Monday, August 31, 2009

The Battle Of Brooklyn -- Part Three

A view from Manhattan of present-day Brooklyn Heights

The Battle of Brooklyn -- Part One link -- Part Two link
All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them

The Battle Of Brooklyn was the largest battle ever fought in North America up to that point in history, and it ended in a crushing defeat for the American Continental Army. Outnumbered and overwhelmed by the better equipped, more professional British and mercenary Hessian forces, the Americans suffered great casualties, and many soldiers and patriot civilians were taken, prisoner. The remaining 9,000 Continental Army forces in Brooklyn were congregated within a three-mile area in northern Brooklyn near the East River in the neighborhood known as Brooklyn Heights. They faced certain annihilation after the battle that took place at The Old Stone House (see part two) except for the fact that torrential rains began to fall, along with high winds and lightning, which prevented further fighting. British General Howe decided to have his troops dig trenches and hold fast, and they began hauling 25-pound cannons up the roads to get ready for the next siege.
Fortuitously, the stormy weather also prevented the British fleet from sailing up the East River, because almost the entire American army could have then been surrounded and destroyed. It would very likely have been the end of the American Revolution.

A house located on present-day Pierpont Street, Brooklyn Heights

For the next two days, America General George Washington and his army expected a British assault, and Washington even believed at first, after witnessing the bravery of the Maryland 400 at the Old Stone House that his troops could hold back the British, but the weather continued to deteriorate in what was probably a Nor'Easter storm and it became evident he was in danger of being cut off entirely from Manhattan and the rest of his troops. On August 29th Washington meets in a house in Brooklyn Heights with his subordinates, and after receiving their grim reports of hungry, wet and demoralized troops, and the continued progress the British were making on advancing their cannons, Washington decided to make the momentous decision to retreat from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

General Washington sent out an order that every flat bottomed boat or sloop, any watercraft at all, be rounded up without delay. About 9 PM in the evening the American troops with the least experience, along with the sick and wounded, were sent to Brooklyn Ferry landing under the pretext that they were being relieved by other troops. Washington wanted the entire retreat to be as secret as possible and did not even inform some of his officers.

To move such a large body of troops, with all their equipment across a river a full mile wide with a rapid current during a storm, appeared a formidable task. At eleven o'clock, however, the northeast wind died down, and a small armada of boats manned by Colonel John Glover's Massachusetts troops, which consisted of seasoned sailors and fishermen, started to ferry the rest of the troops silently as possible in the dark of night across the river.

Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn, New York--the point where George Washington and the troops crossed the east River--click to enlarge

It was a tremendous feat, manning the oars, moving troops and horses and cannons for hours upon hours. The troops were kept silent and they were even instructed not to cough! Holding the line for the Americans was Brigadier General Thomas Mifflin and the Pennsylvania brigade. They kept the campfires burning and created a stir to keep the British Army from discovering that the American troops were slowly retreating across the river throughout the night.

The Brooklyn Bridge now spans the East River, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan

As morning approached, there were still many troops waiting to be brought across the river, and without the cover of night, the chance was that the retreat would soon be discovered by the British. Incredibly, just before daybreak, a heavy fog settled over Brooklyn while over on the Manhattan side of the river there was no fog at all. At around 7AM all 9,000 troops had escaped across the river with General Washington on one of the last boats to leave. Not one life was lost, and only three men who secretively remained behind to loot were captured.

A commemorative marker at the Fulton Ferry site--click on to enlarge

A view of Brooklyn from Manhattan --enlarge the photo to see Fulton Landing located in front to the small white building near the right of the Brooklyn Bridge

The British realized on the morning of August 30 that, to their astonishment, while they slept the entire American Continental Army had retreated across the river. With the British again in pursuit, Washington moved his headquarters to Washington Heights in Manhattan, and after the Battle of Harlem Heights in September and the fall of Fort Washington in Washington Heights on Nov. 15, all of what is now New York City was in British hands and remained so for the rest of the war.

The story does not end here. Thousands of troops and civilian patriots had been taken prisoner during The Battle Of Brooklyn, and in other battles, in Manhattan, and in my next blog post I will tell you what happened to them and show you their poignant memorial, called The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument--click here to see that post.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Battle of Brooklyn - Part Two

A view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights

Read Part One at this link

Please note: all photos enlarge when clicked on.

