CAPTURE OF MOUNT WASHINGTON,
NOVEMBER i6ra, 1776,
THE RESULT OF TREASON.
EDWARD F. DE LANCEY,
Read before the New York Historical Society, at its Regular
Meeting on December 5th, 1876, in commemoration of the one
hundredth anniversary of the capture of Mount Washington on
November i6th, 1776.
Reprinted from the "Magazine of American History" for Feb
ruary, 1877, with corrections of press errors, an additional Map, and
EDITION 150 COPIES.
EXPLANATION OF MAP.
Photo-lithographic fac-simile of a copy taken from the original in Cassel for Professor Joy,
now in the possession of J. Carson Brevoort, Esq.
TRANSLATION OF THE LEGEND ON THE MAP. The attack which His
Excellency the Hon. General Lieutenant von Knyphausen, with eight Battal
ions of Hessians and one Battalion of Waldeckers, on the 16 November 1776,
made on Fort Washington, taking it and a quantity of Ammunition and Pro
visions, and 2,600 American Prisoners.
A Camp before the Attack. B March of the said Regiments for King s
Bridge. C Formation of the Columns of which one on the right and
another on the left. D The Riflemen. E Enemy s Line of Batteries.
F G H Fort Washington, Fort Independence, Speak-Devil Fort garrisoned
by the Enemy. / Our Batteries. K Hessian Field Artillery. L Quarters
of His Excellency. M Do. of General Major Schmidt. N Do. of General
Cleveland. O Do. of Col. Rail. P Landing of the English Brigade on
the feint. Q Frigate that made a strong cannonade at the beginning of the
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE ON THE i6TH
OF NOVEMBER, 1776.
FOUR of the military events of the American Revolution occurred
upon the island of New York: ist The landing at Kips Bay, and
the occupation of the city, by the British army, on the i$th of
September, 1776; 2d The action of Harlem Plains on the succeeding
day ; 3d The capture of Mount Washington two months afterwards,
and 4th The evacuation of the island and the victorious entry of Wash
ington, on the 25th of November, 1783.
A century ago, the i6th day of November 1776, took place the storm
ing and capture of Mount Washington, with its fort, garrison, armament
and stores, by the army of Sir William Howe, who had been just made
a Knight of the Bath for his victory, a few weeks before, at Brooklyn
Heights. It was the first and the last great battle ever fought on the
island of Manhattan since its settlement by Europeans. It was a terrible
disaster to the American arms, and a heavy blow to the cause of the
colonies. It gave to the British army and to England undisputed
possession of the city and harbor of New York, the leading city and
chief seaport of America ; a possession which it was never after in the
power of the colonies even to threaten successfully, much less regain.
It struck instantly from the then rapidly dissolving army of Wash
ington nearly three thousand effective men. By the same blow, practi
cally, Fort Lee, on the opposite side of the Hudson, with its guns and
most of its stores, was taken, and New Jersey thrown open to the strong,
well appointed, victorious troops of Howe, with nought to oppose them
but the broken, dispirited, deserting, half clad regiments of Washington,
dwindled down to less than three thousand men. 1 " In ten days," wrote
Washington to his brother John Augustine, three days after the capture,
" there will not be above two thousand men, if that number, of the fixed
1 Washington to Lee, 21 Nov. Force 5th series, vol. iii pp. 78-9. Letter of Matthew Tilghman.
Ibid. p. 1053.
6 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. l6 I//6
established regiments on this side of Hudson s river to oppose Howe s
whole army, and very little more on the other to secure the Eastern
colonies and the important passes leading through the Highlands to
Albany and the country about the lakes." 1 No wonder he exclaims
in the same letter, in the full confidence of fraternal love, " I am wearied
almost to death with the retrogade motion of things, and I solemnly
protest, that a pecuniary reward of twenty thousand pounds a year
would not induce me to undergo what I do ; and after all to lose my
character, as it is impossible under such a variety of distressing circum
stances, to conduct matters agreeably to public expectation, or even to
the expectation of those who employ me, as they will not make proper
allowances for the difficulties their own errors have occasioned."
Whence and why this disaster ? Who was responsible ? Was it the
commandant of the post, the General in charge of Fort Lee with whom
that officer acted, or was it the Commander-in-Chief himself?
Perhaps no questions growing out of any single event of the Revo
lution were discussed with more vigor at the time, or have given rise to
more controversy since, than these. Each of the three officers, Wash
ington, Greene, and Magaw have had their enemies and opposers, friends
Two facts, utterly foreign to the capture as acts of war, or rather of
military science and forecast, had much to do with this controversy ;
the bitter antagonism to Washington in the Continental Congress, and
the intense antipathy between the officers and men from New England
and those from all the other colonies. These facts are only mentioned,
because they should always be borne in mind in considering the
military affairs of the Revolution, and especially those of its first two
The throwing of his army into Westchester county at Throg s Neck,
by Sir William Howe on the I2th of October, 1776, forced Washington
to evacuate New York Island, with the fortified camp at Kingsbridge,
and to retreat to the north along the line of the river Bronx, to avoid
being outflanked and surrounded. At the time Washington was at the
Roger Morris House his well-known head-quarters and the bulk of his
army lay in its neighborhood, while a strong force held Kingsbridge and
the adjoining hills in Westchester county.
The northern part of the island of Manhattan is a narrow, high, rocky,
wooded region of singular natural beauty ; unique as a feature in modern
cities, and precisely such a spot as in an ancient Greek city would have
J Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 766.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 .7
been chosen for its Acropolis. Separated from the rest of the island by the
plains of Harlem on the south, and extending thence to Kingsbridge on
the north, a distance of about four miles, its average width is only about
three-fourths of a mile. Bordered on the east by the narrow winding,
umbrageous Harlem, and on the west by the magnificent Hudson, the
two united by the historic inlet of Spuyten Duyvel, it rises from these
rivers in sudden, rocky, forest clad precipices, nearly a hundred feet in
height, which for well nigh three-fourths of its circumference are almost
inaccessible. These natural buttresses support an irregular plain, the
surface of which rises toward the centre to an eminence on the side
of the Hudson two hundred feet above its waters, and to another on the
side of the Harlem of almost equal height, between which lies the most
level part of the entire region. This towards its northern end sinks
into a narrow valley or gorge, through which runs the road to Kings-
bridge. Besides the Kingsbridge, which connected the island with the
mainland of Westchester, there was another bridge, a short distance
south east of it, called Dyckman s bridge. Opposite these bridges the
rocky bluffs recede to the west for nearly a mile, leaving between them
and the Harlem river a small plain, on which rise two or three low hills.
At the southern end of this plain was a little branch of the Harlem called
Sherman s creek, still in existence, directly above and south of which
rises the high eminence on the Harlem above-mentioned, then termed
" Laurel Hill," and since, and now, " Fort George."
The highest eminence on the Hudson, which was southwest from
Laurel Hill, was selected by Colonel Rums Putnam, in the summer of
1776, as the site of a large earthwork fortification for the defence of and
to aid the obstructions intended to close the Hudson against the passage
of ships, which, after the Commander-in-Chief, was called " Fort Wash
The term " Mount Washington" was given in 1776 to the entire
elevated region above described. It is so-called in the letters and docu
ments of that period, though sometimes styled " Harlem Heights ; " and
in the same sense it is here used, although in our day the appellation
has become restricted to the small part of th.e region immediately
adjacent to the old fortification. That fortification and that only is
here called " Fort Washington."
Directly beneath the eminence on which Fort Washington stood, a
low cape, or rather promontory, called Jeffrey s Hook, throws itself out
into the waters of the Hudson, making the river narrower there than from
any other point on the Manhattan shore. Between this " Hook " and the
8 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1/76
Jersey shore extended a line of sunken vessels and chevaux-de-frise,
intended to obstruct the passage of the river. On the summit of the
Palisades, opposite Fort Washington, was erected about the same time
another fortification to defend the Jersey end of the obstructions, called
" Fort Constitution " and subsequently " Fort Lee," in honor of General
Charles Lee. This latter was therefore dependent on the former, and
was of no value without it. Both forts together commanded the river
and the communication between its two sides, or, in a larger sense, be
tween New England and the colonies west and south of the Hudson.
