George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 28 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

Westpoint, Jany 28th 1781.

Dear General,

Enclosed I have the honor of presenting your Excellency the particulars of the Success of the late Enterprise against the Enemy at Morrissania.1 The address and gallantry of the Officers, the fortitude and patience of the Soldiery exhibited on the occasion, will, I hope, meet with your Excellency’s approbation.2 I have the honor to be With the greatest Respect, Your Excellency’s Most obedient servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

GW replied to Heath on 29 Jan. from headquarters at New Windsor: “I have just been favored with yours of yesterday together with the Enclosures, for which I am much obliged to you, & shall take farther Notice of the affair in the Orders of tomorrow” (LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also General Orders, 30 Jan.).

1For Heath’s preliminary report, see his letter to GW of 25 January. Heath enclosed Maj. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons’s report to him, dated 25 Jan. at “Camp in the Highlands” of New York: “In Obediance to your Order I marchd on the 19th Inst. from the Highlands with the Battalions under my Command to destroy the Hutts in Morisania which coverd the Theives assembled there under the Direction of Col. De Lancey. and on the 21st I arrivd in King’s Street and Lt Col. Hull with One Battalion at Whiteplains nearly at the same Time. in the Ev’ning of the 21st Lt Colonel Hull took up his March from Whiteplains and having arrivd near Kings-bridge, detachd Cpts. [John] Dennet & [Selah] Benton with their Companies, to Williams’s Bridge to prevent any Communication with the Enemy on that Road, Cpt. [Haffield] White, to De Lancey’s Bridge to occupy that pass and preserve a Communication with the Troops posted at East Chester to cover his Operations, and to act against the Enemy at West Farms and Capt. [Jeremiah] Pritchard with his Compy and a small Body of Militia under Lt [William] Mosier to possess himself of Frogs [Throg’s] Neck: And with the remainging Troops marchd towards Morisania, leaving a sufficient Number of Troops under the Command of Major [Hugh] Maxwell Cpts. [Nathan] Dix and J. Williams to watch the Enemy at their Redoubt No. 8 and to destroy a pontoon Bridge over Harlem River cons⟨tru⟩cted under command of that Redoubt to keep up an easy Communication with the Troops at fort Washington.

“The Hutts (destroying which was the principal Object in View) were about two Miles below the Redoubt, towards the point of Morisania, and in the March, Col. Hull was unexpectedly obstructed by the Destruction of a Bridge over a Creek, within a small Distance of the Hutts, and which by the heavy Rain the preceding Day had been renderd deep & very difficult in passing: but Capt. [Israel] Honniwell having on this Occasion collected about Seventy Horsemen, the Infantry under Cpts. [Joseph] Fox, S[amuel William] Williams & [David] Dorrance were pasd over the Creek by the Horsemen, but so much Time being necessarily taken up in this Matter they were discoverd before they had all pas’d; and Most of the Enemy fled. the Troops immediately fird all the Hutts in that Quarter and kil’d and took all the Men who had not previously escap’d, and in their return forded the Creek (the Horsemen being not collected at that Time).

