A Sense of History: Burn, Building, Burn!
by Cortland P. Auser
Only with the most disciplined concentration, can you associate or relate war, killing, and violence with the serenity of a peaceful country hamlet in the fullness of early summer.
Setting: Crompond Church
Characters: Samuel Drake, Henry Strang, and the members of the American militia of Cortlandt Manor.
Date: June 24, 1779. Breakfast.
Meanwhile, north of White Plains: if your name was either since or Tarleton, you would be a British officer, commanding a light horse troop whose mission was to seek out and destroy partisan strongholds north of Croton. These rebel centers were bases for raids into British-held land in Southern Westchester.
1779. Gone were the days of neat orderly ranks marching into battle as if on dress parade. These were New World tactics, modeled after Indian methods of self-preservation-guerilla methods of silent, surprising, and swift attack upon an unsuspecting enemy.
The Crompond Presbyterian Church and Parsonage had served as headquarters for local rebel partisans. The church was in an advantageous spot, for it was situated on the only road from Peekskill (many times the main American Army Headquarters) and New England.
Directed to the Church by a local Tory sympathizer, the British light horse units swooped down upon the militia at breakfast time. They seized prisoners and set the church and parsonage on fire. Those not taken prisoner escaped to the woods. The entire action antedated by two years a similar raid against Davenport House. The foray was like that which was to occur far in the future from that events - in the second Civil War - Colonel Mosby's raid on Falls Church, Virginia.
Thinking about the raid on Crompond Church, you might visit the place. Wiping from your sight any split-levels or other modern buildings, you would see yourself in a small hamlet at the junction of two dirt roads. Choose a morning hour early after the sun has risen. Forget the whine of motors, and listen for the onrushing sound of hoof beats and the shouts of men headed in your direction hell bent for leather.
Sense then your reaction-the dismay, for you have been caught eating, perhaps with a musket handy, perhaps not. Your neighbors are running back and forth, there is struggling, had to hand fighting, face to face confrontations-the violence-the running. No romantic, pretty picture this.
If you were inside the boots of Henry Strang or Samuel Drake you would see friends seized rudely by the British and escorted off ass prisoners. Some few of your friends would lie dead on the church ground. Your church in flames, the smell acrid with the shift in the wind. In all the confusion you may even have noticed one British trooper taking off after a small young black lad.
The following day: silence, burned timbers, burials.
190 years later: 1969. A serene structure standing at asphalted crossroads in the fullness of an early summer. Beyond Yorktown hills, another world. But different?
Ten years more? 1979. A sense of history forces the choice: celebration for spectacle, or commemoration for committed renewal of spirit?
Source: The Yorktowner, Vol. 3 No. 35, June 26, 1969
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