Jutting out into and rising above the Harlem plains, at the extreme
south eastern extremity of Mount Washington, was a lofty and almost
perpendicular promontory, now blasted away, called " The Point of
Rocks." It was surmounted by a strong battery, and commanded " the
King s Highway," or " the Road to Kingsbridge," from the city of New
York, and was the American post nearest to the British lines.
The American lines ran from the Point of Rocks westwardly to the
Hudson river, along the southern face of Mount Washington, lower and
less precipitous there than any where else, and northeastwardly along
its high southeastern face to the Harlem river.
A slight depression in the latter face, as it approached the Harlem,
afforded a passage for the road to Kingsbridge as it ascended from the
Harlem plains, forming the well-known " Break Neck Hill," a short dis
tance to the east of which road stood the house of Colonel Roger Morris,
occupied by Washington as his headquarters. A few weeks before,
Roger Morris and his fair wife had retired to the Highlands, little
dreaming that his old friend and companion of " the last war," and his
wife s old admirer, was to become the next master of their beautiful
East and west of the Point of Rocks, in exposed places, the Americans
had thrown up light breast works and facing the Pludson some small
batteries, the largest being upon Jeffrey s Hook. But their main works
were at Mount Washington and south of the Fort three distinct lines
of fortifications running across the island from river to river.
The middle line was located about a third of a mile south of the
Morris House ; a thoroughly completed strong work, with redoubts,
bastions, and curtains, a well made line of intrenchments. The ex
treme southern line was placed about a third of a mile further to the
south, but it was not so well built, nor in as favorable a location ; while
the northernmost one, very near the Morris House, and about the same
distance to the north of the middle line, was vastly inferior, and in some
parts never wholly completed.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 . 9
Upon its north side Mount Washington had no intrenched lines
whatever. On the summit of Laurel Hill was a small battery and re-
doubt, and at the northern brow of the long- hill, on which Fort Wash
ington stood above what is now styled Inwood was another redoubt
and battery of three guns, to aid in protecting the river obstructions by
an enfilading fire. The round wooded hill on the south side of the en
trance to Spuyten Duyvel was crowned by another small work of a simi
lar character mounting two guns. 1 From this first mentioned battery and
hill, down and across the gorge occupied by the Kingsbridge road to
Laurel Hill, ran two or three lines of abatis, or felled trees, hastily made
by the Americans after they retired on the 2d of November from Kings-
Fort Washington itself was a large earth work fortification of five
bastions, without supporting breastworks, except a single one on its
north side. It was erected in July, 1776, by the Pennsylvania battalions
or regiments under Brig. Gen. Thomas Mifflin ; the fifth commanded
by Colonel Robert Magaw, and the third by Colonel John Shee :
The last named officer, in September, went home on furlough, and never
again rejoined his regiment, which thereafter was commanded by Lam
bert Cadwallader, its Lieutenant Colonel. 2 These regiments arrived in
New York at the end of June, 1776, full in numbers but deficient in
arms, the latter having only 300 guns, and the former but 125 a want
subsequently remedied. The fort had been laid out by Colonel Rufus
Putnam, Engineer-in-Chief, built under his directions at Washington s
request, and was intended to cover the communication with New
Jersey in connection with Fort Lee, on the summit of the Palisades on
the opposite or Jersey side of the Hudson, which was erected at the
same time by General Hugh Mercer and the troops under his command.
It had no casemates, barracks nor well, and when invested, con
tained but small supplies of provisions, or fuel, or stores of any kind
requisite to stand a siege of any length. With the exception of a
wooden magazine and some offices, it had no interior construction and
was, in fact, simply a large, open earth work. 4 How many guns it
mounted is not now known. The British return of ordnance of all sizes
! Howe s Dispatch. Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 924.
2 Graydon s Memoir, Littell s ed., p. 181. Cadwallader was commissioned Colonel of this
regiment by the Continental Congress on the 25th of October, 1776. See Commission Penn,
Archives, vol. v., p. 53.
3 Mifflin s letter to Washington 5th July 1776. Force 5th series, vol. i, p. 27.
4 Graydon, 186.
10 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1 7/6
captured at Mount Washington was forty-seven/ of which probably much
less than one-half were mounted in the fort.
The summer of 1776 was of great heat, and these Pennsylvania
troops Avere drilled hard, as well as worked hard. About a fourth were
always on the sick list. Excepting two days service on Long Island, im
mediately following the battle of the 27th of August, and some short
marches into Westchester, just after their return from Brooklyn, they
saw no service in the field except upon Mount Washington. 2
The American army lay encamped on Mount Washington from the
beginning of September till the i3th of October, 1776, a period of about
At the latter end of September, Mr. James Allen, 3 of Philadelphia,
second son of Chief Justice Allen, and Dr Smith, the Provost of the
College in that city, paid a visit of curiosity, merely, to the seat of war.
In the manuscript diary of the former there is an account of his visit to
Mount Washington at this time. From Amboy, where he saw his old
friends Generals Dickenson and Mercer, he went to Bergen, and lodged
with another friend, General Roberdeau, who commanded that post.
" Thence," says the diary, " to Fort Constitution, now Fort Lee, com
manded by my old acquaintance, General Ewing, with whom I dined,
and same day crossed the river to Head-quarters. General Washington
received me with the utmost politeness. I lodged with him ; and found
there Messrs. Jos. Reed, Tilghman, Grayson, Moyland, L. Cadwallader,
and many others of my acquaintance, and was very happy with them.
Nothing happened while I was there except an attempt of our army to
bring off grain from Harlem, in which they did not succeed, and which
had well nigh brought on an engagement. Next day I re-crossed the
river to Fort Lee, and came through Hackensack in company with
Captain Charles Craig, and thence through Morristown to Union, where
I found my wife and child, and Mrs. Lawrence," 4 the latter lady being
his wife s mother.
Ten days before this visit, on the i8th of August, says General Heath,
not a single cannon was mounted beyond Mount Washington. 5 On the
1 Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 1058.
2 They were recruited in the early part of 1776, and so well drilled in Philadelphia, prior to
being sent to New York at the end of June, as to receive mention from Washington himself.
3 James Allen, the second son of Chief Justice William Allen, of Pennsylvania, was a prominent
lawyer of Philadelphia and a member of Assembly for Northampton county. He was a brother-in-
law to Governor John Penn and to James de Lancey, of New York, the head of that family, eldest
son of James de Lancey who died Governor of New York in 1760.
4 MS. Diary of James Allen.
6 Force 5th series, vol. i, p. 1030.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 II
1 9th William Duer was ordered by the New York Convention to consult
with Washington on the subject of aiding- him to obstruct the river op
posite Mount Washington. 1
On the third of September Washington ordered Mercer to lay out
and build additional works at Fort Lee. 2 The very same day Colonel
Rufus Putnam stated in his report to the Commander-inChief of that
date, that with both sides of the river fortified as he recommended, and
the forts and batteries well filled with guns and ammunition, and the
river obstructed by sunken vessels, if the enemy " attempted to force
this post, 1 think they must be beaten." 3
On this same third of September also, it strangely happened General
Nathaniel Greene wrote Washington that remarkable private letter urging
in the strongest terms the burning of New York and its suburbs, and
the evacuation of the island, closing it with this request " should your
excellency agree with me in the first two points, that a speedy and gen
eral retreat is necessary, and also, that the city and suburbs should be
burned, I would advise to call a general council on that question, and
take every general officer s opinion upon it." 4
Washington, singularly enough, had already submitted the question
of destroying New York to Congress the very day before ; 5 and Han
cock, also on this same 3d day of September, replied to him, that Con
gress, on considering his letter of the 2d, " came to a resolution in a com
mittee of the whole house that no damage should be done to the city of
The Commander-in-Chief agreeing to Greene s suggestions, did call
a council of general officers on the 7th, and they decided to defend and
not to destroy and evacuate the city, by a majority vote. The minority
were for a total and immediate removal from the city, " nor were some
of the majority," says Washington to Hancock, " a little influenced in
1 Journals N. Y. Prov. Cong., vol. i, p. 579.
2 Force 5th series, vol. ii, p. 140.
3 Ibid. 139. The obstructions proved futile. On September 13 some of the chevaux de frise
having been floating with the tide some days before, the N. Y. Committee of Safety wrote George
Clinton on the subject, and on the 1 7th ordered Capt. Thomas Greenhill to make a survey of the
landings, etc. of Mount Washington and report, and on the 2ist ordered six vessels purchased by
Greenhill and delivered to Capt. Cook at Mount Washington to be sunk. On October 3d, Cook
was cutting timber for the chevaux de frise up the river, and was written for to sink the vessels, 2
sloops, 2 brigs, and 2 large ships, which got there about the 25th of Septembei*. Journals Prov.
