A Relation of Disagreeable Circumstances: The Attack on Young’s House, February 3, 1780

A snowstorm in southern Westchester County, New York. The winter of 1779–1780 was especially severe.

One of the hallmarks of Journal of the American Revolution is its ability to bring lesser-known yet compelling events of the War for Independence to the public’s knowledge. Great battles and campaigns that altered the course of the war are always at the forefront of history, but smaller, more obscure actions often bore witness to the bravery and endurance of men on both sides. A cold February morning in Westchester County, New York, provides an excellent example of this.

After a season which saw little campaigning around the New York City area, Sir Henry Clinton prepared to open 1780’s actions against Charleston, South Carolina. The British expedition, numbering over 8,500 officers and men, would stretch the army’s remaining garrison strength to the limits.[1] Rhode Island’s evacuation at the end of October 1779 eased the reduction of troops at New York somewhat, but left little for new commander Lt. Gen. Wilhelm Knyphausen to work with offensively. Under normal circumstances, the remaining troops, about 14,000 in number, would have been adequate to act upon the defensive for the safety of New York City and dependencies.[2] But the winter of 1779-1780 was anything but normal.

The key to controlling New York was command of the waterways. What made Manhattan Island, Long Island and Staten Island so defensible was that they were in fact all islands, something Washington learned all too well when he lost New York to the British in 1776. As long as the Royal Navy’s warships controlled the rivers, harbors and sounds, Washington’s troops would never seriously threaten Britain’s American stronghold. The cold air and storms bracketing Clinton’s departure from New York the end of that December was but a portent of things to come.

With temperatures dropping below freezing for weeks on end, and snows being measured in feet rather than inches, the winter quickly became known as the worst in memory. The Rev. Charles Inglis of Trinity Church in New York City noted in his journal, “this has been the severest Winter Known in the Memory of Man – The Sexton of St. Pauls measured the Depth to which the Frost had penetrated, & he found it to be 4 feet 1 inches thick.”[3] There were no longer any islands in the New York garrison, as virtually every body of water turned to passable ice. On February 6, 1780, residents of New York City were treated to the spectacle of eighty-six sleighs loaded with provisions, escorted by a hundred troops, crossing on the ice to Staten Island to help that post.[4] Rather than from the tip of Manhattan across New York Harbor, the sleighs went across the Hudson River to Bergen Point (modern Bayonne) and from there across the kill to Decker’s Ferry, no doubt a concession to safety.[5]

Staten Island had already proved vulnerable to attack over the ice from New Jersey. With his main army encamped at Morristown, George Washington detached Maj. Gen. William Alexander, Lord Stirling, with a force of over 2,500 Continental troops with artillery to cross over to the island on January 15, 1780 in two divisions and attempt to surprise the garrison. Brig. Gen. Thomas Stirling, commanding the 2,000 or so British, German and Provincial troops on the island, judged his force better off within their fortifications and “was forced to content myself with occupying the Grounds near to and in front of the Redoubts” in the event the Continentals should attack him.[6] They did not. A disappointed Lord Stirling wrote to Washington, “as their works well situated and appeared otherwise strong an assault was deemed unadviseable, as it would probably have cost us more than we could have gained by success.”[7] The Continental troops returned to New Jersey without attempting any action, leaving behind at least fourteen men taken prisoner by the garrison and as many as thirteen others who used the opportunity to desert to the British.[8]

This raid was followed up a few days later, when eighty Connecticut State troops from Mead’s Regiment, commanded by Capt. Samuel Lockwood, at 1:00 AM on January 18, 1780, attacked a house occupied by Lt. Col. Isaac Hatfield and about fifteen officers and men of the (Loyalist) Westchester County Militia & Refugees near Kingsbridge. The action was at close quarters and at a stand off until the house was set on fire, prompting the defenders to surrender. One of those prisoners however, Maj. Thomas Huggeford, made his escape and rallied the remainder of the corps. Victory for the Patriots quickly turned to defeat. Defending the men of his corps, Mead later explained to Maj. Gen. William Heath, commanding the posts in the Hudson Highlands, “as the troops being much fatigued, as they had marched 30 miles out, a number of them gave out & unfortunately fell into the Enemies hands as they was pursued by about 40 horse.”[9]

