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, July 22, 2016

Extract of November 1, 1776 Letter Describing the Battle of Pelham

The Battle of Pelham was fought along, and in the countryside adjacent to, 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 today's Colonial Avenue (Old Boston Post Road) where the Americans crossed the Hutchinson River and the British halted their pursuit and encamped along the Old Boston Post Road, stretching from today's high school grounds all the way to the border with New Rochelle.

I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham.  For a list of 47 previous articles addressing aspects of the battle, see the bibliography of articles (many of which, like today's, document research regarding the battle) at the end of today's posting.  A number of my previous articles address accounts of the Battle of Pelham published shortly after the battle in newspapers or reports.

One such letter, dated November 1, 1776, has been the subject of one of my previous articles.  See Tue., Oct. 21, 2014:  November 1, 1776 Letter Describing the Battle of Pelham and Events Before and After the Battle.  Today's posting provides a complete version of that letter posted from New Haven, Connecticut on November 6, 1776, and published in the December 5, 1776 issue of the Maryland Gazette in Annapolis.  The letter does not indicate its author, although it seems to be written by a member of General Spencer's Division in Washington's Army who did not actually participate in the Battle of Pelham but who participated in the Battle of White Plains that followed.

The letter follows immediately below, in its entirety, as published in the Maryland Gazette.  The text below is followed by a citation and links to its source.

"NEW-HAVEN, November 6.

Extract of a letter from a gentleman in the army, dated Camp near the Mills, about three miles north of White Plains, November 1.

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 East-Chester, 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 mmuch 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 McDougal's brigade from the lines at Haerlem, several regiments from the Jersey side, were ordered over kingsbridge, 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 counsel, and I suppose determined to leave Haerlem, Fort Washington, and Kingsbridge, 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 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 Kingsbridge 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 gen. Lincoln, and lord Stirling marched on farther, and formed still on the left of them towards the White Plains, making a front towards the eney 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 waggons that brought on our sick, cannon, stores, &c.  In this manner our 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 till 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 15th and 16th of October.  This left all the road from East-Chester to Kingsbridge open to the enemy, excepting a few guards, and a regiment at or near Fort Independence.  This I have understood was col. Wyllys's, and that his orders were, if the enemy came on too powerfully, to retreat to Fort Washington.  General Green 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 nd preparations for winter, we have been obliged to leave for the present.  Our stores of every kind, as far as I can learn, hve been brought off and sent to places of safety; our field artillery, with two double fortified twelve pounders, and one brass 24 ditto, 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 15th 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 en, with one of the rifle battalion, 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 near the wall, and received a general fire from our troops, which broke their advanced party entirely, so that they ran back to the main body, formed and came on again, in larger 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 force companies of musket men, 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 in solid columns, and large flanking parties 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 conception 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 some light parties along on the shore, as far as New Rochel and Maroneck, but their main body moved 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 enlisted 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.

On the 23d there was much cannonading, and a smart engagement between a party of our men and the enemy.  The enemy were beat, leaving thirteen hessians dead on the field, whom our people buried, one wounded lieutenant, who was taken.  Our people also found a major's commission in the field, but whether it belonged to any of the slain, or so some officer who might be wounded and carried off, they could not determine; in the action we had not one man killed on the ground, and only six or eight wounded, but one, it was thought, mortally.

Friday the 25th, there was much firing fro the ships, in honour of George III, who came to the throne on the 25th of October, and the enemy advanced a little into the country, but with great precaution, having an advanced guard of two thousand men or more, with a number of excellent field pieces.  At night they would halt on advantageous ground, with their cannon well mounted round them; and thus they have come on a mile or two in a day, in the most cautious manner, with great art and generalship.

Sabbath day, 27th, the enemy sent up two ships to cut off communication between Fort Washington and the Jersey shore, but lay so much below Fort Washington, that they could not fire on them to good advantage; at the same time a general attack was made by the enemy on our lines at Haerlem, but they were repused three times successively, and the lst time went off in great confusion, and our troops pursued them some miles.  It is said they lost eight or nine hundred men, that our men were not able to bury them the next day.  The ships were soon so much mauled and damaged by our cannon that they were obliged to slip their cables, and sail down the river.  They were, it is said, greatly damaged, but neither of them sunk.

