The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of White Plains (New York), October 1776

Immediately after General George Washington’s victory at Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776, he and the Continental Army remained at the northern end of York Island (Manhattan).[1]

Twenty-six days later (October 12th) General William Howe made his next move. He had 90 British flat-boats with 4,000 troops row up the East River to Throggs Neck, a narrow peninsula that demarcates the passage between that River and Long Island Sound. There the troops disembarked with the objective of establishing a line across the island to the Hudson River and thereby encircling the Continental Army and preventing their escaping from York Island. The British inland advance, however, was blocked by swamps and some Continental troops.

Howe responded by having his troops return to the boats and go three miles north to Pell’s Point (or Pelham). There on October 18th, the British troops again disembarked with the same objective.  Inland were 750 Continental Army men under the command of Col. John Glover, who positioned his troops behind a series of stone walls and attacked the British advance units. As the British overran each position, the American troops fell back and reorganized behind the next wall. After several such attacks, the British broke off, and the Americans retreated.

This battle or skirmish delayed British movements long enough for Washington to move the main Continental army 18 miles north to White Plains, thereby avoiding being surrounded on Manhattan.

In White Plains by October 22nd Washington established a defensive line near the village anchored by Purdy Hill on one end and Hatfield Hill at the other end. Across the line and the Bronx River was Chatterton’s Hill, which was left undefended.

White Plains Battle map
Battle of White Plains
British soldiers, White Plains (reinactment)
Continental Army soldiers, White Plains (reinactment)

When General Howe and the British troops arrived in White Plains on October 28th, Howe immediately recognized the importance of Chatterton’s Hill and made it the focus of their attack.

Washington’s attempt to mount a defense of that Hill failed, and the British won the battle with 300 Americans killed, wounded and captured. One of those killed on the battlefield was my maternal fifth great-grandfather, Perley Brown.[2]

The two sides remained in their positions for the next two days. On October 31st General Howe planned to attack the Americans, but heavy rain prevented this move. That night, under the protection of t he rain, Washington withdrew his troops to the north. The next day, November 1st, Howe again found that Washington had eluded his grasp.

Washington continued his retreat to the north and then west over the Hudson River into New Jersey for their further retreat to Pennsylvania in late December. The British returned to Manhattan.

[1] In addition to the hyperlinked sources in this post, it also draws from Arthur Merrill, The Battle of White Plains (Analysis Press; Chappaqua, NY, 1975); David McCullough, 1776 at 229-34(New York; Simon & Schuster 2005); T. Harry Williams, Richard N. Current & Frank Freidel, A History of the United States [To 1876], at 151 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1959); Henry Steele Commager & Richard B. Morris, The Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants, Ch. Eleven (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).  From 1969 through early 1970, I was a lawyer for a Wall Street law firm working for IBM on the IBM antitrust cases and spent a lot of time at a special office for the cases in White Plains. Unfortunately I did not scout out the sites of this battle.

[2]  Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 at 17 (Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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