Heath, however, already had other accounts of the action and knew the truth of the matter, and he related to Washington two days later: “From what I can learn this would have been a very pretty affair, had not folly & imprudence Stain’d the retreat. The men loitering behind on their return as is commonly the case with this Sort of troops were pursued and overtaken by about 20 Horse who cut and Slashed many of them in a Shocking manner …”[10] Huggeford had indeed collected thirty-four cavalry of his corps, supported by twenty-eight infantry, “continued the pursuit, and came up with their rear between New-Rochelle and Mamarroneck, and resolutely closing with them, killed 23, and took 40 prisoners, some of whom are wounded.”[11] Amongst the thirty-nine men taken was twenty year old Asa Lord, who later recalled being attacked between nine and ten in the morning by the “Queens Guards” and spending the next ten months and three days in “The Old Sugar House” prison until exchanged.[12] Even assuming the number of killed was largely inflated, less than half the attacking force returned to Connecticut.[13]

Far from boasting of success in repelling two winter attacks, the British correctly realized their garrison and city were open to attack like no other time in the three previous winters. There were simply no islands anymore, and effectively no warships patrolling the waterways to deter and prevent attacks. While new forts and fortifications could be constructed, the troops to man them were on board transports sailing the storm-swept Atlantic Ocean en-route to besiege Charleston. To supplement the garrison, and at least relieve the professional soldiers, New York City Commandant Maj. Gen. James Pattison, one of three key generals left behind, took the initiative to organize military-age male inhabitants of the city into forty companies of militia. These, when joined to about ten volunteer companies, along with embodied Royal Navy sailors, sailors from transports and privateers, and men of the army’s civil branches, amounted to 5,855 new armed forces.[14]

Wilhelm von Knyphausen.

The two other generals instrumental to British strategy at this challenging juncture were an odd combination, one being a Hessian, the other a colonial governor. Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, commanding in the absence of Sir Henry Clinton, had proven his mettle in combat, leading his division as they stormed across the Brandywine Creek in the face of heavy artillery fire during the 1777 Philadelphia Campaign. The following year Knyphausen commanded one of the two British columns crossing New Jersey after the evacuation of New Jersey, skillfully protecting the army’s baggage and stores. Despite playing little or no role in what passed for the 1779 Campaign, Knyphausen was entrusted with minding the store in the commander in chief’s absence. The third important figure in New York’s defense was one of Britain’s most offensive minded generals, William Tryon. In addition to being a major general, Tryon started the war as New York’s royal governor, watching almost helplessly as the city and province he presided over slipped into rebellion. In 1777, Tryon utilized his colonial experience (he had been governor of North Carolina prior to New York) by volunteering to lead and help organize the Provincial forces then being raised in the area. On the battlefield, he showed boldness by destroying stores at Danbury, Connecticut in April 1777 and then in 1779 attacking the Connecticut coastal towns of Horseneck, New Haven, Norwalk and Fairfield. Sir Henry Clinton was nervous about both Tryon’s tactics and promotion of Loyalist views and plans, and kept Tryon on the fringes afterwards.

Following the maxim that the best defense is a good offense, Knyphausen and Tryon decided on a strategy of keeping Washington’s string of outposts around New York in a state of constant danger. Without risking a large battle, the outposts could be attacked, or even better, surprised, thereby forcing Washington to hopefully, in their view, fear an attack by the British rather than make preparations for his own possible offensive. The first actions took place overnight on January 25-26 when 132 New Jersey Volunteers under Lt. Col. Abraham Van Buskirk crossed the ice from Staten Island to Elizabethtown and completely surprised the Continental garrison there, capturing fifty-two officers and men, primarily from the Maryland Line.[15] Simultaneously, a force of about 300 British and German troops under the command of Maj. Charles Lumm of the 44th Regiment of Foot advanced over the ice from their post at Paulus Hook (modern Jersey City) and completely surprised the post at Newark. This guard of thirty-three men, chiefly Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Continentals, was commanded by Capt. John Noble Cumming of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment.[16] While all his guard save one was captured, along with four others, Noble and his second in command managed to escape.[17] No British or Provincial troops were lost in action during either raid, but the severe weather took its toll on Lumm’s men, who had a much further distance to travel:

