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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

Battle of White Plains - British troops landing in the Hudson River
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.

British Regiments:
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 militia.

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 River.

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 River.