Article 2 of 4. Alexander Hamilton was Not a Hero at the Battle of White Plains. New Evidence Counters Historical Texts and Internet Posts

Article 2: Detail troop positions and specifics of the Battle of White Plains; Determine Hamilton’s artillery position during the battle; One of his cannon saw action-firing one shot-Hamilton was not in command of that cannon; Examine if Hamilton’s other cannon (he had two in his train of artillery) was one of the two cannon reported to be in action on Chatterton Hill- if so, explore any documentation that might put him in command of that cannon.

Captain Alexander Hamilton of New York State Artillery

The previous Article 1 stated that Alexander Hamilton’s role during the Battle of White Plains had been fabricated and grossly exaggerated over the decades. The author of this four part series has traced this misinformation to Hamilton’s son who published several biographical texts; each one expanding on his father’s courage acts in combat. John Church Hamilton lifted his father’s quotes pertaining to another action and used that to fantasize his father’s heroic role in several other battles, including the Battle of White Plains. Many historians, including countless internet sites, had joined the ‘bandwagon’, citing similar heroic acts in their texts and articles. Some historians added their own flair of romantically courageous endeavors, all with no primary source to back up their claims save one – Alexander Hamilton’s quotes as verified by his son. Even the US Postal Service was fooled, issuing a stamp commemorating the battle and Captain Hamilton’s train of artillery’s significant performance. Article 1 also determined that Hamilton’s train of artillery was not part of fellow New Yorker General Alexander McDougall’s Brigade as reported in many historical texts and the internet, but was assigned to another New Yorker, General Morin Scott. This is important because historians claim that it was Hamilton’s artillery on Chatterton Hill that shelled and threw back the Hessian and British attack. However, Hamilton’s two artillery pieces were on the other side of the American line; one is documented in primary accounts as seeing action briefly, firing one shot at some British dragoons who strayed too close to the American line.  This left just one cannon in Hamilton’s command – there were two cannon in the train assigned to McDougall’s command who were present on Chatterton Hill. Therefore these two pieces could not have been Hamilton’s.

Article 2 will explore the following questions in detail:

  1. What are the specifics of the Battle of White Plains, both the opening salvo and the main assault on Chatterton Hill by the British and Hessians. What American forces were involved in countering the attack on Chatterton Hill?
  1. What was Captain Hamilton’s artillery position in the American line at White Plains? Did any of his cannon see action that day? Was any of his artillery present on Chatterton Hill? Was he in personal command of any cannon during the battle?

What are the specifics of the Battle of White Plains, both the opening salvo and the main assault on Chatterton Hill by the British and Hessians. What American forces were involved in countering the attack on Chatterton Hill?

Map of the Battle of White Plains

The Battle of White Plains occurred on October 28th, 1776.  It occurred in two parts or stages if you like. The British, Hessian and American forces began the action at approximately 10 AM that morning. The battle of the first stage raged a mile and a half in front of the American line when regiments from two American brigades were sent forward to harass the enemy that advanced in two main columns. This action lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour before the Americans, for fear of being flanked, withdrew. The second and main action of the day, though shorter, occurred on the American far right on Chatterton Hill. While the right column of Howe’s army was satisfied in holding their position and facing Washington’s main force that was dug in, four thousand Hessian and British troops ascended Chatterton Hill against sixteen hundred to two thousand ‘rebel’ defenders. The action only lasted about fifteen to thirty minutes with the withdrawal of the Americans from Chatterton Hill. Except for artillery shells thrown towards the American line, there was no other action that day and within a few days, the American army had withdrawn and British Gen. Howe moved his forces back towards New York City.

British disembarking in New York City after Washington abandoned it in on Sept. 15, 1776.

Prelude:  After Washington abandoned New York City on September 15, 1776, and the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776, his army was positioned mid-Manhattan; dug in along Harlem Heights. He faced south where British General Howe’s forces occupied the city. By mid October, the American army was reorganized from three to seven divisions; each one consisting of two to three brigades; each brigade had anywhere from three to five regiments: Maj. Gen. Lee – Nixon ,McDougall, Glover; Maj. Gen. Spencer – Stirling, Wadsworth, Fellows; Maj. Gen. Heath – Parson’s, Scott, Clinton; Maj. Gen. Sullivan – Sergeants, Hands, Saltonstall; Maj. Gen. Putnam – Heard, Beall, Weedon; Maj. Gen. Greene – commanding forces in Fort Lee and Fort Washington (Mostly Penn. forces under Col. Magaw); Maj. Gen. Lincoln – Mass. Militia.[1]

East River, New York, in the 18th Century

On Oct. 12th, British General Howe sailed eighty ships, including transports, north through Hells Gate and into Long Island Sound. They landed troops at Throngs Neck (at the time called Frog’s Point) on the 13th. The wet, marshy land proved to be a poor choice to invade, easily defended by Colonel Hand and Continental troops from Mass. and New York. Howe remained at Throng’s Neck for five days while supplies and baggage were brought up from the city. He withdrew his forces on the 18th to seek a more suitable landing, disembarking on the same day at Pell’s Point, only three miles up the coast.  He encountered Colonel Glover’s Brigade of four regiments who fought a delaying tactic until nightfall. Instead of rapidly moving his troops across Westchester to the Hudson River, effectively trapping Washington’s army to the south, Howe remained at New Rochelle for three days. He slowly moved his army to Mamaroneck, only three miles distant, where he waited four more days before moving up to White Plains. By then, Washington’s army had slipped by and was already dug in on the high ground north of the town.

Battle of Pell’s Point

When Howe’s attempt to cut across Westchester County was stalled at Throg’s Neck, Washington was given the time to organize a retreat north. On the 16th, a council of war was assembled at the Morris House, Washington’s headquarters at Harlem Heights. It was decided that the army would withdraw as far as White Plains. The main army marched on October 18th, the day Colonel Glover’s brigade halted Howe’s advance from Pell’s Point. On the 22nd, General Heath & Spencer’s divisions arrived at White Plains. Washington selected a series of hills that overlooked the village and all approaches from the south upon which to establish the American line. The right flank on Purdy Hill overlooked a small gorge through which ran the Bronx River. General Spencer began entrenching the right of the American line and General Heath’s division formed the left, three miles northwest from Purdy Hill and lining wetlands. The ends of both lines were drawn back to secure each flank from attack. Over the next few days they were followed by the divisions of Generals Putnam, Sullivan and Lincoln, with Lee’s division arriving last with baggage and supplies. Lee joined Spencer on the right with the other three divisions forming the center. Greene’s division remained on Manhattan and along the Hudson River with Colonel Lasher’s regiment of General McDougall’s brigade remaining in the trenches at Harlem Plains.

A half mile to the right and west of the American line, across the small gorge through which the Bronx River ran, was another hill; Chatterton Hill. It was a ridge about three quarters of a mile long running north and south and 180 feet above the river which dominated all of the White Plains. The gently rounded top was crisscrossed by stone walls between cultivated fields. History notes that General Lee had pointed out the need to heavily fortify Chatterton Hill; for, if it fell into British hands, the American lines would be compromised.  However, according to General Heath’s memoirs, this was not made known to Washington until the morning of the battle.[2]

British troops advance

First Stage of the Battle – Advance Force: According to British Lieutenant Henry Stirke, on Monday morning, Oct. 28th,[3] the British struck their tents at Scarsdale and by 7:30 AM, they were on the road and moving in two columns towards White Plains.[4] The right column, mainly British, was led by Lt. Gen. Henry Clinton.  They proceeded along the Mamaroneck Rd. The left column was composed mainly of Hessian forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Leopold Phillip von Heister and advanced up the York Road, keeping the Bronx River on their left.[5]

 

Major General Joseph Spencer. Courtesy of Dana Spencer.
Major General John Sullivan

General Washington was soon informed by his aide, Colonel Reed, that the pickets had been driven in.[6] Washington ordered General Spencer’s Division and elements of General Sullivan’s Division to advance a mile and a half forward of the American line to confront the two columns. Referencing the Returns of those Killed, Wounded, and Missing, dated November 17 – 28, 1776, it is ascertained that the following commands made up the American forces sent forward: Maj. General Spencer’s Division – Gen. Wadsworth’s Brigade of Colonels Silliman, Seldon (commanded by Lt. Col. Arnold as Seldon died of wounds during captivity), Sage, Douglas and Gen. Fellows Brigade of Colonels Holman and Smith; Maj. General Sullivan’s Division – Colonel Sergeant’s Brigade of Colonel Chester and Gen. Saltonstall Brigade of Colonels Baldwin and Ely,[7] Colonel Samuel Miles Pennsylvania State Rifle Regiment.[8] This represented a force of approximately 2,600 men.