Cong., pp. 624, 628, 639, 663.
4 Force 5th series, vol. ii, pp. 182-3.
5 Force 5th series, vol. ii, pp. 182-3.
"Ibid. p. 135.
12 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776
their opinions, to whom the determination of Congress was known,
against an evacuation totally, as they were led to suspect Congress
wished it to be maintained at every hazard." 1
This decision did not suit Greene, nor apparently Washington, and
on the nth of September the former, with six Brigadiers, presented a
written petition signed by them all, to the latter, requesting him to call
another council of war to re-consider the question. Washington assented, and
called it for the next day, the I2th, at McDougall s quarters ; when ten
generals, Beall, Scott, Fellows, Wadsworth, Nixon, McDougall, Parsons,
Mifflin, Greene, and Putnam, voted to re-consider and evacuate ; and
three, Spencer, George Clinton, and Heath, to adhere and defend. The
record of this council thus closes : " It was considered what number of
men are necessary to be left for the defence of Mount Washington and its
dependencies agreed, that it be eight thousand." 2
This is the first official mention that Mount Washington was to be
defended, and it is noteworthy that so large a number of men was then
deemed necessary for that object. From this summary of the official
action of Congress, Washington and the Council of War, we learn why
Mount Washington was occupied and held.
Pursuant to the decision of the Council of War just mentioned, the
evacuation of the island began on the I3th, continued on the I4th,
and was interrupted on the I5th of September, 1776, by the landing
at Kip s Bay and the taking of the city by the British. After
the action of Harlem Plains the succeeding day, the two armies lay
encamped opposite each other, separated by those plains. The British
lines extended from Horen s Hook, on the East river at poth street, along
the heights at McGowan s Pass (the north end of the Central Park) to
the end of the high ground on the south side of the western end of the
Harlem plains at I25th street, while the American lines occupied the whole
of the southern and eastern side of Mount Washington, facing the
northern side of those plains, from the Harlem to the Hudson.
Such were the positions of the two armies when Howe suddenly, on
the 1 2th of October, in a dense fog, threw all his army upon Throg s Neck,
nine miles up Long Island Sound, with the exception of a force under
Lord Percy sufficient to hold the British lines just mentioned, and the city
of New York.
Washington, as before stated, was at the Morris House. Late in the
day an express from General Heath advised him of the landin, the news
5th series, vol. ii, p. 237.
*Ibid. 325, 328, and 330.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1 776 13
of which had reached the post of that officer at Kingsbridge. He in
stantly ordered a detachment, made up of his best troops, to Westchester
to oppose them. 1 Among these was the regiment of Prescott of Pep-
perell, the hero of Bunker Hill, to whose lot it fell singularly enough, for
the second time, to aid mainly in forcing Howe from a peninsula, by de
fending with success the road and Mill Dam leading from Throg s Neck
to Westchester village.
So unexpected was this movement of Howe, that the very day before
it took place the nth General Greene, from Fort Lee, wrote Gover-
ner Cooke, of Rhode Island, " our army are so strongly fortified and so
much out of the command of the shipping, we have little more to fear
this campaign." 2 General Greene however, the same day, as soon as he
heard of it, at 5 o clock P. M. of the I2th, wrote Washington of the fact,
and offered if he desired them three brigades and his own services." 3
The 1 3th Washington spent chiefly in a personal reconnoissance of
southern Westchester. The next day, the I4th, he formed his army into
four divisions, under Major Generals Lee, Heath, Sullivan, and Lincoln,
which the following day, the I5th, moved into Westchester county. The
same day, the I4th, he formed two other divisions to remain on the island
under Major Generals Spencer and Putnam ; the former to take charge
of all Mount Washington south of the northernmost of the fortified lines
from river to river, near head-quarters, and the latter the rest of it on the
north of that line. General Putnam, says the order, " will also attend
particularly to the works about Mount Washington and to the obstruc
tions in the river, which should be increased as fast as possible." 4
General Lee had arrived from the south the day of his appointment,
and after making a brief stop at the fort which bears his name, crossed
the river to Mount Washington, stopping long enough, however, to write
this short note to General Gates, with his views ol things as he found
them : " I Avrite this scroll in a hurry. . Colonel Ward will describe the
position of our army, which in my own breast I do not approve inter nos
the Congress seem to stumble at every step. I do not mean one or two
of the cattle, but the whole stable. I have been very free in delivering
my opinion to em. In my opinion, General Washington is much to
blame for not menancing em with resignation unless they refrain from
unhinging the army by their absurd interference." 5
Force 5th series, vol. ii, pp. 1014 and 1025.
2 Force 5th series, vol. ii, p. 997.
8 Ibid. p. 1015.
4 General orders Oct. 14.
5 Lee papers, vol. ii, p. 261.
14 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1/76
Lee was outspoken in condemnation of the policy of leaving- and
holding a garrison in Fort Washington, but he and those who thought
with him were overruled in the council of war, held on the i6th at his
own head-quarters in Westchester. Washington and all his Major Gen
erals and Brigadiers were present to the number of sixteen, except
Greene. The command of the latter being in New Jersey was the prob
able cause of his absence. At all events he was not there.
This council agreed that "Fort Washington be retained as long as possi
ble." The record gives no votes but simply the result. It is, therefore,
not officially known who was on one side and who on the other. 1 And
here a most important point requires attention, and that is the limited
extent, at this time, of Washington s powers as Commander-in-Chief,
He did not have, nor exercise, the independent " one man power,"
which by all military rules belongs to that command.
He could not overrule the council of war if he saw fit, and act on his
own independent judgment, as Commanders-in-Chief usually do. Re
ceiving his appointment from Congress the year previous, in virtue, as
he himself has told us, of " a political necessity," that body was un
willing to vest in him the power referred to, and he was thus compelled
to carry out the decisions of his council of war, no matter whether he
individually did, or did not, approve them. Not until Congress at the
very end of December, 1776, when Cornwallis was overrunning New
Jersey, on the eve of their flight to Baltimore, and in fear of their own
existence, vested in him the powers of a dictator, did he possess the
full perogatives of a Commander-in-Chief. From the hour when he
drew his sword under the great elm at Cambridge as leader of the armies
of America, till that action of Congress he was, in all important steps,
subject to the will and the decision of a majority of his own general
officers. This fact must especially be borne in mind in the matter of
By the 2oth of October all the troops left on the island of New York
under Spencer and Putnam had been withdrawn, except the regiments
intended to garrison Mount Washington. 2 These were Magaw s fifth
and Cadwallader s third Pennsylvania battalions before mentioned.
Putnam, before leaving, had requested of Greene a re-inforcement
from Fort Lee. The latter sent him, as he tells Washington in a letter
of the 24th, between 200 and 300 of Durkie s regiment, and also sufficient
Force 5th series, vol. ii, p. 1117.
Harrison to Congress. Force 5th series, vol. ii, p. 1137.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 15
provisions for the garrison. 1 Harrison, however, writing for Washington
the same day, from White Plains, tells Hancock that there "are about
1400 men at Mount Washington and 600 at Kingsbridge." 2 But Colonel
Lasher, the officer in command at the latter post, wrote General Heath
on the 26th that he only had 400 men and 6 artillery men. 3 On the 27th
Lasher had orders from Heath to quit the post, burn the barracks, and
join the army at White Plains, and either do this himself, or communi
cate with Magaw, as he pleased. He obeyed ard executed the orders
The same day, which was Sunday, an attack was made by Lord
Percy on Mount Washington by land, at the same time that two men-of-
war attempted to pass it and go up the river. The latter were severely
cut up by Magaw s artillery, and one of them, badly crippled, had to re
tire. 5 The British troops moved down from their lines at McGowan s
Pass to Harlem Plains and began a fire with field pieces, which the
Americans returned from their fortified lines and batteries. It was a
mere artillery duel, had no effect, and was apparently intended as a feint.
