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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Jenny said...

I think you need to get a job as a writer for the historical society. Or send them a link to your blog. Neat stuff! Have a happy week!

Anonymous said...

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black eyed susans kitchen said...

Pat, This really is a fascinating history lesson. I was waiting all weekend to catch up to your part 3...not kidding! The brick house in the die for. Just gorgeous...wouldn't you love to see what it looks like inside?
♥, Susan

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I've missed you, Pat! Still on blog break, but I wanted to check in with you and say, "Hello." Loved reading this and will backtrack and try to read the other posts.


Sheila :-)

Tracy said...

Part three...yes! I was eagerly awaiting more too, Pat! This history series of yours has been are the photos too--Thank you! Happy Day, my friend ((HUGS))

Beverly said...

Pat, this is another great post. I have so enjoyed this series.

It sounds like you are having a wonderful time. Give little Leo a hug from all of his blogging aunties.

GailO said...

This could be made into a movie...or maybe it has...I can see Martin Scorsese directing:)...Can't wait to see new pics of that adorable grandson!

Junie Moon said...

I cannot imagine the logistical problems inherent in transporting troops safely across the river. The ingeniousness of managing it is awesome.

Juliana said...

Wow, love the pictures and the writing about it! Learning about history is always so amazing...

jeanne said...

Hi Pat, I have so enjoyed the history lesson on the Battle of Brooklyn. Your posts are amazing. thank you.

I loved hearing from you about your vacation. I know you are enjoying the Grand Tetons. I will be jealous if you see a moose. We spent hours and days trying to spot one.

I know Leo is just darling at the crawling stage. I miss those days when our grands were so small and fun with each new phase. Now the stage is a lot about the teen years. They are just a joy at this age too.

Have a wonderful time on your vacation and have a safe trip home.

Hugs, Jeanne

Claudia said...

I never knew all of that. I am very moved. How could I grow up in NYC so ignorantly??? Lovely blog. Hope your vacation out west is wonderful.

steviewren said...

Washington earned the love of his men by the way he took care of them. This story of his moving the army to safety is just one of the things he did to secure their loyalty. Impressive.

Judy said...

So much history...and so good of you to share it with all of us. There's a story behind every old building...and bridge...and it's good to hear it.

It sounds like you are having a wonderful vacation...and a chance to cuddle with your grandson as well. Enjoy!

Vee said...

Hmmm, yes, that mysterious fog shows up a few times in history doesn't it? Are you home from Colorado? Perhaps just post dating. Very interestingly told, Pat. You've found your true calling with all things historical.

Anonymous said...

Oh my just a change in the weather and things could've been so different! It's a similar thing with the English channel- a lot of potential conquers of the UK were thwarted and had to stop in France.

Totally fascinating Pat.

Janie said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I think your photos ate beautiful...I Love having a LOVE of where you are! (I also live in NY, on LI and I Love NY)