The Loss on this occasion was five Men missing, four of whom were British, who from the Celerity and length of the March which was upwards of 20 Miles, tired, and fell behind, two of them I since find perished on the Ice; to halt in order to bring them up would have been attended with still worse Consequences, for I am convinced, Sir, had we stopped for ever so short a Time, the Majority must have suffered from the intense Cold.[18]

The intense cold, and the deep snow associated with it, would play a prominent role in the next British excursion.

At least one Continental Army general officer correctly recognized who was behind the recent surge in British activity. If George Washington or any of his staff doubted the abilities of the subordinates Sir Henry Clinton left behind, Maj. Gen. Robert Howe did not, as he explained to fellow Maj. Gen. William Heath:

It is a serious truth, tho’ it may not generally be understood or believed, that the British troops now in New York and its vicinity are not less than sixteen thousand effectives; the Genls. commanding there are Knup Hauson and Tryon, the former I am told was always accusing of Sir Henry Clinton of inactivity, and from his fondness for Genl. Tryon is entirely under his influence. The character of Tryon has been, I find, in this country very much misunderstood; the avowed enmity between him and Clinton has kept him out of every command that was respectable enough to call forth his abilities. I, Sir, have serv’d with him and from the most intimate acquaintance with him know that he is not only brave, but that he is an officer of enterprise and resources, ambitious to excel, and possess’d with an enthusiastic lust for fame, he will therefore catch at this campaign as the only opportunity that has been or perhaps will be lent him to operate with vigour, and every proceeding since he has been in command warrants this opinion. The enterprise against our troops at Elizabeth Town and Newark in New Jersey…and the success of them…discovers a genius in the guidance of their measures which has not been discernable for some time previous to this man’s taking command and presages what may be expected of him, and should induce us to prepare accordingly.[19]

Just over a week past the attacks in New Jersey, the duo of Tryon and Knyphausen were ready to launch their most ambitious attack yet, but this one would head north into Westchester. Similar to a rotating guard of 250 men kept at Paramus to protect Bergen County, the Highlands garrison of the Continental Army would rotate a monthly guard of the same number near White Plains at a place known as Young’s House for the protection of Westchester. The garrison at and near Young’s House was Lt. Col. Joseph Thompson of the 10th Massachusetts Regiment, with a command drawn from no less than thirteen Massachusetts regiments. On February 3, 1780, this garrison was to be rotated out and replaced by a like number of troops under the command of Lt. Col. Ezra Badlam of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment. For Thompson and his men, they would arrive too late.

At 11:00 PM on the night of February 2, 1780, a force consisting of the two light infantry and two grenadier companies of the Brigade of Guards, “a Detachment of 50 Men each from the Regiments Prince Hereditary and Prince Charles, with twenty mounted Yagers, and the Cavalry of the West Chester Refugees” all under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Norton of the Guards, set off from Kingsbridge, some twenty miles to the south of Young’s House to surprise Thompson and his men.[20] From the very start, the weather played a factor, forcing Norton to make some critical decisions immediately:

We had not advanced two Miles before I found the Sleighs instead of accelerating our Movement, served only to retard our Progress. I therefore thought proper to leave them at Kingsbridge, with Orders, but which were not obeyed, to proceed to a Place [Lieutenant] Colonel [Andreas] Emmerick appointed, and there wait to assist us in our Return; I believe we were yet short of three Miles from Kingsbridge when Word was brought me that the two 3 Pounders by the Horses already exhausted from Fatigue through the Badness of the Roads (or rather no Roads for we crossed the Country to avoid falling in with the Rebel Patroles) could not be brought forward. Necessity compelled me to leave the Guns, and unavoidably with them, a Guard adequate to ensure their Return.[21]