The cannonade was heard at White Plains. 7 This affair was probably
one great cause of Greene s confidence in Fort Washington, and of his
desire a fortnight later to hold it. He was present in the fort, and with
Magaw, during the firing on the ships. The whole contest was over by three
o clock in the afternoon, when he returned to Fort Lee and wrote an ac
count of it to General MifBin, 8 and the next day sent another to the
President of Congress. " From the Sunday affair," he wrote Washing
ton on the 29th, " 1 am more fully convinced that we can prevent any
ships from stopping the communication." 9
Two days afterwards, Greene asked Washington s opinion as to hold
ing, not the fort only, but all Mount Washington, in these words : " I
should be glad to know your excellency s mind about holding all the
ground from the Kingsbridge to the lower lines. If we attempt to hold
the ground, the garrison must still be re-inforced, but if the garrison
is to draw into Mount (Fort) Washington, and only keep that, the num-
Force 5th series vol. ii, pp. 1202, 1203, 1221.
2 Ibid. 1239^
3 Ibid. 1263.
4 Ibid. vol. ii, p. 1264.
5 Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 1263, 1265.
6 Ibid. 1266.
7 MS. Letter of General Silliman to his wife.
8 Force 5th series, 1263, 1269.
1 6 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776
her of the troops on the island is too large. * * * I shall re-inforce
Colonel Magaw with Colonel Rawling s regiment, until I hear from
your excellency respecting the matter. The motions of the grand army
will best determine the propriety of endeavoring to hold all the ground
from Kingsbridge to the lower lines. I shall be as much on the island
of York as possible, so as not to neglect the duties of my own depart
ment." 1 What Washington s answer was we shall hereafter see. He
was then at White Plains, expecting an immediate attack by Howe s whole
That high and beautiful region of south eastern Westchester, from
Pell s Hill on the west to Heathcote Hill on the east, never glowed
with more brilliant autumnal hues than on the 28th of October 1776.
The white tents of the Hessians gleamed brightly in the morning sun,
amid the glades and slopes of those fair hills which, rising fronrthe shores
of Long Island Sound, form the coast line of the old Manors of Pelham
and of Scarsdale. Martial music woke the echoes of the woods, and its
sounds were borne on the soft autumn breeze over the blue waters of
the Sound, far toward the distant hills of Long Island. The stirring
scenes of camp life, companies drilling, groups of officers, prancing
horses, busy adjutants passing to and fro, and a few brilliant young aids
gathered under the over-hanging porch of a quaint old stone house with
low . walls and a high roof, the flag above which marked it as head
quarters, formed a picture that had never before been seen by the de
scendants of the Huguenot exiles who then dwelt on those lovely shores.
They beheld with singular interest the marked features, dark, striking
uniforms and strange arms of the Germans. Some of the older,
perhaps, as they heard the guttural tones of the strangers, so different
from their own musical tongue, recalled the days, a century before, when
their own grandfathers, under the golden lilies of Louis Quartorze, had
aided in the conquest of Alsace and Lothringen from the very people
whose grandchildren stood before them.
Arriving in New York harbor a week before, this second Hessian
contingent had been transferred to boats and sloops, and landed directly
at New Rochelle, where they had since been recovering from the effects
of their long sea voyage. They were six regiments from Hesse Cassel,
and one from Waldeck, all soldiers trained in the tactics of the great
The obloquy which American historians have naturally, perhaps,
cast upon " the Hessians," as these Germans auxiliaries were, and still
Force 5th Series, 1294.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 I/
are, generically styled, has deceived us much as to their real character.
The men were the same people precisely as the 1 50,000 Germans whom
we now find in this city of New York such orderly, thriving citizens,
and who have made New York the third or fourth German city, for
population, in the world. They were drawn, as is our German popula
tion now, to use an Americanism, from the " masses " of the fatherland.
Their officers, however, were of an entirely different class, and one
of which we have few, or none, here now. They were all noblemen.
None but nobles could hold commissions under any German sovereign
then, any more than they can now. The military services of Germany
and Austria are the most aristocratic in Europe in 1876, as they were in
1776. As far as birth was concerned, the Hessian officers as a whole in
Howe s army were superior to the English officers as a whole. A rich
middle class Englishman could buy a commission for a son, and it was
often done, by favor of the Horse Guards, for the express purpose of
making the youth " a gentleman." But in the German services such a
proceeding was not tolerated. The youth must possess the aristocratic
prefix of " von," or " de," or he could not aspire to a commission under
the sign manual of his sovereign, and those sovereigns exceeded twenty
in number. The Hessian officers in America were polite, courteous,
well-bred gentlemen, educated soldiers, and in the social circles of the
time great favorites. As military men they were the best in Europe at
that period. And of this we can have no stronger proof than the fact
that to one of these very " Hessian," or " German" soldiers did the
continental army owe all the tactics and discipline it ever possessed-
Baron de Steuben.
The victorious guns of Howe had hardly ceased on Chatterton Hill,
ere he dispatched an order to Lieutenant-General Baron von Knyphau-
sen, the commander of the Hessians, to move from New Rochelle toward
Kingsbridge. Leaving the Waldeck regiment as a guard, von Knyp-
hausen marched with the rest of his command the next day, took post at
Mile square, and on the 2d of November encamped upon New York
island at Kingsbridge the Americans retiring to Fort Washington at
his approach. 1
Why Howe did not attack Washington at White Plains after the
brigades from Percy joined hirr^, neither he, nor any one else, has ever
satisfactorily explained. After his return to England, he told the com
mittee of Parliament; which investigated his conduct that he had in
tended an attack on Washington s right,, which was, opposite to the
Clowe s Dispatch, 3Oth Nov. Force 5th series, vol. iii, p.. 925..
18 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 16 1776
Hessians under de Heister, but that he had " political reasons, and no
other, for declining to explain why that assault was not made."*
He retired from White Plains very suddenly in the night of the 5th
of November, 1776, and his army had been moving some time on the
road toward Dobb s Ferry before the fact was discovered by the Ameri
cans. " The design of this manoeuvre is a matter of much conjecture
and speculation, and cannot be accounted for with any degree of cer
tainty/ wrote Washington to Hancock on the 6th, and he called the same
day a council of war, which unanimously agreed immediately to throw a
body of troops into Jersey, and station 3,000 men at Peekskill to guard
the Highlands. This was a perfectly natural conclusion. " Howe has but
two moves more, in which we shall checkmate him," wrote Charles Lee,
but without saying what they were. 2
One was evidently to New Jersey, and the other to Mount Washing
ton. Why did Howe choose the latter? That he intended originally
to throw his army into Jersey from Dobb s Ferry and march for Phila
delphia, leaving Washington to follow him as best he might first, how
ever, detaching and leaving behind a sufficient force to hold Westchester,
and to keep in check, or invest, Mount Washington is most probable.
This would explain his order to von Knyphausen on the 28th, and the
subsequent order of the 3d to Grant, to march the next day, the 4th, with
the sixth brigade to de Lancey s Mill on the Bronx at West Farms, send
the fourth brigade to Mile square in the same town, and the Waldeck
regiment from New Rochelle to a bridge, three miles above de Lancey s
Mills, on the same stream. 3
Washington and his council of war evidently thought he would do so,
hence their unanimous vote to throw an army into Jersey and to secure
Peekskill. The record of that council shows that neither " Mount Wash
ington" nor " Fort Washington" were even mentioned. 4 A striking
fact, when we know from a letter of the Commander-in-Chief himself,
written the day the council met, that all " communication with Mount
Washington has now been cut off for two weeks." 5 Reed, on the same 6th
of November, says : " Opinions here are various ; some think they are fall
ing down on Mount Washington ; others that they mean to take shipping
up North river and fall upon our rear ; others, and a great majority, think
that finding our army too strongly posted they have changed their whole
1 Howe s Narrative, p. 7.
2 Letter of Wm. Whipple to John Langdon. Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 555.
3 Howe s Dispatch.
4 Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 543.
5 To Pennsylvania Commissioners, Nov. 6, 1776. Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 546.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 19
plan, and are bending southward, intending to penetrate the Jerseys,
and so move on to Philadelphia."