Hessian Grenadier

An accurate list of British and German units that composed the vanguard of General Howe’s forces can be found in Captain Johann Ewald’s diary.  He wrote that the right column, under General Clinton, consisted of Colonel Donop’s Jaeger Company, Capt Werdon[9] commanding, one half of the 16th Regiment of Dragoons, 1st & 2nd Battalion of Light Infantry under Col. Abercromby, three Hessian Grenadier battalions under Lising, Minnigerode & Block commanded by Col. Donop, four light 6 pounders and British Guards. Colonel Campbell provincials covered the right flank.  The column on the left under Lt. Gen. Heister consisted of Donop Jaeger Company commanded by Cpt. Ewald, one half of the 17th Regiment of Dragoons, the 3rd Battalion of Lt. Infantry under Maj. Maitland, the 1st & 2nd English brigades, the Lossberg & Mirbach brigades, six 12 pounders and eight 6 pounders. Colonel Grant’s provincials covered the left flank and the remainder of the dragoons followed the column.[10]

Hessian Jaeger

Captain Johann Ewald, Hessian captain of Jager, German riflemen, wrote in his diary that the British forces had marched barely two hours when the left column encountered an advanced corps of the enemy. The riflemen engaged the Americans supported by the light infantry. According to Ewald, the area in which the two forces met was “intersected by hills, woods, and marshes, and every field was enclosed with a stone wall. This enemy corps [Americans] had taken a stand behind the stone walls on the steep hills between two plantations… General Heister immediately mounted a battery on the main road and cannonaded the enemy, who withdrew to his own lines…”[11]

The American right, Gen. Wadsworth brigade[12], proved more stubborn than the left which were regiments of General Sullivan and Gen. Spencer’s divisions. The American left soon gave way exposing Gen. Wadsworth’s men and threatening their capture, forcing them to slowly withdraw. British Lt. Stirke, marching on the British right flank that attacked the American left, did not think much of the American resistance writing; “… dislog’d several large parties of Rebels that threw themselves into the woods, in our front in order to impede our march; but on our field pieces being fired into the woods, they immediately ran.”[13] Private Joseph Plumb Martin of Wadsworth’s Brigade and Colonel William Douglas’ Connecticut regiment found his regiment in jeopardy of being flanked and gave an account of his brigade’s resistance when encountering the Hessians: “There was in our front, about ten rods distant, an orchard of apple trees. The ground on which the orchard stood was lower than the ground that we occupied, from our post to the verge of the orchard, when it fell off so abruptly that we could not see the lower parts of the trees. A party of Hessian troops, and some English, soon took possession of this ground; they would advance so far as just to show themselves above the rising ground, fire, and fall back and reload their muskets… We were engaged in this manner for some time, when finding ourselves flanked and in danger of being surrounded, we were compelled to make a hasty retreat from the stone wall.”[14]

First stage of the Battle of White Plains: Americans advance to counter Howe’s forces.

Whereas Plum Martin offered an explanation of the enemy pulling back, having to reload before coming up again, Col. Douglas saw it as having driven back the enemy’s initial attack. Douglas wrote to his wife on Oct. 31st.  “I was ordered out with my regiment with three others [Silliman, Sage, Seldon (Arnold)] to meet and endeavor to retard their march. We moved on and at about twelve were attacked by their advanced guard. We drove them back but soon after the main body came on and we stood them until they got on our flank and I ordered a retreat.”[15] Colonel Gold Silliman, of Gen. Wadsworth’s Brigade, also wrote that his men threw back the Hessian advance. He recorded the role his regiment played as part of Gen. Spencer’s advance force writing to his wife on Oct. 29th, 1776.  “Yesterday about 10 o’clock in the morning we had news that the enemy were approaching, when I with my regiment & 3 others [Douglas, Sage, Seldon (Arnold)] were ordered out about 1½ miles below our lines to take post on a hill to gall them in their march as they advanced. We accordingly took our post & mine & one other regiment had the advantage of a stone wall right in front at which we had been waiting but little time before the enemy came up within 6 or 8 rods,—when our men rose from behind the wall, poured in a most furious fire. The enemy retreated & came on several times & were so hotly received every time that finally we drove them off from the hill. We killed some they did not carry off & some they did… On this the enemy were coming upon us with a number of field pieces & as we had none there to meet them with, we were ordered to retreat…”[16]

Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Major Benjamin Tallmadge, Brigade Major to General Wadsworth, accompanied Wadsworth’s forces. His description is similar to Martin, Douglass, and Silliman’s accounts in that the Hessian forces were held or forced back until, for fear of being flanked on their left, the brigade retreated.  He confirmed the Americans using the York Road and mentions that the Bronx River was on their right. He wrote: “A detachment of 2,000 or 3,000 men was ordered to proceed on the old York road to meet the enemy in front. Gen. Spencer, who commanded this body of troops in advance, immediately made the necessary disposition to receive the enemy, having the river Bronx on our right, and between us and the troops on Chatterton’s Hill. At the dawn of day [this is questionable as all other accounts give the times of action shortly after 10 AM to approximately 1 PM], the Hessian column advanced within musket shot of our troops, when a full discharge of musketry warned them of their danger. At first they fell back, but rallied again immediately, and the column of British troops having advanced upon our left, made it necessary to retire. As stone walls were frequent, our troops occasionally formed behind them, and poured a destructive fire into the Hessian ranks. It, however, became necessary to retreat wholly before such an overwhelming force.”[17]

Chatterton Hill was located on the extreme right and a little south of the American line at White Plains.

Second Stage of Battle – Chatterton Hill: Thomas Jones, in his 1879 History of New York During the Revolutionary War, Vol. 1 wrote that “… [Chatterton’s Hill] from which village and court-hours, as they then were, it is about one mile due west.  A short distance north of it, across a bend in the Bronx, a bridge communicated with Washington’s entrenchments, which extended from that river on the west, over and along a high ridge, to Horton’s (now Willett’s ) pond, on the east. It was therefore in advance of, and separated from, them [American line], by the river [Bronx].[18]

General McDougall’s forces ordered to Chatterton Hill the morning of the battle. They haul on the only two American cannon that ascended the hill. The cannon were poorly handled and were soon withdrawn from the battle.

Though the majority of historical accounts of this stage of the battle attest to its brief action, lasting anywhere from fifteen minutes but no more than thirty,[19] it was the most severe during the day resulting in the highest number of casualties. Americans occupying fences and stone walls, with little time to construct entrenchments, defended the hill against a combined British and Hessian force more than twice their numbers. According to British accounts, the hill was taken in one assault after a severe bombardment by their artillery. American versions state that the initial Hessian assault was repulsed once and some stating twice, followed by another, more concerted effort involving British light infantry that proved successful.[20]  American General Heath’s observance that the British assault stalled momentarily to allow their artillery to half for the final push forward, thereby giving the impression that they were driven back may be closer to actual events.[21] This frontal assault, along with a Hessian regiment’s flanking movement on the American right against the militia, made the hill untenable. The Americans hastily withdrew northeast, crossing the bridge over the Bronx to their main entrenched lines. Many questions remain as to the exact American forces that defended Chatterton Hill and to the number and effective use of American cannon during the British and Hessian attack. The entire region of White Plains was crossed by many hills, stone walls and streams leading into the Bronx River. Most accounts do not label the various hills and ravines that the troops traversed during the heat of battle which added confusion as to what terrain they traveled and defended.

