The Battle of White Plains
Mark Sadan's 1976 Film of the Revolutionary War Confrontation
White Plains Historical Society
Exhibit Overview
Click on left lower arrow to start movie.
Mark Sadan's thirty minute film, Battle of White Plains, gives a socio-cultural perspective to the 1776 battle by presenting the views of British and American soldiers, female camp followers, and members of the Society of Friends. This video has been updated to MP4 format.
October 28, 1776
In the hills
White Plains,
General Washington's army built defenses against the advancing British troops.
When the Continental Army marched into White Plains in the fall of 1776 after suffering another defeat to the British on Long Island, the American Revolution was in mere infancy. Only three months before, the Continental Congress announced America's Declaration of Independence with the first major revolutionary conflict, Bunker Hill, preceding the call for independence by one month. By October, a victory still eluded the Americans, mostly a consequence of Britain's better trained and equipped soldiers. Yet the patriots continued to fight, bolstered by a stalwart desire for freedom from Britain's rule.
Colonial interest in self-government developed over a number of years, becoming increasingly entrenched in American thought after Britain imposed taxes in 1764 to pay for the costs of the French and Indian War as well as the upkeep of British soldiers stationed in America. Over a ten year period, England's monarch, King George III (r. 1760-1820) and Parliament, oscillated between imposing taxes on goods ranging from sugar to official seals and repealing in acquiescence to colonial pressure. By the early 1770s, the King became increasingly intolerant of perceived threats to the power of the throne and Parliament presented by the overseas demands. After protestors dumped tea into Boston Harbor in 1774 to complain against a new tax on the commodity, the English government stopped compromising. With the monarch's support, Parliament levied a more stringent duty referred to by Americans as the "Intolerable Tax" for the measure closed Boston harbor, reorganized the government of Massachusetts, permitted British soldiers to live in private homes, and removed the trials of the colonially despised royal custom officials to England.
While King George III strengthened the throne's influence in Parliamentary decisions and politics, the monarch's overseas subjects also sought a greater role in government. Influenced by the enlightened ideas of John Locke, John Trenchard, and Thomas Gordon, colonists debated on the role of a king to his subjects and the corruptness of government patronage, justifying the dissolution of moral and political support for the Crown with Britain's decision to tax the colonists without an American representative in Parliament. By 1775, as the King's tolerance diminished, the colonists convened the First and Second Continental Congress with the intent to establish a republican government composed of elected officials. With the King uninterested in compromise and the colonists intent on autonomy, armed conflict between England and America became inevitable. However a war costs money and requires trained soldiers, and as of October, 1776, the Continental Congress had not yet established a means to adequately finance and train the Continental Army, increasing the battle odds for Britain.
Mark Sadan's film aptly captures the different views of groups involved in the war as well as the essence of the encounter in White Plains. On October 28, the bulk of the fighting occurred at Chatterton’s Hill, an outpost on the west bank of the Bronx River held by a few thousand American soldiers under the commands of Colonels Spencer, McDougall, and Putnam. The opposition, led in part by Colonel Rahl with two Hessian regiments, advanced up a small hill beyond Chatterton to flank the American right. When the British 2nd Brigade with two additional Hessian battalions attacked Chatterton’s Hill, Rahl's carefully positioned men limited the patriots' space to maneuver and regroup. After about five hours of intense fighting, the Americans withdrew to join General Washington's main force.
Although General Howe requested reinforcements from Manhattan, the British Commander chose to overtake small patriot units at nearby Kingsbridge and Fort Washington rather than pursuing Washington's main force. The unit losses, while significant enough to cause Washington to move American troops across the Delaware River, did not bring an immediate end to the war. In retrospect, most historians today classify the battle as a British win with a few considering the engagement as a draw; yet almost all believe that Howe lost a golden opportunity to decisively defeat the Americans. Howe's decision instead gave Washington time to regroup the army and rethink battle strategy in a war which continued for another seven years.