The Battle of White Plains
On October 28, 1776, American troops commanded by General George Washington faced off against British forces under General Lord William Howe at the Battle of White Plains. The engagement ended in defeat for Washington and his young army as they continued to retreat from New York City following a series of British victories earlier that summer.
In the early stages of the Revolutionary War, it was essential for Washington to preserve his army. Most times that meant stalling the enemy long enough to allow for an orderly evacuation of troops and living to fight another day. At the Battle of White Plains, General Washington adopted this strategy as his forces made a stand on a stretch of high ground to allow for the safe withdrawal of personnel and much needed supplies. This crucial piece of ground was known as Chatterton’s Hill. Washington’s orders to the Americans defending this position were as follows, “Do the best you can.”
Today, Chatterton's Hill is part of the Battle of White Plains Park. Signs are posted around the area with information about the actions that occurred here 241 years.
Chatterton’s Hill was to the right of the American lines. With only two field guns, American troops followed their commander-in-chief’s orders from their hastily made positions. Leading the defense on Chatterton’s Hill was General Alexander McDougall. His force included between 1,600 and 2,000 men. Although outnumbered by eight regiments and 20 British cannon, the defenders did their duty and repelled the initial British assault. Resistance was shattered after a Hessian force, reinforced by British cavalry dislodged the militia that protected the American right flank. As the Hessians broke through, the line at Chatterton’s Hill unraveled.
A sign at the Battle of White Plains Park that reads, "October 28, 1776. The Continental Army Under the Command of General George Washington Defended these Heights Checking the British Advance Across Westchester."
With his right exposed, Washington ordered a fighting withdrawal of his forces. After the Battle of White Plains, American troops continued to retreat northward and the British forces under General Howe returned to Manhattan to capture Forts Washington and Lee.
This post provides information about American forces at the Battle of White Plains. It states that General Washington had around 14,500 men fit for duty at the time of the engagement. The band of Patriots consisted of men from Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York. Many of the American units at White Plains saw previous action at the Battle of Long Island, Harlem Heights, Throg's Neck, and Pell's Point.
American forces suffered around 217 casualties as opposed to 233 on the British side at the Battle of White Plains. While the engagement ended in a clear tactical defeat for Washington, his forces lived to fight another day. General Howe missed another opportunity to completely destroy his adversary. The next few months featured continued setbacks for the American cause, but Washington never gave up. His unyielding persistence would finally pay off in December of 1776 at the Battle of Trenton.
A sign featuring General George Washington at the Battle of White Plains Park. The final line on the back of Washington's post reads, "White Plains was a prelude to Triumph and Independence." In the end, it most certainly was.