The Battle of White Plains
Battle: White Plains
War: American Revolutionary War
Date: 28th October 1776
Place: New York State
Combatants: British against the Americans
British troops landing in the Hudson River
Generals: Major General Howe and General George Washington
Size of the armies: 13,000 British and German troops
against 14,500 Americans, although only around 4,000 on each side
were actually engaged.
Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats
and headgear of bearskin caps, leather caps or tricorne hats
depending on whether the troops were grenadiers, light infantry or
battalion company men. The two regiments of light dragoons serving
in America, the 16th and 17th, wore red coats and leather crested
helmets. The German infantry wore blue coats and retained the
Prussian style grenadier mitre with brass front plate. The Americans
dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed
regular infantry regiments of the Continental Army wore blue uniform
coats but the militia continued in rough clothing. Both sides were
armed with muskets and guns. The Pennsylvania regiments carried
long, small calibre, rifled weapons.
Winner: The Americans were driven back but were enabled to
draw off from the White Plain position and march into New Jersey
while the British returned to Manhattan. Generally considered to
have been a drawn battle. However the American garrison on Manhattan
and in Fort Washington was left to its fate.
The Second Brigade comprising: 5th, 28th, 35th and 49th Regiments of
Foot and the 16th Light Dragoons. Rahl’s Regiment of Hessians and
further unidentified Hessian Regiments.
American Formations: Spencer’s Division (New England),
Hazlet’s Delaware Regiment, McDougall’s 1st New York, Ritzema’s 3rd
New York, Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment, Webb’s Connecticut
Regiment, Brook’s New York militia and Graham’s Massachusetts
At the end of September 1776 Washington’s army
occupied the northern tip of Manhattan Island and the ground to the
West of the Bronx River north of Kingsbridge. Howe from his
positions on the rest of Manhattan determined to outflank the
Americans with a landing at Throg’s Neck to the East of the Bronx.
The British landing on 12th October 1776 was held by
Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts troops, forcing the British
to re-embark on their boats and land further up river at Pell’s
Point. Meanwhile Washington withdrew his main army north to
positions at White Plains on the east bank of the Bronx River, north
of Yonkers. On the insistence of Congress a substantial garrison was
left at Fort Washington on northern Manhattan Island. Howe and his
British and German troops followed Washington via New Rochelle and
up the Bronx River.
Battle of White Plains
Washington fortified a position between the Bronx River and the
river Crotton. On the far side of the Bronx was an isolated outpost
on Chatterton’s Hill held by Colonel Spencer, Colonel McDougall and
some 4,000 men including two New England militia regiments under
Colonel Rufus Putnam.
Colonel Rahl with two Hessian regiments advanced on a small hill
that lay unoccupied beyond Chatterton’s Hill on the extreme American
right while the British 2nd Brigade attacked the Americans on
Chatterton’s Hill supported by two further Hessian battalions. This
attack pushed the Americans back until the flanking threat from
Rahl’s men caused the Americans to withdraw from the hill and
retreat across the river to join Washington’s army. The British did
not press this attack.
In the meantime Howe had called for reinforcements from Brigadier
Lord Percy in Manhattan in order to mount an attack on Washington’s
main army which was withdrawing to a position to the rear. For some
reason that remains unexplained this attack was not mounted and
Washington and his army were left to pull back across the Crotton
Casualties: British casualties were 313 killed and wounded.
The Americans lost 300 killed, wounded and captured. The American
figures are speculative.
Follow-up: Howe was able to take advantage of Washington’s
withdrawal, with much of his army, to take Kingsbridge and capture
Fort Washington. This was a considerable blow to the American cause
and precipitated the headlong American retreat to the Delaware
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward