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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

November 1, 1776 Letter Describing the Battle of Pelham and Events Before and After the Battle

In keeping with the last two postings to the Historic Pelham Blog addressing aspects of the Battle of Pelham, the 238th anniversary of which was last Saturday, today's posting transcribes an extract of a letter written by an American soldier on November 1, 1776 describing not only the Battle of Pelham, but also events before and after the Battle.  The lengthy letter is quoted only in part to cover only those events described in the letter during the period from about October 12, 1776 until October 22, 1776.  

Portrait of Colonel John Glover.


About the 15th of October the great movements of the enemy up the Sound, their landing in large bodies at Frog's Point, and the intelligence which the Generals obtained, that the enemy with their whole force were off against Eastchester and New Rochel, and that both Lord and General Howe were there in person, gave the Generals full satisfaction that General Howe's plan was to make a bold stroke, and hem in and cut off our Army at once.  General Lee, I have understood, thought that the situation of the Army of the States of America was much too confined and cramped, and that it could not be good policy to lie still in such a situation, or to hazard the great cause in which we were embarked in one general action, in which, if we should not succeed, the Army might be lost, as a retreat would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.  It was determined by the Generals therefore to counteract the enemy by a general movement.  General McDougall's brigade from the lines at Harlem, several regiments of Militia at Fort Washington, and five or six regiments from the Jersey side were ordered over King's Bridge, and marched on towards the enemy, to counteract them in their operations.  Generals Heath, Parsons, &c., with more than half the Army, were there before; General Lee also now took his post on that side, not far from the enemy.  On the 16th the Generals were all in council, and I suppose determined to leave Harlem, Fort Washington, and King's Bridge, only with a garrison, and march into the country to prevent the enemy from ravaging the coast and surrounding us, and by our movements to lead them into the country.  In the mean time the stores, baggage, &c., were moved to places of safety with the greatest expedition.  General Lincoln had orders to post himself on Voluntine [Valentine] Hill near Mile Square, and to cast up some works for defence; and redoubts were cast up on the hills and on all difficult passes on the road from King's Bridge to Mile Square, to secure our march.  On the 17th General Spencer's whole division had orders to march to Mile Square, which we reached next day.  Two brigades of that division encamped at Mile Square, on the left of General Lincoln, and Lord Stirling marched on further and formed still on the left of them towards the White-Plains, making a front towards the enemy from East-Chester almost to White-Plains, on the east side of the highway, so as to secure the march of the troops behind us on our right, and to defend the teams and wagons that brought on our sick, cannon, stores &c.  In this manner one division of the Army passed another, till we extended from the Sound up to White-Plains, and over to King's Street, not far from Connecticut line, where General Parsons took his post, and until the last division on the right wing, which was General Lee's, reached the Plains, and marched out westward between the main body of the Army and the river.  This was on the 25th and 26th of October.  This left all the road from East-Chester to King's Bridge open to the enemy, excepting a few guards, and a regiment at or near Fort Independence.  This I have understood was Colonel Wyllys's, and that his orders were, that if the enemy came on too powerfully to retreat to Fort Washington.  

General Greene,  I have understood, is at Fort Washington, with about sixteen hundred or two thousand men, and that the garrison is well supplied with provisions and warlike stores, so as to stand a long siege.  They have a communication with the forts on the high rocks on the opposite shore.  All the barracks and preparations for winter we have been obliged to leave for the present.  Our stores of every kind, as far as I can learn, have been brought off, and sent to places of safety.  Our field artillery, with two double-fortified twelve pounders and one brass twenty-four pounder, we have brought on with us.

While we were making this grand movement into the country, the enemy were not idle; having collected their troops from all quarters at Frog's Point, and on board their ships, which were ranged along shore, off against the Point and opposite to East-Chester.  On the 18th they began a cannonade from their shipping early in the day, and landed some men on a point or neck of land near East-Chester meeting-house, and their main body advanced from Pell's Neck out towards the great post road from Connecticut to New-York.  General Lee, who had been watching their motions, had posted a regiment or two of men, with one of the Rifle battalions, in a very advantageous manner, to annoy them and bring them into an ambush; which partly succeeded.  A large advanced guard came forward, with two parties on the right and left of them, to flank and get round our people wherever small parties should appear to oppose them.  A small party of our troops were sent forward to fire on the large advanced body of the enemy, and to divert and lead them on to a wall behind which the regiments mentioned were principally secreted.  The enemy came very near the wall, and received a general fire from our troops which, which broke their advanced party entirely, so that they ran back to the main body, formed, and came on again in large numbers, keeping up a heavy fire with field-pieces on the walls and men.  They advanced now very near, and received a second fire, which entirely routed them again, and they retreated in a narrow lane by a wall, in a confused, huddled manner, near which were posted a large body of Riflemen and some companies of Musketmen, who at this favourite moment poured in upon them a most heavy fire once or twice before they could get out of the way; and they were seen to fall in great numbers.  The whole body of the enemy then advanced different ways to surround our men; they however kept the wall till the enemy advanced a third time, and after giving them several fires they retreated by order from their officers.  General Lee greatly commended the conduct of the men.  The enemy were thought at the lowest computation to have lost five hundred men; some think not less than a thousand.  We had but very few killed, and as far as I can learn, not more than fifty or sixty wounded.  The enemy advanced on to a high point or neck of land not far from East-Chester meeting-house, from whence they were able to command the road with their field-pieces, but they kept very much in a body, so that our people on Saturday and Sunday nights, the 19th and 20th of October, brought off more than one hundred barrels of pork that had been left in the store at East-Chester, without any molestation.  About the same time the enemy sent fight parties along the shore, as far as New-Rochel and Moroneck, but their main body did not move but very little.

On the evening of the 22d thirty-six of the enemy were taken, and next morning brought to Head-Quarters.  They were Tory Rangers, who had listed under the infamous Major Rogers.  One of them had been an officer in the New-York service, and deserted from us not long since.  Two or three of them I have been told were from Newtown, in Connecticut. . . . . . 

Source:  Force, Peter, American Archives:  Fifth Series, Containing A Documentary History of the United States of America, From the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, to the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, September 3, 1783, Vol. III, pp. 471-73 (Washington, D.C.:  1853).  

*          *          *           *          *

I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776.  See, for example, the following 36 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.

Wed., Jun. 04, 2014:  An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Presented and Published in 1894.  

Fri., Jun. 27, 2014:  Newly-Published Account Concludes Colonel William Shepard Was Wounded During the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Mon., Jun. 30, 2014:  A British Lieutenant in the Twelfth Foot Who Fought at the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Fri., Sep. 19, 2014:  Abel Deveau, An American Skirmisher on Rodman's Neck as British and Germans Landed Before the Battle of Pelham.

Wed., Sep. 17, 2014:  References to the Battle of Pelham in 18th Century Diary of Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College.

Fri., Oct. 17, 2014:  First-Hand Diary Account of Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Mon., Oct. 20, 2014:  American Diary Account of Events Before, During, and After the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

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