Howe suddenly and certainly did " change his whole plan." He
himself said his reason for not attacking Washington at White Plains
was a political one, but refused to divulge it. His successes in the cam
paign so far had not been decided ones. He had not been able to crush
the rebellion in a single great battle as he hoped, and he found he must
ask the Ministry in England for more men and materials. Though they
were not his political friends, still, they had given him his command, and
must be placed in a position to do so with ease and honor. And an
occurrence utterly unexpected had just transpired by which he could
not only do this, but at the same time win great applause for himself, and
strike a blow deadly, if not fatal, to the rebellion, and that too with no risk
of failure and little of loss.
He had good cause " to change his whole plan," as Reed expressed it.
And that cause was the treason of a commissioned officer of the A merican army.
Four years before Arnold s attempt to betray West Point, a similar but
more successful traitor betrayed Mount Washington. On the 2d of
November, 1776, the Adjutant of Magaw, the commandant of tlie fortress,
passed, undiscovered, into the BritisJi camp of Lord Percy, carrying the
plans of Fort Washington, and full information as to its works and garrison,
and placed them in the hands of that officer.
It was Percy s duty, of course, instantly to send the plans and the
Adjutant to Sir William Howe, then at White Plains. As he could only
do this by way of the East river, or the North river, it probably was the
evening of the 3d of November before Howe received them, and they
may possibly not have reached him till the 4th. The British commander
now saw not only how he could certainly capture Mount Washington,
but how he could do it without much loss, send the ministry in England
a glowing account of forts, guns, and men taken, deprive Washington of
a large force of his best troops, seize the communication between New
York and Westchester, and destroy that between the eastern and southern
colonies across the Hudson, on which both had so long relied ; he
Alexander Graydon, a captain in Cadwallader s regiment, who was
taken at Mount Washington, says, in his striking " Memoirs of
his own Times," given to the world in 1811, "Howe must have had a
perfect knowledge of the ground we occupied. This he might have
acquired from hundreds. in New York, but he might have been more
thoroughly informed of everything desirable to be known from an officer
20 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1 776
of Magaw s Battalion, who was intelligent in points of duty, and deserted
to the enemy about a week before the assault. The same thing is inti
mated in one or two of the German accounts of the capture of Mount
What these writers thought a possibility, is now an absolute certainty.
The evidence too, is of the most conclusive character that of the traitor
himself in a letter of his own, over his own signature, stating the treason
in plain, undeniable terms.
Sixteen years after the fall of Fort Washington, in order to obtain a
small amount due him by the British government, he wrote the following
letter, the contents of which were to be used in obtaing payment of his
claim from certain British officials in Canada. It is addressed to the
Rev. Dr Peters, a clergyman of the Church of England, originally of
Hebron, and the author of the History of Connecticut. In Dr Peters
possession, and that of two gentlemen of this city, father and son, the
elder of whom married a ward of Dr Peters, who resided with him, and
died in his house, both well-known members of the bar, this letter has
remained until recently placed in the hands of the author of this article.
Its authenticity is therefore beyond a cavil.
It is given, with its errors of grammar and style, precisely as written.
REV. SIR :
Permit me to Trouble you with a Short recital of my Services in America which I Presume
may be deem d among the most Singular of any that will go to Upper Canada. On the 2d of Nov r
1776 I Sacrificed all I was Worth in the World to the Service of my King Country and joined
the then Lord Percy, brought in with [me] the Plans of Fort Washington, by which Plans that
Fortress was taken by his Majesty s Troops the 16 instant, Together with 2700 Prisoners and Stores
& Ammunition to the amount of 1800 Pound. At the same time, I may with Justice affirm, from
my Knowledge of the Works, I saved the Lives of many of His Majestys Subjects, these Sir are
facts well-known to every General Officer which was there and I may with Truth Declare from
that time I Studied the Interest of my Country and neglected my own or in the Language of
Cardinal Woolsey had I have Served my God as I have done my King he would not Thus have
The following is a Just Account due me from Government which I have never been able to
bring forward for want of Sr. William Erskine who once when in Town assured me he d Look into
it but have never done it otherways I should not have been in Debt.
This Sir though it may not be in your Power to Get me may Justify my being so much in Debt,
& in Expectation of this Acct being Paid, together with another Dividend, from the Express words
of the Act where it Says all under Ten Thousand pound Should be Paid without Deduction, I
having received only 464 which I Justified before the Commissioners :
Due for Baw, Batt, Forrage - - - ; 110 - 7-O
For Engaging Guides Getting Intelligence, &c. - - 45- 9-7
For doing duty y? Commissary of Prisoners at Philadelphia Paying Clerks Stationery, &c. 16.13.8
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1 776 2 I
The last Two Articles was Cash Paid out of my Pocket which was Promised to be Refunded
by Sirs Wm Howe and Erskine.
I most Humbly Beg Pardon for the Length of this Letter & Shall Conclude without making
Some Masonac Remarks as at first Intended, and Remain
, Rev d Sir with Dutiful Respect
Tany i6th 1 Your most obedient and Most Hum! Serv t.
1792. ) WILLIAM DEMONT.
P.S. the Inclosed is a true account of my Debts taken from the Different Bills received.
Such was the treason of William Demont. Originally entering Ma-
gaw s battalion in Philadelphia as an ensign by the appointment of the
Pennsylvania Council of Safety, he was by the same body appointed its
Adjutant on the 2gth of February, 1776, and went with it to New York
at the end of June in that year. This position gave him Magaw s confi
dence, and when, on Putnam s departure to join Washington s army,
that officer was left in command of Mount Washington, it also gave him
the fullest information of the post, and of every thing that was done or
intended to be done in relation to it. What the two words Baiu, Batt,
evidently abbreviations in the first line of the account mean is not known ;
they are given as written.
Graydon mistakes both the time of his desertion and his name. He
left a fortnight before the capture, and not a week. He gives the name
as "Dement" and so it also appears in the printed proceedings of
the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, and in the Army Returns. But,
if this is not a printer s error, he subsequently changed the last vowel,
for he writes it himself, unmistakably, " Dcmont" Of his subsequent
career little is known, except that during the British occupation of Phil
adelphia he acted as a Commissary of prisoners. From that time until
he appears in London in 1792, Avriting the above letter, nothing has been
learned of him, nor has it been possible as yet to trace him after that
date. Nor yet whether he obtained his claim. Probably he could
" It is the curse of treachery like mine
To be most hated where it most has serv d."
Sir William Howe s course shows that he acted on Demont s plans
and information ; for, reaching Dobb s Ferry on the 6th of September
with his army, he the next day dispatched his park of artillery to Kings-
bridge, with a strong escort, to join von Knyphausen. And the first
step after its arrival was to place batteries in position on the Westchester
side of the Harlem river, to cover selected points of attack on the New
York side. The next three days were occupied by the necessary prepa
rations for an assault, and in sending a brigade of Hessians to von
22 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776
Knyphausen, whose own headquarters were also on the Westchester
side of Harlem river. About the 9th or loth of November a deserter
named Broderick came one cold rainy night over to Captain Graydon
while he was on guard at the Point of Rocks, who told him " that we
might expect to be attacked in six or eight days at furthest, as some time
had been employed in transporting heavy artillery to the other side of
the Haerlem, and as the preparations for the assault were nearly com
pleted." On the 1 2th Howe s whole army marched to Kingsbridge, and
encamped the next day on the high ground on the same side of that
river, with its right on the Bronx and its left on the Hudson. On the
night of the I4th, undiscovered by either Magaw or Greene, thirty
boats, chiefly from the transport fleet under Captains Wilkinson and
Malloy, passed up the North river, and through Spuyten Duyvel to the
Howe had determined on four separate assaults upon Mount Wash
ington ; the first and main one by von Knyphausen and the Hessians
from Kingsbridge, aided by the man-of-war Pearl lying in the North
river ; the second by boats across the Harlem river with English troops
upon Laurel Hill ; the third by Scotch troops under Colonel Sterling,
also by boats across the Harlem river, upon the hill inside the American
lines of fortification near the Morris House ; and the fourth by Earl
Percy, with English and a few German troops to march from the lines at
McGowan s pass upon the American lines to the southward of Mount
Washington. Batteries on the Harlem river opposite the chosen points
of attack covered them completely. 1
Such was the British plan of attack.
