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Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison to John Hancock, 25 October 1776

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison to John Hancock

Head Qrs White plains October the 25th 1776

Sir

The whole of our Army is now here and on the Neighbouring Heights, except the Troops left at Mount Washington & Kingsbridge (about Fourteen hundred1 at the former & Six hundred at the latter) and Genl Lee’s division, which now forms the Rear & which is on their March. Our Removal & that of the Stores, have been attended with a great deal of Trouble, owing to the scarcity and difficulty of procuring Waggons; However they are nearly effected & without any loss.2 The General Officers are now reconnoitring the several passes leading from the Enemy that the most important may be immediately secured.

The situation of their Army remains nearly the same, as when I had the honor of addressing you on the 21st Instt.3 It differs in Nothing, unless it is, that their Main body is more collected about New Rochelle. A few of their Troops are extended as far as Momarioneck.

On Monday night, a Detachment of our Men under the command of Colo. Hazlet was sent out to surprize and cut off Major Rogers if possible with his Regiment which was posted there. by some accident or Another, the expedition did not succeed so well as could have been wished. However our advanced party led on by Major Greene of the first Virginia Regiment fell in with their out guard & brought off Thirty Six prisoners—Sixty Musketts & some Blankets. The Number killed, is not certainly known but it is reported by an Officer who was there, that he counted about Twenty five. Our loss, Two killed & Ten or Twelve wounded, among the latter, Major Greene whose recovery is very doubtfull.4 On Wednesday there was also a small skirmish, between a party of Colo. Hands Riflemen (about Two Hundred & forty[)] & nearly the same number of Hessian Chasseurs, in which the latter were put to the Rout. Our Men buried Ten of them on the feild & took Two prisoners, One badly wounded. We sustained no other loss than having one lad wounded, supposed mortally.5

The Ships of War, that are in the North River, fell down yesterday morning or the Evening before, to Dobbs’ ferry, to prevent our bringing Stores from below by Water, and the removal of those that are landed there.6 As soon as the Waggons employed in bringing the Baggage & Stores of Genl Lees division are disengaged they will be immediately sent to assist those already there to remove them.

On Saturday night,7 we had the misfortune to lose One of the New Ships intended to be sunk for obstructing the Channel. she parted her Cables in a severe squawl when properly ballasted & bilged as soon as she struck the Shore. The other Ship was sunk well, & yesterday morning Two brigs (both ready) were sent down for the same purpose.

About 2 OClock this afternoon, Intelligence was brought to Head Qrs that three or four Detachments of the Enemy were on their march, and had advanced within about Four miles of this place. It has been fully confirmed since by a variety of persons who have been out to reconnoitre. their number cannot be ascertaind, but it is generally conjectured, that the detachments are or will be succeeded by as many Columns, composing their Main body.8 Our Drums have beat to Arms and Men ordered to their several posts. most probably some important event is upon the Eve of taking place. I hope it will be victory in favor of our Arms. Genl Lee with his division has not got up, but I hear he is on his march.

Experiment having proved it difficult if not impossible, to prevent the Enemy from possessing the Navigation of the North River and rendering the communication & Intercourse between the States divided by it, extremely hazardous & precarious by means of their Ships of War, It has become a matter of important consideration how to remedy the evil and to guard against the consequences which may result from it. I am charged by his Excellency to mention it to Congress as a matter that has employed much of his though & that seems worthy of their most serious attention. he has communicated it to several of the General & Other Officers & to many Gentlemen of sense & discernment, who all agree with him, not only upon the propriety, but the absolute necessity that Two distinct Armies should be formed, One to act particularly in the States which lay on the East, the other in those that are on the South of the River. The Whole however to be raised on a Genl plan & not to be confined to any particular place by the Terms of Enlistment. These matters—the apparent difficulty & perhaps impracticability of Succours being thrown across the River, while the Enemy can command it, have induced his Excellency to submit the measure to their consideration, not knowing how their Operations may be directed, and foreseeing that innumerable evils may arise if a respectable force is not appointed to oppose their Arms wheresoever they are carried. I have the honor to be in great haste sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Rob. H. Harrison

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 152; ADf, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. This ALS is the copy that Harrison made and sent to Hancock on 1 Nov. after learning that his original letter was among those stolen from an express rider at Bristol, Pa., on 28 Oct. (see Hancock to GW, 28 Oct., and Harrison to Hancock, 1 November). Harrison wrote “(Copy)” to the left of his signature on the recopied ALS, and he docketed it on the reverse: “Copy of a Letter to the Honble J. Hancock Esqr. 25th Octr 1776.” It also bears a receiver’s docket. Congress read the recopied letter on 4 Nov. and referred it to the Board of War (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 6:920).

1On the draft Harrison first wrote “Two Thousand” and then changed that number to “1400.”

2Gen. Charles Lee’s division, which was withdrawing before General Howe’s cautious advance north from New Rochelle, marched all night and arrived at White Plains about ten o’clock on the morning of 26 Oct. (see extract of a letter from John Glover, 22 Oct. 1776, in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:1188–89). “In ascending some of the hills on the road,” Heath says in his memoirs, “this division, encumbered with many wagons, was obliged to halt, and double the teams, in open view of the British, and at no considerable distance, who did not attempt to disburb them; which, had they done, the loss of the cannon, wagons, &c. could not have been avoided. The troops would have bent their march unencumbered towards the Hudson; but the wagons, &c. must have been left” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 86–87). Tench Tilghman wrote William Duer on 27 Oct.: “When Genl Lee removed he was obliged to leave 80 or 90 barrels of provisions of all Kinds for want of Wagons” (MH: Jared Sparks Collection; see also Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:95, and Dann, Revolution Remembered, 53). The arrival of Lee’s division brought the strength of the American forces at and near White Plains to about seventeen thousand men, of whom almost ten thousand were militia or militia levies (see general return of the Continental army, 3 Nov. 1776, in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:499–502).