Major General Charles Lee
General William Heath commanded one of Washington’s Divisions in which General Scott’s Brigade was assigned along with Hamilton’s Train of Artillery

General Heath stated that General Washington did not consider occupying Chatterton Hill until the morning of the British attack. “From the American camp to the west-south-west, there appeared to be a very commanding height, worth of attention. The commander in Chief ordered the general officers who were off duty, to attend him to reconnoiter this ground, on this morning [Oct. 28]… ‘Yonder,’ says Major General Lee, pointing to the grounds just mentioned, ‘is the ground we ought to occupy.’ ‘Let us go and view it,’ replied the Commander in Chief. When on the way, a light horseman came up… and addressed Gen. Washington. ‘The British are on the camp. Sir…”[22] Artillery commander Colonel Henry Knox also noted that Chatterton Hill was not entrenched prior to the battle, “our men had no works and were not timely reinforced, owing to the distance they were from the main body.”[23] Lt.Colonel Robert H. Harrison wrote to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut on the 2nd of Nov. 1776. He also supports that the militia had just started to entrench Chatterton’s Hill the morning of the battle, “In a little time their main body [British] filed off to our right and began a most incessant cannonade at a part of our troops who had just taken post on a hill with a view of throwing up some lines.”[24]

Major General Benjamin Lincoln. He commanded a division of Massachusetts state militia.

It is logical to assume that General Washington decided to follow General Lee’s advice and occupy Chatterton Hill. Army Engineer Colonel Rufus Putnam (nephew of Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam) was sent to Chatterton Hill the morning of the battle. He records in his memoir, “October 29th [28th] the British advanced in front of our lines at White Plains about 10 o’clock a.m. I had just arrived on Chatterton Hill in order to throw up some works when they [British forces] hove in sight…”[25] Regiments regularly accompanied Colonel Putnam on his engineering projects[26] and historical texts and primary sources are in agreement that two milita regiments reported to Chatterton that morning. One, Colonel Brooks’ militia regiment of Maj. General Lincoln’s Division of Massachusetts State Militia[27], had crossed the Bronx River from the main American line and took position on the hill with the intent to construct hasty defenses. Some primary sources and return of casualties after the battle recognize only Colonel’s Brook’s regiment on Chatterton Hill; [28]  however Colonel Haslet, who was ordered to the hill and arrived shortly after Brook’s regiment clearly states militia regiments were present.[29] If another regiment of militia was present, the name of this unit is not mentioned in any first hand accounts but one, Sergeant Thomas Craige of Colonel John Mosely Massachusetts Militia. His description of the day’s events indicated that Mosely’s regiment accompanied Colonel Brook’s regiment onto Chatterton Hill. He wrote that General Washington “ordered the men to dig a new entrenchment between the road and the place occupied by the two armies, extending right out to front from the right…” This new entrenchment, the extended right, would be Chatterton Hill. However, his evidence is not conclusive and rather confusing when he states that “Whether the men that dug that entrenchment were of Brook’s regiment, of McDougall’s or some other corp, the declarant [Craige] is not certain… and then Brook’s regiment, with some other troops went into it.” The main aspect of Sergeant Craige’s narrative is the following, “Brook’s regiment was next to us.” The last sentence states that Mosely’s regiment was next to Colonel Brook’s regiment.

State Militia

The description is not clear as to whether this was prior to Colonel Brook’s regiment being sent to Chatterton Hill, or during the battle when Brook’s unit was stationed on the right of those troops present on Chatterton Hill. Some historical accounts, Bancroft & Ward, list the other milita regiment as that of Colonel Morris Graham of New York. However testimony at a court-martial on Nov. 4th, which accused Colonel Graham of ordering his men to retreat from two stone walls without firing a shot, stated that he was ordered back by two senior officers who were not on Chatterton Hill. One of those officers, Colonel Read (or Reid) of McDougal’s brigade supplied strong evidence that Col. Graham’s regiment was part of the force sent forward during the first phase of the battle, and was not present on Chatterton Hill[30].

Brigadier General Alexander McDougall

Besides Brook’s and, according to Sergeant Craige, Mosely’s regiment of Massachusetts militia, the following American units were ordered to Chatterton Hill: Colonel Haslet’s Continental regiment from Delaware (Lord Stirling’s Brigade[31] & Maj. Gen. Spencer’s Division)[32], General McDougal’s Brigade of Maj. Gen. Lee’s Division[33] – 1st New York regiment (formerly McDougal’s brigade whose command was vacant during the battle)[34] 3rd New York under Colonels Ritzema, Colonel Webb’s 19th Continental regiment from Connecticut, and Colonel Smallwood Marylanders.[35] The total number of soldiers varied from 1400 to 1600 troops.[36] General McDougall had two three pound cannon assigned to his brigade[37] and accounts were indecisive as if there were two or three cannon present; the commander of the cannon was not recorded.

Colonel Rufus Putnam. Engineer, he was the first on Chatterton Hill to supervise entrenchments.

Evidence exists that some elements of the advance force ordered beyond the American line to harass the approaching British and Hessian forces may have retreated onto Chattington Hill. Sullivan’s forces, making up the American left, pulled back to the main American line. As did Spencer’s Division; both Colonel Douglas and Private Martin stated that once disengaged with the enemy, their regiment returned to the main American line and saw no further action.[38] However, two primary sources indicate that some of McDougal’s Brigade forded the Bronx River and ascended Chattington Hill and joined the Americans defending the position. Only one, Colonel Silliman of Wadsworth’s Brigade gave evidence that his regiment joined those in defense of Chatterton Hill. He wrote: “we [his regiment] were ordered to retreat over West on to another Hill and join another party of men & accordingly did it & formed a line of battle. We were I believe near 2,000 on the Hill (Chatterton’s).[39] Silliman went on to give an explicit description of the British and Hessian attack lending credence to his account. So too did Major Tumbridge, of Wadsworth’s Brigade, describe crossing the Bronx River and ascending Chatterton’s Hill with elements of Spencer’s brigade; “To gain Chadderton’s Hill, it became necessary to cross the Bronx, which was fordable at that place. The troops immediately entered the river and ascended the hill, while I being in the rear, and mounted on horseback, endeavored to hasten the last of our troops, the Hessians being then within musket shot.”[40] Tumbridge does not elaborate which units were before him that ascended the hill, and quite possibly could have been elements of Colonel Silliman’s regiment. However, among all other primary sources, only Colonel Silliman’s account gives strong evidence that his regiment joined those in defense of Chatterton Hill and is therefore logically suspect.[41]

Colonel Haslet’s Delaware Blues

While General Wadsworth’s men were confronting the Hessian column, Colonel Brook’s Massachusetts Militia and possibly Colonel Mosely’s milita[42] were soon joined on Chatterton Hill by Colonel Haslet’s Delaware regiment, General Stirling’s Brigade.[43] Haslet was ordered forward by General Washington and arrived minutes before the Hessian forces began a bombardment of the American position. Hessian heavy field artillery, approximately fifteen pieces of six and twelve pounders, were positioned on a hill to the southeast of Chatterton overlooking a gully formed by the Bronx River. At around twelve noon[44], the artillery opened up on the American position with a thunderous roar: “Heister’s [General Heister, divisional commander of Hessian troops] adjutant-general says that the Hessian field-pieces made such a thurder-storm that one could neither see nor hear.”[45] Haslet wrote: “I received his Excellency’s [Washington] orders to take possession of the hill [Chatterton Hill] beyond our lines, and the command of the militia regiments there posted; which was done. We had not been many minutes on the ground, when the cannonade began.[46] No sooner did Haslet arrive than a cannon shot routed Mosely’s regiment of militia. He wrote: “the second shot wounded a militia-man in the thigh upon which the whole regiment broke and fled immediately, and were not rallied without much difficulty.”

1st Maryland Regiment – Smallwood’s Regiment (latter commanded by Major Gist)
Colonel Rudolphus Ritzema. His regiment was in the thick of the action on Chatterton Hill and sustained many casualties.