“In the mean Time Major Maxwell succeeded in Destroying the Bridge and executed every other part of the Duty assignd him, with faithfulness and good Conduct; the several Detachments to Williams’s & De Lancy’s Bridge & on Frogs Neck, succeeded according to my Expectations; and Col. Hull & Major Maxwell arrivd at De Lancy’s Bridge in Season to disperse the Enemy who had collected to seize that pass; and having joind the Detachment under Cpt. White at the Bridge and that under Cpt. Pritchard at West Chester retird with his Prisoners, Cattle Horses &c. on the Road toward East Chester. The Troops under my immediate Comma⟨nd⟩ having arrivd at the Village of East Chester about half an hour after Six in the Morning I immediately sent Parties of Observation on the different Roads leading to that Place, and detachd some Horsemen on the Roads to West Chester & Williams’s Bridge for Inteligence from Collo. Hull and soon found he was retiring on the Road from West Chester, and that the Enemy had collected & were harasing him in his march on his Flanks and in his Rear. on which I detachd Col. Hazen with One Hundred Men with Orders to Col. Hull to retire in the Rear of Col. Hazen’s Command and gain the Village of East Chester with as much Expedition as the very fatigud State of his Men would admit; Col. Hazen having posted his Men in an advantageous & conceald place, Col. Hull retird according to his Direction & the Enemy advancd without discovering Col. Hazen until they receivd a well directed fire—which immediately scatterd & dispersd them—At this Instant the British Troops appeard in force on the Road from Williams’s within a Mile of East Cheste⟨r⟩—this obliged me to advance Col. Sherman with his Battalion & part of Col. Scammel’s on that Road[.] the remaining Troops with Col. Scammel were held in Reserve; and I directed Col. Hazen & Lt Col. Hull to retire to East Chester that our force might there be united if the british Troops should advance, (they being at much less Distance from that place, than Col. Hazen & Col. Hull’s Detachments were). But on Col. Sherman’s taking post on the Hill west of the Village the british Troops halted & did not again advance—Col. Hazen retiring according to order drew the Enemy on Near to East Chester when Cpt. [Jacob] Kemper opend his field peice upon them & some of Col. Scammels Hunters gave them so well directed Fires as immediately to disperse them[.] some were seen to fall & the rest retreated in great Disorder toward West Chester. having obtaind the Objects I had in Command, agreable to your Direction I returnd by the Road through New Rochel.

“In the Course of these Transactions the Enemy sufferd very considerably near thirty being kild at the Hutts and the several Guards which were attackd in the Night; and many were seen to fall in the various Actions in the Morning of the 22d but as my Orders were to hazard Nothing after the Object of the Enterprize was accomplishd, tis impossible to give their Loss with Certainty—All the Hutts and a considerable Quantity of Forage were burnt; the pontoon Bridge destroy’d, about One Hundred & Twenty Cattle & Horses driven up from Morisania and fifty four of Delancy’s Corps made Prisoners.

“In Justice to Lt Col. Hull and his Officers I ought to say that much of the Success of this Enterprize is owing to the judicious Arrangments made by him and the fortitude and Address with which they were executed by them: and in the State of excessive Fatigue of his Men, the retiring through west Chester in good Order & bringing off his Prisoners near two Miles under the Enemy’s Fire until he was supported by Col. Hazen, does him great Honor[.] Cpt. Honniwell who on this Occasion had collected about Seventy Horsemen was particularly Serviceable.

“And I feel myself under great Obligations to Colos. Hazen, Scammel & Sherman for the great Assistance I receivd from them in making the necessary Arrangments and the Cheerfulness with which they and the Troops under their Command executed the several parts of Duty assignd them.

“The Destruction of the Hutts in a place the Enemy considerd as perfectly Secure (from the Protection of a Redoubt & the Distance being much greater to the only possible Way of Retreat than the Enemy’s march to possess the same Pass) I hope will give some Releif to our Frontiers who have sufferd so much from the Incursions of these Banditti.

“and shall be happy if the Manner in which it was executed should meet your Approbation.

“Col. Hull’s Report & the Return of Kild wounded & missing are inclosd” (DLC:GW). The return has not been identified.

The report from Lt. Col. William Hull to Parsons, dated at Crom Pond, N.Y., on 25 Jan., reads: “I embrace this first moment of Leisure to communicate to you, the Proceedings of the Detachment under my Command in the Enterprize against Morrissania, the Night and Morning of the 22d instant. Major General Heath having reinforced the Troops stationed on the Lines with five additional Companies; On the morning of the 20th I marched from this Place to North Castle under Pretence of making a large Forage near the Enimies Lines, all the Teams in this Part of the Country having been previously collected for the Purpose. The same Evening, I was joined by a small Company of New York Levies, commanded by Lieutt [William] Mosier, who had been for a considerable Time stationed on the Lines and had acted in Conjunction with the Troops under my Command. Capt. Honeywell likewise with about eighty mounted Volunteers joined the Detachment and were posted on the different Roads in my Front, and on my Flanks, to prevent either Inhabitants or Deserters giving Intelligence to the Enimy of our Movements.

