SAVE THE VISTA

COMMITTEE TO SAVE THE VISTA

c/o The Municipal Art Society, 457 Madison Avenue, New York, NY  10022

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BATTLE OF BROOKLYN

 

The British hope was to end the American Revolution in a battle in which they could bring to bear an overwhelming force and crush the fledgling Continental Army.  The largest and best-equipped expeditionary force the British had ever mounted, carried on board the largest armada North America had ever seen, was sent to invade New York.  In the geopolitical scheme of things, New York was the most important strategic position to occupy.  The British invasion of New York was led by the brothers General Sir William Howe and Admiral Lord Richard Howe.  The British force made its initial landing in Staten Island, which was used as the staging ground for the invasion, crossing to Brooklyn on August 22, 1776.  Washington was in Brooklyn on the 24th, examining the ground and the works.  When he returned to New York late that afternoon he gave the command in Brooklyn to General Israel Putnam. 

 

As the sun rose on August 27th, 1776, “17,000 of the best troops of Europe met 5,500 undisciplined men in the first pitched battle of the Revolution,” one observer commented.  The British forces executed a three-pronged battle plan, engaging the Americans on two fronts, while the largest of the three attacking corps composed of the most experienced units of the army and personally commanded by General Howe successfully flanked the American forces from the east.  The Americans in the hills of what would later become Prospect Park and along the Gowanus Road near Green-Wood Cemetery were trapped in a vise by the overwhelming combined forces of the British and Hessian soldiers intent on ending the American rebellion and rendering the Declaration of Independence meaningless. 

 

American General Lord William Alexander Stirling had been ordered by Putnam to “repulse” the enemy, and for lack of orders to the contrary, he and his men had held on for nearly four hours.  With great pride and no exaggeration, Colonel John Haslet would describe how his “Delawares” stood with “determined countenance,” in close array, their colors flying, the enemy’s artillery “playing” on them all the while.  But they had stayed too long.  At eleven o’clock Major General James Grant’s redcoats hit hard at the center of Stirling’s line, as thousands of Hessians struck from the woods to the left.  When Stirling at last pulled back, it was too late.  More British were coming at him from the rear, on the Gowanus Road, the line of retreat he had been counting on.  A full British division led by General Charles Earl Cornwallis now stood between him and Brooklyn.  The only escape route still open, he saw, was in the direction of Gowanus Bay, now on his left, across a tidal marsh and a creek, which at high tide was about eighty yards wide, and the tide was coming in rapidly.

 

Stirling ordered his men to “make the best of their way” through the marsh and across the creek.  Then, he in command of a contingent of Marylanders attacked the redcoats who had established their line on the Gowanus Road beside a stone farmhouse.  Their repeated attacks on Cornwallis’ position bought precious time for the majority of their comrades to retreat.  Washington, watching from a Brooklyn hill, is said to have cried out as he saw the Marylanders cut down time after time, “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose!” 

 

On the 28th of August, Washington’s officers reported that approximately 1,000 American soldiers were killed or captured.  The bodies of the dead lay in forest, swamps, and fields.  Many were buried where they fell.  Washington was prepared to defend Brooklyn but observers reported the English siege works coming closer to their own inner line.  After a council of war, Washington ordered the evacuation of Brooklyn.  A storm during the day of August 29, 1776 hid preparations.  That night under the command of Colonel John Glover, the American army was ferried to Manhattan in anything that could float by fishermen, many of whom were from Glover’s Massachusetts Marblehead Regiment.  Nature granted the retreating Americans the gift of a heavy fog that hid their movements.  Shortly after dawn on August 30th, Hessian patrols reached the Brooklyn ferry in time to see the last of between 9,000 and 11,000 American soldiers who had been moved across the mile-wide river in the space of one night.  General Washington left with the last boat. 1 2 4 5