HALF MOON SERIES ^ ^
lEs ^^ :^ \
MAUD WILDER GOODWIN
ALICE CARRINQTON ROYCE
RUTH PUTNAM AND
EVA PALMER BROWNELL
. II.. No. 10. October, 1898. y OCT 1^,
ZTbe Battle of Ibatlem
MtlUam 1R. Sbepber^ pb.D.
Copyright, 1898, by
O. p. PUTNAM'S SONS
New York London
Ube ■Rnicftetboclec press, New Rochelle, N. Y.
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THE BATTLE OF HARLEM HEIGHTS
Half Moon Series
Published in the Interest of the New York
City History Club.
Volume II. Number X.
THE BATTLE OF HARLEM HEIGHTS.
By WILLIAM R. SHEPHERD, Ph.D.
ANY event in the Revolution that made a
distinct contribution to the estabhsh-
ment of independence has its share of in-
terest to the patriotic American ; but the
"affair" ' at Harlem Heights has a general im-
portance, colored with a local interest, which
specially merits our attention and admiration.
Its general importance is attested by the fact
that, coming as it did immediately after the
calamity on Long Island, it served as a prelude
to the brilliant exploits at Trenton and Prince-
ton ; while its local interest is clear, when we
remember that it was the only contest within
the limits of Greater New York that resulted
in a victory for the Americans. The battle of
Harlem Heights, therefore, has a peculiar
charm to the citizen of the metropolis. Gaz-
ing at the very ground on which it was fought,
as he traces from one landmark to another
Zbc Battle ot Ibarlem IbeiGbts
the course of the struggle, he may reflect
with honest pride that here, within the pre-
cincts of his own city, occurred what Wash-
ington was pleased to term a " success . . .
productive of salutary consequences," " — once
more a Concord and Lexington which "ani-
mated our troops, gave them new spirits,"
and enabled them "with inferior numbers to
drive their enemy, and think of nothing . . .
but conquest." '
In January, 1776, two months before the
British evacuated Boston, the question arose
whether an effort should be made to hold
New York. — probably their next objective
point of attack. Although apparent that the
insular position of New York with its belt of
navigable waters bore out the truth of Charles
Lee's assertion that whoever commanded the
sea must command the city,* still, if a Declara-
tion of Independence was to be issued and
its assertion of rights made good, the abandon-
ment of New York, merely on the plea of
difficulty in fortifying it, would have been a
serious mistake. Even if the city could not
be made impregnable, a brave show of resist-
ance might deter the British from atteinpt-
ing its capture, or at any rate "give them,"
says a blunt patriot, "a scrag which they
would not relish very well,"' before a capture
could be effected.
In order to confine the British water control
Ubc JBattlc ot Ibarlem Ibeigbts
to the harbor and the mouth of the Hudson
River, the East River — the key of the American
position — was fortified along both banks at
various points from the Battery to Hell Gate.
The water front on the south and west also
was protected by batteries on the shore and
barricades in the streets ; while to the north
of the city other fortifications were constructed
along the line of the present Grand Street, to
ward off an attack from that quarter. Then to
command the Hudson, as well as to cover a
possible retreat by way of Kingsbridge, Fort
Washington was built a little to the south-
west of the Washington Bridge, and connected
with Fort Lee on the New Jersey shore by a
series of stone-laden boats fastened with
chains, and sunk as an obstruction to the
enemy's ships. A few hundred feet north of
West One Hundred and Ninetieth Street, over-
looking the Harlem River, was erected a re-
doubt which the British later called Fort
George. On the mainland also, beyond Spuy-
ten Duyvil Creek, and on what is now Giles'
Place west of Sedgwick Avenue, Fort Inde-
pendence was constructed to hold the ap-
proaches to Kingsbridge.
England had regarded the campaign around
Boston as a mere preliminary indicative of
the resistance likely to be offered by the Ameri-
cans. Hence it is probable that the British
change of base from Boston to New York was
XTbe Battle ot Ibarlem t^cigbts
prompted as much by motives of strategy as
by the pressure of the American besiegers.
