Action at White Plains

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From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

Last Monday we1 received intelligence that the enemy, with their whole body, were advancing towards us. The army were immediately alarmed, and part of General Wadsworth’s brigade, with some other regiments under the command of General Spencer, consisting in the whole of five or six hundred men, were sent out as an advance party, to skirmish with the enemy, and harass 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, to give the enemy trouble. About half after nine o’clock, our advance parties all came in, retreating before the enemy; and the light parties of the enemy, with their advanced guard, consisting of two or three thousand, came in sight, and marched 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 fling 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 the most furious manner. We kept the walls until 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 front of Colonel Douglass’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, and brought off their arms and accoutrements, and rum, that the men who fell had with them, which we had time to drink round with before they came on again. They formed at a distance, and waited until 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. Colonel Douglass’s and Silliman’s regiments fired four or five times on them, as they were advancing, and then retreated, but not until the enemy began to fire on their flanks. Colonels Silliman, Douglass, and Arnold behaved nobly, and the men gained much applause. Colonels Webb’s, Silliman’s, and Douglass’s regiments had the principal share in the action. Colonel Webb had four killed, and eight or ten wounded; Colonel Silliman lost six, and had ten or twelve wounded; Colonel Douglass had three killed, and six wounded. Colonels 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 or wounded. It is said by all the deserters and captains, who agree 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 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 around us. I was in the action, and under as good advantages as any one man, perhaps, to observe all that passed, and write these particulars of the action from my own observation.

No general action was designed on our part, and I believe one thousand men were never, at one time, engaged with the enemy. They came on to the hills opposite our lines, and halted; and after cannonading part of the lines a short time, they became very still and quiet.

Yesterday, (October 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 centre of the town at White Plains, was not good, being overlooked by neighboring hills, the generals, last night, drew off most of the troops from the lines there, and this morning the guards and sentries burned the town and forage all around it, and came off about nine o’clock.

We carried off all our stores, and planted our artillery on the hills about a mile and a half back of the centre of the town. The enemy advanced, this forenoon, on to the ground we left, but as soon as they came over the hill, we saluted them with our cannon and field-pieces, and they advanced no further. Their main body now lies over against us, and they have formed no lines across the country, as yet, below us. Their light horse may possibly scour across as far as the river, but how that is we cannot determine. All things seem to be quiet at Fort Washington. 2

 

1 The Americans at the White Plains, New York.
2 Pennsylvania Evening Post, November 14.

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