Friday, October 28, 2011

Letters from the Front: Retreat from New York

"...they were not able to effect any Thing on Acco of the heavy & incessant Fire from the Enemies Forts & Ships ― no less than Eight Coll: & Lt. Colonels have been taken, died or killed since the Landing on L: Island" 

By the end of September 1776, the George Washington's Continental Army was in the midst of a stubborn retreat from New York City. In late August the British Army under General Sir William Howe maneuvered the Americans off Long Island. On September 15th, Howe landed at Kip's Bay, forcing the Americans to evacuate New York City and retreat to their defensive works atop Harlem Heights. Sometime in the following weeks, Jedediah Huntington's command moved to King's Bridge, guarding the crossing over the Bronx, which was a significant river at this time. His account, which can be viewed below, details the various reversals of fortune that the American army suffered during the period, along with casualties including Captain Nathan Hale. The situation would continue to unravel for Washington, as his army was pushed further north in October and finally forced to retreat across New Jersey in November and December.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 594
Jedediah Huntington to Jabez Huntington, 28 Sept. 1776. Kings Bridge, New York.
Transcribed by Andrew Dauphinee August 2011

                                                                                                   “Camp Kings Bridge 28 Sept. 1776

Hond Sir
            I reached this Place Yesterday at 3’oClock in the Afternoon, With as Little Fatigue as I ever had in a Journey ― had the Pleasure of seeing Brothers Chester & Joshua pretty well Bror. Joshua has been ill but got near well_Bror. Eben is well but I have not seen him.  neither of the Brothers were in the Actions of Sunday or Monday ― Brother Joshua commanded a Party Gov: Island three Days after our Troops evacuated it (for the Purpose of bringing off some Cannon) which was as hazardous as to have been in the Engagements above mentioned ― they were not able to effect any Thing on Acco of the heavy & incessant Fire from the Enemies Forts & Ships ― no less than Eight Coll: & Lt. Colonels have been taken, died or killed since the Landing on L: Island ― Col: Gay of Sickness ― Lt. Col: Clark taken – Coll.Selden, Lt. Col: Thomson, & Moulton taken on Sunday, Lt. Col Knowlton killed ― Col: Pettibone died of sickness ― Lt Col: Hart taken on Sunday by best Information the Enemy lost about 400 in the Action of Monday & we only 15 or 20 ― Lt. Sim Huntington is alive & well.________

Last Sunday 200 Men in 5 Boats undertook to land on Montressors Island above Hell Gate &  attack some of the Enemy which were upon it only one of the Boats landed and attacked the Enemy with Success one other got on the Rocks the rest upon the first Fire put about & left their brave Fellows to fight the Enemy alone, as soon as the Enemy perceived the smallness of our Numbers they took Courage and drove back our Men with great Slaughter.  a few of my Regiment suffered in this Action ― You have likely heard that a Commo. of Congress has been here to concert a Plan for a  new Army, it is not yet published in Orders___ the Heads are said to be__ that each Private [pg 1] is to have Six pounds Bounty a Coat & 100 Acres Land for inlisting during the War – Wages of Officers and Men the same as before, the Officers also are to have Land ― 88 Battalions of about 700 Men each are talked of ― Each State is to have its Quota assigned which they are to raise & appoint their own Officers from Colonels down’ards our Men who were Prisoners at the Northward are arrived among us about 400 of them they are on Parole not to take up Arms untill an Exchange of Prisoners is made ― they bring an Acco that General Gordon of Burgoynes Army was mortally wounded by a Party of our People when he was reconnoitering near St. Johns and died of his Wounds at Quebec about a Fortnight afterwards.__

General Sullivan is exchanged for General Prescott__tis said Lord Stirling is to be exchanged for Gov: Brown__ Brig: Genl. Donal McDonald was proposed for that Purpose but he is not owned by his Side to be more than a Major___

As far as I have seen I like the Situation of our Camp and doubt not with a common Blessing we shall be able to hold our present Ground___ Things are getting into good Order to what they have been Ovens are building to bake Bread___ a Barracks are already up for a great Proportion of the Army & more are going up___ the North River is open to Kings Bridge ―  about one Third of the City of NYork was consumed with Fire – unheard of Barbarities were committed by the Kings Troops at that Time upon any of the Citizens who came in their Way___ some it is said were thrown into the Flames others tyed up by the Legs & their Throats cut, this they pretend is necessary to deter others from firing Houses, as [pg 2] they suppose the Citizens set Fire to the City ― Capt Hale of Webbs Regt was sent out on Long Island as a Spy – he was detected & hung in NYork___ the Enemy have Possession of Paulus Hook.___  We have a Breast Work from River to River abt 10 Miles from the City, between which & Kings Bridge are our Generals Head Quarters & the Main Body of our Army, one Division under the Command of Maj: Gen: Heath is on the Side of Kings Bridge next the Country, where I am ― but I forbear to add as Capt Fraiy is intelligent and can tell any Particulars
I remain your affectionate Son
                                                            Jed Huntington

            If the Assembly is to complete my choir of Officers & I continue, I shall be very sollicituous as to the Persons I am to have under me, I think the  Commanding Officers of Regiments ought to be consulted.

            my Love & Duty to mother &c &c

            When Blisses Cheeses come in I wish half a Dozen might be sent to me, & the Firkin of Butter if it comes from Pomfret, & 3 or 4 or half a dozen Bushell Oats by first Opporty. all address to Capt Wadsworth or the Commissary at Byram River

[pg 3]”

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