Trudging overland unexpectedly by foot now, the infantry must have undergone tremendous hardship with the deep snow, halting not more than fifteen minutes along the way. When sunrise broke, after eight hours of marching “with much Labor and Difficulty to the Soldier through very bad Ways” the British commander found they were still eight miles shy of their target and in serious danger of losing the element of surprise.[22] As Norton pondered the situation, a thousand thoughts ran through his mind:

a Surprise, and our Guns which were to have opened the Doors of the Stone House, were then both equally out of the Question; we had yet a great Way to go, for Men that had marched all Night, and the Road very heavy from the Depth of Snow, the Uncertainty of Success when we got there, and if baffled, the Length of March back again with a fresh Enemy continually harassing the Rear of our tired Troops, were Reflections … not of the most pleasing Nature.[23]

Determined to still attack, he pressed forward, gathering axes and crowbars along the way for the grenadiers of the Guards to force open the stone house.

When within two miles of their destination, Norton sent forward his cavalry, consisting of the twenty Jägers and about sixty of the Westchester Militia & Refugees, the same corps that Mead’s Connecticut troops had attacked just two weeks earlier.[24] This was one of the few incidents in the north when militia troops were incorporated into an expedition otherwise consisting of British and German regulars, no doubt at General Tryon’s suggestion. The cavalry was intended to block retreat routes and prevent reinforcements from arriving. By appearing on a hillside, however, Thompson’s sentries spotted the enemy cavalry and sounded the alarm. It was then 9:00 AM and the element of surprise was indeed gone. The Massachusetts commander immediately ordered in all his detached parties, but he was too late. Capt. Orringh Stoddard of the 1st Massachusetts rushed his men forward to join the troops at Young’s House when he saw “Capt. [James] Cooper [14th Massachusetts Regiment] on the Left had not time to joine before the Enemy had atacked the Colo[nel].” Stoddard likewise lamented “I also on the wright were Cut off from joining the party.”[25] Norton pressed his men on to the attack, describing the action:

…as I came forward with the 2 Flank Companies of the 1st Battalion [of Guards] I saw Parties of the Enemy advancing to reinforce Young’s. There was then no time to be lost. I desired Colonel [Francis] Hall with his Light Company, who were on my Right, to ascend the Hill on his Right, below which was the House, whilst I went with my Company to the Left to cut off the Retreat of a Party I observed coming from Hammonds: Very soon after I heard a Firing from the House and Colonel Hall’s Men. We were not long before we reached the Orchard (adjoining to the House) where we found the Party I had described, they received us with Courage and Coolness, and I should do them Injustice did I not say they behaved well on the Occasion; by the timely Arrival of Colonel [Lowther] Pennington with Part of his Company of Grenadiers, who had advanced in a straight Line between between [sic] Colonel Hall’s and my Company, the House was in a few Minutes carried and the Rebels defeated…[26]

The attack had been costly on both sides. Two of the grenadiers attacking the house were killed, with fifteen others wounded, including Capt. George Evelyn Boscawen. One of the Jägers was likewise killed, with two others wounded. The Westchester Militia also lost three wounded, one of them mortally, Capt. Hazard Wilcox.[27] Wilcox had raised and commanded a small company of pioneers during the 1777 Burgoyne Campaign before making his way to New York City and joining the Westchester Militia. He lingered with his wounds until early in the morning of February 8, 1780 when he expired, leaving “a disconsolate widow and five children, lately escaped from rebel oppression.”[28]