What were Greene at Fort Lee, and Magaw at Mount Washington,
doing all this time ? And what was the action of the Commander-in-
Washington on the 5th of November replied through his Secretary,
Harrison, to Greene s request of the 3oth of October above mentioned,
for his " mind " as to holding all Fort Washington, " that the holding or
not holding the grounds between Kingsbridge and the lower lines de
pends upon so many circumstances, that it is impossible for him to deter
mine the point. He submits it entirely to your discretion and such
judgment as you shall be able to form from the enemy s movements, and
the whole complexion of things. He says, you know the original design
was to garrison the works and preserve the lower lines as long as they
could be kept, that the communication across the river might be open
Howe s first Dispatch, Nov. 30. Force 5th series, vol. iii, pp. 921, 925.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 23
to us, and the enemy at the same time should be prevented from having
a passage up and down the river for their ships." 1
On the 7th Washington writes personally to Greene : " We conceive
that Fort Washington will be an object for part of his (Howe s) force, while
New Jersey may claim the attention of the other part. To guard against
the evils arising from the first, I must recommend you to pay every at
tention in your power, and give every assistance you can, to the garri
son opposite. If you have not sent my boxes, with camp
tables, and chairs, be so good as to let them remain with you, as I do
not know but I shall move with the troops designed for the Jerseys, per
suaded as I am of their having turned their views that way." 2
Surely this was full authority to Greene to reinforce Mount Washing
ton if he saw fit, and as surely Washington did not expect it to be the object
of Howe s " views." The next day (the 8th) he heard of the passage of
three British vessels up the North river, and thereby convinced of the
inefficiency of the obstructions therein, wrote Greene : " What valu
able purpose can it answer to attempt to hold a post from which the ex
pected benefit cannot be had ? I am, therefore, inclined to think it will
not be prudent to hazard the men and stores at Mount Washington, but
as you are on the spot leave it to you to give such orders as to evacu
ating Mount Washington as you judge best, and so far revoking the
order given to Colonel Magaw to defend it to the last." 3
This, though a strong opinion, still left it to Greene s judgment, and
the latter replies on the 9th, after visiting the post the evening before :
" Upon the whole I cannot help thinking the garrison is an advantage ;
and I cannot conceive the garrison to be in any great danger. The men
can be brought off at any time, but the stores may not so easily be re
moved, yet I think they can be got off in spite of them, if matters grow
desperate. This post is of no consequence only in conjunction with
Mount Washington. I was over there last evening ; the enemy seem to
be disposing matters to besiege the place ; but Colonel Magaw thinks it
will take them till December expires before they can carry it." 4
Two letters passed from Greene to Washington the one on the loth
and the other on the nth, and the only reference to Mount Washington
in either is the closing line of the latter, " the enemy remains quiet there
this afternoon." 5
Garrison s Letter. Force 5th series, vol. iii. p. 519.
2 Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 557.
3 Ibid. p. 602.
4 Ibid. p. 619.
s lbid. p. 638.
24 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1/76
Washington wrote no other letter to Greene after that of the 8th. On
the loth he left White Plains, where he had been all the time, at 11 A. M.,
and rode to Peekskill. The nth he spent in a reconnoissance of the
Highlands, and on the 1 2th, after writing two letters, 1 crossed the North
river to the ferry landing below Stoney Point on his way to the army in
Jersey. The same day Greene wrote President Hancock ; " I expect
General Howe will attempt to possess himself of Mount Washington,
but very much doubt whether he will succeed in the attempt. Our
troops are much fatigued with the amazing duty, but are generally in
good spirits." 2
As Washington crossed the Hudson he saw the three British men of
war, which had come up on the 7th, quietly riding at anchor in the
Tappan Sea. The obstructions and chevaux-dc-frise from which so
much had been expected had been passed with ease. They were absolute
failures. The British ships neither went over them nor through them,
but around them, close in, on either the eastern or western shore, one
of the largest vessels, which it was proposed to sink, in consequence of a
blunder bilged and went down far from her destined position, and part
of the chevaux-de-frise found after the capture, having apparently never
been used. 3
On the i4th November Washington wrote a long letter to the
President of Congress, dated at ." General Greene s Head-quarters,"
beginning, " I have the honor to inform you of my arrival here yester
day," in which he discussed at length various subjects of public concern,
but remarked casually on the movements of the enemy that, " it seems to
be generally believed on all hands that the investing of Fort Washington
is one object they have in view," and closed with the words, " I propose
to stay in this neighborhood a few days, in which time I expect the
designs of the enemy will become disclosed, and their incursions be
made in this quarter, or their investiture of Fort Washington, if they are
This shows clearly that both Washington and Greene were in doubt
on the 1 4th, the day before Mount Washington was summoned to surren
der, whether it was to be attacked or not.
On the 1 5th, the day of the summons, Washington wrote two letters
to the Board of War, one dated, " General Greene s Quarters," on an
One to General Lee, and the other a very full one of instructions to General Heath.
Mount Washington is mentioned in neither. Ibid. 656, 657.
2 Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 653.
3 British return of ordnance and stores taken from I2th of October to 2oth of November, 1776.
Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 1058-9.
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1776 25
exchange of ladies, and the other dated " Hackensack," on an exchange
of prisoners with the enemy, but alludes in neither to Mount Washing
The arrival undiscovered, of his boats after midnight of the I4th,
completed Howe s preparations, but the next day proving unfavorable, he
postponed the attack to the i6th. A short time after noon on the i5th,
a mounted officer, with two or three companions under a white flag,
crossed Kingsbridge, and slowly ascended the heights towards Fort
Washington. The American commander sent down to meet him Colonel
Swoope of Pennsylvania. The officer proved to be Lieutenant-Colonel
Patterson, the Adjutant-General of the British Army, who bore a sum
mons to Colonel Magaw to surrender at discretion or suffer the conse
quences of a storm, which by military law is liability to be put to the
sword if taken, and he required an answer in two hours.
Magaw at once dispatched a note with the intelligence to Greene at
Fort Lee, saying to him at the same time, " we are determined to defend
the post or die." He then returned to the summons this brave answer,
addressed " To the Adjutant General of the British Army. Sir, If I
rightly understand the purport of your message from General Howe,
communicated to Colonel Swoope, this post is to be immediately surren
dered, or the garrison put to the sword. I rather think it is a mistake
than a settled resolution in General Howe, to act a part so unworthy of
himself and the British Nation. But give me leave to assure his excel
lency that actuated by the most glorious cause that mankind ever fought
in, I am determined to defend this post to the very last extremity."
ROB T MAGAW, Colonel Commanding.
On receiving this note, Greene instantly ordered Heard s brigade
" to hasten on," directed Magaw to defend to the last, and then in a let
ter dated " Fort Lee, 4 o clock," sent enclosed Magaw s dispatch an
nouncing Howe s summons to Washington, who was at Hackensack, ar
ranging for the reception of the American Army then crossing into New
Jersey. In his communication Greene said, " the contents will require
your Excellency s attention." 2 Washington immediately started for Fort
Lee ; arrived there he found that Greene was on the New York side, and
himself embarked to cross the river to the fort about 9 o clock at night,
" and [in his own words,] had partly crossed the North River, when I
met General Putnam and General Greene, who were just returning from
1 Force 5th series, vol. iii, p. 699.
s lbid. 6qg, 700.
26 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 16 I//6
thence, and informed me that the troops were in high spirits and would
make a good defence ; and it being late at night I returned."
The morning of the i6th November, 1776, broke bright and fair. The
mists in the deep valley of the Harlem had not yet risen when Lieuten-
ant-General von Knyphausen, at the head of his Germans, marched
from their camp on its Westchester side across Kingsbridge, and joined
a small body of the same troops that had lain upon the island.
