Archibald Robertson, lieutenant-general, Royal Engineers.1745-1813 From: his diaries and sketches in America, 1762-1780.

Archibald Robertson‘s Diaries and Sketches are an extraordinary eye-witness account of the Revolutionary War.  He had accompanied Gen. Howe for most of the engagements from 1776 to 1778, and upon arriving at New York in the summer of 1776, described the landscape and troop movements in and around Staten Island.  The following excerpts start with the British fleet approaching Sandy Hook and anchoring off the coast of Staten Island in late June and includes the preparations for what would be the Battle of Long Island in August

Major Archibald Robertson of Lawers 1782 by George Romney The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida

[June] 29th at 6 in the morning discovered land the heights call’d the Neversinks close by sandy hook the Entrance intoNew York Bay, and all the Fleet got safe to an Anchor at 3o’clock behind the Hook. Have had very calm weather for 10 Days past with light Breezes from the East. Dth a fair wind but lay still. Wrote my Brother and nclos’d the 2d of Exchange for £200 Sterling drawn by Captain S: in his favour.

July 1st within 20 Minutes of 5 afternoon the Admiral made the signal to get under way, and in an hour all the Fleet were under sail for the Narrows with a fair wind. Came to an Anchor about 2 miles off Gravesend on Long Island, about 8 o’clock, and went with Captain [John] M[ontreso]r immediately on board the Admiral. There was orders for the troops to be ready to embark at 4 next morning, but after a long Consultation of General Officers it was agreed not to be proper, considering the country we had to march thro’ and the Difficulty of keeping up our Communication with the Ships, etc., etc.

[July] 2nd Weigh’d Anchor at 10 morning and stood for the Narrows, the Tide just on the turn against us and a light Breeze. At 11 The tide turn’d and becoming allmost Calm and the wind ahead the Transports fell into great Confusion all dropping upon one another without steerage way which obliged us to come to an Anchor. Some of the ships with in 7 or 800 Yards of Long Island. We observed a good many of the Rebels in Motion on shore. They fired musquetry at the nearest Ships without effect. About 12 the ships nearest were ordered to drop down with the Tide, lucky for us the Rebels had no Cannon here or we must have suffered a good deal.

The Phoenix, Grayhound and Rose men of war got about 4 or 5 miles ahead and brought too. About 4 past one the Phoenix made the signal for preparing to land. It rain’d smartly, and the ist division of Transports got under way with the first of the flood Tide, and about 9 we got up to the Watering Place on Staaten Island where the 3 men of war had hauled close inshore, the General on board the Greyhound, and the Grenadiers and Light Infantry under Earl Percy. Generals Robertson and Leslie landed immediately without opposition, the inhabitants wellcoming them ashore. They lay near the landing Place all night.

July 3d about 6 morning landed with the General. Part of the ist Brigade landed, and all the Troops ashore, about 2300, march’d along the North side of the Island by Deckers Ferry, and part advanced to Elizabeth Ferry, Richmond, etc. In the Evening some more troops were landed. The Admiral got up, but few of the transports, to the Watering Place. 4 Grasshoppers were brought to Deckers Ferry.

July 4th Last night the Rebels brought two pieces of Cannon to Deckers’s Ferry, one 12 and one 9 pounder, and Early in the morng fired on the George Sloop and kill’d and wounded 5 men, but the sloop drove them off with the loss of one man and some wounded. The General would not allow the Grass hoppers to be fired. This day we brought up 2 12 -pounders and 2 Royal Howitzers near Deckers Ferry. The Rebels fired from a field piece at our Transports coming up the Narrows. The Asia return’d the fire and drove them off. All the troops landed. This night a Sloop came in from Shrewsberry in the Jerseys with 66 men in Arms to join the Army under Mr. Morris formerly an Officer in the 47th Regiment. Landed the entrenching tools with the Cannon.

The Emerald Arrived with a Ship loaded with Provisions from the Loyalists at New York. Several People came in, in Boats from Long Island and the town, most horridly persecuted by the Rebels.

[July] 5th nothing Extraordinary but reconnoitring the Enemy’s works they began to throw up opposite Elizabeth- town Ferry the 3d, which we found very slight and ill constructed. This day pitch’d my tent. A party of 50 Sailors of the Asia brought off some Cattle from the point at the Kills.

6th reconnoitered our post at Richmond, the Quarters of the Grenadiers. Staid all night, saw the Militia review’d, supposed to be 700 and a troop of light Horse.

7th return’d to head Quarters. The Rebels last Evening fired a good many Musquet shot across the water at Decker’s Ferry without Effect. Some People come in from long Island and 3 Rifflemen with 5 Riffle Guns, an English, Scotch and Irishman.

The Militia mounted a Guard on the General of 12 Light Horse.

8th Wrote to Lord Townsend, Lord Cathcart, and Henry, to go by the same Pacquet with my letter of 30th Ultmo. This Evening the Rebels fired musquetry at Decker’s Ferry, but dispersed on a gun or two being fired.