For the Continental troops, the losses were far greater. There is no accurate way to determine their loss in killed and wounded, given the very incomplete state of their existing muster rolls in the National Archives and Records Administration. An official report, made out on February 12, 1780, is confusing as it only lists the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Massachusetts, giving for figures one captain, one sergeant and fifteen privates killed; one sergeant and thirteen privates wounded; one lieutenant colonel, two captains, four subalterns, three sergeants, three corporals, one drummer and seventy-four privates captured; and four privates missing.[29] One American newspaper account stated “Capt. [Moses] Roberts of the 15th Massachusetts, killed; and 14 non-commissioned officers and privates killed on the spot; about twenty wounded …”[30] Captain Stoddard in his report to Heath also used the number of fifteen dead. Muster rolls for the 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 15th Massachusetts list eleven men killed, including a sergeant and a corporal. Norton, more or less guessing, thought his men had killed forty of the enemy, but stated with certainty that they left twelve wounded prisoners along the way on account of their injuries. Those prisoners they brought into Kingsbridge amounted to Lieutenant Colonel Thompson, Capt. Abraham Watson of the 3rd Massachusetts, one captain lieutenant, two lieutenants, two ensigns, three sergeants, one drummer, seventy-six rank and file, and one unlucky inhabitant.[31]

For the prisoners, their fates varied. Officers like Thompson were admitted to parole and lived in relative comfort amongst the inhabitants of Long Island. The enlisted men were housed in one of the prisons converted from sugar houses. Most of those who did not die in captivity were exchanged and rejoined their regiments in January 1781. Pvt. John Tower of the 2nd Massachusetts probably would have fared better remaining in captivity; he was killed in an attack on the Loyalist Westchester Militia on January 22, 1781, just days after his exchange.[32] Jonathan Hunt was a private in the 15th Massachusetts when he was taken prisoner and

carried into the City of New York & emprisoned for some time in a Sugar house, then removed into the North Church, where he was detained eleven months wanting five days, his sufferings during this period were extreme for want of food and cloathing he became sickly and emaciated, and could not preserve himself from Vermin by which he was almost destroyed untill at last he was sent under a flagg of truce to Elizabeth Town in New Jersey and there set on shore, from whence he begged his way to the camp at West Point; and was carried to Gen. Heath the Commander who took pity on the suffering of himself and four Companions and gave each of them a shirt and pair of shoes and stockings[33]

Major General William Heath. (Library of Congress)

When the smoke of battle (and the remains of the burned Young’s House) cleared, there was little to do but congratulate the victors and explain the loss to one’s superiors. For Major General Heath, commanding in the Hudson Highlands, the task of informing George Washington fell to him: “A relation of disagreeable circumstances has of late composed my correspondence. This is of the same complexion,” a reference to mysterious fires breaking out at West Point earlier in the week.[34] Heath could report little from firsthand knowledge, other than forwarding Captain Stoddard’s report from the previous day. For the British, Maj. Gen. Edward Mathew, commanding at Kingsbridge, extended his personal thanks to Lieutenant Colonel Norton and the men under his command. This was quickly followed by that of Lieutenant General Knyphausen:

His Excellency Lt. Genl. Knyphausen desires his thanks may be given in public orders, to Lt. Colo. Norton of the Brigade of Guards for his good Conduct & Gallant behavior in Attacking & forcing a Considerably body of the Rebels Advantagiously posted at Young’s House in the Neighbourhood of White Plains, on the Morning of the 3rd Inst. His Excellency returns his thanks to the officers & private Soldiers of the different detachments employed on this Service, & the Genl. is particularly obliged to the Officers & men of the West Chester Refugees, for their very determined behavior upon this as well as former occasions.[35]

Col. James DeLancey, commanding the Westchester Militia & Refugees, proudly carried his copy of the above thanks with him to England at the end of the war, part of the proof he submitted for his loyalty and usefulness to the British.

While the grand armies engaged in the Siege of Charleston continued their struggles, the petit guerre around New York continued for several more months, adding places like Hackensack, Paramus, New Bridge and Hopperstown to the list of battlefields. None of these encounters changed the course of the war, or caused massive casualties to either side. But for the soldiers who marched dozens of miles in snow and freezing cold, with unknown dangers behind every fence and wall, these skirmishes were every bit as fatiguing and deadly as Brandywine, Monmouth or Long Island. Washington could declare success in keeping his army together during as intense a winter any of them ever knew. Knyphausen and Tryon could take credit for keeping New York and its environs safe in the absence of the commander in chief and the flower of the British Army. The fate of America would be decided at another time and place.