New York henceforth was to be the centre of
British operations, and here the war began in
earnest. Late in June, 1776, appeared the first
signs of the coming occupation. Within seven
weeks over four hundred vessels and thirty
thousand troops under the command of Gen-
eral Howe were in New York harbor, the lat-
ter being encamped on Staten Island. To
oppose this huge array — as mighty a military
and naval armament as England had ever sent
upon foreign service — Washington had less
than twenty thousand effective men. Some
of these were fairly armed and equipped, but
many of them, farmers fresh from the plough,
had hardly any other weapons than a spade
or pick-axe, or possibly a scythe made straight
and fastened to a pole. Undaunted however
by the overwhelming odds, on July 2, Wash-
ington addressed to his army the stirring ap-
peal that follows :
"The fate of unborn millions will now depend under God
on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and
unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance
or the most abject submission. This is all we can expect.
We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die. Our
country's honor calls upon us for a vigorous and manly
exertion, and if we now shamefully fail we shall become
infamous to the whole world. Let us, therefore, rely upon
the goodness of the cause and the aid of the Supreme Being,
in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to
Ube Battle ot Ibarlem ibeiabts
great and noble actions. The eyes of all our countrymen
are now upon us, and we shall have their blessings and
praises, if happily we are the instruments of saving them
from . tyranny."^
Not only does this appeal seem to have had
the desired effect upon the army in general,
but, in particular, "never did people in the
world act with more spirit and resolution than
the New Yorkers." ' A part of the enthusiasm
was manifested a week later in pulling down
the gilded equestrian statue of King George
near the junction of Broadway and Bowling
Green, and in sending the pieces to Connecti-
cut, where patriotic women converted them
into bullets for the American army.'
The personality of Washington and the
magnetic influence he exercised over his
soldiers were well known to General Howe.
If he could capture the rebel leader the war
would indeed be ended in the single cam-
paign which boastful British officers declared
was sufficient. A direct attack on the centre
and right of the American position — 7. e.,
Governor's Island, the Battery, and the fortifi-
cations facing the Hudson River — would prob-
ably be successful ; but, besides entailing
serious loss on the aggressive party, might
accomplish no more than the withdrawal of
the Americans to the heights in the north of
Manhattan Island, whence Kingsbridge furn-
ished an easy escape. Several schemes of
XLbc Battle of Ibarlem IT^eiobti
outflanking, therefore, suggested themselves
to Howe's mind, the most feasible being to
assail the American left wing, then stationed
on Long Island. The defences of Brooklyn
once broken through and the forts along the
shore silenced, the fleet could sail up the East
River and, in conjunction with the army, cut
off Washington's retreat on the north. The
haughty Virginian rebel, who declined to re-
ceive from his Majesty's commissioners any
communication addressed simply " George
Washington, Esq.,"* would then be caught
like a rat in a trap. Accordingly, on August
22, with fifteen thousand troops the British
commander crossed the Narrows to Graves-
end Bay, and took possession of the villages
on the flatlands where he was soon joined by
five thousand Hessians. For several days the
armies lay over against each other with no
more hostile demonstration than an occasional
skirmish. South of the American lines at
Brooklyn, and extending eastward from New
York Bay, was a low range of densely wooded
hills that served as a huge natural barrier to
the approach of an enemy, and could be vig-
orously defended. Four roads led through
depressions in this range, three of which were
strongly guarded, but at the fourth, known as
the "Jamaica Pass," only five mounted pickets
had been stationed. On the night of August
26, the British stealthily advanced to the
XTbe Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
" Pass/' captured the pickets, and ere an
alarm could be given fell upon the astounded
Americans and routed them with a loss of
over eleven hundred. Happily, however, the
British had not forced the American lines,
otherwise, outnumbering as they did their
opponents nearly three to one, the entire
patriot army on Long Island must have sur-
rendered. Two nights later, Washington
effected his masterly retreat to New York.
Leaving his camp-fires ablaze and a few pick-
ets posted so as to lull suspicion, the army of
nine thousand Americans marched to Fulton
Ferry and crossed in safety, the only accident
being the loss of a boat with four stragglers.
If the Americans had been outflanked the
British had been outwitted, and some conso-
lation at least might be derived from that fact.
Yet, however courageous the resistance and
brilliant the retreat, the immediate result of
the battle of Long Island was deplorable. No
one more than Washington realized it, for in
his letter to Congress, September 2, he says:
" Our situation is truly distressing. The check . . . sus-
tained on the 27th ultimo has dispirited too great a propor-
tion of our troops, and filled their minds with apprehension
and despair. The militia, instead of calling forth tneir ut-
most efforts to a brave and manly opposition in order to
repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to
return. Great numbers of them have gone off ; in some
instances almost by whole regiments, by half ones, and by
companies at a time."