The remaining militia and the Delaware Continental regiment were soon reinforced by General McDougal’s Brigade[47] consisting of Colonel Smallwood Marylanders, Colonel Webb’s 19th Connecticut regiment[48], Colonel Rudolphus Ritzema’s 3rd and McDougal’s late 1st regiment.[49] The militia formed on the right with the Delaware regiment beside them. General McDougall arranged his brigade along the American left, sending Colonel Smallwood and Webb’s regiments forward to harass the enemy as they attempted to ford the Bronx River. Colonel Haslet of Delaware wrote:  “Soon after General McDougall’s brigade took post behind us. Some of our officers expressed much apprehension from the ire of our friends so posted [fear of friendly fire]. On my application to the General, he ordered us to the right, formed his own brigade on the left, and ordered Brook’s Massachusetts militia still farther to the right, behind a stone fence.” Haslet, along with McDougall, observed the British and Hessian forces push back the initial American resistance and the enemy’s left column turn toward their position on Chatterton Hill. He recommended troops sent forward as the militia could not be trusted to stand their position: “I then applied to Gen. McDougall again to vary his disposition, and advised him to order my regiment farther onward, and replace it with Colonel Smallwood’s, or order the Colonel forward, for there was no dependence to be placed on the militia. The latter measure was adopted.”[50] McDougall also sent Col. Webb forward as 2nd Lt. Bostwick of Webb’s regiment related: “We soon came to the place of action a large field of fenced lots but were wholly exposed to the fire of their artillery which played upon us from an eminence which over looked us from the east when their foot were advancing upon us from the south and were soon at musket shot… Our regiment was ordered by Gen. McDougall farther down the hill & while making that movement as I supposed to prevent our being flanked…”[51]

Brigadier General Alexander Leslie

British General William Howe ordered Lieutenant General de Heister, commanding the left column, to take Chatterton Hill prior to an engagement by the rest of his troops on the American main line of defense. The following troops made the assault: Hessian regiments under Col. Carl Lossberg, Col. Donop, and Col. Rall. The British 2nd British Brigade under Brigadier Leslie, and supported by the 1st British Brigade and 3rd Battalion of Light Infantry, along with the 16th Dragoons; about fourth thousand troops in all.[52]

Robert Beatson, recorded the British version of the assault on Chatterton Hill and interviewed British officers who witnessed or participated in the battle. In his Navel and Military Memoirs…” written from London in 1804 he stated: “Colonel Rall, who commanded a brigade of Hessians on the left, observing this position of the enemy, and perceiving a height of the other side of the Bronx unoccupied by them, from whence their left flank might be galled, took position on with great alacrity. Sir William Erskine [British Adj-general] acquainted Gen. de Heister with this movement, who approved very much of it… General Howe gave orders for a battalion of Hessians, which was to be supported by the second brigade of British, under the command of Brigadier General Leslie, and the Hessian grenadiers from the right, commanded by Colonel Donop, to pass the Bronx and attack the enemy’s detached corps. Colonel Rall was at the same time directed to charge the enemy’s flank, as the Hessian battalion advanced upon their front.”[53]

Hessian artillery.
British troops advance on Chatterton Hill. Reenactment – White Plains Historical Society.

Under the cover of the Hessian artillery, Hessian and British forces forded the Bronx River.  Contrary to several secondary historical accounts that state the river was swollen due to recent rains, General Heath noted it was readily fordable.[54] General Parsons stated that the British crossed the Bronx and marched along Mill Lane up the river under cover of the hill [Chatterton’s].[55] Several historical scholars make mention of a bridge being constructed over the Bronx River and that the Hessian troops hesitated to ford the stream. Many even have American Artillery, commanded by Cpt. Hamilton shelling the bridge and causing great havoc. There is no primary source that describes or even mentions such a bridge or American artillery shelling any such structure.  Colonel Lossberg’s Brigade formed the front followed on the left by General Leslie’s Second Battalion of 28th and 35th regiments. These troops were supported on the right by Colonel Donop’s regiment of grenadier. The 1st Battalion, the 5th and 49th regiments, closely supported the main assault.[56] Colonel Silliman, who wrote that his regiment forded the Bronx River and ascended Chatterton Hill prior to the Hessian attack, referred to the Hessian bombardment and troop formation: “The enemy soon brought their main body opposite to us and formed them into three lines, one back of the other, and a large number of field pieces in their front… Then they marched their first line off from the Hill where they stood, down into a deep valley that lay between us & then they played on us most furiously with their artillery to keep us from meeting their people in the hollow & in short the shot & shells came like hail.”[57]

At this stage of the battle, culminating with the British assault on Chatterton Hill, American accounts uniformly disagreed with British reports.  British author Sir George Otto Trevelyan, in 1922, published a six volume discourse on the war full of prose and witticism in which he captured the British sentiment towards their opponent: “The Americans were ill posted and their performance was what it might be expected from raw troops who had some good stuff among them.”[58]

Battle of White Plains. Retreating Hessian troops.

British & Hessian primary sources, including British Historians, categorically stated that the Hessians and British units pressed up the hill continuously and in one slow, determined charge, forced the Americans to retreat; no mention of being forced back. The American version concurred or claimed that the initial charge was beaten back once, even twice, before a flanking movement by the enemy on the American right routed the militia and forced the rebels to retreat.

The Hessian brigade under Lossberg assaulted the hill supported by two of Brigadier Leslie’s regiments and a brigade of Hessian grenadier. British officer Lt. Henry Stirke wrote: “About 1 o’clock the Hessian Grenadiers, with the 2nd Brigade and some light dragoons, attacked a large body of the rebels, ver advantageously posted on a hill, behind stone walls, from which they received a very heavy fire as they advanced; but the rebels were soon drove from them, tho’ not without some loss on our side.”[59] British historian Charles Steadman interviewed officers who participated in the battle and in his 1794 text wrote “… a part of our left wing passed the ford, which was entirely under command of our cannon. They then mounted the hill [Chatterton], and very gallantly drove the enemy from the strong heights on which they were posted…”[60]

Hessian Fusilier regiment von Lossberg

Robert Beatson’s 1804 text based on British memoirs gave an accurate account of the British version writing: “The 28th and 35th regiments, who were the first to support the Hessians, forded it [Bronx River]… and forming on the opposite bank with the greatest steadfastness, although all the time exposed to a severe fire, ascended the deep hill, and in defiance of all opposition, rushed upon the enemy with fixed bayonets, routed, and drove them back from their works. These two brave battalions were instantly supported by the 5th and 49th regiments… The Hessian grenadiers also coming up and passing the Bronx, ascended the height with great alacrity, and in the best order, ordered forward upon the heights, within cannon shot of the enemy’s entrenchments [approx. 500 yards].[61] Historian George Bancroft concurred in his 1866 text on the History of America, however he gave more credit to Hessian Colonel Rall’s flanking movement: “Rall brought up two regiments by a southerly route and charged the Americans on the flank.”[62] This occurred at a critical movement in the assault and forced the Americans holding their center and left to retreat; concurred by primary American sources.

Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall. He took the initiative and attacked the right line of the American defenses on Chatterton Hill, routing the militia.

Lieutenant Colonel Harrison, aide to Washington, when referring to the action on Chatterton Hill put it most succinctly when he wrote: “Covering themselves with their cannon, they [British & Hessians] advanced in two divisions, and after a smart engagement, of about a quarter of an hour, obliged our men to give way.”[63] The Americans on Chatterton Hill stood their ground during an intense bombardment by Hessian artillery, feebly answering with one, but no more than three, 3 pound field pieces, and when pressed by a persistent enemy, withdrew. As stated, some American first-hand accounts state that they initially drove the enemy back. Captain William Hull, Webb’s 19th Conn., also gave a brief description of the action: “It [Chatterton Hill] was attacked by the whole force of the British army, and was obliged to give way, after sustaining an obstinate and severe conflict, and the enemy became possessed of the ground. In this action, I received a slight wound by a musket ball.”[64]

Major Tallmadge of General Spencer’s division wrote: “When they [Hessians] had advanced within a few yards of a stone wall, behind which Gen. McDougall had placed them [his command], our troops poured upon the Hessian column, under Gen. Rall, such a destructive fire, that they retreated down the hill in disorder, leaving a considerable number of the corps on the field.”  He went on to write: “The enemy having rallied, and being reinforced, made a second attempt upon Gen. McDougall’s detachment, who gave them a second warm reception…”[65] Note: though Gen. Rall attacked the American right only, Tallmadge, at the time the letter was written, must have assumed that Gen. Rall commanded the entire field. Lt. Colonel Tilghman, aide to Washington, made no mention of driving the enemy back: “… our troops made as good a stand as could be expected and did not quit the grond, thill they [the enemy] came to push their bayonets.”[66] Army engineer Colonel Rufus Putnam went beyond Maj. Tallmadge’s account that the enemy was driven back once having written: “The British in their advance were twice repulsed; at length, however, their numbers were increased so that they were able to turn our ight flank.”[67]

Second Lt. Elisha Bostwick, was also in Colonel Webb’s 19th Conn. Regiment. He recalled that his regiment arrived shortly after Col. Haslet’s regiment and was ordered further down the hill: ““…We soon came to the place of action a large field of fenced lots but were wholly exposed to the fire of their artillery which played upon us from an eminence which over looked us from the east when their foot were advancing upon us from the south and were soon at musket shot….our regiment was ordered by Genl. McDougall farther down the hill and while making that movement as I supposed to prevent our being flanked from that quarter as we were on the declivity of the hill a cannon ball cut down Lt. Young’s Platoon which was next to that of mine.”[68]

Colonel John Haslet led the 1st Delaware “Blues”.

