From October 8th to November 1st, I am blogging about the White Plains “campaign” of 1776. Click here for an overview of this project, a listing of the sources used, and other general information.
Synopsis for October 30th: The American medical service cannot cope with the sick; William Howe prepared to attack upper Manhattan and White Plains; Henry Clinton balked at Howe’s plans.
The American army at White Plains grimly held on to their redoubts and trenches. The men continued to suffer from a lack of food, medicine, proper clothing, and all other materials necessary for an army’s survival.
The Americans had established a general hospital in a church in the town of North Castle, 9 miles to the northeast, but it was poorly staffed due to a shortage of physicians.
The head of the American medical service (Doctor John Morgan) later wrote:
“I cannot but feel for the hospital surgeons [at North Castle], who… were suddenly overwhelmed with numbers of sick sent to them, as well as the wounded … at a time when an engagement was considered as inevitable, there were few at hand to give aid… the wounded, who were conveyed to the hospitals, naturally demanded the attention of the whole body of surgeons, to administer aid to them.”
The sick, it seems, were largely left to the informal care of their comrades.
Private Solomon Nash (Knox’s Artillery Regiment) wrote, “Today it being rainy[,] Luke was taking not well[, and] I still being not well… we both set out for North Castle hospital… and we got within 4 miles of the hospital and put up for this night.” They slept in the woods and then completed the arduous journey, unaided, in the morning.
Doctor John Pine, who had recently joined Washington’s army, found that it was impossible to take care of the sick men from his native Maryland. He wrote that on the 29th:
“I waited on Doctor Morgan, Director-General of the hospitals here, for medicines, etc. He told me he had nothing to say to the Maryland troops, and that it was not his business to supply the regimental surgeons with medicines, and that it must have been a mistake [for Maryland]… to send their surgeons here without them and think they were to be supplied here.”
Dr. Pine then sought out Colonel William Smallwood of the Maryland Battalion, who was 15 miles away and recuperating from two wounds (one in the arm, one in the hip) he received during the fighting on Chatterton’s Hill. Smallwood wrote a letter for the doctor which gave Pine a little leverage.
When Dr. Pine sought out Dr. Morgan again, he was told that “I might have some few things, if I could go to New-York for them”.
Pine was aghast:
“I told him by the time I went there and got back, that… most of the [sick] Maryland troops would be expired. He told me he could not help it, and that medicines were very hard to be got.”
After the battle of White Plains, Lieutenant-General William Howe deferred attacking the American army again partially because he did not like the strength of the American position and partially because he decided to wait for reinforcements. Once those reinforcements arrived, he planned on attacking Washington’s army. At the same time, he wanted Lieutenant-General Wilhelm von Knyphausen to attack the American forces in upper Manhattan.
According to Hessian Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, Knyphausen’s preparations went smoothly:
“[The Americans had] demolished the bridge at Kings Bridge and those called Dyckman’s bridge and Williams’ bridge. Lieutenant General von Knyphausen had them repaired and sent the Grenadier Battalion Köhler and Wutginau’s and Stern’s [i.e., von Stein’s] regiments across the river to encamp at places where they would be safe from the fire of the rebels’ batteries. The rest of his corps encamped behind Fort Independence”.
The Kingsbridge area, circa 1776 (click to enlarge). On October 30th, Knyphausen occupied Fort Independence and crossed some men into upper Manhattan.
Howe’s reinforcements reached him late in the day. Among these troops was the 46th Regiment of Foot. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Enoch Markham, later wrote:
“On the 30th of October we embarked at Hellgate, and after a passage of about thirty miles by water in flat-bottomed boats, we landed at New Rochelle, and immediately marched to join General Howe’s army at the White Plains.” [see footnote]
After the reinforcements arrived, Howe could see no cause for further delay. He had, it seems, accepted that a full-scale attack on the American works was necessary and inevitable. That night (10pm) he issued orders for the troops to be under arms at 5 am. In the ensuing attack, Lieutenant-General Leopold Philip von Heister would command the left division of the army, Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton the center, and Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis the right.
In the past, Howe typically consulted with Clinton about any major moves, but the campaign severely strained their relationship. Howe made his plans without Clinton’s input, and Clinton took the omission badly. Clinton later complained that “I received [the] orders late at night”, and protested that he was not ready to attack. In fact, Clinton had convinced himself there would be no further attacks on the American army, because he had previously argued against it. He then reminded Howe of his objections:
“I took the liberty of intimating to the Commander in Chief that it might prove rather hazardous to make any attack from center or right until we saw what would be the effect of one from the left… and that even then they [i.e., the attacks] ought to be pressed with caution, as the enemy had a very strong position in the gorges of the mountains behind them.”
Howe was already aware of these concerns and he ignored Clinton’s protests.
Footnote: Captain William Bamford (40th Foot) recorded in his journal that these reinforcements embarked on the 29th.