Monday 28th, we had intelligence that the enemy, with their whole body, were advancing towards us; the army were alarmed, and part of general Wadsworth's brigade, with some other regiments, under this command of general Spencer, consisting in the whole of five or six hundred men, were sent out as an advanced party, to skirmish with the enemy, and harrass them in their march.  We marched on to a hill, about one mile and a half from our lines, with an artillery company and two field-pieces, and placed ourselves behind walls and fences, in the best manner we could, and the light parties of the enemy, with their advanced guard, consisting of two or three thousand, came in sight, and mrched on briskly towards us, keeping the high grounds, and the light horse pranced on a little, in the rear, making a very martial appearance; as our light parties came on to the hills and discovered where we were, the enemy began to cannonade us, and to sling shells from their hobits and small mortars.  Their light parties soon came on, and we, firing upon them from the walls and fences, broke and scattered them at once; but they would run from our front and get round upon our wings to flank us, and as soon as our fire discovered where we were, the enemy's artillery would at once begin to play upon us in a most furious manner.  We kept the walls till the enemy were just ready to surround us, and then we would retreat from one wall and hill to another, and maintain our ground there in the same manner, till numbers were just ready to surround us.  Once the Hessian grenadiers came up in the front of col. Douglas's regiment, and we fired a general volley upon them, at about twenty rods distance, and scattered them like leaves in a whirlwind; and they ran off so far, that some of the regiment ran out to the ground where they were, when we fired upon them, which we had time to drink round with before they came on again.  They formed at a distance, and waited till their artillery and main body came on, when they advanced in solid columns upon us, and were gathering all around us, ten to our one; col. Douglas's and Silliman's regiments fired four or five times on themm, as they were advancing, and then retreated, but not till the enemy began to fire on their flanks.  Cols. Silliman, Dougls and Arnold, behaved nobly, and the men gained much applause.  Col. Webb's, Silliman's and Douglas's regiments had the principal share in the action.  Col. Webb had four killed, and eight or ten wounded, Silliman lost six, and had ten or twelve wounded, Col. Douglas hd three killed and six wounded.  Cols. Brooks's, Smallwood's and Ritzma's regiments, who were drawn up on the hill near the lines, suffered considerably; our loss in the whole may be seventy or eighty killed and wounded.  It is said by all the deserters and captives, who agreed in their stories, that the enemy had about three hundred killed and wounded.  The scene was grand and solemn, all the adjacent hills smoked, as though on fire, and bellowed and trembled with a perpetual cannonade and fire of field-pieces, hobits and mortars.  The air groaned with streams of cannon and musket shot; the air and hills smoked and echoed terribly with the bursting of shells; the fences and walls were knocked down, and torn to pieces, and men's legs, arms and bodies mangled with cannon and grape shot, all round us.  I was in the action, and under as good advantages as any one man, perhaps, to observe all that passed, and write their particulars of the action from my own observation.  No general action was designed on our part, and I believe one thousand were never engaged at any time with the enemy.  They came onto the hills opposite our lines and halted; and after cannonading some part of our lines a short time, they became very still and quiet.  On the 31st it was observed that they had near finished four or five batteries which they had erected against us and as our ground near the center of the town at White Plains was not good, being overlooked by neighboring hills, the generals lsat night drew off most of the troops from the lines there, and this morning the guards and sentries burned the town and forage all round it, and came off about nine o'clock.

We had carried off all our stores, and planted our artillery on the hills about a mile and an half back of the entire centre of the town.  The enemy advanced in the forenoon on the ground as we left, and as soon as they came over the hill, we saluted them with out cannon and field pieces, and they advanced no farther.  Our sick and wounded are sent out eight or ten miles.  Our men are in good spirits, and with much patience endure great hardships and fatigue.  I believe the main body of the enemy lie off against us, and that they have formed no lines across the country, as yet, below us.  Their lighthorse may possibly scour across as far as the river, but how that is, I cannot determine.  All things seem to be quiet at Fort Washington.'" 

Source:  NEW-HAVEN, November 6 -- Extract of a letter from a gentleman in the army, dated Camp near the Mills, about three miles north of White Plains, November 1, The Maryland Gazette [Annapolis, MD], Dec. 5, 1776, p. 2, cols. 1-3 & p. 3,col. 1 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  

Portrait of Colonel John Glover.

Battle of Pelham Insignia Prepared for the Bicentennial
Celebration of the Battle in October, 1976.

*          *          *          *           *

I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776.  See, for example, the following 47 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).  

Mon., Apr. 25, 2016:  Extract of December 3, 1776 Letter Addressing Battle of Pelham Casualties on October 18, 1776.

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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