Colonel Haslet of the “Delaware Blues”, they, along with Smallwood’s Marylanders were considered the most ‘soldierly’ outfits in the American army, arrived shortly after the militia and before General McDougall’s brigade. He gave a very detailed and succinct description of this stage of the battle in his letter to Caesar Rodney[69] dated Nov. 12, 1776. He states that the enemy was repelled twice and detailed the poor handling of American artillery. Interestingly, his commentary that the rest of McDougal’s force never came up to the action was partly vindicated by return of casualty reports. While Ritzema, Smallwood, and Webb suffered a total of 99 casualties, McDougal’s vacant regiment had but one.[70] “… On my seeing the enemy’s march to the creek begin in a column of their main body, and urging the necessity of bringing our field pieces immediately forward to bear upon them, the General ordered one, and that so poorly appointed, that myself was forced to assist in dragging it along the rear of the regiment. While so employed, a cannon-ball struck the carriage, and scattered the shot about, a wad of tow blazin in the middle. The artillerymen fled. One alone was prevailed upon to tread out the blaze nad collect the shot. The few that returned made not more than two discharges, when they retreated with the field piece.”[71] Without artillery to assist in repelling the enemy, the remaining infantry was severely at a disadvantage. “At this time, the Maryland battalion was warmly engaged, and the enemy ascending the hill. The cannonade from twelve or fifteen pieces, well served, kept up a continual peal of reiterated thunder. The militia regiment behind the fence fled in confusion, without more than a random, scattering fire.”

General William Smallwood by Robert Edge Pine. As a colonel, he commanded the famed Smallwood Marylanders, one of the finest regiment in Washington’s Army.

Here Haslet fails to mention the flanking motion by Hessian Colonel Rall that immediately routed the militia under Brooks. “Colonel Smallwood in a quarter of an hour afterwards, gave way also. The rest of General McDougall’s brigade never came up to the scene of action. Part of the first three Delaware companies also retreated in disorder, but not till after several were wounded and killed. The left of the regiment took post behind a fence on the top of the hill with most of the officers and twice repulsed the light troops and horse of the enemy; but seeing ourselves deserted on all hands, and the continued column of the enemy advancing, we also retired. Covering the retreat of our party, and forming at the foot of the hill we marched into camp in the rear of the body sent to reinforce us.”[72]

Colonel Haslet did not mention Colonel Webb’s regiment which suffered casualties, though less than Haslet’s or Smallwood’s. Perhaps in the heat of battle, he thought Webb’s regiment remained beside McDougal’s vacant regiment during the action. Nor did he address Colonel Silliman’s regiment who, according to Colonel Silliman, was also present on Chatterton Hill. This supports evidence that Colonel Silliman’s account was questionable or has been interpreted incorrectly. Haslet also wrote of light horse which some primary and secondary sources state attacked along with Rall’s troops on the American right.

The assault on Chatterton hill that may be the most feasible scenario is best described by General Heath. He stated that the British forces halted their artillery when their troops approached the American lines. This led to a misconception that the Hessians and British troops were also halted or driven back. He wrote: “As the troops which were advancing to the attack ascended the hill, the cannonade on the side of the British ceased as their own men became exposed to their fire, if continued. The fire of small-arms was now very heavy, and without any distinction of sounds. This led some American officers, who were looking on, to observe that the British were worsted, as their cannon had ceased firing; but a few minutes evinced that the Americans were giving way. They moved off the hill in a great body, neither running nor observing the best order. The British ascended the hill very slowly; and when arrived at its summit, formed and dressed their line, without the least attempt to pursue the Americans.”[73] Historian Henry Johnston, who wrote in 1878 what is considered the more accurate account of the battles around New York, that the attacking Hessians paused during the initial American fire, but continued on: “McDougall’s men reserved their fire until the enemy were within short range, when they poured destructive shower of bullets upon them. The British recoiled, but moved up again to the attack, while Rall came around more on the left, [his left – American right] and after a brisk fight, in which the militia facing Rall failed to stand their ground, they succeeded in compelling McDougall to retreat.”[74]

17th Light Dragoon

British dragoons accompanied the two British/Hessian columns; the 16 Regiment of Dragoons on the right with Lt. Gen. Clinton, and the 17th dragoons on the left under Lt. Gen. Heister.[75] General Heath’s memoir reported that a company of dragoons were fired upon by cannon on the American left,[76] resulting in the death of one dragoon. Early historian William Gordon wrote in his 1801 text that “[McDougall] while engaged with these forces in front, four regiments of militia, upon the approach of about 250 light horse, ran away…”[77] John Church Hamilton wrote in 1865: “As soon as the militia were scattered by the British dragoons, a part of McDougall’s brigade… were ordered to retreat.”[78] Modern historian Christopher Ward[79] credited the dragoons for routing the American militia on Chatterton Hill while historian Henry Johnston makes no mention of light horse during the assault on the hill.[80] British Second Lt. Strike wrote that light cavalry accompanied the 2nd brigade in the assault on Chatterton Hill; “…Hessian grenadiers, with the 2nd Brigade and some light dragoons attacked a large body of the rebels, very advantageously posted on a hill – behind stone walls.”[81] Colonel Haslet is the only primary source known to have been on Chatterton Hill who states that British dragoons were present. He wrote: “The left of the regiment took post behind a fence on the top of the hill with most of the officers, and twice repulsed the Light Troops and Horse of the enemy…”[82]

Summary. So ended the Battle of White Plains. The British, after repelling the Americans from Chatterton Hill, were content to dress their lines and send occasional shells off towards the American main line, about a mile across the Bronx to the northeast. Lt. General Clinton’s column on the right continued to hold their ground and never attacked that day. After a couple of days in which the two forces faced each other across picket lines, Washington’s army withdrew north and British General Howe retreated south to attack the American forces still on Manhattan and captured Fort Washington along with all of the fort’s men and supplies.

CASUALTIES

Johnston’s text The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn best describes the general American casualty report. “McDougall suffered some loss, but the whole force escaped to the right of our lines, with fewer casualties than they inflicted on the enemy. The latter [British and Hessian] lost about two hundred and thirty; the Americans something over one hundred and forty. Colonel Smallwood was wounded, and lost two of his captains, killed. Ritzema’s New York Continentals suffered the most, having made a brave fight. Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel B. Webb, of Wethersfield, Ct., one of Washington’s aids, who had shown his coolness under fire on Bunker Hill, was slightly wounded and had a horse shot under him while carrying orders.[83]

A breakdown of casualties as found in Force’s American Archives of casualty returns after the battle is as follows: The advance force of Sullivan’s Division; Salsotonstall – 1 wounded, 1 missing; Sergeant – 4 killed; Wadsworth’s Brigade/ Silliman – 5 killed, 11 wounded/Sage – 2 wounded/Seldon(Commanded by Arnold) 1wounded/Douglas 3 killed, 9 wounded/Gay 0 casualties.[84] Forces on Chatterton Hill: McDougal’s Brigade: Vacant McDougal – 0 killed, 17 missing, 1 wounded, 11 prisoners, Ritzeman – 10 killed, 13 missing, 15 wounded, 4 prisoners, Reid – 4 killed, Webb – 3 killed, 8 wounded, Smallwood – 12 killed, 6 missing, 26 wounded.[85]

Major Mordecai Gist by Charles Wilson P:eale.

