George Washington Papers

General Orders, 21 October 1776

General Orders

Head Quarters, Harlem Heights,1 Octob: 21st 1776.

Parole: Heath.Countersign: Sullivan.

The hurried situation of the General for the two last days, having prevented him from paying that attention to Col. Glover, and the officers and soldiers who were with him in the skirmish on Friday last,2 that their merit and good behaviour deserved—He flatters himself that his thanks, tho’ delayed, will nevertheless be acceptable to them, as they are offered with great sincerity and cordiality—At the same time he hopes, that every other part of the Army will do their duty, with equal duty and zeal whenever called upon; and that neither dangers, difficulties, or hardships will discourage Soldiers, engaged in the Cause of Liberty, and contending for all that Freemen hold dear and valuable.

Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The Varick transcripts of the general orders do not include an entry for 22 October.

1GW’s headquarters was moved later on this date to Valentine’s Hill at Mile Square in Westchester County about five miles northeast of King’s Bridge (see GW to Elizabeth Williams Philipse, 22 Oct., n.1). The next day his headquarters was moved about ten miles farther northeast to White Plains, where it remained until 10 Nov. (see General Orders, 23 Oct., n.1, and 10 Nov., n.1).

GW spent most of this day visiting the string of temporary American posts, including Valentine’s Hill, that extended along the high ground west of the Bronx River from King’s Bridge to White Plains (see Robert Hanson Harrison to John Hancock, this date, DNA:PCC, item 152). GW had deployed most of his troops at intervals along that line during the past five days to prevent Gen. William Howe’s main force, which at this time was camped near New Rochelle about four miles east of Valentine’s Hill, from outflanking the Continental army and trapping it on Manhattan Island or in southern Westchester County (see the proceedings of the council of war, 16 Oct., source note, and Harrison to Hancock, 14–17, 20 Oct.; see also Benjamin Lincoln to the Massachusetts Council, 23 Oct., MHi: Lincoln Papers, and Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman in the Army, 1 Nov., in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:471–74).

Anticipating that White Plains would be Howe’s next objective, GW between this date and 26 Oct. systematically withdrew his troops from the line of detached camps and concentrated them in the vicinity of that village, leaving detached forces at King’s Bridge and Fort Washington and in New Jersey (see GW to an Anonymous Officer, this date, and Harrison to Hancock, 20, 25 October). White Plains, the seat of Westchester County, was militarily important for the same reason that made it a convenient place to hold the county court, being located at the center of the local road network. Of the several roads radiating from White Plains, the one running east to Connecticut was particularly vital for the Americans at this time, because following Howe’s interdiction of the Boston post road near New Rochelle on 18 Oct., it had become the Continental army’s principal supply line from New England. Other roads connected White Plains with the Hudson highlands to the north, Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson River to the west, and various towns on Long Island Sound to the south including New Rochelle. For accounts of Howe’s subsequent advance from New Rochelle to White Plains and the battle that occurred there on 28 Oct., see Harrison to Hancock, 25 and 29 October. For criticism of GW’s decision to defend White Plains, see John McKesson to George Clinton, 27 Oct., in Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 1:393–94.

2For accounts of this skirmish near Pell’s Point on 18 Oct., see Harrison to Hancock, 20 Oct., and note 3.

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