In the days preceding the Battle of Brooklyn, General George Washington was shifting the Continental Army troops from what is now the borough of Manhattan to the Brooklyn Heights area of Brooklyn. He kept many of the best units in Manhattan, as he expected the British to sail down the Hudson River and attack there. Washington was also misinformed about the size of the British and Hessian troops that came ashore in Brooklyn, believing the number to be much less than it was. Little did he know that the British had over 20,000 troops moving steadily towards Brooklyn Heights, flanking his troops from both the east and west and the south sections of Brooklyn, which would effectively corner the Continental Army and force a surrender.

An actual Revolutionary War cannon at The Lefferts House Museum

While the southern end of Brooklyn was bucolic farms in 1776, the middle section was covered in large areas by dense woods, similar to the above photo taken in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The Continental soldiers cut down many trees to block the roads so that the enemies cannon would not be able to pass through easily, and branches from the trees were meshed together and used as fortifications in the trenches.

The Dongan Oak Monument-click on to enlarge

At an area called Battle Pass, the Americans had chopped down a well known large oak tree called The Dongan Oak Tree to block the Flatbush Road where it went through the pass, to try to impede the advance of the British Army. The monument above recalls that feat.

A view of the area around Battle Pass in Prospect Park, which probably still appears very much like it did 233 years ago.

A commemorative marker at Battle Pass, Prospect Park-click on to enlarge

As British and Hessian soldiers approached from the south, the Americans fought in vain to hold them back at Battle Pass. Outnumbered, many Americans found themselves surrounded in the woods by rings of Hessian troops who closed in for the kill with bayonets. Some Americans were able to fight their way past the British and the fleeing patriots headed back toward the American lines on Brooklyn Heights or joined the Maryland 400 at the Old Stone House.

Another commemorative marker describing the battle at Battle Pass, Prospect Park--click on to enlarge

A Heritage Trail placard describing the battle at Battle Hill in Brooklyn, New York's Green-Wood Cemetery--click on to enlarge

A view from Battle Hill of Brooklyn, and the Manhattan skyline in the distance 

American riflemen had taken up a position on Battle Hill, in what is now Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, and from the highest point in that area, they used their rifles to good advantage against the British officers.

Battle Hill's Minerva and The Altar Of Liberty Monument in Green-Wood Cemetery

The Minerva Monument has stood atop Battle Hill, arm raised, saluting the Statue of Liberty across the harbor for 85 years. The gift of the Irish-American businessman, Charles M. Higgins, the monument was dedicated on August 27, 1920.

A plaque at the base of the monument reads as follows:

The Place Whereon Thou Standest is Holy Ground”
Glory to the Memory of Our First National Heroes Who Fought and Fell on this Battle Ground to Win Our Liberty and Independence! Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom, Glory, and Patriotism, Here Salutes The Goddess of Liberty and Enwreathes This Altar in Tribute to the Heroes of American Liberty and to the Wisdom of American Institutions."

Another dedication on the Altar To Liberty monument in Green-Wood Cemetery--click in to enlarge

The British lost over 60 officers and men in the attacks at Battle Pass and Battle Hill, as the Americans valiantly kept the invaders at bay for most of the morning until they were finally overwhelmed.

The Old Stone House in J.J. Byrne Park, Brooklyn, NY

The Maryland division of the Continental Army, under command by General William Alexander, waged a crucial battle at the Vechte house, now known as the Old Stone House. (The old Dutch house that stands today has been reconstructed from the original stones of the Vechte House)

Diorama inside the Old Stone House depicting the battle between the British and the Maryland 400

This Old Stone House model shows how the American fired on the British from a cannon placed on the second floor. The Americans were driven from the house several times but charged again to retake it. Within a few hours of the start of the attack, they were surrounded by the major portion of the British and Hessian troops. Sensing the potential to lose a good portion of his army, General George Washington ordered a retreat back to Brooklyn Heights. To cover the retreat, the men of the Maryland line, Pennsylvania line, and the Delaware line were left behind to provide cover for the only escape was to pass an old house and across a creek, which is now known as the Gowanus Canal.

A view of the Gowanus Canal

The Old Stone House has become an informational museum for the Battle Of Brooklyn.

The Heritage Trail placard about the Maryland 400's Brave Feat located at Michael A. Rawley American Legion Post 1636--click on to enlarge

Information from the Maryland 400 web site:

"The Colonial Army, numbering less than 13,000, were matched against 34,000 British forces. Within a few hours of the start of the attack, they were surrounded. Sensing the potential to lose a good portion of his army, General George Washington ordered a retreat. To cover the retreat, the men of the Maryland line, Pennsylvania line, and the Delaware line were left behind to provide cover for the only escape was pass an old house and across a creek.