 

[1] “Transports under Orders to Receive the following Corps under the Direction of Captains Tonken, Chads, & Lieuts. Winter and Bradley Agents,” December 1779. Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 233, item 17, University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library (CL).

[2] “Distribution of the following Corps, New York 1st Jany. 1780.” Frederick Mackenzie Papers, CL.

[3] Journal entry of February 23, 1780. Journal of the Reverend Charles Inglis, January 1, 1776 – May 12, 1782, MG 23, C6, Reel C-2223, Library and Archives Canada.

[4] The Royal Gazette (New York), February 9, 1780.

[5] Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair to George Washington, Crane’s Mills, February 7, 1780. Papers of Arthur St. Clair, Box 1, Folder 8, Ohio Historical Society.

[6] Brig. Gen. Thomas Stirling to Lt. Gen. Wilhelm Knyphausen, Staten Island, January 16, 1780. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 100, Pages 59-62, Great Britain, The National Archives (TNA).

[7] Lord Stirling to Washington, Elizabethtown, January 16, 1780. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 063, Library of Congress (LOC).

[8] “Monthly return of rebel deserters brought before Lieut. Cockburn, New York, 21st February 1780.” Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 86, item 6, CL. “List of Rebel Prisoners in New York 23rd January 1780.” Frederick Mackenzie Papers, CL.

[9] Mead to Heath, Horseneck, January 21, 1780. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 063, LOC.

[10] Heath to Washington, Highlands, January 23, 1780. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 063, LOC.

[11] The Royal Gazette (New York), January 22, 1780.

[12] Pension Application of Asa Lord, Madison County, New York, October 8, 1832. Collection M-804, Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, No. S29298, Asa Lord, Connecticut, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

[13] “List of Rebel Prisoners in New York 23rd January 1780.” Frederick Mackenzie Papers, CL.

[14] The Royal Gazette (New York), February 16, 1780.

[15] Van Buskirk to Thomas Stirling, Staten Island, January 26, 1780. Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 109, item 16, CL.

[16] “A Court of Enquiry held by order of Majr. Genrl. St. Clair to investigate the conduct of the officers on duty at New Ark and Elizabeth Town on the night of ye 25th inst. when the Enemy made an incursion and surprised these Posts and the orders they received” January 30, 1780. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 064, LOC. “List of Rebel Prisoners taken at Newark 26 Jany. 1780.” Frederick Mackenzie Papers, CL.

[17] The second in command was either Lieutenant John or Samuel Brison, both of whom served in the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment, and both of whom would be wounded and captured by the British in another outpost raid, this one on Hopperstown in Bergen County, New Jersey on April 16, 1780. The New Jersey Journal (Chatham), May 17, 1780.

[18] Lumm to Knyphausen, Paulus Hook, January 26, 1780. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 100, Pages 75-77, TNA

[19] Howe to Heath, Highlands, March 31, 1780. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Seventh Series, Volume V, William Heath Papers, Part III, Published by the Society (1905), 49-50. The actual size of the British garrison of New York and environs, exclusive of militia, stretched from Staten Island to Lloyd’s Neck was about 14,000 of all ranks fit for duty. Distribution of the corps at New York, January 1, 1780. Frederick Mackenzie Papers, CL.

[20] General Edward Mathew to Knyphausen, Morris’ House, February 3, 1780. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 100, Pages 79-80, TNA.

[21] Emmerick was a German officer who had commanded a Provincial Corps of Chasseurs from 1777 to 1779 before it was drafted into other units. Emmerick continued on in the service at Kingsbridge but not attached to any particular corps. Norton to Mathew, Kingsbridge, February 6, 1780. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 100, Pages 83-86, TNA.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “State of the Westchester County Militia, commanded by Col. Js. DeLancey, March 1st, 1780.” Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 87, item 31, CL.

[25] Stoddard to Heath, Young’s Farm, February 3, 1780. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 064, LOC.

