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American Revolution - Battle of White Plains "Historic Site"

City of White Plains

Westchester County

American Revolution - Battle of White Plains "Historic Site"

Battles of the American Revolution
Battle of White Plains
Date: October 28th, 1776
Between: British against the American Continental Army
Location: White Plains, New York

Source: Our country. A household history for all readers, from the discovery of America to the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. By Benson J. Lossing 1813-1891 New York: Johnson, Wilson & co., 1875-78.

    "After almost daily skirmishing, the two armies, each about thirteen thousand strong, met in battle array at the village of White Plains, on the 28th of October. The Americans were encamped behind hastily thrown up entrenchments just north of the village, with hills in the rear to retreat to, if necessary. . .

    "Howe's army approached in two divisions, the right commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, and the left by Generals De Heister and Erskine. . . Howe dared not attack Washington's breastworks (composed chiefly of cornstalks covered lightly with earth), but waited for reinforcements. They came, just as a severe storm of wind and rain set in. When it ceased at twilight on the 31st, Washington, perceiving Howe's advantage, withdrew under the cover of darkness behind entrenchments on the hills of North Castle, toward the Croton River. Howe did not follow, but falling back, encamped on the heights of Fordham. . .

    "On the day of the battle at White Plains, Knyphausen, with six German battalions, crossed the Harlem River at Dyckman's Bridge (present head of navigation), and encamped on the plain between Fort Washington and Kingsbridge. The Americans in the redoubts near by stood firm till the fort was closely invested by the foe. Washington had left it and Fort Lee in charge of Greene. When he heard of the peril that menaced it, he advised that officer to withdraw the garrison and stores, but left the matter to Greene's discretion. When, on the 15th, he reached Fort Lee, he was disappointed in not finding his wishes gratified. Greene desired to hold the fort as a protection to the river; Congress had ordered it to be held till the last extremity, and Magaw, its commander, said he could hold out against the whole British army until December. Washington was not satisfied of its safety, but yielded his judgment and returned to Hackensack. There, at sunset, he received a copy of a reply which Magaw had made to a summons of Howe to surrender, accompanied by a threat to put the garrison to the sword in case of a refusal. To this summons Colonel Magaw replied, protesting against the savage menace, and declaring that he would defend the post to the last extremity. Washington immediately rode to Fort Lee. Greene had crossed over to the island. The chief started in a row-boat in the same direction, and met Greene on the river in the star-light returning with Putnam. They told the chief that the garrison were in fine spirits, and confident that they could successfully defend themselves. It was then too late to withdraw them, and Washington returned to Fort Lee, but was not satisfied.

    "Howe had planted heavy guns on the lofty banks of the Harlem River just above the present High Bridge, and from there he opened a severe cannonade early in the morning of the 16th, upon the northern outworks of Fort Washington, to cover the landing of attacking troops from a flotilla of flat-boats which had passed up the Hudson in the night, and been concealed in Spuyten Duyvel Creek. These outworks were defended on the north-east by Colonel Rawlings, with Maryland riflemen and militia from Mercer's Flying Camp under Colonel Baxter. The lines toward New York were defended by Pennsylvania commanded by Colonel Lambert Cadwallader. Magaw commanded in the fort. Rawlings and Baxter occupied redoubts on rugged and heavily-wooded hills.

    "The attack was made by four columns. Knyphausen, with Hessians and Waldeckers, moved from the plain along the rough hills nearest the Hudson River on the north at the same time Lord Percy led a division of English and Hessian troops to attack the lines on the south. General Matthews, supported by Lord Cornwallis, crossed the stream near Kingsbridge, with guards, light-infantry, and grenadiers, under cover of the guns near the High Bridge, while Colonel Sterling, with the 42nd regiment of Highlanders, crossed at a point a little above the High Bridge. Knyphausen divided his forces. One division under Colonel Rall (killed at Trenton a few weeks afterward) drove the Americans from Cock Hill Fort, a small redoubt near Spuyten Duyvel Creek, while Knyphausen, with the remainder, penetrated the woods near Tubby Hook, and after clambering over rocks and felled trees, attacked Rawlings in a redoubt afterward called Fort Tryon. Meanwhile Percy had driven in the American pickets at Harlem Cove (Manhattanville), and attacked Cadwallader at the advanced line of entrenchments. A gallant fight ensued, when Percy yielded and took shelter behind some woods.

    " . . . When near the upper border of Trinity Cemetery (One Hundred and Fifty-fifth street), he was attacked on the flank by Sterling, who was pursuing across the island to intercept him. He passed on and reached the fort with a loss of a few killed, and about thirty made prisoners. Meanwhile the German and British assailants on the north, who were as four to one of the Americans in number, pressed the latter back to the fort, when Rall sent a summons to Magaw to surrender. This was soon followed by a like summons from Howe. The fight outside had been desperate. The ground was strewn with the mingled bodies of Americans, Germans, and Britons. Resistance to pike, ball, and bayonet, wielded by five thousand veteran soldiers, was now vain, and at noon Magaw yielded.

    "At half-past one o'clock the British flag waved over the fort in triumph, where the American flag had been unfurled in the morning with defiance. The Americans had lost in killed and wounded not more than one hundred men; the British had lost almost a thousand. The garrison that surrendered numbered, with militia, about twenty-five hundred, of whom over two thousand were disciplined regulars. Knyphausen received Magaw's sword, and to the Germans and Highlanders were justly awarded the honors of the victory. Washington, standing on the brow of the Palisades at Fort Lee, with the author of "Common Sense" by his side, witnessed the disaster with anguish, but could afford no relief. The fort was lost to the Americans forever, and was named Knyphausen. Its unfortunate garrison filled the prisons of New York and crowded the British prison-ships wherein they were dreadful suffers."

Visit historic site of the Battle atop Chatterton Hill, White Plains New York.

Location: White Plains

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