decide."
He entered the service as a volunteer at an early period, and in the summer of 1776, was appointed aid-de-camp to Major General Sullivan,[Page 100 / Page 101] with the rank of major, served in that capacity in the battle of Long-Island, and was the only aid-de-camp with the general in that action, in which the whole corps were dispersed, killed, or made prisoners, with very few exceptions. The general fell into the enemy's hands, and Major Smith retired to the lines at Brooklyn, where he remained with General Washington until the retreat from the island, and was one of the last officers who quitted it, coming off with the commander in chief in his barge.
Major Smith continued with General Washington, and retired with him from the city to the heights of Harlem. He brought off the garrison by orders from the commander in chief, on the15th September, from the fort commanding thepassage through Hurl Gate [sic], and opposed to the British batteries on the opposite shore, under a heavy and incessant fire. In the action on the16th September, on Harlem Heights, he served as aid-de-camp to Major Gen. Green, who commanded the advanced attack on the British, was wounded and fell from his horse on the field of battle at the close of the action, and was brought off the field by Col. Carey, aid-de-camp to the commander in chief, and Lieut. Joseph Webb, of the first Connecticut regiment. He remained under the surgeon's hands at West Chester, untilt he landing of the British troops at Throgg's Neck [Page 101 / Page 102] in October, when, with a corporal and six men, he cut away the bridge connecting Throgg's Point with the main, at the town of West Chester, which checked the progress of the British troops, who remained on the peninsula until the morning of the 18th, when re-embarking, they crossed the outlet of East Chester creek, and proceeding to Pell's bridge, brought on a very severe skirmish with the advance corps of Sullivan's army, commanded by Cols. Glover and Sheppard; when the enemy filed to their right, occupying New Rochelle and the adjacent country on the sound. Gen. Sullivan being exchanged, and in command on the heights of East Chester, commanding Pell's Bridge, Major Smith joined him in the action, from New Rochelle, where he was under the care of Dr. Bailey, his wound not well. He proceeded with his general to the action of White Plains, where his division continued under a severe fire nearly two days, covering the removal of the stores on the Plains, to the second position.
While the enemy lay within commanding distance of the village, Major Smith, with a small detachment at night, destroyed all the forage in the village and its vicinity in front, and returned to his post. The British troops retiring to winter quarters, possessed themselves of Fort Washington on York Island, and Fort Lee on the Jersey shore. Sir [Page 102 / Page 103] William Howe, throwing the right wing of his army into the Jersey, under command of Lord Cornwallis, Gen. Washington left Generals Lee and Sullivan with his troops,.near the White Plains, and joined Gen. Green in front of the British army, but was obliged to submit to the pressure of the British, who, advancing in vigour, forced the commander in chief to place the Delaware between the two armies, as the only barrier he could present, that would afford rest to his troops, harassed by the pressure of superior force, the badness of the roads, and the inclemency of the season.
During this period, Gen. Lee gave Major Smith the charge of a flag of truce, with important despatches to Sir William Howe at New-York. Major Smith proceeded to King's Bridge, the British advanced post, resided several days with the enemy, and returned to Gen. Lee, having transacted the business committed to his charge to his full satisfaction.
In consequence of orders from head quarters, on the western banks of the Delaware, Gen. Lee crossed the Hudson, with an intention to reinforce the main army. During this march Major Smith left Gen. Sullivan's family, and served as aid-de-camp to Gen. Lee, the commanding general. On Lee's capture at Baskenbridge [sic], Smith rejoined Sullivan, and crossing the Delaware, encamped [Page 103 / Page 104] at Newtown, the head quarters of the American army.
Emboldened by this reinforcement, Washington re-crossed the Delaware on the night of the 25th of December, and surprised the Hessians at Trenton, commanded by Col. Roll. In this memorable action, Major Smith acted so conspicuous a part, entering the town with the advance troops of Sullivan's division, taking possession of the Mill Bridge, and the commanding western branch of the mill stream, and subsequently, personally taking the commanding officer of the Hessians from his horse at the head of his troops, at the moment of surrender, that on the last of January,1777, Gen. Washington presented Major Smith with a lieutenant-colonelcy, as a mark of his particular consideration.
After returning with the prisoners over the Delaware, General Washington gave Col. Smith the command of a flag of truce to proceed to Princeton, the then advanced post of the enemy in the Jerseys, with despatches and money for Gen. Lee, then a prisoner at New-Brunswick, and to reconnoitre the enemy.
