August 29, 1776 – The first battle in the Battle of New York, the Battle of Brooklyn, is underway. After a week of facing off against General Howe’s forces in Brooklyn, General Washington finds himself in Brooklyn Heights with his army. British and Hessian infantry, artillery and light horse surround him on three sides: South, East and North. To the West is the East River, a mile wide, with New York on the other side. It’s only a matter of time until General Howe makes an assault on Brooklyn Heights. Or, is it?
Both armies have been fighting in terrible conditions: extremely hot and rainy. Brooklyn’s farmers have burned their fields to prevent the British from gaining supplies. They have all marched through mud and mosquitoes for days, with unbearable humidity in wool uniforms carrying their equipment. Both sides are exhausted. General Howe, seeing an opportunity, arranges for the Navy (commanded by his older brother, Admiral Richard Howe) occupying NY Harbor to the South, to send a warship into the East River to block any attempted escape by Washington. He has his own men “bring up the guns”, aim their artillery into Brooklyn Heights. In this way they will hold Washington’s army under siege until they surrender. A fine plan. Until the wind changes direction.
The wind, now blowing to the South, opens up an opportunity for Washington to evacuate his men across the East River to New York. Colonel John Glover and his regiments from Marblehead, MA, all fishermen and sailors, take up the challenge. They waterproof their uniforms with tar, find everything that will float and when it is completely dark, using no lanterns, start to ferry everything to New York, as quietly as possible. Three regiments under the command of Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge stay on duty throughout the night facing Howe’s forces to make it look like it’s just another night in camp while the rest of the army makes its way across the East River. It proceeds throughout the night with Glover’s men rowing back and forth, against heavy winds and strong currents, moving the encampment bit by bit to New York.
Standing on the dock in New York is Reverend Shewkirk, who described the boats heading toward him. “…every manner of floatable vessel.” Carrying boxes of food, men, horses, canon, tents and munitions. Shewkirk says they piled everything up on the docks to dry and went back for more. It proceeded in an orderly fashion until dawn, when the regiments under Tallmadge’s command panicked, afraid they would be captured. But “…through God’s divine intervention, a thick fog covered the city…” enabling Washington to complete the retreat. They packed everything up and General Washington lead the army North to safety. When the fog lifted, the British were left alone in Brooklyn Heights.
In his memoirs of the Battle of Brooklyn, Benjamin Tallmadge tells us that he left his favorite horse behind in Brooklyn and after obtaining Washington’s permission went back to get him. Halfway back to New York on the barge, the enemy began firing at him but, he says, he was already too far for their shots to reach him.
Glover’s Regiments were the heroes of the day and went on to more heroic action in the Battle of Pell’s Point and, most famously, the Crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776. Most importantly for Washington, he lived to fight on. With The Battle of Brooklyn over, The Battle of New York continued at Kip’s Bay.
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