An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Published in The McDonald Papers
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The Battle of Pelham was fought along Split Rock Road and today's Wolfs Lane 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.
Much has been written about this battle. It long has been the subject of academic papers and even books. Indeed, on October 7, 1862, a native of Westchester County named John M. McDonald presented a paper to members of the New-York Historical Society entitled "The Operations and Skirmishes of the British and American Armies in 1776, Before the Battle of White Plains." Sixty-four years later, the Westchester County Historical Society collected McDonald's papers, edited them, and published them in a series of books entitled, unsurprisingly, "The McDonald Papers."
The paper presented by John M. McDonald on October 7, 1862 included a lengthy discussion of the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776. Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of McDonald's discussion of the battle. The transcribed text is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"Before the approach of day on the morning of the 18th, Sir William reembarked several corps in flat boats, which passed around Throg's Neck, and landed at Pelham Point, below the mouth of Hutchinson's River. The royal guide, for a while suspected of treason, had found means to reassure the British commander of his fidelity. He accompanied the advance guard upon the present occasion.
Among the first of the King's officers that trod the shores [Page 14 / Page 15] of Pelham, was Captain George Harris of the grenadiers, who in after days became General Lord Harris, and was celebrated as the conqueror of Seringapatam. In a letter to his uncle, written about this time, he says: 'On the 18th of October at one o'clock in the morning, the van of the army, consisting of the light infantry and grenadiers, embarked at Frog's Neck for the continent, and landed without opposition.'
Soon after daylight, the Americans who were at the Westchester causeway, found that the main body of the British army at Throg's Neck, was under arms, and seemed to be moving toward the pass at the head of the creek. Heath and Washington were soon upon the spot. The division commanded by the former, got ready for action and took up a position which appeared well suited for opposing the enemy. Presently, however, it was found that the Royal forces were marching to the east side of Throg's Neck, where they embarked on board their flat boats, crossing Eastchester Bay, and landing at Pelham Point, with their artillery and baggage, a few hours subsequently.
Colonel Glover of General Lee's division, with a brigade, which he temporarily commanded, lay at this time at Milesquare to watch the enemy's movements. The brigade consisted of four regiments, commanded by Colonels Read, Shepherd, Baldwin and by Glover himself, and numbered in all, less than eight hundred men. Early in the morning, Colonel Glover ascended an eminence that commanded a view of the Sound, and from which he was in the habit of reconnoitring the hostile forces with a telescope. He discovered at once that the King's fleet in the East River, was under way. In a short time upward of two hundred boats filled with troops, and formed into four grand divisions, embarked from the upper part of Throg's Neck and stood across Eastchester Bay in the direction of Pelham Point. Although a young and inexperienced soldier, Glover saw the urgency of the case and acted promptly. He made his drums beat to arms, and sent an express with intelligence of the movement to General Lee, who was three miles off. He then put himself at the head of his brigade, and with about seven hundred [Page 15 / Page 16] and fifty men, and three field pieces, hastened toward Pelham, to oppose the landing of the enemy.
A detachment of British light infantry, preceded by a small vanguard, was upon Pelham Heights before the American colonel had reached Hutchinson's River. He instantly detached a captain's guard of forty men, with directions to march rapidly and stop the enemy's advance. These orders were executed with celerity and skill, the men running the whole distance. When they approached the enemy, the latter halted. Having by this movement brought the British forces to a stand, Glover left his field pieces behind, upon a hill, crossed the river near Pell's bridge, already dismantled, and ascended the Heights of Pelham. He then made the most advantageous disposition of his followers. Colonel Read's regiment was posted on the left of the road leading to Pelham Point, with Shepherd's and Baldwin's in the rear upon his right. These troops for the most part, were well covered by stone walls. They were supported by Glover's regiment, which was stationed as a body of reserve, under the command of Captain Curtis.
With a modest appreciation of his own ability and a deep sense of the responsibilities about to be encountered, Glover watched in vain for the approach of General Lee or some superior of more experience than himself. The colonel was left to his own resources, and prompt action was requisite. He then rode forward to his advance guard, and led it against the enemy's detachment. When within fifty yards, he received the hostile fire, without the loss of a man, returned it instantly, brought down four of the British and maintained his ground till they had exchanged five rounds. By this time the Americans had two killed and several wounded, while they were much outnumbered by the British, whose two detachments having united, advanced to the charge with bayonets. Glover now ordered a retreat, and his bold captain led the men back without further loss. The enemy pursued with loud huzzas. In great excitement and some disorder, they ran forward to overtake the captain's guard, and in this state approached within thirty yards of the spot where Read's [Page 16 / Page 17] regiment lay undiscovered behind a stonewall. His men then rose up and fired a volley which sent the King's light infantry back to their main army at the Point.
