From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
January 25.—The Americans, under General Parsons, have just returned from a successful expedition to Morrisania, where, in the night and morning of Monday last, (22d,) they surprised and took prisoners sixty or seventy Tories, and burnt a considerable number of huts. They also passed to Frog’s Neck and destroyed some stores.1 The following is a detailed account of the affair:—Major-General Heath having reinforced the troops stationed on the lines with five additional companies, on the morning of the 20th, Lieutenant Hull marched from Crompond to North Castle, under pretence of making a large forage near the enemy’s lines; all the teams in this part of the country having been previously collected for the purpose. The same evening he was joined by a small company of New York levies, commanded by Lieutenant Mosier, who had been for a considerable time stationed on the lines, and had acted in conjunction with the troops under his command. Captain Honeywell, likewise, with about eighty mounted volunteers, joined the detachment, and was posted on the different roads on Lieutenant Hull’s front and flanks, to prevent either inhabitants or deserters giving intelligence to the enemy of his movements.
On the next evening the following disposition was made and communicated to officers:—Major Maxwell with two companies, commanded by Captains Dix and J. Williams, was directed to take a position near the redoubt number eight, which, by the best intelligence, was guarded by a hundred regulars, to prevent a sally on the troops designed to act against Morrisania, capture any of the enemy who should attempt to fly there for security, and destroy a pontoon bridge of communication, constructed over Harlaem Creek, which was covered by the cannon in the redoubt.
Captain White, with his own company, and a small party of militia, was to advance to Delancey’s Bridge, surprise, if possible, a subaltern’s guard posted at that place, and after leaving a sufficient force to secure the pass for the troops on the west side of the Bronx, then to act against the enemy at West Farms.
Captain Prichard, with his company, and Lieutenant Mosier’s levies, had directions to proceed to Frog’s Neck, with a view of surprising the enemy stationed in that quarter.
Captains Dennet and Benton, with their companies, were to be posted at Williams’ Bridge, to observe the motions of the enemy on the road leading from King’s Bridge, repulse them if they attempted to cross, and at sunrise take up the bridge, retire to East Chester, and join the troops posted at that place to cover the retreat of the operating force.
Three companies, under the command of Captains Fox, S. Williams, and Dorrance, with the principal part of the volunteer horsemen, were to proceed to Morrisania, destroy the enemy’s huts, and act as circumstances might require. Proper guides were appointed to the different detachments, and a number of horsemen to keep up a line of intelligence. Particular places were likewise pointed out for the different commands to break off from the column, and the time of attack was fixed at half-past three o’clock in the morning. After executing the different orders at the several posts, all the detachments on the west side of the Bronx had orders to retire to Delancey’s Bridge, precisely at daylight, for the purpose of gaining East Chester early in the morning.
The disposition having been thus settled, the morning of the 21st the troops were put in motion in one column, and proceeded down the road leading by Young’s, from thence through Mile Square, until their arrival nearly opposite King’s Bridge, when it was thought advisable to take the fields, to avoid the enemy’s patrols on the different roads. On the arrival of Lieutenant Hull near the principal part of the huts at Morrisania, all the detachments having been made agreeable to orders, the troops met with an unexpected obstruction, which he was apprehensive would have defeated his plan. A small creek (over which was a bridge) had been swelled by a very heavy rain the night and morning of the 21st, to such a height, and so filled with broken ice, as rendered the passage excessively difficult. Determined, however, to make the attempt, the infantry was ordered to mount behind the horsemen, and in the course of fifteen minutes, about seventy were carried over, which, with the’ horse, were thought a sufficient force to effect the business in that quarter, and, as not only this detachment, but Major Maxwell’s command, “were obliged to return the same way to gain Delancey’s Bridge, it was thought an object of the utmost consequence that this pass should be secured, and the remainder of the troops were ordered to take a position for the purpose. The noise unavoidably occasioned in passing this creek, was heard by the British on the other side, who immediately fired an alarm, which prevented the surprise being so complete as was designed. The infantry and horse were ordered to advance, and after capturing a number of the enemy, all the huts in that quarter were destroyed.
After this service was performed, that detachment returned, and being joined by Major Maxwell, who had destroyed the bridge over Harlaem Creek, and indeed executed every part of his orders, Lieutenant Hull proceeded with all the troops then joined, to Delancey’s Bridge, where Captain White had forced the guards, and was in possession of the pass, over which the troops retreated with little or no loss, although the British had collected in considerable force, and were attempting to regain it.
On Hull’s arrival at Westchester, Captain Prichard, who had made the attempt on Frog’s Neck, joined the main body. As he was passing over the causeway, the guard posted for its defence fired on him, which gave the alarm, and prevented his success being as complete as was expected; he, however, charged the guard, wounded one, and captured six. On his way to Captain Simmons’ quarters, he fell in with a patrol, one of which was killed, and two made prisoners. When he arrived, every man had left the house, and concealed themselves in the woods. After scouring the Neck, and capturing a number of prisoners, he returned, and in repassing the causeway, Ensign Thompson was unfortunately killed. The objects of the enterprise having been thus completed, it became necessary for the Americans to retreat to East Chester, as fast as their very great fatigue would admit. For this purpose a disposition was made, and the prisoners, which consisted of about fifty, with the cattle and horses, were ordered between the front guard and main body.
As soon as the line of march commenced, the British appeared on the flanks and rear of the Americans, and began a scattering fire. Dispositions were immediately made, by reinforcing the rear and flank guards, to secure the column, and annoy the enemy as much as possible after so long and severe a march. The enemy being continually reinforced, and their fire incessantly increasing, rendered it necessary for the troops to move exceedingly slow, and for the rear and flank guards to be increased, and ordered to positions best calculated for the purpose.
On Hull’s arrival near East Chester, he found such a disposition made of the troops under the command of General Parsons, and measures so judiciously adopted, as effectually secured his retreat, and gave him an opportunity of placing himself under the orders of that general. What number of the enemy fell, either in the night attack, or on the retreat, is uncertain; it must, however, have been considerable. Fifty-two of Colonel Delancey’s corps were made prisoners, between thirty and forty large huts built for their quarters and a quantity of forage, were destroyed. A large number of horses and cattle were likewise brought off.
Much credit is due to Major Maxwell for the exactness with which he executed his particular orders, and for his general good conduct during the whole expedition. The patience and fortitude of the soldiers in the execution of so severe a service, and their order and bravery when attacked by the enemy, place their conduct in a most honorable point of view. The conduct of Captain Honeywell, and the Refugees under his command, deserve particular commendation.2
1 New Jersey Gazette, January 31.
2 Report of Lieutenant-Colonel William Hull to General Parsons in the New Jersey Gazette, February 21.