Eventually, the Delaware and Pennsylvania lines gave way and they were ordered to retreat, leaving six Maryland companies, totaling about 400 men, who were ordered to take the old house where British cannons were killing retreating colonists.

The Marylanders attacked five times, losing more men with each attempt. General Washington said to Gen. Israel Putnam, ‘‘Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose,” as he watched the Marylanders being slaughtered.

As the Marylanders continued to charge and the killing continued, In the sixth attempt, the remnants of the 400 successfully took the house and stopped the carnage. With only two pieces of artillery, they silenced the six British cannons and for a brief time, the killing was stopped. Eventually, the Maryland 400 were overwhelmed and ordered to join in the retreat. After the order for retreat, the Maryland 400 spiked their cannons and crossed the creek to safety.

By the end of the battle, 256 of the Maryland 400 lay dead. More than 100 were wounded or captured. Because of their heroic performance, the Maryland Line would become known as the "Old Line", and that is where Maryland earned the nickname 'The Old Line State'."

Michael A. Rawley American Legion Post 1636

There has been a longstanding mystery surrounding the remains of the Maryland 400 who perished that day. They are thought buried in a mass shallow grave by the British, on what was then marshy land on the farm of Adrian Van Brunt, now containing 19th-century brownstones, businesses, and apartment buildings.

Unfortunately, their gravesite was never found and an old plaque honoring them was placed above the Michael A. Rawley American Legion Post 1636 a block away from where it was originally located.

The Maryland Monument on Lookout Hill, Prospect Park

Information from Wikipedia:

"Thomas Field, who wrote of the Battle of Long Island in 1869, called the stand of the Marylanders an hour more precious to liberty than any other in history. And well it might be! These brave Marylanders stood as the final anchor of the crumbled American front line, and their heroic action not only saved many of their fellows but afforded Washington critical respite to regroup and withdraw his battered troops to Manhattan and continue the struggle for independence."

The monument was donated by the Maryland Society, Sons of the American Revolution. The column was designed by noted architect Stanford White and the dedication ceremony was held on August 27, 1895.

Unfortunately, the monument is in a secluded area of Prospect Park, and is under constant threat from vandalism, as you can see in the photos of the base. The inscription has been partially worn away by cleaning off the graffiti markings.

I could not help but feel in awe by the bravery of those young men who sacrificed their lives to hold off the advance of the British army that day, to allow the bulk of the troops to retreat to safety. If it were not for their valiant action a large portion of the American Continental troops, and General George Washington, would have been pursued and probably forced to surrender that very day. I was also saddened to think that they have received so little recognition as heroes in the annuals of history, perhaps because they died in a battle that was a concise defeat. It is very sad that the actual location of their mass grave has been lost in time.

At this point in the battle, the British General Howe decided to hold fast and regroup. The weather was bad and a storm was approaching. His men were tired, and they had many wounded and also many prisoners to detain. They camped to rest and prepare for the next siege.

In my "Part Three" blog post I will describe The Continental Army's daring escape from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan, one of General George Washington's most daring feats!

On the day of the battle, Aug. 27, 1776, General Israel Putnam was in overall command of the 10,000 American troops in Brooklyn. General John Sullivan was in command of the advanced position with 3,500 men on the low hills. Gen. William Alexander, who preferred the title Lord Stirling, was in charge of the troops along the Gowanus Road near the Harbor. Unfortunately for the Americans, there were only tiny units at the passes to the east, especially on the Jamaica pass near the present-day East New York/New Lots neighborhoods, and they were soon entirely overtaken by the British troops.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Battle Of Brooklyn -- Part One

Did you know that the first official battle for independence of the United States of America, after the Declaration of Independence was read on July 4, 1776, was fought on August 27, 1776, in what is now called "The Battle Of Brooklyn"? General George Washington's Continental Army fought against tens of thousands of British and mercenary Hessian soldiers in what is now the borough of Brooklyn, in the city of New York. This is not New York history, it is the history of our young nation, and the story of fearless leadership, extreme bravery, and ultimate sacrifice. It was the largest battle of the war in terms of both troops and causalities, and it almost ended America's Independence before it truly began.

As a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, NY, I had become totally mesmerized by reading the book "The Battle of Brooklyn 1776" by John J. Gallagher, this summer. I knew many of the locations he wrote about, some were literally in my own backyard, yet I never heard about this pivotal battle of the American Revolution. After finishing the book, I went out many weekends to seek out the locations of the battle to take photographs of what they look like presently, and I couldn't help but imagine how they looked then. I'd like to take you along in the next few blog posts, in honor of the 233 anniversary of the battle, so you can see where this battle took place and learn about a special group of soldiers who are the unsung heroes of the American Revolution.

