height that rises a mile or so to the south of Newark, Delaware, is
called Iron Hill, because it is rich in hematite ore. But about the
time of General William Howe's advance to the Brandywine River it
might well have won its name because of the panoply of war -- the
sullen guns, the flashing swords, and glistening bayonets -- that
appeared among the British tents pitched on it.
After the red-coats had established camp
here the American outposts were advanced and one of the pickets was
stationed at Welsh Tract Church. On his first tour of duty the sentry
was thrown into great alarm by the appearance of a figure robed from
head to foot in white, that rode a horse at a charging gait within ten
feet of his face. When the guard was relieved the soldier begged that
he might never be assigned to that post again. His nerves were strong
in the presence of an enemy in the flesh -- but an enemy out of the
grave! Ugh! He would desert rather than encounter that shape again.
His request was granted.
The sentry who succeeded him was startled, in the small hours, by a
rush of hoofs and the flash of a pallid form. He fired at it, and
thought that he heard the sound of a mocking laugh come back.
night the phantom horseman made his rounds, and several times the
sentinels shot at him without effect, the white horse and white rider
showing no annoyance at these assaults.
When it came the turn of a skeptical and
unimaginative old corporal to take the night detail, he took the
liberty of assuming the responsibilities of this post himself. He
looked well to the priming of his musket, and at midnight withdrew out
of the moonshine and waited, with his gun resting on a fence. It was
not long before the beat of hoofs was heard approaching, and in spite
of himself, the corporal felt a thrill along his spine as a mounted
figure that might have represented Death on the pale horse came into
view; but he jammed his hat down, set his teeth, and sighted his
flint-lock with deliberation.
The rider was near, when bang went the
corporal's musket, and a white form was lying in the road, a horse
speeding into the distance. Scrambling over the fence, the corporal,
reassured, ran to the form and turned it over: a British scout, quite
dead. The daring fellow, relying on the superstitious fears of the
rustics in his front, had made a nightly ride as a ghost, in order to
keep the American outposts from advancing, and also to guess, from
elevated points, at the strength and disposition of their troops. He
wore a cuirass of steel, but that did not protect his brain from the
Compiled & editied by
of America, updated June, 2016.