Colonel Gist took over command of Smallwood Marylanders after Smallwood was wounded. He wrote on Nov. 2 to Maryland Council of Safety: Officers killed – 5, Wounded – 3 (including Smallwood), Privates killed and wounded – 38.[86] Historians weigh in on casualties. Bancroft states fewer than a hundred Americans were killed and wounded. Irving wrote three to four hundred, including prisoners taken. Whitton, citing an English account, says definitely 313. Hufeland, Westchester County During the War,citing regimental returns stated 175 total casualties

British & Hessian: British Casualties were often downplayed and General Howe rarely listed an accurate account of Hessian casualties; perhaps intentionally as the British government had to pay the German province of Cassel additional revenue for German casualties. Force in his American Archives gave an official British report of General Leslie’s troops: Officers killed-5, Rank and file killed-22, Officers wounded-5, Rank and file wounded-109.[87]  British staff officially reported 28 killed, including 5 officers, with 126 wounded, also including 5 officers. Hessian casualties were reported to have been 77 in total.

What was Captain Hamilton’s artillery position in the American line at White Plains? Did any of his cannon see action that day? Was he in charge of his artillery, and were any of his artillery present on Chatterton Hill?

General John Morin Scott

General Scott’s brigade did not occupy the coveted right flank of General Heath’s division. Based on his seniority in the army, Scott complained of his posting in line of battle in a letter to General Heath dated Oct. 7th: “I received your order of battle last night… I am highly pleased in every respect, except that of my being placed in the center. I think I ought to take the right… McDougall and even General Clinton… are preferred to me.”[88]As evidenced in Scott’s later assigned position at White Plains, to the left of Heath’s division, the order in line of battle did not change when the army moved north.

Once the British landed in Westchester County, in their attempt to hem in Washington’s army to the south, the Americans raced north to the area of White Plains. They spent the next week digging and forming a line of battle. The American left extended from the northeast and ran to the southwest; the right ending at a gorge facing Chatterton Hill to the southwest – which was occupied just prior to the battle. General Heath’s division arrived at White Plains on Oct. 22nd and established their position on the left of the American line: “In the position of White Plains, our General’s position [Gen. Heath] was on the left of the line.”[89]

Heath no sooner arrived than he ordered Colonel William Malcom’s regiment of Scott’s brigade[90] to establish a position on a hill on the far American left. One cannon from Hamilton’s artillery was sent with Colonel Malcom’s regiment; second Lieutenant Ephraim Fenno of Captain Hamilton’s company was in command. General Heath’s memoir states: “On his [Gen. Heath] left was a deep hollow… On the east side of this hollow was a very commanding ground, which would enfilade the division. The top of this high ground was covered with wood. To this hill he ordered Col. Malcom with his regiment of New York troops, and Lieut. Fenno of the artillery, with a field-piece [three pounder] directing them to take post in the skirt of the wood…”[91] Hamilton’s cannon, commanded by Lt. Fenno, would remain on the left of the American line throughout the battle.

Field artillery

The morning of the battle, as the British began to shell Chatterton Hill on the American right, a column of British troops, fronted by a patrol of British dragoons, was spotted approaching General Heath’s division on the left. The twenty dragoons charged forward and Lt. Fenno, of Capt. Hamilton’s artillery, opened fire on the dragoons, unhorsing one and sending the rest, along with the column, toward the right of the American position and Chatterton Hill. Gen. Heath’s memoir describes the action: “Almost the same instant [that the British shelling began on Chatterton Hill] the right column, composed of British troops [British General Clinton, facing the American left] preceded by about 20 light-horse in full gallop… appeared… and now directly in the front of our General’s division. The light-horse leaped the fence of a wheat-field, at the foot of the hill, on which Col. Malcom’s regiment was posted; of which the light-horse were not aware, until a shot from Liet. Fenno’s field-piece gave them notice, by striking in the midst of them, and a horseman pitching from his horse. They then wheeled about, galloped out of the field as fast as they came in… The column came no further up the road, but wheeled to the left [American right] by platoons… directed their head towards the troops on Chatterton’s Hill now engaged.”[92]

General Heath wrote that Lt. Fenno’s cannon fired from its position on the left while the British and Hessian forces assaulted Chatterton Hill on the far right. The placement of Second Lieutenant Fenno’s cannon is the only documented evidence of Hamilton’s artillery positioned along the American line on Oct. 28th . As such, Fenno’s cannon is the only piece of artillery of Hamilton’s company that is proven to have been in action that day. Hamilton train of artillery consisted of only two three pounder field-pieces at White Plains.[93] Why was Second Lieutenant Fenno put in command and what of Hamilton’s other cannon in his company? Did Hamilton command that other cannon? If one considers that General Heath ordered General Scott to occupy a hill to discourage any attempt by the British of storming the hill and shelling the division, Hamilton may have decided to place the command of that cannon under a subordinate. This would allow Hamilton to remain close to his division’s headquarters, perhaps where the main attack by British forces was expected. Perhaps his first officer was ill, necessitating sending an ensign. Perhaps Hamilton was ill that day and his other cannon was commanded by his first lieutenant or captain lieutenant. No documentation has yet to answer these questions.

Could Hamilton’s other cannon have been posted to assist on Chatterton Hill? Most primary accounts place two field-pieces in the train of artillery on Chatterton Hill. General McDougall’s brigade defended Chatterton Hill and returns of his brigade after the battle list that he had only two field-pieces of artillery under his command.[94] General McDougall would have brought these two cannon when ordered to occupy the hill. Hamilton only had one cannon to spare so, based on primary accounts that state that there were two cannon defending Chatterton Hill, it can safely be concluded that his cannon was not part of McDougall’s artillery and therefore remained with his division and brigade; left on the American line. However, there are no primary accounts, only secondary accounts, that state that there were three cannon present on Chatterton Hill.[95] If there were three, than who commanded the third? Though highly unlikely, if there was a third cannon, Captain Hamilton’s remaining cannon could have been ordered to Chatterton Hill.

Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, ca. 1806.

Some secondary sources claim[96] that General Scott was wounded during the battle at White Plains. If that were so, meaning that his brigade was under fire, then Hamilton’s other cannon may have seen action. Colonel Malcom’s regiment’s only proven involvement in the battle was observing a British column and patrol of British dragoons approach their lines. The dragoons were repelled by Lt. Fenno’s cannon and the British column moved off without firing a shot; there was no small arms fire from Colonel Malcom’s regiment. The only source claiming that Scott was wounded at White Plains is found in an earlier historical text[97] that has no primary  source support. General George Clinton, in a letter to his friend John McKesson[98], mentions General Scott, nine days after the battle. He writes: “I only have time to add that I am with usual health, though in no better lodging than a soldier’s tent, with our old friend General Scott.”[99] If Scott were wounded nine days previously, he would not be lodging in a common soldier’s tent. A man of wealth and stature, he would have been sequestered in a comfortable home or infirmary where a surgeon could wait on him. A review of American casualty lists, missing in action, and prisoners, as a result of the battle does include any soldiers from General Scott’s brigade. This is a strong indication that his brigade did not see action that day.[100] (except for Colonel Malcom’s brush with twenty British dragoons who were driven off by Lt. Fenno’s cannon).

British Ships run the blockade btw. Forts Lee and Washington
British Ships shelled by American batteries as they sail up the Hudson

Some historians use a certification by Capt. Hamilton as a source for their claim that his company saw action on Chatterton’s Hill. The timing of the certificate could lead to an assumption that one of Hamilton’s men was wounded during the Battle of White Plains, when in fact, the man in question was injured two months prior while in New York City; during an attempt to shell British shipping sailing up the Hudson River. Interestingly, and a source for the misinformed conclusion, Capt. Hamilton wrote two certificates asking for compensation for William Douglass, a matrosse[101], who lost his arm while firing cannon. There is a two month span between when the two certificates were written. Both are nearly worded the same, however with two very important differences. The first, dated September 14, 1776.[102] states “… who lost his arm in an accident while firing upon enemy ships.” The second, dated Nov. 6, 1776[103], nine days after the Battle of White Plains, leaves out ‘an accident while firing at enemy ships’, and instead states “… lost his arm in the service of this state…” Several historians, who wrote that Hamilton participated in the Battle of White Plains, cite the second certificate, dated Nov. 6th, as proof that one of Hamilton’s men was wounded at the battle. Perhaps Hamilton had not heard back from his first request, and thought the timing, right after a battle, and leaving out the fact that the injury was caused because of an accident, would lead the recipients of the certificate to believe that he was requesting compensation for a soldier wounded in battle; a better chance that his request would bear fruit.