Please note: all photos can be enlarged to see more detail by clicking on them

A replica Continental soldier's uniform located at The Old Stone House exhibit

In 1776, the United Kingdom's King George III was angry about British forces being made to evacuate Boston after skirmishes there and declared to English Parliament that the American rebellion would be crushed with the full force of the British Army, along with the help of German mercenaries called Hessian's. New York City was an important center of the then 13 original colonies, with its well-developed harbor necessary for commerce, and it was also well populated. Therefore, the focus of the first attack on the United States would be to take control of New York, where Washington had brought the major portion of the Continental Army in order to protect it. Control of the shores of northern Brooklyn was important to the British to prevent their ships from being bombarded with cannon fire from that location as they sailed into the Hudson and East rivers, so they began the battle there.

In June, a British fleet of 130 ships and an army of 9000 arrives in New York Harbor from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with their commander General Howe. In July, his brother Admiral Howe arrives with more British forces, more than 13,000 soldiers and sailors and 150 ships, and soon the largest fleet in history, larger than the Spanish Armada, is anchored off Staten Island in an area of the bay known as "The Narrows."

The Narrows is located between the island of Staten Island and the westernmost portion of Long Island, which is Brooklyn. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge now stands over the narrows, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island. In 1776, this area became so dense with British ships that it was described as "a forest of masts," and a Continental soldier from the Maryland brigade wrote: "... I thought all of London was afloat."

The British ships used the spire from the old New Utrecht (Dutch) Reformed Church as a landmark as they sailed into the narrows. In the 1700s this was a Dutch town called New Utrecht, and the church stood next to the Old New Utrecht Cemetery, on the corner of 84th Street and 16th Avenue. The new church is now located at 1831 84th St, two avenues away, and was rebuilt in 1828 using the same stones as the old church.

An interesting fact about this church is that it has a 106-foot pole in front. The Friends of Historic New Utrecht web site states:

"This Liberty Pole marks the spot over which the American flag first waved in the town of New Utrecht. The original pole was erected by our forefathers at the Evacuation of the British, November 1783, amid the firing of cannons and demonstration of joy." 

Heritage Trail placard at the New Utrecht Reformed Church's grounds-click on to enlarge

On Aug. 22, the British were ready to move across the narrows. Six ships fired their guns as flatboats and longboats carried over 20,000 British soldiers to the Brooklyn shore near what is now the site of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The 200 Pennsylvania riflemen who had been sent to protect the area were no match for the British army and quickly retreated. The British and Hessian troops marched past the old site of the New Utrecht church on their way towards the interior of Brooklyn where they occupied farmhouses (to see these farmhouses which survive to this day click on these links: The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, The Lott House, and The Wyckoff Bennett Mont House and set up camps in await for the attack. The New Utrecht church was also used by the British as a hospital during the war.

If you click on to enlarge the diagram above from the NY Heritage Trail you can see the location of the key sites of the Battle Of Brooklyn, including the farmhouses the British and Hessian officers occupied.

General Howe divides his army, moving a small force of 5000 men under General Grant along the shore of New York Harbor, and the larger force under General Cornwallis inland to some of the small communities in central Brooklyn. Skirmishes break out as small companies of Americans attack the British flanks. The British army continued to move further east into Brooklyn, into the towns of Gravesend, and Flatbush and Flatlands.

Heritage Trail placard at Gravesend cemetery-click on to enlarge

At that time these towns were mainly rural farmlands, and many of the farmers lost their crops, livestock, and even their houses to both the fleeing rebels who did not want the enemy to use them and then to the British and Hessian Armies who confiscated any supplies that they could find. Most of the townspeople had sent their women and children as far east onto Long Island as they could for protection.

The Flatlands Reformed Church shares the distinction of being the oldest church in Brooklyn with Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope and the Flatbush Reformed Church on Flatbush and Church Avenues. The congregation has worshipped in three separate church buildings all on the same site, and this was built in 1848. 

An interesting fact about this church is its bell:

"The church bell represents an important historical artifact for the congregation. It weighs in excess of 450 lbs. and in 1794 replaced an earlier smaller bell that had been brought from the Netherlands. This bell has run marked the death of every American President since George Washington. It rang to mark the singing of various peace treaties and the close of every war the nation fought following the Revolutionary War."