3Harrison informs Hancock in his brief letter of 21 Oct. “that since my Letter of Yesterday no event of importance has occurred” (DNA:PCC, item 152). See Harrison to Hancock, 20 October.

4The detachment that Lord Stirling sent to attack Col. Robert Rogers’s Loyalist ranger corps at Mamaroneck on the night of 21 Oct. consisted of six hundred Delaware and Maryland troops under Col. John Haslet and one hundred and fifty Virginians under Maj. John Green. The Americans failed to achieve a full surprise because as they approached Rogers’s camp about four o’clock on the morning of 22 Oct., they unexpectedly encountered an outguard commanded by Capt. John Eagles. The outguard’s spirited resistance warned the main body of Rogers’s corps of the impending attack, and Hazlet decided to retreat rather than risk making a costly assault on the alert and well-defended Loyalist camp. For a more detailed account of this raid, see Hadaway, McDonald Papers description begins William S. Hadaway, ed. The McDonald Papers. 2 vols. White Plains, N.Y., 1926-27. In Publications of the Westchester County Historical Society, vols. 4–5. description ends , pt. 1, 21–25. See also Harrison to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 22 Oct., Ct: Trumbull Papers; Tench Tilghman to James Tilghman, Sr., 22 Oct., in Tilghman, Memoir description begins Memoir of Lieut. Col. Tench Tilghman, Secretary and Aid to Washington, together with an Appendix, containing Revolutionary Journals and Letters, Hitherto Unpublished. 1876. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends , 144–45; Tilghman to William Duer, 22 Oct., in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:576; extract of Hazlet’s letter to Caesar Rodney, 28 Oct., ibid., 2:1270; William Howe to Lord George Germain, 30 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:258–64; and Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 84–85. For the names of thirty-one of the captured Loyalists, see the list of prisoners captured between 21 and 27 Oct. in DLC:GW (see also Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:1203). GW subsquently approved of a proposal to send the prisoners to the New York convention for interrogation (see Tilghman to Duer, 27 Oct., MH: Jared Sparks Collection).

John Green (1730–1793) of Culpeper County, Va., recovered from the shoulder wound that he received at Mamaroneck and returned to duty with the army by March 1777 (see Green’s petition to Congress, 16 Dec. 1777, DNA:PCC, item 42). Green had joined the 1st Virginia Regiment in September 1775 as captain of a rifle company raised in Culpeper County, and on 13 Aug. 1776 he had been promoted to major of the regiment. GW named Green lieutenant colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment on 22 Mar. 1777 (see General Orders, that date), and during the fall of that year Green distinguished himself in the defense of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:862). Green became colonel of the 10th Virginia Regiment in April 1778 (see General Orders, 6 April 1778), and when the 10th Virginia was incorporated into the 6th Virginia in September 1778, he assumed the colonelcy of the latter regiment. When the 6th, 8th, and Col. Nathaniel Gist’s Additional Continental Regiment were merged in January 1780 under Gist’s command, Green became a supernumerary officer and took up recruiting duties in Virginia. He later commanded a regiment of Virginia levies which he led at the Battle of Guilford Court House in March 1781 (see GW to Horatio Gates or Peter Muhlenburg, 18 July 1780, DLC:GW, and Burgess, Virginia Soldiers of 1776 description begins Louis A. Burgess, ed. Virginia Soldiers of 1776. 3 vols. 1929. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1973. description ends , 3:1383–84). Green resigned his commission in 1783.

5Col. Edward Hand’s 1st Continental Regiment engaged Capt. Johann Ewald’s 2d Hessian Jäger Company on 23 Oct. near Morrell’s tavern about two miles northwest of New Rochelle (see Hufeland, Westchester County description begins Otto Hufeland. Westchester County during the American Revolution, 1775–1783. White Plains, N.Y., 1926. In Publications of the Westchester County Historical Society, vol. 3. description ends , 131–32). Ewald’s company, which consisted of no more than 125 men and was seeing its first action in America, was rescued by the arrival of a British light infantry battalion. “I got off,” Ewald says, “with a loss of six dead and eleven wounded, including Lieutenant [Carl von] Rau, who was shot in the foot, and two taken prisoner” (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 , 9–10). For other accounts of this skirmish, see Tench Tilghman to William Duer, 23 Oct., in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:1204–5; Hadaway, McDonald Papers description begins William S. Hadaway, ed. The McDonald Papers. 2 vols. White Plains, N.Y., 1926-27. In Publications of the Westchester County Historical Society, vols. 4–5. description ends , pt. 1, 27–28; Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 104–5; and Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 62.

6The British warships in the Tappen Zee portion of the Hudson River were the Roebuck, Phoenix, Tartar, Tryal, and two tenders (see GW to Hancock, 8–9 Oct., and note 8).

7The previous Saturday was 19 October.

8Howe’s army began moving toward White Plains about ten o’clock this morning in two columns, one commanded by Gen. Henry Clinton and the other one under General Heister. “We march’d about 2 miles,” British engineer Archibald Robertson writes, “and took a Position on the East Chester Road about 2 miles in Front facing West, the Bru[n]x River in our Front and the Rebels on the heights other side of the River facing us. In the Evening 220 men of the Picquet took possession of a very strong hill a little advanced without any opposition” (Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 105; see also William Howe to George Germain, 30 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:258–64; Clinton, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 50; Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:94–95; Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 62; and 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 , 10).

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