“As I imagined the following Disposition was best calculated to carry my Orders into Execution, it was consiquently the next Morning communicated to the Officers.

“Major Maxwell with two Companies, commanded by Capts. Dix & J. Williams was directed to take a Position near the Redoubt No. 8, which by the best Intelligence was guarded by an hundred Regulars, to prevent a Sally on the Troops designed to act against Morrissania, capture any of the Enimy, who should attempt to fly there for Security, And distroy a Pontoon Bridge of Communication constructed over Harlem Creek, which was covered by the Cannon in the Redoubt.

“Capt. White with his own Company and a small Party of Militia, was to advance to Delanceys Bridge, surprise if possible a Subalterns Guard posted at that Place, and after leaving a sufficient Force to secure the Pass for the Troops on the west Side of the Brunks [Bronx River], then to act against the Enemy at West Farms.

“Capt. Prichard with his Company and Lieut. Mosiers Levies, had directions to proceed to Frogs Neck with a View of surprising the Enimy stationed in that Quarter.

“Capts. Dennet and Benton with their Companies were to be posted at Williams Bridge, to observe the Motions of the Enimy on the Road leading from Kings 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 Capts. Fox, S. Williams and Dorance, with the principal Part of the Volunteer Horsemen, were to proceed to Morrissania, distroy the Enimies Hutts, 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 brake off from the Column, and the Time of Attack was fixed at half past three OClock in the Night.

“After executing the different Orders at the different Posts, all the Detachments on the West Side of the Brunks, had Orders to retire to Delanceys Bridge precisely at day light, 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 Youngs, from thence thro’ Mile Square, untill their Arrival nearly opposite Kings bridge when it was thought adviseable to take the Feilds, to avoid the Enimies Patroles, on the different Roads. On my Arrival near the principal Part of the Hutts at Morrissania, all the Detachments having been made agreeable to Orders, the Troops met with an unexpected Obstruction which I was apprehensive would have defeated my Plan.

“A small Creek, (over which, by my Intelligence was a Bridge,) had been swelled by the very heavy Rain the Night and Morning of the 21st to such a Height and 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 about fifteen Minutes, about Seventy were conveyed over, which, with the Horse, was thought a sufficient Force to effect the Business in that Quarter; and as not only this Detachment, but Major Maxwells Command were obliged to return the same Way, to gain Delanceys Bridge, it was thought an Object of the utmost Consiquence that this Pass should be secured; The Remainder of the Troops was ordered to take a Position for the Purpose. The Noise unavoidably occasioned in passing this Creek, was heard by the Enimy on the other side, who immediately fired an Alarm, which prevented the Surprise being as compleat as was designed. The Infantry and Horse were ordered to advance, and after capturing a Number of the Enimy, all the Hutts in that Quarter were distroyed.

“After this Service was performed, that Detachment returned and being joined by Major Maxwell, who had distroyed the Bridge over Harlem Creek, and indeed executed every Part of his Orders, I proceeded with all the Troops then joined to Delanceys Bridge, where Capt. White had forced the Guard, and was in Possession of the Pass, over which the Troops retired with little or no Loss, altho’ the Enimy had collected in considerable Force, and were attempting to regain it.

“On our Arrival at West Chester, Capt. Prichard, who had made the Attempt on Frogs 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 compleat as was expected—He however charged on the Guard, wounded one and captured Six—On his Way to Capt. Simons Quarters, he fell in with a Patrole, one of which was killed and two made Prisoners—On his Arrival every Man had left the House, and concealed themselves in the Woods.

