The Battle of White Plains

Unlike Lower Manhattan, where the Continental Army scattered at the sight of the British Navy’s guns, LTG George Washington skillfully parried the Howe brothers’ landing attempts to the north of Harlem Heights for two weeks in October 1776. But with complete command of the sea, it was only a matter of time before the British found an uncovered beach. They did so on the night of 18 October on a narrow spit of land known as Throgg’s Neck.

The landing at Throgg’s Neck rendered the fortifications at Harlem Heights untenable, but was far enough away to allow Washington time enough to organize an escape. He didn’t completely abandon Manhattan as he left 2000 men under BG Nathaniel Greene at Fort Washington which blocked access of the river to the British Navy and allowed supplies to cross. He planned for Fort Washington to withstand a siege just long enough for the Continental Army to win a victory on ground of his choosing to the north: White Plains, New York.

Washington had a small supply depot there, and the terrain was perfect for a Bunker Hill style battle. The main position was a high ridge with good fields of fire anchored by a swamp on the left. On the right was the strongest position, a steep hill that overlooked the narrow but swift and deep Bronx River, which anchored the right. Any attack would have to cross the river under fire, or advance into the teeth of the main position on the ridge. Washington thought that Howe not risk the river crossing against the formidable hill, and attack the ridge, so he placed militia on the hill (which did an amazing job in the same kind of position at Bunker Hill) and his best troops on the ridge. He was wrong.

After pushing back a skillful delaying action by a Connecticut Regt, Howe saw the hill was occupied by militia, and decided to deliberately attack it. Howe almost lazily arrayed his army (Without know where he was going to attack, Washington could do nothing but watch). Only when Howe brought up his cannon did Washington know that he was going to attack the hill. Washington hastily reinforced it, but the Hessian cannon swept the militia from the crest and the British Army crossed before they could arrive. The rest of the Brits fixed the Continentals on the ridge, while the Hessians under Col Johann Rall (we will see his name again) systematically cleared the hill, unhinging Washington’s line.

The Continental Army retreated north in various states of panic, but a thunderstorm that night and the next day prevented Howe from pursuing. Washington reorganized and crossed the Hudson a few days later, completely abandoning New York except for Fort Washington.

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