ILbe Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
An absolute disregard of "that order and
subordination necessary to the well-doing of
an army " made his situation all the more
alarming, and evoked from him the sorrowful
" With the deepest concern I am obliged to confess my
want of confidence in the generality of the troops. . . .
Till of late I had no doubt in my own mind of defending
this place [i. e., New York], nor should I have yet if the
men would do their duty, hut this I despair of. It is pain-
ful and extremely grating to me to give such unfavorable
accounts, but it would be criminal to conceal the truth at
so critical a juncture." '"
Indeed it was found necessary to establish
guards at Kingsbridge and other points to
stop the deserters, especially those with arms
and ammunition. One incident will serve to
illustrate the simple character of the average
militiaman. The guard brought to a halt a
ragged fellow who was carrying something
in a bag. The something proved to be a can-
non ball which, he explained, he was taking
home to his mother to pound mustard seed! "
Yet give these rustic soldiers a little longer
time in the army, render them accustomed to
the din of warfare, and the skittish militia,
for whom the Continental regulars evinced
such utter contempt, would soon be found
among the bravest defenders of their country.
At this moment, however, Washington felt
that he could place no reliance on an army
Ubc 36attle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
composed largely of such material, and reluc-
tantly began to consider the advisability of
evacuating Manhattan Island, at any rate south
of Harlem Heights. Here an energetic stand
might be made, for Washington had no inten-
tion of doing what Lee later proposed, — to
"give Mr. Howe a fee simple"" to New
York, without a struggle. From several of
his officers came the suggestion to burn the
city, but fortunately this piece of useless de-
struction was averted by the prudent modera-
tion of Congress. In reply to Washington's
query on this point, Congress declared that
the city be left intact; for, even "though
the enemy should for a time obtain pos-
session of it," eventual recovery was cer-
tain." At length, September 12, it was
resolved to withdraw the army to Harlem
Heights, a sufficient number only of men being
left to keep guard over the approaches from
the East River, while Putnam superintended
the removal of stores and munitions. Hence
at the foot of the present Grand Street (then
Corlaer's Hook), East Twelfth Street, East
Twenty-third Street, and East Thirty-fourth
Street (then Kip's Bay), were entrenched
several brigades of militia. Also at various
points as far north as East Eighty-ninth Street
(then Horn's Hook) was posted a line of sen-
tinels who half-hourly passed along the cheer-
ing watchword, "All 's well," to which the
Ube 3Battle of Ibarlem IbeiGbts
British sailors, who could distinctly hear the
call from their ships in the river, derisively re-
sponded, "We will alter your tune before
to-morrow night." '*
Two days later Washington set up his head-
quarters at the Roger Morris (now Jumel) "
Mansion, still standing on One Hundred
and Sixty-first Street, east of St. Nicholas
Avenue, and in one day more the removal of
men and munitions would have been com-
plete. Meanwhile several ships of war had
forced their way up the East River, in spite
of the steady fire from the American batteries
on the Manhattan shore ; but it was not until
September 1 1, that the British effected a land-
ing on Montresor's (now Randall's) Island,
and on Buchanan's (now Ward's) Island, with
the manifest intention of crossing to Harlem
and of advancing upon the city from the
north. Washington had anticipated this
move by the prompt withdrawal to Harlem,
and, as the powerful American battery at
Horn's Hook had not been silenced, Howe
decided to debark his troops at Kip's Bay.
On Sunday, the fifteenth, under a furious
cannonade from the frigates, the British regu-
lars landed and drove the American militia in
wild confusion from their entrenchments.