To summarize: Captain Alexander’s Company of Artillery was not stationed on Chatterton Hill. His company was in General Heath’s Division, under General Scott’s Brigade, which was posted on the center and left of the American Line – far from Chatterton Hill. Captain Hamilton’s artillery did see very limited action during the Battle of White Plains. However, only one of his two artillery pieces was involved. The sole cannon that saw service that day was commanded by one of Hamilton’s second lieutenants, Ephriam Fenno. Of Hamilton’s other cannon there is no direct documentation of its use. There is no evidence that supports the possibility that Hamilton’s other cannon was sent to assist artillery on Chatterton Hill. General McDougall’s brigade fought on Chatterton Hill and had two field-pieces within his command. Primary sources almost universally agree that there were two field-pieces present on Chatterton Hill, casting a strong doubt that Hamilton’s cannon was called in to assist. One can surmise from the evidence available that Hamilton’s other cannon remained close to General Heath’s division headquarters, protecting the center and left of the American line. Contrary to some historical accounts, General Scott was not wounded during the battle. His brigade was not listed among the casualty reports after the battle. The certificate written by Hamilton on Nov. 6th, stating one of his men lost an arm while in service of the state – the timing of the request insinuating that the man had done so in battle, was misleading. Hamilton had copied it from a certificate he wrote two months earlier, that truthfully stated that the man had lost his arm in an accident while firing upon enemy ships making their way up the Hudson River.

Article 3, the next in this four article series, will address the following:

  1. How well did Captain Hamilton’s company of artillery perform in battles or skirmishes prior to the Battle of White Plains?
  2. How well did the American artillery perform during the Battle of White Plains and what impact, if any, did American artillery have in defending Chatterton hill?
  3. What are the facts concerning a bridge that was supposedly under construction by Hessian forces prior to the main assault by British and Hessian forces? Are there any primary accounts that confirm this bridge existed? Did Hamilton’s cannon heroically shell this bridge as detailed by Hamilton’s son and later copied by many historians?

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ARTICLES:

Alexander Hamilton: The Fact and Fiction of His Early Years.  Harold Larson. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1952), pp. 139-151 Published

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WEB SITES:

Anglefire www.angelfire.com/realm3/roynagl/whiteplains.htm

Bronx River Alliance http://bronxriver.org/?pg=content&p=abouttheriver&m1=13&m2=78&m3=98

Harrison Patch  http://harrison.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/the-battle-of-white-plains

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Wikipedia American Revolution https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution‎

FOOTNOTES

[1] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pp 1118 & 1119

[2] Heath, pp 68 &69.  “From the American camp to the west-south-westthere appeared to be a very commanding height, worthy of attention. The commander-in-chief ordered the general officers who were off duty, to attend him to reconnoiter this ground, on this morning [Oct. 28]… When arrived at the ground, ‘Yonder,” says Major General Lee, pointing to the grounds just mentioned, “is the ground we ought to occupy.’ ‘Let us go and view it,’ replied the commander in chief. When on the way, a light horseman came up in ful gallop… and addressed Gen. Washington, ‘The British are on the camp, Sir.’ The General observed, ‘Gentlemen, we have now other business than reconnoitering,’ putting his horse in full gallop for the camp…’

[3] Dawson, pg. 260.

[4] A British Officer’s Revolutionary War Journal, Lt. Henry S. Strike, Maryland Historical Mag., pg. 162. He wrote:  The army march’d at ½ after 7 O’Clock for the White Plains, and dislog’d several large parties of Reels, that threw themselves into the woods in our front.”

[5] Dawson, Battles of the United States…”, pg. 185.

[6] Heath, pg. 69.  “… [Reed] had remained at camp, informed the Commander in Chief that the guards had been all beat in and the whole American Army were now at their respective posts, in order of battle.”

[7] American Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, Wadsworth Brigade pg. 726, Sergent’s Brigade, pg. 724, Saltonstall Brigade, pp 721-722, Gen. Fellows Brigade, pg. 725

[8] The 13th Pennsylvania Regiment was raised on March 6, 1776 under Colonel Samuel Miles. At the Battle of Long Island, Aug. 27th, this unit guarded the far left of the American line. They suffered heavily in General Clinton’s flanking attack: 209 killed or missing. Colonel Miles was captured and was not exchanged until April 20, 1778. At White Plains, the 13th Penn was in Sullivan’s division.

[9] Ewald, pg. 9.

[10] Ewald pp 11 & 12.

[11] Ewald pg. 12.

[12] Colonels Silliman & Douglas, of General Wadsworth’s brigade wrote that their corp of four regiments marched together; Johnston, pg. ii56-57, Johnston, pg. ii72.  Major Tallmadge, Wadsworth’s brigade major wrote that their brigade proceeded down the York Road which was on the right flank of the American forces that faced the British left column which were mostly Hessian forces; Tallmadge, pg. 17.

[13] Maryland Historical Mag., Vol. 56, No. 2 pg. 162.

[14] Martin, pg. 47.

[15] Johnston, Apendix 22, pg. ii72.

[16] Johnston, Appendix 17, pp ii56-57.

[17] Tallmadge, pg. 17.

[18] Jones pg. 622.

[19] Robert Harrison, secretary to Gen. Washington wrote to Hancock, president of Congress, that the action on Chatterton Hill lasted fifteen minutes, American Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol 2, pg. 1282; Bancroft pp 181-182; Jones, 622; A letter from General Washington’s Headquarters, written the day of the battle, stated that the Americans withdrew from their defense of Chatterton Hill by 2PM, lending further proof to the assualt’s short timeframe, Am. Archives, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pg. 1271; Colonel Haslet states that Colonel Smallwood’s troops fought for fifteen minutes before retreating, Ryden, pg. 143, Am Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 654.

[20] Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence, pg. 65, Johnston, pg. 274. Putnam wrote “The British in their advance were twice repulsed; at length, however, their numbers were increased so that they were able to turn our right flank.”

[21] Heath, pg. 69.

[22] Heath, pp 68-69.

[23] Drake Life & Correspondence of Henry Knox, pg. 33.

[24] Jones pg. 622.

[25] Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence, pg. 64-65 & Johnston, pg. ii 139 – document #43.

[26] American Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pg. 1241. On Oct 24, at White Plains, General Orders defines Officers ordered to supply men and entrenching tools under engineer Rufus Putnam’s supervision. “…All the officers who assisted in the works to meet at Colonel Putnam’s headquarters at 3 o’clock this afternoon, in order to lay out a number of works… for such numbers of men as may be wanting for several works.

[27] Benjamin Lincoln commanded this division of approx. 1,000 militiamen from Mass. Letter from the Mass. Council to General Washington, dated Sept. 24, 1776: “At this time we informed you that this State had resolved to draft one-fifth part of their Militia, to reinforce the army of New York… the Hon. Benjamin Lincoln, Ewq., Major-General of the Militia of this State, has been appointed to this command…”  Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pg. 507.

[28] In a letter from Washington’s Headquarters written at 2 PM on the day of battle, only Brook’s Militia is stated to have been on Chatterton Hill. Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pg 1271; Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 715-730.

[29] Colonel Haslet wrote: “I received his Excellency’s orders [Washington] to take possession of the hill [CDhatterton’s Hill] beyond our lines [to the west and about a mile south], and the command of the Militia regiments there posted; which was done.” Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 653-654; Ryden Letters to and From Caesar Rodney, pg 143.

[30] Am. Archives Force, Series 5, Vol. 3, pp 488-489.

[31] Lord Stirling was captured at the Battle of Long Island, Aug. 27, 1776, while leading four companies of Smallwood’s Maryland regiment against a British force five times their number (almost all were killed or captured). He was taken aboard Admiral Howe’s flagship and released in an exchange for Florida’s Governor Montford Brown three weeks after the battle. He would have been present at White Plains. Schumacher, pg. 38.

[32] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol 2, pg. 1119.

[33] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol 2, pg. 1119.

[34] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol 2, pg 1059 lists McDougal’s former 1st regiment as vacant; Also Johnston, pg. 274 who wrote that “They [Haslet’s Delaware regiment] were followed immediately by McDougall’s brigade, consisting of what was lately his own battalion [regiment] which had no field officers.

