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.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Brief Report on the Battle of Pelham Fought October 18, 1776 Prepared Five Days Afterward

The Battle of Pelham was fought along Split Rock Road on October 18, 1776. The battle began in an area within today's Split Rock Golf Course in Pelham Bay Park and continued toward Prospect Hill, then along Wolfs Lane to Colonial Avenue (Old Boston Post Road) where the Americans crossed the Hutchinson River and the British halted their pursuit and encamped.  


The Battle of Pelham has been described as a battle that saved Washington's army. Sir William Howe, Commander of the British forces, hoped to use ships moving up Long Island Sound to land troops who would race across the mainland and cut off Washington's army pulling back from the northern end of Manhattan (the area around King's Bridge in today's Bronx)toward White Plains. In effect, Sir Howe hoped to flank Washington's entire army and, at a minimum, interrupt the flow of supplies to the American army from New England. The Battle of Pelham destroyed Howe's plans. 

Early on the morning of October 18, 1776, Col. John Glover stood atop a hill located near today's Memorial Field on Sanford Boulevard in Mount Vernon. Using a "glass" he observed British ships underway transporting 4,000 German and British soldiers to a landing on Pell's Point (later known as Rodman's Neck) near where Pelham Road (now known as Shore Road) crosses the Hutchinson River near City Island. 

Leaving his own unit in reserve, Col. Glover raced down the hill and ran with about 450 troops along Split Rock Road. Here is how Col. Glover described the battle in a letter he wrote to a friend a few days after the battle. The letter, entitled "Letter from Mile Square, Oct. 24, 1776" was printed in the Freeman Journal and New Hampshire Gazette on Nov. 26, 1776.  The letter is quoted immediately below. 

"You no doubt heard the enemy landed all their army on Frog's Point the 11th instant, leaving only twelve hundred men in York, and there remained until the 18th which was Friday. I arose early in the morning and went on the hill with my glass and discovered a number of ships in the Sound under way; in a very short time saw the boats, upwards of two hundred sail, all manned and formed in four grand divisions. I immediately sent Major Lee express to General Lee, who was about three miles distance, and without waiting his orders, turned out the brigade I have the honour to command, and very luckily for us that I did, as it turned out afterwards, the enemy having stole a march one and a half miles on us. I marched down to oppose their landing with about seven hundred and fifty men and three field pieces, but had not gone more than half the distance before I met their advanced guard, about thirty men; upon which I detached a captain's guard of forty men to meet them, while I could dispose of the main body to advantage. This plan succeeded very well, as you will hereafter see. The enemy had the advantage over us, being posted on an eminence which commanded the ground we had to march over. I would have given a thousand worlds to have Gen. Lee, or some other officer present to direct or at least approve of what I did. However, I did the best I could and disposed of my little party to the best of my judgement: Colonel Read's on the left of the road, Colonel Shepherd's in the rear and to the right of him, Colonel Baldwin's to the rear and on the right of Shepherd's, my own regiment commanded by Capt. Courtes (Colonel Johnnot being sick, and Major Lee being Brigade Major) bringing up the rear with three field pieces of artillery. Thus disposed of I rode forward --to the advance guard, and ordered them to advance, who did, within forty yards, and received their fire without the loss of a man; we returned it and fell four of them, and kept the ground until we exchanged five rounds. Their body being much larger than mine, and having two men killed and several wounded, which weakened my party, the enemy pushed forward not more than thirty yards distant, I ordered a retreat which was masterly well done by the Captain that commanded the party. The enemy gave a shout and advanced; Colonel Read's, laying under cover of a stone wall undiscovered till they came within thirty yards, then rose up and gave them the whole charge; the enemy broke, and retreated for the main body to come up. In this situation we remained for about an hour and a half, when they appeared about four thousand, with seven pieces of artillery; they now advance, keeping up a constant fire of artillery; we kept our post under cover of the stone wall before mentioned till they came within fifty yards of us, rose up and gave them the whole charge of the battalion; they halted and returned the fire with showers of musketry and cannon balls. We exchanged seven rounds at this post, retreated, and formed in the rear of Colonel Shepherd and on his left; they then shouted and pushed on till they came on Shepherd, posted behind a fine double wall; he rose up and fired by grand divisions, by which he kept up a constant fire, and maintained his part until he exchanged seventeen rounds with them, and caused them to retreat several times, once in particular so far that a soldier of Colonel Shepherd's regiment leaped over the wall and took a hat and canteen of a Captain that lay dead on the ground they retreated from. 

However, their body being so much larger than ours, we were, for the preservation of the men, forced to retreat, and formed in the rear of Baldwin's regiment; they then came up to Baldwin's but the ground being much in their favor, we could do but little before 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; the ground being rough and much broken I was afraid to risk it over. The enemy halted, and played their artillery at us, and we at them, till night, without any damage on our side, and but very little on theirs. At dark we came off, and marched about three miles, leading to Dobb's Ferry, after fighting all day without victuals or drink, laying as a picket all night, the heavens over us and the earth under us, which was all we had having left our baggage at the old encampment we left in the morning. The next morning we marched over to Mile Square. I had eight men killed and thirteen wounded, among which was Colonel Shepherd, a brave officer."