The half-humorous description of the en-
counter related by a participant on the Ameri-
can side shows the situation exactly :
XLbe Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
"At daybreak," he says, "the first thing that saluted
our eyes was . . . four ships at anchor . . . within mus-
ket-shot of us. . . . They appeared to be very busy on
shipboard, but we lay still and showed our good breeding
by not interfering with them, as they were strangers and
we knew not but they were bashful withal ! As soon as it
was fairly light we saw their boats coming, . . . filled with
British soldiers. When they came to the edge of the tide,
they formed their boats in line. They continued to aug-
ment these forces . . . until they appeared like a large
clover field in full bloom. ... It was on a Sabbath
morning, the day in which the British were always em-
ployed about their deviltry, because, they said, they had
the prayers of the church on that day. We lay very quiet
in our ditch waiting their motions till the sun was an hour
or two high. We heard a cannonade at the city, but our
attention was drawn to our own guests. But they being a
little dilatory in their operations, I stepped into an old
warehouse which stood close by me with the door open in-
viting me in, and sat down upon a stool ; the floor was
strewed with papers which had in some former period been
used in the concerns of the house, but were then lying in
woful confusion. I was very demurely perusing these
papers when, all of a sudden, there came such a peal of
thunder from the British shipping that I thought my head
would go with the sound. I made a frog's leap for the
ditch and lay as still as I possibly could, and began to con-
sider which part of my carcass was to go first. The British
played their parts well ; indeed they had nothing to hinder
them. We kept the lines till they were almost levelled
upon us, when our officers, seeing we could make no re-
sistance, and no orders coming from any superior officer, and
that we must soon be entirely exposed to the rake of the
guns, gave the order to leave the lines. In retreating we
had to cross a level clear spot of ground, forty or fifty rods
wide, exposed to the whole of the enemy's fire ; and they
gave it to us in prime order ; the grape-shot and langrage
Ube Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
flew merrily, which served to quicken our motions. When
I had gotten a little out of the reach of their combustibles 1
found myself in company with one who was a neighbor of
mine when at home, and one other man belonging to our
regiment ; where the rest of them were I knew not. . . .
We had not gone far (along the highway) before we saw a
party of men apparently hurrying on in the same direction
with ourselves ; we endeavored hard to overtake them, but
on approaching them we found that they were not of our
way of thinking ; they were Hessians ! We immediately
altered our course and took the main road leading to King's
bridge. We had not long been on this road before we saw
another party just ahead of us whom we knew to be Ameri-
cans ; just as we overtook these they were fired upon by a
party of British from a cornfield, and all was immediately in
confusion again. 1 believe the enemies' party was small ;
but our people were all militia, and the demons of fear and
disorder seemed to take full possession of all and everything
on that day. . . . They did not tarry to let the grass grow
much under their feet." "
But the ordeal was something which even
veteran troops could not have withstood.
"The fire of the shipping," wrote General
Howe to Lord Germain, "being so well di-
rected and so incessant, the enemy could not
remain in their works and the descent was
made without the least opposition." " This
statement of the British commander will go
far to extenuate the conduct of the militia,
disheartened as they were by the disaster on
Long Island, and terrified by the swarms of
British troops as well as by the thunderous
roar from the frigates. Then, too, the know-
ledge that their countrymen were safe at Har-
Zbc Battle ot Ibaclem Ibeiabts
lem Heights was no small incentive to rapidity
in flight. The Americans stationed at East
Twenty-third Street soon joined them, and
together they hastened along the Kingsbridge
road (Lexington Avenue).
As soon as the boom of cannon reached his
ears, Washington mounted his horse and sped
along the four miles intervening between Har-
lem and the scene of action. Near Park Ave-
nue and Fortieth Street, what were his horror
and consternation to behold the Americans
flying in all directions, while scarce a half mile
away the dust was rising under the feet of the
pursuing British and Hessians. Riding ex-
citedly into the midst of the runaways, he
shouted: "Take to the wall! Take to the
cornfield ! " Beside himself with wrath and
mortification at seeing his commands dis-
obeyed, he lashed the fugitives with his riding-
whip, flung his hat upon the ground, and cried
in accents choked with passion, "Are these
the men with whom I am to defend America ? "
Indeed so blind was he to all sense of danger
that, had not one of his attendants seized the
bridle of his horse and turned the animal's
head in the opposite direction, the Revolu-
tionary War might have terminated then and
there." Regaining his self-possession, the
commander-in-chief permitted the demoral-
ized militia to continue their stampede toward
Harlem Heights, although in his report to
Zbc JBattle ot UDarlem Ibeigbts
Congress he did not fail to denounce their
conduct as " disgraceful and dastardly." '" He
then ordered the immediate retreat of Putnam.