This duty was performed with correctness and despatch. In the meantime the American army re-crossed the Delaware, and took post at Trenton, where Col. Smith rejoined the troops when returning with his flag. The winter campaign was [Page 104 / Page 105] re-opened with vigour, and the British were foiled in the Jerseys. Col. Smith retiring from camp on the recruiting service, appeared in the field again at the head of a well appointed regiment, and joined Gen. Putnam on the eastern banks of the Hudson, at the time Sir Henry Clinton, after reducing forts Clinton and Montgomery, was pressing to Albany to relieve Burgoyne, then on the point of surrendering to Gates. Sir Henry being informed of the Convention of Saratoga, burnt Esopus, distressed the settlers on both banks of the Hudson, and returned to New-York.
Colonel Smith being joined by the regiments of Henly and Jackson, of which as senior officer he took command, proceeded to White Marsh in Pennsylvania, and joined the army commanded by Gen. Washington. On the advance of the British from Philadelphia, threatening the right of the Americans, Col. Smith was posted on the right to defend an abatised bridge and mills. Upon the reconnoitre of the position, the British retired from the right, and presented themselves in front of the centre of the American line. Col. Smith was then called from the right, and ordered to occupy two large stone houses in front of the centre, and between the two armies, to abatis the houses with an adjoining orchard, and defend the post to the last extremity. The orders being exe- [Page 105 / Page 106] cuted, and the troops posted, a close reconnoitre of position took place on the part of the enemy, a rapid movement from centre to left followed, but the position was not thought assailable, and the British army retired to Philadelphia.
The Americans crossed the Schuylkill, and went into cantonments at Valley Forge. Col. Smith with the regiments of Lee, Henly, and Jackson, went into quarters at Lancaster, and in the spring marching to head quarters, was entrusted by the commander in chief with the command of the advance post at the Gulf Mills, six miles in front; Col. Morgan with his riflemen, and Col. Kee with his legion extending to the right. He here commanded with vigilance and attention, until the evacuation of Philadelphia, when with his corps he entered that city under the orders of General Arnold, crossed the Delaware, and overtook the British troops at Allen Town [sic], hung on their rear with effect to the plains of Monmouth. Here 3000 picked men, under the command of Major General Lee, (he being then exchanged) were detached to attack the British, then in full march. Col. Smith, connected with Butler and Jackson, were ordered to the front, as the advanced corps of Lee's division, commenced the well known action on the plains of Monmouth, and aided in supporting it through the day. The British pursued their march to Middletown [Page 106 / Page 107] Point, and proceeded to New-York. The American army took post at the White Plains, and Col. Smith was detached with his regiment to the attack of Newport, in Rhode-Island, under the orders of General Sullivan. After making good their landing on the island, his regiment was the advance corps of the army in approaching Newport, and lay in advance during the whole siege. For the security of the camp, 300 picked men were placed under the command of Col. Smith, and an equal number under Colonels Lawrence and Fluery, who were required to lay every night between the lines in such positions as their judgments directed, to check a sortie, or prevent a surprise of the camp. When the siege was raised, Smith's regiment was the covering regiment of the retreat, and distinguished itself in the action on Windmill Hill, supporting the position with vigour from sunrise until ten o'clock, when the corps was relieved by other troops and ordered to retire for refreshment. The action continuing lightly through the day -- about 4 P. M. glowed with increased vigour -- a Hessian regiment having possessed themselves of a strong wall, Smith's regiment was ordered to advance and dispossess them; this was done with alacrity, and the post sustained through the night.
On the ensuing evening, General Sullivan, being under the necessity of evacuating the island, [Page 107 / Page 108] selected four regiments to cover the retreat. Col.Smith commanded one of these, the orders being,i n case of the enemy's advancing, that the action should be supported with determined vigour.The retreat was successfully conducted, and the troops went into winter quarters at Providence and the adjacent villages. Col. Smith was here detached with 400 men and took charge of the post at Updik's, Newtown, 25 miles in advance, which he supported through the winter.
In the spring, General Sullivan being ordered to take command of the western army, solicited and obtained General Washington's permission, that Col. Smith should accompany him on the expedition. General Hand, who commanded at Wyoming, called on the commanding general for aid, the savages closely besetting the garrison and village. Six strong companies of light infantry accordingly detached under the command of Col.Smith who, traversing the wilderness, arrived to the great joy of the inhabitants and the garrison, and encamping on the right of the fort, restored tranquillity to the settlement.