He had made a special request of Sir William Howe that the main
attack might be made by himself at the head of German regiments only,
and it had been granted. Forming his troops, consisting of detachments
from his own corps, von Rahl s brigade and the Waldeck regiment, 3,000
in all, according to Graydon, into two columns, the right nearest the Hud
son under Colonel von Rahl, and the left under Major-General von Schmid,
the whole commanded by himself, he pressed forward about seven o clock
supported by a terrific cannonade from all the British batteries, intend
ed to confuse the Americans as to the real point of the main attack. But
receiving word from Howe that all was not quite ready, he rested quietly
till the final arrangements for the other assaults were made. The sun
had risen well above the Westchester hills on the eastern edge of the
valley, when a gun from the British battery farthest down the Harlem
suddenly threw a shot into the American lines south of Fort Washing
ton. Then pushing forward a battery of Hessian field-guns far enough
to engage the American batteries on the hill above what is now called
Inwood, he put his columns in motion, each preceded by an advance guard
of about 100 men. Von Rahl on the right, passing through the break in
the hills forming the present entrance to Inwood, close along the Hudson
river, pressed through the woods up the northern end of the long hill
on which Fort Washington stood, supported by the guns of the Pearl
frigate, which lay opposite the break, and fiercely attacked the Ameri
can battery and redoubt on its crest, defended by Colonel Rawling s
regiment of Maryland riflemen, under himself and Major Otho Williams,
and some Pennsylvania troops. The pass was steep, narrow, covered
with woods, and well defended. The greatest gallantry was shown on
both sides. Again and again the Germans attacked, and again and again
were repelled. Fighting behind intrenchments, the Americans had the
advantage of position ; the Germans that of numbers. Many were killed
on both sides, but far more of the latter than the former.
The American guns, only three in number, served rapidly and well,
did great execution. But courage and numbers finally prevailed over
courage and intrenchments, and the Germans, with a shout, at last car-
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. l6 1776 27
ried the crest oi the hill, and drove the Americans, whose rifles at the
last had become almost too foul for use, from their works.
Von Schmid s column, with which von Knyphausen himself was,
took a more easterly route, and attacked the same position a little nearer
the Kingsbridge road, but having to penetrate a triple abatis of felled
trees, and to go through a thick undergrowth covering the declivity, they
were somewhat delayed ; but forcing their way through, von Knyphau
sen in person leading and helping to break down the obstructions with
his own hands, the two German columns united upon the summit of the
hill, and completed the discomfiture of the Americans, Avho retreated
along its flat top to the fort.
Just as the Germans became fully engaged the English regiments of
light infantry and guards, four in number, under Brigadier-General
Mathews, supported by the First and Second Grenadiers and the Thir
ty-third foot, under Cornwallis, in thirty boats, under cover of a tre
mendous fire from the British batteries on its Westchester side, crossed
Harlem river to Sherman s Creek. Though met with a sharp fire, they
instantly ascended the face of Laurel Hill, high wooded and precipitous,
the fallen leaves, yet moist with the rain of the preceding day, render
ing the footing still more difficult, and drove from the battery on its brow
and its summit the Pennsylvania troops (the last reinforcements sent
over from Fort Lee) whom Magaw had detailed to defend it. Though
defeated and forced to retreat, they made a brave defense. Colonel
Baxter (their commander) being killed, sword in hand, at the head of his
men. About eight o clock Earl Percy with two brigades, one English
and the other Hessian under von Stein, began the attack upon the
lines to the south of Mount Washington. With this corps was Sir
William Howe himself, who animated the troops by his presence and
personal bravery. The American lines were defended by Colonel Lam
bert Cadwallader at the head of his own, and Magaw s Pennsylvania
battalions and some broken companies from Miles and other regiments,
chiefly from Pennsylvania. Driving them from a small outwork and the
first fortified line across the island, Percy rested, extending his line how
ever to the North river.
As soon as he obtained this advantage orders were sent to Colonel
Sterling (whose attack, originally intended as a feint, was now changed
into reality), on the Harlem river, who with the Highlanders, sup
ported by two battalions of the Second Brigade, instantly crossed
the river in boats and landed at the foot of the hill, near the Morris
House, inside of the American lines. Magaw, who had remained at the
2g MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. l6 1776
centre of the position with a few men, in order to direct all the opera
tions, at once sent about a hundred men to oppose them, and Cadwall-
ader also dispatched about one hundred and fifty for the same purpose.
They poured a heavy fire into Sterling s boats as they reached the shore,
killing- and wounding many men, but failed to stop his landing, as
they were only aided by a single eighteen pound gun. Leaving behind
their Major, named Murray, a man so fat he could not keep pace with
them, the Highlanders, in kilt and tartan, rushed up the ascent with
such speed and dash that they actually made prisoners of about a hun
dred and seventy of the Americans. Hearing his calls, some of his
men then went back and helped their stout Major to the top of the hill.
When Stirling s fire was heard, Percy again quickly advanced,
and Cadwallader, after a short and brisk contest at the second line, find
ing himself in danger of being cut off by the Highlanders, retreated
to the Fort, into which the flying Americans had crowded in disor
der as they were driven from their respective lines of defence.
Knyphausen s columns having neared the fort first, and taken a
commanding position within a hundred yards of its west side, he sent a
second summons to surrender, which was received by Cadwallader and
referred to Magaw.
The fort itself does not seem to have fired at all. It was in fact so
crowded by the fugitive Americans that they would have been slaught
ered in masses had it been defended and stormed. When they first be
gan to crowd in Magaw endeavored to animate them, urging them again
to man the lines, but in vain. They could not again be rallied.
When Washington from Fort Lee saw the success of the German at
tack, he sent Captain Gooch over the river with a note to Colonel Magaw
to try and hold out till night, when he would endeavor to relieve him
and bring off the garrison. Gooch rowed across, delivered the note,
and returned in safety with the answer. But his mission was too late.
Magaw had proceeded so far in his negotiations for a surrender that he
could not withdraw. After much parley, he signed articles of capitu
lation with General von Knyphausen and Colonel Patterson, the British
Adjutant General, by which safety of persons and baggage was guar
anteed, and the fort then surrendered to the British, who subsequently,
in honor of the gallantry of the Germans and their commander, changed
its name to Fort Knyphausen.
Demont s treason had done its work, and the flag of England again
waved over the entire island of New York. Twenty-eight hundred and
eighteen prisoners, including officers, forty-three guns, and a large quan-
MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1 776 29
tity of military stores, including " 200 iron fraise of four hundred
weight each, supposed to be intended to stop the navigation of Hud
son s River," fell into the hands of the victors, besides 2,800 muskets,
400,000 cartridges, 15 barrels of powder, and several thousand shot
and shell. The loss of the Americans was four officers killed and three
wounded, and fifty privates killed and ninety wounded, a total of one hun
dred and forty-seven. The British loss was seventy-eight killed and three
hundred and eighty wounded, a total of four hundred and fifty -eight;
of which that of the Hessians alone was fifty-eight killed and two hundred
and seventy-two 1 wounded, including officers, being in all three hun
dred and thirty. The British forces engaged were, according to Gray-
don, three thousand under von Knyphausen, eight hundred under Stir
ling, and sixteen hundred under Percy. Mathews numbers he does not
give, but as there were seven regiments, of only about five hundred
effective men each, they may be set down as thirty-five hundred,
making a total force of eighty-nine hundred. Sir William Howe s
dispatch gives merely the names of the regiments engaged, not
In the defense of Mount Washington Magaw seems to have disposed
of his men to the best . advantage, considering its great extent and his
numbers, especially as he had to make his full dispositions after the Brit
ish plan had developed itself ; and he did his duty faithfully.
Washington s private judgment was opposed to holding the post
after the retreat from New York, but he was governed by the wishes
of Congress and the decisions of his Council of War. When the British
ships last passed up the river in spite of the obstructions, he strongly
advised, and also authorized, General Greene and Magaw to abandon
the post, but did not command it to be done. He was present, too, at
Greene s quarters at Fort Lee and at Hackensack from the I3th, when he
found his advice had not been followed, to the i6th, and during this
time could easily have ordered the post abandoned and the garrison
withdrawn, if he had seen fit. On the other hand, General Greene was
for holding the fortress throughout from the very first. After the last
passage of the frigates he was left to use his own discretion whether to
abandon it or not by the Commander-in-Chief, and he exercised that
discretion by holding it, as he had a perfect right to do. Neither Gen
eral should be censured at the expense of the other each did what he
thought was for the best under the circumstances, and neither dreamt
1 Force iii, 925, British returns of ordnance and stores taken. Ibid., 1058, Howe s dispatch.
30 MOUNT WASHINGTON AND ITS CAPTURE NOV. 1 6 1/76
that he had treason to contend against. The loss of Fort Washington
was due to the first traitor of the American Army, William Demont.