9th This morning at 5 we had a working Party of 100 men to cut Fascines at Deckers Ferry to begin a Post which we marked out there for the security of the inhabitants when we leave this Island. This afternoon went to Richmond with Mr. Sproul, to mark out an intended work upon a height near the Town.

10th After looking over and Considering the ground well found some Alterations in the scheme would be necessary. Return’d to Head Quarters. I believe no work is to be made at Richmond.

13th the 1st and 5th Brigades embarked, the Grenadiers took the Quarters of the 1st from Richmond, and the Forreigners encamp’d where the 5th were.

18th this morning the Phoenix and Rose men of war with two tenders came down to the Fleet after having pass’d the fire of all their Batterys in which the Rose had two men wounded. The Night of the 16th they were attack’ d by two fire Ships, the Rose’s Tender was burnt and the Phoenix narrowly escaped.

22nd Landed on Long Island Gravesend Bay.

26th Ordered to attend General Clinton, I join’d him at 8 in the Evening at flatlands, at 9 we march’d, with all the Grenadiers, Light Infantry, 33d, 71st Regiments and 17th Light dragoons in order to turn the left flank of the Rebel army who were in possession of the high Grounds of Brooklyn, that extend all the way most to Jamaica.

27th at daybreak we pass’d these heights without any op position, about 5 miles East of Bedford and continued our march towards Bedford and Brooklyn. When we came near to Bedford the Rebels began to fire from the Woods on our left which continued for some distance as we march’d on to Brooklyn. Ordered to stop the Light Companies of the 23d I join’d them and obliged to remain, my Communication with the General being cut off. About 9 o’clock the Rebels gave way very fast and in their retreat, across a marsh and mill dam, received a heavy fire from our Grenadiers tho’ distant. The Light Horse could not act for a swamp that was in front. At the same time General Clinton went from Flatlands. General Grant march’d from Dinnys’s with 2 Brigades to turn the Rebels right Flank and Count Dunhop march’d in the Centre from Flat Bush. General Grant in his march had several smart Skirmishes. A Battalion of our Grenadiers and the 71st were sent on towards General Grant and about 2 in the Afternoon they had a very smart Skirmish in the woods with the Rebels who were trying to get to the water side to escape. The Hessians likewise fell in with the flying Partys and they were drove from every Quarter. We lost some Good Officers, about 60 men kill’d and about 300 wounded, the Rebel loss was very considerable upwards of 3000 kill’d wounded and Prisoners. Amongst the latter General Sulivan and Lord Stirling. They had about 12,000 men on the heights. Great Numbers got across the creek into their Works on Brooklyn heights, we were in Possession of very good Ground within 600 Yards of them, and by some mistake in orders had very near Evacuated this ground. In the evening we retired a little. The whole of this days Manoeuvre was well plann’d and Executed, only more of the Rebels might have been cut off had we push’d on from Brooklyn sooner towards General Grant.

[August] 28th this night with a party of 400 men I opened ground opposite their Works and form’d a kind of Paralel or place of Arms 650 Yards Distant. This day Sir William Erskine with the 71st Regiment and Light Dragoons went to Jamaica, they took a General Woodall Prisoner.

29th Party 300 employ’d in making a Boyau and Party employ’d in making fascines to raise Batterys.

30th perceived by Day Break that the Rebels had evacuated all their works on long Island and retreated to New York Island in the night. We immediately took Possession of them with the Piquets, and in the Evening were relieved by 100 Hessians. General Clinton went On towards Newton with 2 Battalions Light Infantry and 1 Battalion Hessian Grenadiers.

31st All the Army began to move towards Newton but5000 Hessians under General Heister left at Brooklyn heights, 2 Brigades with General Grant at Bedford. General Clinton was this morning at Hell Gate and Lord Cornwallis encamp’d on the heights near Newton. At 2 o’clock the General with the rest of the Army Arrived at Newton which was head Quarters. We pass’d through a Pleasant Country.Reported that the Rebels were firing on one Another and evacuating the Town.

September 1st reconnoitred the shore opposite Hell gate where the Rebels have a Work round Walton’s house, call’d Horn Hook, the water or East River about 500 Yards across here. General Sulivan sent over to New York about negociations.

2nd sent early to General Clinton about placing mortars to drive the Rebels from their work at Walton’s house. Nothing done. Reported General Sulivan is gone to Philadelphia.

3d this Night the Rose man of war came up the East River with 20 flat Boats. She Anchored under Blackwells Island. Received Several Shot in coming past the Batterys. A Picquet sent
to take Possession of Blackwells Island for her Protection.4th Evening Captain Moncrief and I were ordered to raise two Batterys at Hell gate against Walton’s House, one of 3 24-Pounders and one 3 12-Pounders, a working party of 300men. We began to work at l/2 past nine and by 5 next morning
they were completed within 2 hours work of 60 men. This Evening a Party was sent to raise a Breast Work on Blackwell’s Island, but the Piquets were withdrawn and the Rose went down to Bush wick Point.
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All Entries quoted from: Robertson, Archibald. 1971. Archibald Robertson: his diaries and sketches in America, 1762-1780. [New York]: New York Public Library.

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