Brief Report of the Battle Written on October 23, 1776

As the British began their onslaught in the late summer of 1776, a network of American patriots recorded and passed along intelligence and information via correspondence committees and messengers.  One brief communication from Benjamin Huntington to Nathaniel Shaw is the subject of today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog.

Benjamin Huntington (born 19 Apr. 1736, died 16 Oct. 1800) was an American patriot, lawyer, jurist, and politician from Connecticut.  He served as a delegate to the Second Continentall Congress.  On October 23, 1776, he sent a brief report of the Battle of Pelham to Nathaniel Shaw.  

Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., a wealthy merchant and American patriot, was the naval agent for the Continental Congress and the State of Connecticut.  He owned a number of ships used for privateering in support of the American cause.  He directed many of his activities as a privateer and a naval agent out of his home in New London, Connecticut.  That home still stands and serves as the headquarters of the New London Historical Society.  See New London's Sound Defense, ConnecticutHistory.org (visited Dec. 18, 2015).  

Huntington's report to Shaw is quoted below in full, followed by a citation and link to its source.  Thereafter, I have included brief commentary about the report.  


The Hon. Richard Law, Esq., is appointed a delegate to represent the State in the Continental Congress, in addition to those chosen last year, who are reelected to that important trust.

The enemy have extended themselves this way as far as New-Rochel, and small parties of them have advanced as far as Marrineck [i.e., Mamaroneck].  In one of the churches at New-Rochel was stored more than two thousand bushels of salt, which has fallen into the hands of the enemy.  It was owned by the State of New-York.  

Last Friday there was a smart skirmish near the above church, between a detached party of the enemy and one from our army, in which we lost eight or ten men, and some wounded.  Among the latter was Colonel Shepard, of the Massachusetts-Bay, who was slightly wounded in his throat, and who commanded the party.  The enemy's loss is not known.

We hear that near two hundred sail of the enemy's fleet are this side Hell-Gate, the chief of them lying near Hart Island."

Source:  Force, Peter, ed., American Archives:  Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, state Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Publick Affairs, the Whole Forming A Documentary History of the Origin and Progress of the North American Colonies; of the Causes and Accomplishment of the American Revolution; and of The Constitution of Government for the United States, to the Final Ratification Thereof In Six Series, 5th Series, Vol. II, "Correspondence, Proceedings, &c, October 1776, p. 1209 (Entered According to Act of Congress, in the Year 1851, in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the District of Columbia).  

The "smart skirmish" to which reference is made was the Battle of Pelham that occurred on Friday, October 18, 1776.  The report notes that American forces "lost eight or ten men," a number that is consistent with Col. Glover's report that "I had eight men killed and thirteen wounded."  Interestingly, the report further states that "The enemy's loss is not known."

The number of British and German casualties during the Battle of Pelham has been the subject of heated debate for nearly 150 years.  Estimates have ranged from as few as a dozen killed to as many as 800.  Clearly the confusion over this fact arose immediately after the Battle, as Huntington's report suggests.

Huntington's report notes that "The enemy have extended themselves this way as far as New-Rochel, and small parties of them have advanced as far as Marrineck [i.e., Mamaroneck]."  His reference is to the fact that at the conclusion of the Battle of Pelham, the British and German troops stretched a massive encampment along both sides of today's Colonial Avenue from the Hutchinson River to New Rochelle.  They camped there for several days before moving toward White Plains for the Battle of White Plains that occurred on October 28, 1776. 

Battle of Pelham Medallion Design Created for the
Bicentennial Commemoration of the Battle.

Colonel John Glover of the Marblehead
Mariners Who Led American Troops
During the Battle of Pelham.

*          *          *          *          *

I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776.  See, for example, the following 39 previous 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 Dec. 18, 2015).  

Tue., Sep. 08, 2015:  Pelham Manor Resident Makes Revolutionary War Discovery.

Mon., May 18, 2015:  Cannonball Fired in The Battle of Pelham Found on Plymouth Street in Pelham Manor.

Mon., Apr. 27, 2015:  Obituary of British Officer Who Participated in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 as a Young Man.

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.

Tue., Oct. 21, 2014:  November 1, 1776 Letter Describing the Battle of Pelham and Events Before and After the Battle.

Fri., Oct. 24, 2014:  October 21, 1776 Report to the New-York Convention Regarding the Battle of Pelham.

Wed., Feb. 18, 2015:  Young American Hero James Swinnerton, Badly Wounded in the Battle of Pelham.

Wed., Feb. 25, 2015:  Where Were the Stone Walls Used by American Troops During the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776?

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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