The story of how Mrs. Mary Murray, wife
of Robert Murray, whose farm included most
of the "commanding height of Inclenberg "
(now Murray Hill), entertained the British
generals so hospitably that Putnam and most
of the remnants of the patriot army still in the
city managed to elude the enemy and gain the
heights in safety, is too well known to bear
repetition." Suffice it to say that the cake
and wine and geniality of this lady, who re-
sponded with rare tact and good humor to the
bantering of the British officers on her rebel
sympathies, as effectually "bowed "her guests
"at her feet" — for a while at least — as the
hammer and tent-nail of Jael, the wife of Heber
the Kenite, had done in detaining Sisera, the
captain of the Canaanitish host, when "he
asked water and she gave him milk," when
" she brought forth butter in a lordly dish."
After having completed their debarkation,
the Britisih drew up their lines across the
island from the foot of East Eighty-ninth
Street to the foot of West Ninety-sixth Street,
or Striker's Bay as it was then called, the
pickets being stationed between that street
and West One Hundred and Fifth Street.
Gen. Howe's headquarters were at the Beek-
man mansion " (Fifty-first Street and First
TLbc Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
Avenue), while Sir Henry Clinton took up
his residence at the Apthorpe house (Ninety-
first Street and Columbus Avenue). And in
general this was the position of the British for
nearly a month. Of the two positions, how-
ever, that of the Americans was the stronger.
Beginning at Washington's headquarters, One
Hundred and Sixty-first Street, the camp ex-
tended southward to the "Hollow Way," or
the valley now comprised between West One
Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and West
One Hundred and Thirtieth Street, through
the centre of which runs Manhattan Street.
At the eastern end of this depression was a
rugged spur called the "Point of Rocks"
(One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Street and
Columbus Avenue), used by the Americans as
a lookout station, whence Harlem Plains could
be surveyed as far as McGowan's Pass ;
while the western portion terminated in a
round marshy meadow known as Matje
David's Vly, a little to the south of Fort Lee
ferry. With the Hudson on the right, the
valley in front, the plains on the left, and
the rear protected by Fort Washington and
the troops at Kingsbridge, the whole well
screened by woods and thickets, the Ameri-
cans could feel that the addition of a few
redoubts and entrenchments would make
these natural fortifications impregnable. Ac-
cordingly three parallel lines of defensive
Xlbe JBattle of IfDarlem Ibeiobts
works were constructed between One Hun-
dred and Forty-seventh Street and One
Hundred and Sixty-tlrst Street, while a divi-
sion of soldiers under Greene was posted near
the southern edge of the heights overlooking
the "Hollow Way," to guard against an
assault from that direction.
The unfortunate issue of the encounter at
Kip's Bay made precisely the same impression
upon the minds of British and Americans as
had the battle of Long Island ; the former it
confirmed in their belief of absolute superiority,
the spirits of the latter it depressed until
many had lost practically all confidence in their
officers and in themselves. For the moment
even nature seemed intent upon rendering
their lot still harder to bear. The well housed
and equipped soldiers of the king were in
forcible contrast to the poorly provided soldiers
of the republic, who, says Colonel Humphreys,
"excessively fatigued by the sultry march of the day, their
clothes wet by a severe shower of rain that succeeded to-
wards the evening, their blood chilled by the cold wind that
produced a sudden change in the temperature of the air, and
their hearts sunk within them, ... lay upon their arms
covered only by the clouds of an uncomfortable sky." ^'^
But amid all the gloom and depression the
leader of the American army never lost his
faith in the ultimate courage of the American
soldier, however much the timidity of the
militia aroused his indignation. His power
XTbe Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
of keen discernment showed him, further, that,
if a fortified camp was a haven of refuge to a
soldiery hard pressed by the enemy, so also it
might be a tower of strength wherein the
very sense of security would inspire the
former fugitives with a zeal for action, and, by
giving them an opportunity to display their
native courage, aid them to regain the con-
fidence which before had failed them. Under
such circumstances Washington might well
say, " I trust that there are many who will act
like men and show themselves worthy of the
blessings of freedom."" Appreciating the
strength of his position, he determined "to
habituate his soldiers by a series of successful
skirmishes to meet the enemy in the field."
This determination was realized in the battle
of Harlem Heights.