[26] Norton to Mathew, Kingsbridge, February 6, 1780. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 100, Pages 83-86, TNA.

[27] Mathew to Knyphausen, February 3, 1780. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 100, Pages 79-80, TNA.

[28] The Royal American Gazette (New York), February 9, 1780.

[29] “Return of the kill’d, wounded, &c. of the Detachment late under the command of Lt. Col. Thompson. Highlands 12th February 1780.” George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 064, LOC.

[30] The New-York Packet, and the American Advertiser (Fishkill), February 10, 1780.

[31] “Return of Rebel Prisoners taken 3rd Feby. 1780 at Phillips Mannor.” Frederick Mackenzie Papers, CL.

[32] Muster Roll of Capt. Luther Bailey’s Company, 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, York Hutts, February 8, 1781. Record Group M246, Revolutionary War Rolls, Reel 35, Folder 3, NARA.

[33] Pension Application of Jonathan Hunt, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, July 19, 1832. Collection M-804, Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, No. S31144, Jonathan Hunt, Massachusetts, NARA.

[34] Heath to Washington, Highlands, February 4, 1780. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, MSS 44693: Reel 064, LOC.

[35] Orders by Major-of-Brigade Thomas Colins, New York, February 5, 1780. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 113, Part 1, folios 273-274, TNA.

More from Todd W. Braisted

A Patriot-Loyalist: Playing Both Sides

People characterize the American Revolution in terms of Patriots and Loyalists –...
Read More

6 Comments

  • Quite an interesting skirmish. Too far out to make it back if you lose. In winter. So glad this article will help preserve this action. Very impressive decision by Lt. Col. Charles Norton to press the attack. More so that it worked.

  • Thank you for this article. Apart from the story of this strenuous action, of which I knew nothing, I appreciated Robert Howe’s estimation of William Tryon, which I’d never read. Tryon and Clinton had been good friends as young men. That friendship disintegrated entirely after Clinton was named Commander-in-Chief, and their different natures (one cautious, the other “imprudent”) came into friction.

  • Good observation Selden. Knyphausen and Tryon are fascinating figures to study for me, as I admire their desire to make things happen rather than look for excuses for inaction. Clinton wanted to be anywhere but America after 1778.

  • The beautiful thing about JAR is it allows experts like Todd to bring to life small engagements in the war that have received scant or even no recognition or study since they were fought. I have always believed that the British failed to win the war because they fought it like a Napoleonic “Grande Armee” conflict. Moving armies over maps from Pall Mall clubs hoping to deal Washington and Congress one “knock out ” punch. Washington and Morgan realised it was a war of attrition that required multiple small strikes aimed at dispersing British forces and materiel until the political futility of the war became apparent to Lord Norths Government. This “petit guerre” Todd illustrates above was as important (but less studied or acknowledged) in my view as Saratoga in gaining American independence.

    Incidentally, Clinton is a fascinating psychological study. Today he would be classed as Bipolar or passive aggressive. The one thing I would debate, Todd, is the assertion that he wanted to be anywhere but America after 1778. Unfortunately, he had a persecution complex which meant that whilst he was afraid to use his army for fear of failure and was constantly threatening to resign, he was also politically manipulative and jealous of giving it up to other more aggressive commanders.

  • All good points John. I have been through Clinton’s papers at the Clements Library over a dozen times now, and he’s someone who is indeed complex. To me, he is the classic example of someone who was a better subordinate commander than a commander in chief. He demonstrated that, in my opinion, over the six week period in September – October 1777 when he led two major incursions hoping to favor the movements of the grand armies then in play. He did a lot with a little. When he became commander in chief, he never had enough. Yes, he got a bad break when he had to lose 10,000 troops in 1778 to other theaters, and yes, he was always promised more reinforcements than he got, but he never adjusted his tactics. People like Knyphausen and Tryon I think were ideally suited for fighting the kind of war that could have wore down the Continental Army as what happened to the British in South Carolina 1780-1781. So I do take Clinton at his word that he wanted to go home. If he wasn’t going to do anything that enabled victory, what would be the point of staying?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *