Friday, June 29, 2012

The long neglected battles of Brooklyn, Long Island, and Harlem Heights in the American Revolution.

When we think of the American Revolution there are certain things that come to mind. Certain places that ring out and have rung out for centuries now. Names that come to us are the battles of Concord, or Lexington, and let us not forget Valley Forge.
But to be honest Concord and Lexington were skirmishes. Important yes indeed, but not battles. In our current time several places have worked hard to foster their history and make it a cottage industry. So today when you go to Boston you have the Freedom Trail and everyone is gently nudged into thinking that much of the American Revolution was fought there. It began there yes, but not fought there long.

 The prize the British wanted was New York City and it would be there that the greatest, largest, and for many reasons the most important battles would be fought there in the area of New York City.

George Washington was the commander of the troops in NYC. It was not a large army, nor well trained. But it was all the Colonies had. Since money was in short supply they were not well paid either. It would be their task to defend NYC from the greatest navy and army in the world. Now. if you think of this you understand that this was a near impossible job to do.  I am not going to go into great detail about this as it is massive in scale. I would like to wet your appetite and have you study more on this.

The first major problem was that NYC was a loyalist city. This meaning they favored the crown. All of Washington's activities were carefully watched and letters were streaming to England alerting them to his actions.

By early 1776 the largest armada of fighting and transport ships ever sent by England (till D-Day) was sent to surround NYC. Hundreds of ships were soon all around the Island. This was under the command of Admiral Howe, the land forces that were transported which would number more than 30.000 would be under the command of General Howe....Yes they were brothers.

The first major battle there was on long Island, often called the battle of Brooklyn. In that battle Washington's army was surrounded and smashed. Through a chance fog and bad weather that night Washington and his troops were able to sail across the East River into Manhattan, undetected by the British.

The next morning General Howe was ready to finish Washington's troops up, but he was surprised to find that Washington's entire army was across the river. This would take some time to make a move and this gave Washington a chance to escape.
 However at the time Washington was not aware of Howe's actions and through the great efforts of two people Washington's army and for all intents the American Revolution would be saved. The first was Aaron Burr who was the one who got the ball rolling in getting the soldiers out of lower Manhattan. You see if Washington had stayed in lower Manhattan he would have been completely defeated. As the shore of the Island was surrounded with hundreds of ships. If the British Army just came across and worked their way down Manhattan, it would have been all over.

What amazes me is there is no statue of Burr in Manhattan?  For he is truly one of the great heroes of this event.

The other person who comes to Washington's aid is a very unique one. A certain Mrs. Murray who was able to get the attentions of General Howe. He was a notorious womanizer and she would keep him occupied for a few hours!  This allowed Burr and Washington and the many troops to escape.  You see if they had been defeated there or captured it would have been the end of the entire revolution!

Mrs. Murray is honored in NYC today. A section of the city is named for her. It is called Murray Hill.

Washington headed  up to Harlem Heights in NYC and then came the next and last battle in New York. It was a standoff but allowed Washington and his troops to leave the island.
They lost NYC, but had their army still and would fight another day.

Now Washington's ability to survive this was the first sign that maybe there was a chance it could be done. As it was well known that they could never defeat the British, but if they could last long enough to just
make the British tired of it all they could win. By doing this and surviving it was perhaps the greatest battle of the war. By surviving and having others like Benedict Arnold,  who were more successful than Washington winning in other areas would finally get the French to come to our aid and allow us to gain our independence from the British Crown.
Sadly you will not see anyone marching around in revolutionary dress in NYC, but that does not mean it didn't happen there. They just never created a cottage industry to support it.

So the next time everyone talks about the great battles in Boston, Philadelphia, and Virginia. Remind them that the largest battle of the American Revolution took place in New York City. Surprising huh?