Sloping upward from the southern line of
the " Hollow Way " was another elevation of
land, then known as Bloomingdale or Vande-
water's Heights, and now called Morningside
Heights. In 1776, it was occupied and partly
cultivated by its owners, Adrian Hoaglandt
and Benjamin Vandewater. The space of
land about a mile in extent between the
present One Hundred and Fifth Street and
One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, west
of Columbus Avenue, was the "debatable
ground," and the scene of the battle of Har-
lem Heights. It effectually hid the opposing
Xlbe Battle of Ibarlem IbeiQbts
forces from each other. Now, whereas an
advance of the British from the direction of
Harlem Plains could be easily observed by
the American lookouts on the "Point of
Rocks," no movement from behind Morning-
side Heights would be perceptible before the
"Hollow Way" had been reached. It was
not to be supposed that an enemy flushed
with success in the recent campaign would
long hesitate to assail the American strong-
hold. Desirous of guarding against a flank
attack, especially from the vicinity of Morn-
ingside, early in the morning of Monday,
September 16, Washington sent a body of
scouts to ascertain what preparations the
enemy were making. He himself then rode
from headquarters down to the outposts at
the " Hollow Way." The men selected were
the Rangers, consisting of about one hundred
and twenty picked volunteers from New Eng-
land regiments, and under the command of
Colonel Thomas Knowlton, who had done
gallant service at the battle of Bunker Hill.
Proceeding cautiously under cover of the
woods, probably along the line of what is
now Riverside Drive, Knowlton and his men
had arrived at the farmhouse of Nicholas Jones
(One Hundred and Sixth Street, west of the
Boulevard) before the British pickets stationed
on One Hundred and Fourth Street were
startled by the report of shots fired at close
Ube Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
range, and spied the forms of the Americans
through the trees." The alarm was instantly
sounded, whereat a portion of the second and
third battalions of light infantry, numbering
upwards of three hundred, started to drive
back the audacious rebels. In gleeful expect-
ation that this second installment of Kip's
Bay militia, as they thought, would fly from
before them with the utmost terror and dis-
may, the British regulars hurried on. But
suddenly they were brought to a stop. Upon
falling back a short distance, Knowlton had
posted his men behind a stone wall and bid-
den them " not to rise or fire a gun " till the
British were ten rods away. Scarcely had
the first redcoat crossed the "dead line,"
when a blaze of fire shot from the stone wall,
and the astounded infantry fell back in dire
consternation. Then for some time the woods
echoed with the sharp crack of musketry in a
skirmish. At length Knowlton, perceiving
that the superior numbers of the foe menaced
his flank, commanded a retreat, which was
effected in good order and without the loss
of a man."
Meanwhile a rumor spread through the
American camp that the enemy were ap-
proaching in three columns, whereupon Adju-
tant-General Reed obtained permission from
the commander-in-chief to learn its truth.
Riding hastily from the "Point of Rocks" in
Ube JBattle of Ibarlem IbeiGbts
the direction Knowlton had taken, he reached
the scene of skirmish as it was about to be-
gin. "While I was talking with the officer,"
he writes, "the enemy's advanced guard fired
upon us at a small distance; our men behaved
well, stood, and returned the fire till, over-
powered by numbers, they were obliged to
retreat." He further states that the British
came on so quickly that he had not left a
house (probably Hoaglandt's, One Hundred
and Fifteenth Street and Riverside Drive) five
minutes before they had seized it. The light
infantry continued the pursuit through the
fields and woods of Hoaglandt's farm as far
as the immediate neighborhood of Grant's
tomb. The sight of the scampering rebels
restored the gleefulness which they had
lost near the stone wall, and, advancing
within plain view of the Americans on the
heights beyond, they derisively "sounded
their bugle-horns, as is usual after a fox-
chase." The insult showed the contempt in
which their adversaries held the Americans,
who three times within three weeks had fled
before his Majesty's regulars, — once on Long
Island, once at Kip's Bay, and now on the
heights just opposite their own camp. "1
never felt such a sensation before," says Reed;
" it seemed to crown our disgrace." "
The appearance of the enemy produced the
natural impression that Harlem Heights were
Ubc Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
to be carried by storm. Preparations were,
therefore, being made for a vigorous defense,
when Reed dashed up to the commander-in-
chief, "to get some support for the brave
fellows who had behaved so well." " With
characteristic caution, however, Washington
declined at first to hazard his men until exact
information of the British strength and posi-
tion could be obtained. For the present he
felt that a weakened and somewhat despond-
ent army was hardly capable of engaging
advantageously in a general conflict. At this
juncture Colonel Knowlton and the Rangers
brought the news that the enemy were about
three hundred strong, and detached more
than a mile from the main body. Washing-
ton now saw his opportunity to cut off this
detachment ere it could be reinforced from
below, and thereby, as he says, to "recover
that military ardor which is of the utmost
moment to an army." " If a general engage-
ment could not be risked, a lively and suc-
cessful skirmish would furnish the very tonic
of energy and enthusiasm then so sadly need-
ed. Still the American commander realized
that an attack wholly in front would not only
involve the ascent of the steep Morningside
Heights, from the top of which the well-
posted British could pour a galling fire, but
might result in no more than driving them
back upon the main body — a contingency he
Zbc ^Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
wished most to avoid. Curiously enough,
however, this was the very thing that
eventually happened, although not with the
consequences he had anticipated. The con-
summate soldier, who had learned the art of
stratagem from many an Indian adversary in the
tangled forests of Virginia and Pennsylvania,
resolved to make a feint in front, while a body of
picked men should stealthily creep round to
the left and fall upon the enemy's rear. For
this purpose he chose about two hundred vol-
unteers, consisting of Knowlton and his Rang-
ers, together with three companies of Virginia
riflemen under the command of Major Leitch.