[35] American Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3,Return of casualties at White Plains, pp 717-718; Putnam The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam…, pp 64-65, Hull Memoirs, Appendix ii; Tilghman (Hall), pg. 145; Ryden Letters to and from Caesar Rodney 1756-1784, pg. 143, Am. Archives Force, Ser V, Vol. 2, pg. 1271.

[36] Bancroft, pp 181-182, Trevelyan pg. 314.

[37] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pg. 831. In A. Scammell, Adj. General’s Return dated Nov. 24th, 1776, was listed the artillery in McDougal’s Brigade: 2 fieldpieces, 1 Cpt.-Lt., 1 Lt., 2 Sergents, 28 Matrosses (artificers).

[38] Colonel Douglas wrote: “They cut my regiment off from our main body and got ahead of me, but I took advantage of a wood and got clear of them. They are now near neighbors, our lines are about half a mile.” Johnston, pg ii72. Martin wrote: “We fell back a little distance and made a stand; detached parties engaging in almost every direction. We did not come in contact with the enemy again that day…” Martin, pg. 47.

[39] Johnston, ii57.

[40] Tumbridge, pg. 17.

[41] The following letter was drafted on October 28th at Washington’s headquarters. It lists specifically those units that defended Chatterton Hill. Colonel Silliman’s regiment is not mentioned: “The post being detained by desire of the General, gives me an opportunity… to acquaint you that the part of our army which was engaged today was a brigade commanded by General McDougall, composed of Webb’s, Ritzema’s, Smallwood’s, aslet’s, and Brooks’s regiments [no mention of another militia].” Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pg. 1271.

[42] Dann, Sergeant Craige of Mosley’s regiment wrote: “Brooks regiment was next to us.”

[43] Am. Archives Force, Ser. 5, Vol. 3, pg. 1401.

[44] Tilghman, pg. 145.

[45] Lowell, pp 76-77, Also Lt. Harrison, aide to Washington, commented on the severe bombardment, Jones, pg. 622.

[46] Am. Archives Force, Ser. 5, Vol. 3, pp 663-664.

[47] Colonel Rufus Putnam, engineer present on Chatterton Hill wrote: “General McDougall about this time arriving with his brigade [after the Hessians began their bombardment] from Burtis’s and observingthe British to be crossing the Bronx below in large bodies in order to attack us, our troops were posted to receive them in a very advantageous position. Johnston, pg. 132.

[48] Hull, Appendix ii.  Hull of Webb’s regiment wrote: “The position the American army had taken was on the heights, a small distance back of the White Plains; and a division of this army was posted on Chatterdon’s Hill, about a mile in its front. Colonel Webb’s regiment formed a part of this division.”

[49] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3.  See the return of casualties pg. 718 & 727.

[50] Ryden, Letters to & From Caesar Rodney, pg. 143; Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 653-654.

[51] Powell, Bostwick Memoirs, pp 100-101. Bancroft states that Haslet and Webb’s regiments moved forward, Bancroft, pp 181-182.

[52] Johnston, pg. 274-275.

[53] Beatson, pg. 175.

[54] General Heath wrote: “They [British & Hessian forces] moved higher up the other side of the little rivulet Bronx which was generally fordable.” Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2, pg. 1130.

[55] Hall, Life and Letters of Samuel Holden Parsons, pg. 72.

[56] Dawson, pg 185; Beatson, Vol. 4, pg. 175.

[57] Johnston, pg ii56.

[58] Trevelyan, Vol. II, pg. 313.

[59] Bradford, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 56, No. 2., pg. 162.

[60] Steadman, Vol. I, pg. 214.

[61] Beatson, pg. 175. Also Dawson, pp 185-186.

[62] Bancroft, pp 181-182.

[63]Am. Archives Force, Ser V, Vol 2, pg. 1282; Robinson, pg. 30; Jones, pg. 622.

[J. Robinson, Official Letters to the Honorable American Congress, Written During the War Between the United Colonies and Great Britain by His Excellency George Washington, 1795, pg. 30]  also [Force, Archives, Ser. 5, vol 2, pg. 1282.]  .  “… Covering themselves with their cannon, they advanced in two divisions, and after a smart engagement, of about a quarter of an hour, obliged our men to give way.” [Jones, 622].

[64] Hull, Appendix ii.

[65] Tallmadge, pp 13-14.

[66] Harrison, Memoir of Lieutenant Colonel Tench Tilghman…”, pp 145-146.

[67] Putnam, Memoirs of Rufus Putnam…, pp 64-65; Johnston, pg ii 39.

[68] Powell, Elisha Bostwick’s Memoirs…”, pp 100-101.

[69] Caesar Rodney: Brigadier General of the Delaware militia & signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is reported to have ridden 80 miles through a thunderstorm on June 30, 1776, to cast the deciding vote for independence.

[70] Ritzema (34), Smallwood (44), Webb (11), McDougal vacant regiment (1). Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 725 & 729.

[71] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 653-654; Ryden Letters to and From Caesar Rodney, pg 143.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Heath, pg. 70.

[74] Johnston, pg. 275.

[75] Ewald, pg. 11.

[76] Heath, pg. 69.

[77] Gordon, Vol. II, pp 119-121.

[78] John Hamilton, Vol. I, pp 133-134.

[79] Ward, pg. 266.  Ward wrote “Haslet… twice repulsed the light troops and horse of the enemy… By then Birch’s British light dragoons came into view. All this was too much for the green militiamen. They broke and ran with the horsemen pursuing. A hundred men were surrounded – some escaped into the woods and the rest surrendered. [Ward gives on citation for the last sentence – and this researcher had found no documents to support it].

[80] Johnston, pg. 275.

[81] Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 56, No. 2, pg. 162.

[82] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pp 653-654; Ryden Letters to and From Caesar Rodney, pg 143.

[83] Johnston, pp. 274-275.

[84] Am. Archives, Force, Ser. 5, Vol. 3, pp 712-718.

[85] Am. Archives, Force, Ser. 5, Vol. 3 pp 727-729.

[86] Am. Archives Force, Ser. 5, Vol. 3 pg 487.

[87] Am. Archives Force, Ser. 5, Vol 2, pg. 1270.

[88] Am. Archives Force, Series V, Vol. 2, pg. 919.

[89] Heath pg. 67.

[90] Am. Archives Force, Series V, Vol 2, pg. 1059 lists Colonel Malcom as part of General Scott’s Brigade.

[91] Heath, pg. 67.

[92] Heath, pg. 69.

[93] O’Brien, “Hercules Mulligan”, pg. 183.  William & Mary, April 1947, “Life of Alexander Hamilton”, pg. 126.  Hamilton tells Hercules Mulligan that one of his three cannon broke down during Sept. 15th evacuation of New York City. He lost the cannon along with his baggage, leaving him with two cannon. In August, Hamilton had inherited three field-pieces when he took over command of artillery at Fort Bayard. Also historian Chernow’s recent biography of Hamilton wrote: “…his company’s weaponry had now been whittled down to two mobile field pieces…” pg. 80.

[94] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pg. 831. Cannon in McDougall’s Brigade is listed at the bottom of the return.

[95] Historicans Lowell, Trevelynan, and Bancroft wrote that there were three American Cannon present on Chatterton Hill.

[96] Heitman, pg. 486 lists General John Morin Scott as wounded at White Plains. Hannings, pg. 395, states Scott was wounded at White Plains,  Broadwater, pg. 126 writes that Scott commanded and was wounded at White Plains.

[97] Heitman, pg. 486.

[98] John McKesson was a lawyer in New York City and close friend of General John Morin Scott. He was also a prominent member of the political scene in New York and active in the NY Provincial Congress.

[99] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 2 pp. 1312 – 1313.

[100] Am. Archives Force, Series V, vol. 3, pp 725 – 730.

[101]  Term applied to those in an artillery company who do not fire the cannon, but perform all other functions such as placement of the cannon, hauling shot and powder, and all maintenance of the cannon and ordinance.

[102] The certificate reads “I [Cpt. Hamilton] do hereby certify that William Douglass, the bearer hereof, faithfully served as Maltrose in my company till he lost his arm by an unfortunate accident, while engaged in firing at some of the enemy’s ships.” Am Archives Force, Ser. 5, Vol. 2, pg. 332.

[103] Am. Archives Force, Ser. V, Vol. 3, pg. 539.

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