On October 12, after being beaten at the Battle of Throg's Point (Neck), Gen. William Howe, had shifted his British and German force to Pell's Point, 3 miles north of Throg's Point. The majority of Howe's force was comprised of the German soldiers. Meanwhile, Gen. George Washington was evacuating his forces from Harlem Heights and moving north. Pell's Point was a peninsula on Pelham Bay and a more advantageous site from which to attack the Americans. . From his position near Eastchester, about a mile from Pell's Point, Col. John Glover was commanding a 750-man brigade with support from 3 cannon. Unknown to the Americans, Howe had some british ships take his troops and land them just north of Pell's Point.
On October 18, looking out over Eastchester Bay early that day, Glover noticed that the British ships had come in during the night. He sent a 41-man detachment to move forward and delay the British advance. Meanwhile, Glover formed up the remainder of his brigade to bar the road that was along the expected British route. The delaying detachment met the British and exchanged fire with them before falling back to Glover's position.
Part of the American force on the left side of the road let the British to get within 100 feet of them before rising from behind a stone wall and opening fire. The British were driven back, taking about 1 1/2 hours to reform and organize an attack supported by 7 guns. The previous American position fired 7 volleys before withdrawing to the next regiment's position. When the British advanced to the new position, the Americans was able to fire 17 volleys into the British line. This caused the British to make several attacks before they could advance again. The American position was forced to withdraw to a new position which the British did not attack. Both sides fired cannades at each other until dark, when Glover withdrew his force back another 3 miles to Dobb's Ferry. There, he set up camp for the night.
This battle enabled Washington, with the main American army, to withdraw safely from Harlem Heights to White Plains.
These primarily Massachusetts regiments were as follows (on October 5) Col. John Glover, of Marblehead, MA, was in command:
4 Hessian Regiments (Von Stirn's Brigade): 3,000 men
Total: more than 4,000 men and 6 cannon
According to a letter (titled "A Letter from Camp at Miles Square in East Chester, 23rd Octo. 1776.") published in the Freeman's Journal, the New Hampshire Gazette:
"Friday morning last, we were alarmed by the drums beating to arms, and the enemy landed at Rodman's point (a place about 4 miles from our encampment) with their whole force; the brigade under the command of Col. Glover consisting of about 700 men, on regiment being absent for guard. We marched down towards the place where the enemy were advancing, with a body of 16,000, with a very large artillery." and the enemy landed at Rodman's Point (a place about four miles from our encampment)."
His analysis of the British strength seems to be a bit inflated, however definite numbers are unknown. As soon as Glover found out of the British landing, he sent forward a Captain (either Peters, Pond, or Warren of Read's 13th Continental Regiment) and his company of 40 men to the stop the British advance. This prompt action on Glover's part gave him time to carefully position his force. According to the journal of Ezra Stiles ( later president of Yale College and a member of the 14th Continental Regiment),
"Three regiments were ordered to pass a causeway (the only passage) and march to oppose them, and our regiment (Glover's) with three pieces of artillery, was posted on an eminence overlooking the causeway, to secure a retreat for the other and prevent the enemy from advancing."
These three regiments proceeded East to lay an ambush along the Split Rock Road, the only road leading inland from the British landing site. Then Glover rode forward to join the skirmishers at "Glover's Rock" where they had fired upon an advance party close to their own size. Glover ordered them to push forward and traded five volleys before British reinforcements arrived. At which time Glover ordered them to fall back, which in his own words "was masterly well done."
Advancing British troops then gave a cheer and advanced confident of an easy victory. But positioned behind the walls lining the Split Rock Road were the three Regiments Glover had so carefully positioned in a leap frog pattern on both sides of the road. The first, Read's 13th Continental Regiment, rose from beind the left side of the wall and at a range of thirty yards sent a powerful volley into the unexpecting British column. When the smoke cleared they witnessed considerable casualties on the British side and the remaining troops falling back toward the main body. An hour and a half later the British column moved forward in full strength, with artillery covering their advance. At fifty yards Read's men again opened fire and for twenty minutes traded rounds with the superior British force. Finally, the order to retreat was given and they marched behind Shepard's 3rd Continental Regiment. After the British advanced again they met the Shepard's regiment, who from behind a double stone wall, fired by "grand divisions" and exchanged 17 volleys with the British. They were forced to retreat several times until the order for both regiments fall back was given. By this time it was late afternoon and the British force halted and exchanged cannon fire with Glover's artillery until dark. After darkness fell, Glover formed up his regiments and marched 3 miles to Dobb's Ferry and from their rejoined the Continental army. American casualties numbered 8 men killed (including Col. Shepard) and 13 wounded. British casualty figures do not seem to exist but an entry in Sir Henry Clinton's journal shows that it was certainly very costly. Because of the stalling action of Col. Glover and his regiments, the British advances was halted for several days which allowed Washington and his army to escape. Glover's creativity and determination held back the British advance and saved the army to fight another day. This would not be the last time that Glover and his Marblehead sailors and fishermen would save the Continental army, later evacuating the army from Long Island, and rowing Washington's troops across the Delaware River to enable the surprise attack at Trenton. The main significance of the Battle of Pelham lay in the fact that it bought time for Washington to remove the American army from an extremely perilous position and to retreat to White Plains. It is for this reason that the Battle of Pelham has been called the battle that saved the American Revolution even though it is considered a victory by the British.