Starting from their position near the grounds
of the present Convent of the Sacred Heart,
One Hundred and Thirtieth Street and Con-
vent Avenue, Knowlton and Leitch, accom-
panied by Reed, made their way diagonally
down the slope, across the now intervening
numbered streets and Amsterdam Avenue,
near its junction with Manhattan Street, and
proceeded toward a rocky ledge, not far from
One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Street and
the Boulevard. If once they reached this
point unobserved they could assail the enemy
from the rear, and thus, catching them be-
tween two fires, compel their surrender.
Stirred by the thought of this brilliant pro-
spect, the intrepid Americans eagerly hurried
Ube Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
In the meantime Washington directed one
hundred and fifty volunteers, under Lieuten-
ant-Colonel Crary, to proceed from the vicinity
of One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street and
the Boulevard straight down to the " Hollow
Way," but not to make any real attack till
they saw that the venture of the flanking-
party had proved successful.'" The bait read-
ily attracted the confident British. Running
down the hill across Claremont Avenue to the
Boulevard and One Hundred and Twenty-
seventh Street, they crouched behind some
fences and bushes, whereupon "a smart fir-
ing began but at too great a distance to do
much execution on either side." " How-
ever, if the British could only be kept where
they were, or enticed still further toward
the American lines, Knowlton and Leitch
would reach the desired position, and the
light infantry would be prisoners. At this
moment Washington judged it expedient to
reinforce Crary's courageous volunteers, and
for nearly an hour the contest continued. As
they dodged behind tree, rock, bush, fence, or
other point of vantage, the skirmishers on
both sides watched their opportunity to pick
off an unwary bluecoat or redcoat. Ere long
the British were forced to retreat up the slope
of the hill to a field about six hundred feet
southwest of their first position, " where they
lodged themselves behind a fence covered
Zbc Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
with bushes " ^' (One Hundred and Twenty-
fourth Street and the Boulevard). But this
was the objective point which Knowlton's
party was straining every nerve to attain. As
luck would have it, just as the American rang-
ers and riflemen were clambering over the
rocky ledge referred to, they spied the red-
coats almost directly in front of them. So far
as it was an attempt to hem in the British
from the rear the project had failed ; the at-
tack must now be made on the flank. One
explanation of the failure is, that through
some "misapprehension," as Washington
says, the Americans "unluckily began their
attack too soon."" Another is, that some
subordinate officers, in their enthusiasm to
meet the enemy, disregarded the commands
of their superiors and took the wrong road
— commenting on which behavior, in his gen-
eral orders, issued the following day, Wash-
ington declared that "the loss of the enemy
. . . undoubtedly would have been much
greater if the orders of the commander-in-
chief had not in some instance been contra-
dicted by . . . inferior officers, who, however
well they may mean, ought not to presume to
direct." '* But perhaps the unexpected retreat
of the British and their arrival at the fence
in question just as the foremost Americans
emerged from the rocks on their right, give
the best explanation, and in its light the reck-
^be Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
lessness of the American soldier and the pre-
sumption of the American officer become
transfigured into the headlong zeal and self-
confident enthusiasm that betoken the militant
Wherever the mistake might lie, this was
no time for conjecture. Their comrades had
driven the enemy before them; the gallant
example was theirs to emulate. Headed by
Leitch and Knowlton, the riflemen and Rang-
ers rushed upon the British and a sharp action
ensued. In a few minutes the two leaders
fell, mortally wounded, the former lingering a
few days, the latter expiring within an hour.
