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To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 6 August 1779

From Major General Robert Howe

Camp at Keelers Hill, Lower Salem [N.Y.]1
Augt 6th 1779.

Dear Sir

Intelligence making it probable that a party of the Enemy might be surprized within their lines, thirty five of Moylans and ten of Sheldons Light Dragoons, with forty Infantry and about fifty Militia Horses were appointed for this command, with Orders to carry the enterprize into execution, if on approaching the Enemy it was found practicable—Lieutenant Colonel White of Moylans conducted this affair with a conduct and spirit much to his honor. He got within the enemy’s lines by Midnight and proceeded near two Miles beyond Delancey’s Bridge without discovery,2 and tho’ he did not meet with the party he was sent to surprise, he brought off sixteen prisoners, two or three Negroes, upwards of thirty Horses, a few Arms, some Accoutrements, and many other things of Value. He had got on this side of New Rochelle on his return, where, about Day Break he was charged with Spirit by a strong Body of Horse, who fell on our Rear—they were received and opposed with a resolution truly commendable. But superior numbers made it necessary for our Cavalry to retire a little, that the fire of the Infantry might operate. The sudden attack of the Enemy and the nature of the ground, gave this Corps no time to take a situation very favorable, but they sustained the attack with firmness, and by a well directed fire checked the enemy, untill the Cavalry was again got in order. The engagement then recommenced between the Horse, while the Infantry took a more defensible position, Tho’ our Cavalry exerted themselves as much as possible they were again obliged to retire—when the Infantry gave the Enemy another severe check. But thier numbers every moment encreasing, it was thought proper to order the Infantry to retire to a Wood, where they could defend themselves with effect, and their Retreat be made good. Our Horses retired by the Road which led to Horseneck; the Enemy hung for sometime upon their Rear, and smart Encounters between small parties frequently happened in which we constantly had the advantage. The Enemy gave over the contest about four Miles from Byram Bridge, and our Cavalry proceeded to Horseneck.3 Sometime after they appeared on Sniffens Hill, where, for particular Reasons, I wish they had continued a little longer.4

I think Lt Colo. White a valuable Officer and take pleasure in again expressing how highly I approve his conduct. The Officers and Men of the Cavalry behaved with a Gallantry and Spirit truly laudable. Capt. Pope of the Infantry and the Officers and Men of his command are mentioned by those of the Cavalry in a manner demonstrative of their Merit and expressive of the Gratitude of the Horse for the support they afforded them.

The enemy without doubt, suffered a good deal. Lieut. Gill counted fourteen Men lying on the Feild at one place of action—and more must have fallen at other places. The Officers of the parties I sent out after the Enemy, when I found them retiring, learnt of the Inhabitants that they acknowledged thier loss (in proportion to the numbers engaged) considerable. Of the Horse on our side three Men only are wounded, and they so slightly that they are now on duty. Of the Infantry I have as yet had no return, but understand from Capt. Pope that two only are killed.5 We did not lose an Horse, and had but three or four wounded—four of the Enemy’s were taken in the Action. proper Returns shall be transmitted your Excellency, the moment I receive them.

Upon the whole I think this a clever little Affair, and flatter myself it will meet, Sir, with your approbation.6 I have the honor to be with the greatest Respect Yr Excellency’s most obt Servt

Robert Howe.

P.S. I have ordered the things taken to be sold for the Benefit of the Captors—So sensible are the Horse of the good behaviour of the Infantry in this Affair that they have unanimously voted them half a share extraordinary, in reward of their Merit.

Copy, enclosed in GW to John Jay, 16 Aug. (second letter), DNA:PCC, item 152.

1The southern, or lower, part of Salem, N.Y. that later became Lower Salem (now Lewisboro; N.Y.) was divided from the northern, or upper, part of the town by Long Pond Mountain and East Long Pond Mountain.

2De Lancey’s Bridge crossed the lower Bronx River at De Lancey’s Mills three miles northwest of Westchester, New York.

3Byram Bridge crossed the Byram River near its mouth about four miles north of Rye, New York.

4Sniffin’s Hill, also known as Bloomer’s Hill, was located near Saw Pit (now Port Chester), New York.

5Captain Pope was most likely Isaac Pope (1744–1820) who served as a private in the Lexington Alarm in April 1775, as a lieutenant in Col. Theophilus Cotton’s Massachusetts Battalion from May to December 1775, and as a lieutenant in the 23d Continental Infantry from January to December 1776. Appointed a captain in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment in January 1777, Pope became major of the 3d Massachusetts Regiment in October 1782. He left the army in June 1783.

6Howe sent Maj. Gen. William Heath a similarly worded report on this engagement. Heath forwarded Howe’s report to GW on 8 Aug. (second letter). For an account of this skirmish from the view of the Hessian Jäger Corps involved, see Ewald, Diary, description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends 173–74.

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