The Flatlands Reformed Church is located on Kings Highway between Flatbush Ave. and E. 40th Street. The photo above shows the street opposite the church grounds. Kings Highway is a major street that runs both east and west through a large portion of southern Brooklyn and was a road used in the Revolutionary War.  Kings Highway at this point was the road along which Lord Cornwallis marched his troops on the night of August 26, 1776, to outflank the Americans at the Battle of Long Island.
Enlarge the marker below, that is located on the church grounds, which describes the importance of the street.

Please click on to enlarge

The stage is set, and now the British are ready to advance upon the Continental Army who has troops stationed in Northern Brooklyn. If you look at the map below you can see the positions of the Continental Army in blue, and the British and Hessian Army in red upon the streets of the present-day map of Brooklyn. The British and Hessian troops were effectively in the process of surrounding The American troops.

A map of battle locations that is located in The Old Stone House--click on to enlarge

In my next "Part Two" blog post I will show the major battle areas of The Battle Of Brooklyn and describe the very brave efforts of "The Maryland 400" who are among the bravest men our country has ever known.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

I Must Kvetch!

kvetch definition:
kvetch (kÉ™ vec̸h′)
intransitive verb
to be urgent or insistent; press; strain
to complain in a nagging or whining way
Etymology: <>

I interrupt my usual happy, hopefully informational, blog posts today because I feel a need, as we say in Brooklyn, New York, to "kvetch."

Instead of enjoying these last beautiful, albeit hot and humid days of summer outside, or doing my usual activity of enjoying visits to everyone's blogs and responding to your comments, I have been held captive by one of the local Brooklyn cable companies at my daughter's apartment for the past two days and a half!

I will not name names, but we have three possible cable providers in the NYC area, and two of them have given my poor daughter nothing but heartache and trouble for the last two weeks, I'll let you guess which ones they are. I am beginning to feel like they are all the same.

This saga began when my daughter had trouble for over a week connecting to the Internet via her cable modem. After repeated calls to cable provider # 1 they finally told her they must come out and check the problem where she lives. She scheduled an appointment, took a precious day off from work, and waited and waited, and waited.

No one showed up.

Angry, she called the company and complained, and they assured her she would be first on the list the next day. Instead, she arranged for them to come in the late afternoon, as she would work a half day and come home early.

No one showed up.

Angry and upset, she called and canceled her service with company # 1 all together.
Next, she called cable company # 2. "No problem!" they told her! "We are happy to have you as a new customer!" Can we give you the moon and the stars and, hey, we'll throw in a few constellations, they told her! ( of course at this point I am being facetious )
Since my daughter did not have anymore time to take off, I volunteered to wait at her apartment for her appointment to have this wonderful, promising cable company arrive and connect her to their modem. I waited and waited and waited.

No one showed up.

I called, she called, my husband called, all through the day complaining that no one showed up. "Oh! We are so sorry!" they said. "Our technician ran into a few problems and is running late, but don't worry -- he will show up! Please be patient!" So I waited and waited and waited. My husband came home from work. My daughter came home from work. It was 8 PM

No cable installer showed up.

Oh! But he did call her! Yes -- the cable modem installer called her to tell her that now it was too late to come, and it was dark, and he couldn't work in the dark anyway, so why didn't she call and reschedule her appointment? My daughter refused. "No!", she said, "I will not let you off the hook. You made us wait 8 hours. I want my modem installed now! If I showed up eight hours late for my job I would be fired," she told him. He told her she was unreasonable and hung up.

Customer service at cable #2 was so apologetic when they were called with our complaints! "We are so sorry," they said, "we will schedule you first thing in the morning, from 8 AM until 11 AM. So, at 7:30 AM this morning I went over to my daughter's apartment, which is on the other side of Brooklyn from where I live, and I wait and wait and wait.

No one shows up.

I call the dispatch number to see what has happened now, what possible excuse they can give me, and they tell me they have no record of a work order for this address! Now my blood pressure is boiling! They assure me that they will send someone in the next four hours. "Please be patient," they said.

No one showed up.

Unfortunately, my daughter can not try cable provider # 3, as they don't serve her area. We are stuck in this horrible cycle of waiting for someone to show up and do their job. In this day and age of recession and lay offs I would have thought that everyone was concerned about keeping their job, and to that end would be working at top performance. I guess not.

So I wait and I wait and I wait.

If you are still here, thank you for listening, and if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them!
Update 8/25/09 My daughter finally has her cable! It didn't end, however, without one more headache, because her friend came over to wait for the cable man today, and in the process got a parking ticket because she forgot it was alternate side parking. YIKES!