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Attack on Peekskill, N. Y. – British account of the Attack on Peekskill

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

March 27. –The American post at Peekskill, New York, since the removal of the militia of the Eastern States, has been in a manner in a defenceless situation, there being only part of two regiments stationed there, under the care of General McDougal, amounting to about two hundred and fifty men. The enemy having received intelligence of this, formed an expedition thither with a view to take or destroy the stores belonging to the continentals, that were deposited there. Accordingly, on Sunday last, 23d, they appeared with a frigate, four transports, and several other small vessels, in the bay, and landed about one thousand men, with several pieces of cannon. General McDougal not thinking it prudent to hazard a battle with such an unequal force, and not having seasonable advice of the enemy’s movement, was under the necessity of destroying the stores in order to prevent their falling into their hands, and retired about two miles into the pass in the Highlands, carrying with him his baggage and military stores, his advanced guard being stationed at Courtlandt’s house, in the valley. The enemy the same day took possession of the village, and remained close in their quarters until the next day in the afternoon, when a party of them, consisting of about two hundred men, possessed themselves of a height a little south of Courtlandt’s. The general having received a reinforcement from Colonel Gansevoort’s1 regiment of about eighty men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Willett,2 permitted them to attempt to dispossess the enemy from that eminence.

Colonel Willett having accordingly made the necessary disposition, advanced with his small party with the greatest firmness and resolution, and made the attack. The enemy instantly fled with the greatest precipitation, leaving three men dead on the field, and the whole body, panic-struck, betook themselves to their shipping, embarking under cover of the night; and by the last accounts they had sailed down the river. Before they embarked, they gave out that they intended to stop at Tarrytown, on their way down, and attempt to destroy our magazine of forage at Wright’s mills. Upon their evacuating the place, General McDougal took possession of his former quarters, and detached a party of men to watch their motions. The enemy on this occasion have been exceedingly disappointed, as they have not been able to carry off any stores left behind by our men, and no other stock than about forty sheep, and eight or ten head of cattle, with which they were supplied by our good friends, the Tories. Never did troops exhibit more firmness and resolution than did our army on this occasion. Notwithstanding the disparity of numbers was great, and the measure absolutely necessary, it was with the utmost reluctance they retired to the pass. As usual, these heroes of Britain have burnt some houses, plundered the inhabitants of what they could conveniently take with them, frightened the women and children, and raised the spirits of their Tory brethren in that quarter; but which, alas! as is always the case when unnaturally elevated, are now again proportionately depressed.3

A British officer in this expedition gives another account of it: –On Saturday last and the two following days, an important enterprise was effected upon a large magazine, which the rebels had formed at Peekskill, near the Highlands, under the conduct of Colonel Bird and Major Hope, assisted by Lieutenant Durnford of the Engineers, with only five hundred men. The troops were embarked on board four transports on Saturday, with every precaution of secrecy as to their destination, and proceeded up the North River under the convoy of the Brune frigate, Captain Ferguson, and an armed galley. They came upon the rebels, almost unapprised of the adventure, on the Sunday afternoon, who soon ran away from their post, (though they were at least equal to the troops in number,) with the greatest precipitation. Before they quitted the spot, they set fire to the mills up Gregory’s Creek, in which were stored above five hundred barrels of flour, and eighty hogsheads of rum, also to two large storehouses containing an immense quantity of military stores; and to their forage yard, with all the hay, straw, and corn. They likewise staved a great number of hogsheads of rum, during the approach of the ships.

Immediately upon landing, the troops advanced to the execution of their design, and burnt and destroyed the whole magazine, the barracks, the workshops, storehouses, and all the appurtenances of this principal deposit of military furniture and stores, which the rebels had been forming for a long time with the greatest expense and labor. Besides the barracks, which were exceedingly well constructed, and several other buildings, above one hundred and fifty new wagons were committed to the flames, together with a vast collection of intrenching tools, carpenter’s tools, and an immense quantity of beef, pork, flour, rice, and biscuit, all in casks, and above four hundred hogsheads of rum. Many casks of tallow, boxes of candles, hogsheads of molasses, about a dozen casks of coffee, some boxes of chocolate, chests of arms, artillery stores, thirty casks of nails, twenty boxes of grape shot, and a large quantity of bar and slit iron, were either conveyed to the ships, or entirely destroyed. The camp equipage, belonging to McDougal, who commands the rebels in that quarter, was in part destroyed, and in part brought away, with some officers’ uniforms, and colors. In the conflagration, which with such a collection of combustible matters may be easily imagined to have been prodigious, a large quantity of bark for tanning, and of leather for shoes and other purposes, was consumed. In short, the destruction was complete and effectual, scarce any thing escaping that could be of use either to the troops or to the rebels. Several sloops and boats were likewise destroyed, and others brought off laden with some of the most valuable articles. A fine twelve-pounder, which the rebels had placed there, was dismounted, and left without its trunnions. The whole affair was carried on with the utmost spirit and harmony, and to the honor of the soldiers it may be said, that not one of them, among the streams of rum that run about in every quarter, was in the least disordered in his duty. They only expressed their disappointment in not having had a brush with the rebels. Nothing could exceed the cool intrepidity and precautions of the commanding officers throughout the enterprise, nor the alacrity and vigor of the whole party. Not a man was lost or hurt upon the occasion. The sailors performed their part with equal spirit, and as British seamen are used to do. The loss of the rebels cannot be easily calculated; their disappointment and want, in consequence of it, may be more easily guessed at, and the more, as that loss is now irreparable.4


1 Peter Gansevoort, Jr.
2 Marinus Willett.
3 Connecticut Journal, April 2.
4 Gaine’s Mercury, March 31.

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