Skip to main content

They Were There:

July 2024
2min read

“The scene was grand and solemn”

Private James Sullivan Martin,
Continental Army:

We marched… for the White Plains, in the night. We had our cooking utensils, at that time the most useless things in the army, to carry in our hands.… We arrived at the White Plains just at dawn of day, tired and faint—encamped on the plain for a few days and then removed to the hills in the rear. One day… we found that the British were advancing upon us.

An unknown American participant in the battle:

The army were immediately alarmed, and part of General Wadsworth’s brigade, with some other regiments under the command of General Spencer… were sent out as an advance party, to skirmish with the enemy, and harass them in their march. We… placed ourselves behind walls and fences, in the best manner we could, to give the enemy trouble. About half after nine o’clock, our advance parties all came in, retreating before the enemy; and the light parties of the enemy, with their advanced guard, consisting of two or three thousand, came in sight, and marched on briskly towards us… and we fi ring upon them from the walls and fences, broke and scattered them at once; but they would run from our front and get round upon our wings to flank us.… We kept the walls until the enemy were just ready to surround us. Once the Hessian grenadiers came up in front of Colonel Douglass’s regiment, and we fired a general volley upon them, at about twenty rods distance, and scattered them like leaves in a whirlwind ; and they ran off so far that some of the regiment ran out to the ground where they were when we fired upon them, and brought off their arms and accoutrements, and rum, that the men who fell had with them, which we had time to drink round with before they came on again.

Brigadier General William Heath,
Continental Army:

From the American camp to the west-southwest, there appeared to be a very commanding height [Chatterton’s Hill], worthy of attention.… “Yonder,” says Major-Gen. Lee, pointing to the grounds just mentioned, “is the ground we ought to occupy.” “Let us then go and view it,” replied the Commander in Chief. When on the way, a light-horseman came up in full gallop, his horse almost out of breath, and addressed Gen. Washington—“The British are on the camp, Sir.” The General observed—“Gentlemen, we have now other business than reconnoitring, “putting his horse in full gallop for the camp, and followed by the other officers. When arrived at HeadQuarters, the Adjutant-General who had remained at camp, informed the Commander in Chief, that the guards had been all beat in, and the whole American army were now at their respective posts, in order of battle. The Commander in Chief turned round to the officers, and only said, “Gentlemen, you will repair to your respective posts, and-do the best you can.”

Colonel Stephen Kemble, British Army:

A Cannonade ensued, but about 2 o’Clock the Enemy appearing to intend throwing a strong Body on the Height to our left and in the Wood, a Body of Hessians and 2d. Brigade British were ordered to attack and drive them from them, which was done with great spirit; the Ground was warmly disputed.…

The anonymous American participant:

The scene was grand and solemn; all the adjacent hills smoked as though on fire, and bellowed and trembled with perpetual cannonade and fire of field-pieces, hobits, and mortars. The air groaned with streams of cannon and musket shot; the hills smoked and echoed terribly with the bursting of shells; the fences and walls were knocked down and torn to pieces, and men’s legs, arms, and bodies, mangled with cannon and grape-shot all around us.

Colonel John Haslet, Continental Army:

At this time the Maryland battalion was warmly engaged, and the enemy ascending the hill. The cannonade from twelve or fifteen pieces, well served, kept up a continual peal of reiterated thunder. The Militia regiment behind the fence fled in confusion, without more than a random, scattering fire.… The left of the [Delaware] regiment took post behind a fence on the top of the hill with most of the officers, and twice repulsed the Light Troops and Horse of the enemy; but seeing ourselves deserted on all hands, and the continued column of the enemy advancing, we also retired. Covering the retreat of our party, and forming at the foot of the hill, we marched into camp in the rear of the body sent to reinforce us.

Major Benjamin Tallmadge, Continental Army:

The British ascended the hill very slowly, and when arrived at its summit, formed and dressed their line without the least attempt to pursue the Americans.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.