There were instances on both sides in this action of humor and gaity,
as well as of intrepidity and valor, in the midst of danger. One instance
of the latter must be mentioned, which has rarely been equalled or sur
passed. In one of the Pennsylvania regiments was a soldier named Corbin,
who was accompanied by his wife. His post was at one of the guns in
the battery on the hill attacked by the Hessians, where the battle raged
hardest, hottest, and longest ; for it was between two and three hours be
fore the Germans succeeded in carrying that position. In the midst of
the fight Corbin, struck by a ball, fell dead at his wife s feet as she was
aiding him in his duties. Instantly, without a word, she stepped into
his place and worked the gun with redoubled skill and vigor, fighting
bravely till she sank to the earth, pierced by three grapeshot in the
shoulder. Though terribly wounded, she .finally recovered, but was dis
abled for life. A soldier s half-pay and the value of a soldier s suit of
clothes, annually voted her by the Continental Congress while John Jay
presided, was all the reward that the first woman who fought foi
American liberty ever received for such heroic love, courage, and
Thirty-two years afterward Spain s glowing, dark-eyed daughter,
erect in the deadly breach, fiercely defending her native city against
the French invader, and hurling vengeance on the slayers of her lover
dead at her feet, burst upon the world never to be forgotten. The deed
of Augustina of Aragon, the Maid of Zaragoza, was not nobler, truer,
braver than that of Margaret Corbin of Pennsylvania. Byron s im
mortal lines are as true of the one as of the other :
" Her lover sinks, she sheds no ill timed tear,
Her chief is slain, she fills his fatal post;
The foe retires, she heads the sallying host:
Who can appease, like her, a lover s ghost?
E. F. DELANCEY.
NOTE. This account is an extended statement of one of Mr. E. F. DeLancey s editorial
notes in the first volume of the History of New York during the American Revolution, written at
its close by the Hon. Thomas Jones, of Queens county, Long Island (giving a Loyalist account of
the war), now in press, and soon to be issued by the New York Historical Society.
From Moms House toM^ Gowans Pass ,
Jteductionof XauthierbMapUrami Jot .< r/776.
aao; Barradui &ui& by the
Americas/ sand turned,
on tJieir retreat.
COLONEL MAGAW S
ORDERLY BOOK AT MOUNT WASH
The following is a copy of all the
entries in the Orderly Book of Colonel
Magaw, taken from the original by the
kind permission of its present owner, the
Rev. Dr. Joseph A. Murray, of Carlisle,
Pennsylvania. It begins October 3ist,
1776, but unfortunately stops November
loth, 1776, six days before the surrender.
The order of Nov. ist, increasing the
picket guards very strongly for the 2d,
may have been the proximate cause of
Demont s departure. He probably did
not want to run the risk of the increased
numbers of pickets, and therefore went
over to the enemy before they were act
ually placed on guard. E. F. de L.
"Harlem Heights, October 25th.
Parole Danvers. Co. Sign Newberry.
Saturday, October 26th.
Parole Lexington. Co. Sign Concord.
Sunday, October 27th.
Parole Roxbury. Co. Sign Cambridge.
Monday, October 28th.
Parole Litchfield. Co. Sign Norwich.
Tuesday, October 29th.
Parole Berks. Co. Sign Reading.
Wednesday, October 3oth.
Parole Lancaster. Co. Sign York.
Thursday, October 3ist.
Parole Cumberland. Co. Sign Carlisle.
Friday, November ist.
Parole Pittsburgh. Co. Sign Bedford.
Coll. Magaw s Orders.
Ninety men for Picquet towards New
York tomorrow, to be stationed as fol
lows North River, i Sub. and 20; Hol-
loway, i Sergt. and 10; Point of Rocks,
i Sub. and 20 ; Works near Harlaem
River, i Sub. and 20; One Capt. at the
Point of Rocks or North River; i Sub.
and 20 on the East River between Head
quarters and Fort Washington. Weekly
returns to be given in before 12 o clock
at Noon, of the strength of the several
Regiments and Detachments of our
Troops now on this Island, that duty may
Capt. Longs Company to join Coll.
Rawlings Battn.; in the mean time Capt.
Moulton, of the Artillery, will appoint
one of his Officers to act as Fort Major
who will prevent all doubtfull or suspect
ed persons entering the Fort, and observe
such Orders As may be given by the
Commanding Officer or Capt. Moulton.
Saturday, November 2d.
Parole Amboy. Co. Sign Woodbridge.
Sunday, November 3d.
Parole Morris. Co. Sign Potter.
Monday, November 4th.
Parole Sabrook. Co. Sign Enfield.
No cattle or hogs to be suffered in the
Fort. No passes or passages to be made
on any pretence whatsoever through the
Abbatis, Lieut. Coll. Wypert is to be at
liberty to have any Tents or obstructions
removed which may be in his way in
strengthening the works; all Officers to
give him assistance for that purpose.
The Officers of the several Guards to
recommend the greatest allertness to their
Centinels at this time and place, the most
dangerous, important, and honourable,
Post that, perhaps, Americans were ever
placed in. The Liberty of this great and
free Continent may in great measure de-
pend on our vigilance and bravery. Mr.
John Morgan is to act as Brigade Major,
all passes signed by him to be considered
The Adjutants or Sergt. Majors of the
several battalions to attend at Headquar
ters at 3 o clock every day for orders,
which will be delivered by Mr. Morgan,
he will also deliver them the Parole and
Counter Sign in the Evening. Each Bat
talion and Detachment to make out exact
returns of their strength on this Island,
both fit for duty and sick, as orders are
received to transmit the returns to the
Commander in Chief, and the Congress,
these returns to be made by 12 o clock
Tuesday, November 5th.
Parole Bristol. Co. Sign Frankfort.
Notwithstanding the frequent general
orders against fireing guns about the Camp
and wanton waste of Amunition, This
destructive practice still prevails, Officers
are to be very vigilant and detect and
confine offenders, and also to examine
the Cartouch Boxes at least twice a week,
and charge the men 6d pr Cartridge for
such as cant be accounted for.
Wednesday, November 6th.
Parole Dover. Co. Sign Darby.
The Officers of the Guards on the
lines are to be very punctual in giveing
strict orders to the Centinels to permit
no person who is not in this service to
come within the lines, but such as come
to continue, as they will not on any pre
tence whatever be permitted to return,
likewise no person to pass from here be
yond the lines, as they will not on any
account be suffered to return.
The Adjutants and Sergt. Majors of
the several battalions and detachments
are to be carefull that all their officers
have the Reading the above orders.
Thursday, November yth.
Parole Washington. Co. Sign Lee.
Friday, November 8th.
Parole Magaw. Co. Sign Greene.
Saturday, November 9th.
Parole Cadwallader. Co. Sign Beatty.
Sunday, November zoth.
Parole Brunswick. Co. Sign Burling
COLONEL ROBERT MAGAW was the
eldest son of William Magaw a Scotch-
Irish lawyer who came, prior to 1752,
from Strabane, in the north of Ireland,
to Maryland, and thence to Carlisle, in
Pennsylvania. He was born in Ireland,
was a lawyer, married while a prisoner
Marritie Van Brunt of Flatbush, and
died 6th January, 1790, at Carlisle,
leaving a son and daughter. His regi
ment, 5th Pennsylvania, numbered 25
officers and 312 men when surrendered.
Ms. Magaw papers. Letter of Dr.
DODON HENRY, Baron von Knyp-
hausen, Lieutenant-General, born in Al
sace, in 1730, son of Baron von Knyp-
hausen a Colonel under Marlborough,
and was a descendant of the great
Holland General of Gustavus Adolphus,
whose name he bore. Tall, spare in per
son, very German in appearance, he was,
though a strict officer, popular with both
officers and men. He died in Berlin,
in 1794, a full General in the Prussian
service. Watson s Philadelphia Bio-
PARADE OF THE PRISONERS. " The
prisoners taken at Mt. Washington were
all paraded near the Jews Burying
Ground (now Chatham Square). They
were said to be 2,500; no insults were
offered to them when paraded, nor any
public huzzaing or rejoicing as was usual
on similar and less occasions." Ms.
letter of John McKesson to Geo. Clinton.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BERKELEY
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