“After roun[d]ing the Neck, and capturing a number of Prisoners he returned, and in repassing the Causeway Ensn [Jonathan] Thomson [Thompson] was unfortunately killed. The Objects of the Enterprize having been thus compleated, it became necessary to make my Retreat to East Chester, as fast as the very great Fatigue of the Troops would admit. For this Purpose a Disposition was made, and the Prisoners which consisted of about fifty with the Cattle & Horses were ordered between the front Guard & Main Body.

“As soon as the Line of March commenced, the Enimy appeared on my Flanks and Rear, and began a scattering Fire. Dispositions were immediately made, by reinforcing the Rear & flank Guards, to secure the Column and anoy the Enimy as much as possible after so long and severe a March. The Enimy being continually reinforced and their Fire incessantly increasing, rendered it necessary for the Troops to move exceedingly slow, and for the rear & flank Guards to be increased, and ordered to Positions best calculated for the above Purposes.

“On my Arrival near East Chester, I was happy to find that such a Disposition was made of the Troops under your Command, and Measures were so judiciously adopted, as effectually secured my Retreat, and gave me an Opportunity of placing myself under your immediate Direction. What Number of the Enimy fell either in the Night Attack or on the Retreat, I am unable to ascertain with Precision. It must however have been verry considerable. Fifty two of Colo. Delanceys Corps were made Prisoners, between thirty and forty large Hutts built for their Quarters, distroyed, and a Quantity of Forage. A large Number of Horses and Cattle were likewise drove off. Inclosed is a Return of the killed and wounded, among which is Ensn Thomson of the 6th Masstts Regt killed, and Capt. Dorance of 5th Connecticut Regt wounded. The Loss of Ensn Thomson is much to be regretted, being an active and enterprising Officer.

“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. Indeed I should do Injustice to my own Feelings and be wanting in Gratitude to the Officers of the Detachment should I forbear to mention their

Map 5. Both GW’s and British general Henry Clinton’s strategies were focused on the area around New York City. (Illustrated by Rick Britton. Copyright Rick Britton 2021)

Conduct in the fullest Terms of Approbation. The Patience and Fortitude of the Soldiers in the Execution of so severe a Service, and their Order and Fortitude, when attacked by the Enimy, place their Conduct in a most honorable Point of View. The Conduct of Capt. Honeywell and the Refugees under his Command, deserve particular Commendation” (DLC:GW). The return has not been identified. For a narrative of the entire operation and a detailed map, see Campbell, William Hull description begins Maria Campbell. Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull; Prepared from His Manuscripts. … New York, 1848. description ends , 182–97, map between 188 and 189.

Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister wrote of this raid in his dispatch of 30 Jan.: “In the night of the 21st–22nd of this month General Parsons with a Connecticut Continental brigade was so bold as to approach by way of Horse Neck and Williams’s bridge, attack the Refugees’ quarters in Westchester, and range as far as Morrisania. At daybreak Lieutenant Colonel James De Lancey collected the scattered Refugees and made the rebels’ retreat very uncomfortable. But he could follow them no farther than Williams’s bridge, for on the far side of the bridge the greater part of the rebels had taken post under cover of two fieldpieces, in order to give firm support to their returning comrades. Hence, the Refugees fell back, buried sixteen killed, picked up twice as many wounded, and then rebuilt their burned huts. Seventeen men were taken prisoners. General Parsons lost but few or none” (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 , 411).

A modern estimate based on contemporary sources puts American casualties in this raid at five killed and thirteen wounded, and the number of Loyalists captured at “about 50” (Peckham, Toll of Independence description begins Howard H. Peckham, ed. The Toll of Independence: Engagements & Battle Casualties of the American Revolution. Chicago, 1974. description ends , 79).

2GW forwarded the letters from Parsons and Hull to Samuel Huntington on 31 January.

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