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The Phantom Dragoon


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The 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 Howe's advance to the Brandywine 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 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.

Every 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
sceptical 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 corporal's bullet.

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