The savages moving down the country, with an intention to interrupt the passage of the batteaux loaded with provisions and stores, at the Nesnepack falls, on the Susquehannah, Col. Smith was detached with 500 men to cover the passage, and convey the stores to the fort, the place of deposit. This was performed in five days, the [Page 108 / Page 109] detachment and batteaux aniving in safety, the savages being totally defeated and their country laid waste, the troops went into cantonment in the vicinity of Morris Town, winter of '79 and '80.
In the year 1777, when a part of the American army were on their march through the Jerseys, the roads being in a bad condition, the camp equipage, and the provision wagons were impeded for a considerable number of hours, which caused the advanced corps to halt; and the commanding officer, Major General de la Fayette, growing impatient at the delay, called for Col. Smith, one of his aids-de-camp, to demand the cause. The General was very angry when informed that it was owing to the Quarter Master's forward wagon being stuck in the mud, and none in the rear could advance a step, until the provision wagon was dug out.
This excuse so exasperated the General against the Quarter Master, that he rather hastily perhaps, declared that he deserved to be hung. His aid replied, "if you will sign a warrant for that purpose, it shall be instantly executed." The warrant was drawn, but not executed, as the embarrassment in the passage had in the mean time been removed. On the opening of the next campaign, Col.Smith's regiment was ordered to the front, in conjunction with three others, composing the Jersey [Page 109 / Page 110] Brigade, and covered the country and towns of Newark and Elizabeth, until General Sterling, at the head of a strong column of British troops, crossing from Staten Island, took up their line of march to Springfield. Col. Smith began the action with this column at sunrise, and, aided by the first Jersey regiment, supported it until three in the afternoon.General Sterling was disabled by the fire of the Pickett, on his first landing, and his army retired on the second night to Elizabethtown point, and returned to Staten Island. In ashort time, however, the enemy re-appeared under the command of General Knyphausen, who pressing as far as the first bridge of Springfield, which was supported by Col. Angel's regiment of Rhode Island. Col. Smith with the second Jersey regiment was stationed at the second bridge, to cover the troops then in action at the first, with orders to support the post, until the army commanded by Greene should have completed its formation on the short hills in rear. This duty was performed with such spirit and brilliancy, that Col. Smith was honoured by the particular thanks of Generals Washington and Greene.
After several ineffectual movements, the enemy again retreated to their islands, and the Americans took post at Hackensack and the English neighbourhood. In this position, a corps of light infantry consisting of three thousand picked men, [Page 110 / Page 111] was formed into two brigades, under Brigadier Generals Hand and Poor, forming one division, commanded by Major General the Marquis de Ia Fayette. Col. Smith was appointed adjutant general of this corps, and served with it the ensuing campaign, until the march of Lord Cornwallis into Virginia, and his taking post at York and Gloucester, determined General Washington to march from the Hudson and attack him.
Col. Smith was then called by General Washington from the southern army, and appointed his aid-de-camp, in which capacity he served at the siege of York Town, and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. On the surrender of York Town, Col. Smith was the officer by whom Lord Cornwallis and General O'Hara were presented to the commander in chief, and to whom the direction of the interior arrangement was committed. After passing the winter with the General at Philadelphia, he accompanied him to the Hudson, and was appointed to command the advanced post of the army at Dobb's Ferry. The General also appointed him Commissary General of prisoners,and stopped all communication by fiag oft ruce with the enemy, fixing on the post commanded by Col. Smith, as the only channel of communication. This post was supported with dignity. Col. Smith visited the city of New-York, entered into the exchange of prisoners, and [Page 111 / Page 112] after a residence of three weeks, completing the business to the satisfaction both of General Washington and Sir Guy Carlton, whose civilities and attentions were extensive and pointed, here turned to his post. 'l'he ensuing spring opening under the blessings of peace, a meeting was had between General Washington and Sir Guy Carlton, at the post commanded by Colonel Smith, who introduced them to each other. After the interview with the two Generals, Col.Smith was appointed by General Washington, one of the Commissioners to reside near Sir Guy Carlton, superintending the evacuation of the country. At the particular evacuation of New-York, Col. Smith was the acting officer of the day, relieved the British guards, and was the officer to whom the country was officially surrendered.
[Remainder of Memoir Omitted]"
Source: "Memoir of William S. Smith" in Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Written in France and England, in 1785, pp. 99-112 (NY & London: Wiley and Putnam, 1841).
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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., May 19, 2014: Biography of British Officer Who Fought in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.
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.
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