The Americans remained in nearly the same position for about two hours. At the end of this time, a strong force approached, under Brigadier-general Leslie and Sir William Erskine, with seven pieces of artillery. Colonel Read was posted under cover as before. When the King's troops were about forty yards from him, the whole battalion again rose up and fired. The enemy halted, and returned the fire until seven rounds had been exchanged, when Read retreated and formed again, in the rear and on the left of Colonel Shepherd. The Royal forces shouted and pushed on, until they reached the post occupied by the latter, behind a thick double stone wall. Shepherd now ordered his men to rise and discharge their muskets by grand divisions. By this means he kept up an incessant fire, and maintained his ground for a long while; causing his assailants to retreat several times a short distant off, where they formed again and returned to the combat. 'Once,' says Colonel Glover, 'they retired so far, that a soldier of Colonel Shepherd's leaped over the wall and took a hat and canteen off a captain, that lay dead on the ground they had retreated from.'
The officer thus despoiled, was Captain Evelyn of the light infantry belonging to the Fourth regiment, a gallant youth, not then dead but mortally wounded, who at the head of his company, was foremost of the enemy, when first they attacked Colonel Shepherd.
It was not long before the superior numbers of the enemy enabled them to dislodge Shepherd from his position. After their last repulse, they returned in greater force, brought forward their field pieces and completely outflanked the Americans, who were compelled to retreat and form in the rear of Baldwin's regiment. But they had now retired beyond the old Pell house upon the Heights, where the descending ground gave the enemy an advantage, and Colonel Glover found it necessary to retreat down the hill. He then forded Hutchinson's River and ascended the opposite height where he [Page 17 / Page 18] had left his artillery. The enemy halted upon the commanding eminence they had gained, placed their artillery in battery, and commenced a cannonade which was answered, and was maintained by both sides until the approach of night. At dark, Glover received orders to take a new position in advance of the enemy. Here the weary soldiers of his brigade, after a hard day's fight, lay all night long as a picket guard in the open air by the roadside, without food or refreshment. The next morning they were relieved, and marched back to their encampment, where they broke a fast of more than twenty-four hours. Colonel Glover says, he had eight men killed, and thirteen wounded in the action. Some letters from officers of his brigade make the loss greater. From returns made to the British War Office, it would seem, that the King's troops had about eleven men killed, and forty-four wounded, the loss falling principally upon the First battalion of light infantry and on the Seventy-first regiment, the former belonging to Leslie's brigade, and the latter to that under Sir William Erskine.
The only American officer dangerously wounded, was the brave Colonel Shepherd, who received a musket ball in the throat, and underwent a long and painful confinement at Northcastle near Whiteplains [sic], where he was immediately sent, for surgical treatment. Of the British officers, Captain Evelyn of the light infantry, belonging to the Fourth regiment was killed, and Lieutenant-colonel Musgrove and Lieutenant Rutherford were wounded.
General Lee reviewed Glover's brigade the next day, and returned thanks to both officers and soldiers for their adroit and daring conduct throughout the action. General Washington at the same time bestowed high praise upon them in his general orders.
The affair of Pelham Heights was in fact a stand made by Glover's small brigade, against the main body of the British army, and was conducted throughout by the Americans with the greatest skill, coolness and intrepidity. As the story of the skirmish spread abroad, fame exaggerated its importance, and when the news reached the headquarters of the Northern [Page 18 / Page 19] army, General Gates on the 27th, in the general orders of the day, dictated as follows, viz.: 'All the troops off duty to be under arms at one o'clock at their respective alarm posts, when, upon a signal given by the firing a cannon from the northeast angle of the covert way of the old fort, the whole will give three cheers for the glorious success with which it has pleased Providence to bless the arms of the United States on the 18th instant, in defeating the Army of the enemy near Eastchester.'
After this action, the British army marched across the Manor of Pelham, and encamped with the right wing near the village of New Rochelle, while the left extended to Hutchinson's River."
Source: Hadaway, William S., ed., The McDonald Papers Part I, pp. 14-19 (White Plains, NY: Published for Westchester County by the Westchester County Historical Society, 1926).
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I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776. See, for example, the following 46 previous articles many of which, like today's, document research regarding the battle:
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).
Fri., Feb. 19, 2016: The 600-Year Old "Lord Howe Chestnut" Tree that Once Stood in Pelham.
Fri., Dec. 18, 2015: Brief Report on the Battle of Pelham Fought October 18, 1776 Prepared Five Days Afterward.
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?
Thu., Mar. 24, 2016: An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Published in The McDonald Papers.
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