A Sense of History: L'Encampement au Cromponde, 1782
by Cortland P. Auser
The multi-colored heights of this town saw in the fall of that years the return of Rochambeau's legions from the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia. The Count's decision to encamp here for nearly one month cannot be explained simply on the basis of military expediency or strategy. Would we be wrong in conjecturing that the beauty of the place attracted him? In any case, his decision has named-marked the land and its dwellings.
We must recall that there were indeed military reasons. The war was nearly over after Cornwallis' defeat in Virginia, but the British Army had not evacuated New York City, the chief port outside of Boston. Would the British continue the Colonial War?
If the war in New York were to continue, then American an dallied troops would have to be in a favorable location to act. They needed a place in readiness to attack. What better place than to await word in a site north of the Croton and south of the Highlands. Crompond the town was astride the east-west, north-south line of communications - in this sector known as Crompond Road - for it linked with roads to New England and to Peekskill, the ferry, and then ways to the Middle States. If the British were to leave, then the French were under orders to return to their homeland. When the time of peace came, they could march north and east to Rhode Island.
The encampment in 1782 was unlike that in 1781. A year before , thee had been a one-night stay with units bivouacked "close in." Now in 1782, they were spread over the land - if we take the intersection of Baldwin Road and Crompond as a focus, units were located to the south along what is Baldwin Road and on what is "French Hill;" north and east on the hill back of what is now Hallocks Mill Road, and south and east on fields toward Cat Hill along what is now Hanover Street as it turns and climbs toward its intersection with Croton Heights Road.
The historical imagination would delight in envisioning the tends of the legions spread out over the fields and on the hill up which Ridge Road now climbs. There, for example, the Soissonais pitched camp. The appearance of the tents and the uniforms; the sounds of military bugle call, the shouts and the animated conversations in French must have started the local citizenry to some degree at least. After all the French contingent outnumbered the entire township's population of five to one.
Late September and part of October mark the anniversary of the sojourn of the French soldiery here. History. Folklore, nor legend mark no great event other than a generally tranquil stay. Recalling this time of a peaceful occupation of les francais contrasts with the anniversaries of so many other Yorktown Revolutionary War incidents marred by clashes, pillages, and killings.
Contemporary name-droppers hereabouts may in truth refer to their hometown as having once been the residence of French nobility. Should imaginative Yorktowners sight the Count's ghost walking these hills, noblesse oblige.
The Yorktowner, Vol. 4 No. 48, October 1, 1970
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