To one of his officers who bent tenderly over
him as the light of triumph in his eyes dark-
ened and the din of battle in his ears grew
fainter, the dying hero of Bunker Hill whis-
pered, " I do not value my life if we do but
get the day." " To his eldest son, a soldier-
boy of only fifteen years, he uttered his last
command, "Go, fight for your country!"'"
Thus perished an officer "whose name and
spirit ought to be immortalized," says Reed; "
"the gallant and brave Colonel Knowlton
. . . an honor to any country . . . who had
fallen gloriously fighting at his post," says
Meanwhile the struggle was being fiercely
maintained. Incited to vengeance by the loss
of their leaders, the Americans "continued
Zbc JSattle of Ibarlem IbciQbu
the engagement with the greatest resolu-
tion,"^' and soon the British were dislodged
from their position near the fence. The
Americans then " pursued them to a buck-
wheat field on the top of a high hill, distance
about four hundred paces."" Here the re-
spective antagonists were reinforced and the
British made a determined stand. The day's
campaign had opened with an attempt to cap-
ture the light troops whose "ungovernable
impetuosity," wrote Sir Henry Clinton, drew
them into the "scrape."" The attempt had
failed, and an open conflict had resulted. But,
instead of remaining strictly consistent with
his purpose of avoiding anything like a gen-
eral engagement, the prudence of Washington
succumbed to surprise and delight at the vim
and courage his soldiers were displaying.
Hence he despatched to their aid about fifteen
hundred men, a number of whom had been
runaways at Kip's Bay hardly twenty-four
hours previous. If the panic-stricken militia
proved to be excellent in a foot-race when the
British were the pursuers, here was another
chance for them to show their vigor at run-
ning — but this time with the positions re-
versed. Had Washington any misgivings
when he resolved to try the mettle of the
skittish militia under more favorable circum-
stances, his anxiety vanished when he beheld
the fugitives of yesterday valiantly supporting
ITbe Battle of Ifoarlem Ibeiabts
their comrades, and charging "the enemy
with great intrepidity."" Scarcely had the
buckwheat field been reached when the
remainder of the light infantry, the Forty-
second Highlanders, and a company of Hes-
sians came up with two field-pieces. Then
occurred the real battle of Harlem Heights —
or to speak somewhat more precisely, Morn-
ingside Heights — "a smart action," observes
a Maryland colonel, " in the true bush-fighting
way, in which our troops behaved in a man-
ner that does them the highest honor." "
During nearly two hours the conflict raged for
the possession of the buckwheat field. Ter-
rible as were the British with the bayonet,
they proved no match for the accurate marks-
manship of the Americans. The field, snowy
with the blossoms of coming harvest, an hour
before peacefully smiling under the rays of a
September sun, was now ruthlessly trampled
by the hurrying feet of the combatants, its
sunlight obscured by a pall of dust and smoke,
its whiteness reddened by the life-blood of
many a valiant soldier who furrowed, as he
fell, its forest of waving grain. Still, though
the harvest of grain might be destroyed, a
harvest of hope was to be garnered. An-
other impetuous charge and the British were
driven headlong from the field. Exhilarated
by the sight of their fleeing enemies, the
Americans enjoyed to the full the novel sensa-
^be Battle ot Ibarlem Ibeiobts
tion of a fox-chase, in which they did not
personate the fox !
In an orchard near the Boulevard and One
Hundred and Twelfth Street the British again
stood their ground; but the onward rush of
the Americans could not be borne. Once
more the enemy fled "across a hollow and
up another hill not far distant from their own
lines." ** Here in the vicinity of Jones's house
(One Hundred and Sixth Street west of the
Boulevard), where the contest had begun in
the morning, it ended about three o'clock in
the afternoon. For hardly had the redcoats
left the orchard, when Washington, surmis-
ing that reinforcements would soon arrive,
"judged it prudent to order a retreat. " "' But,
says Reed, "the pursuit of a flying enemy
was so new a scene, that it was with diffi-
culty our men could be brought to retreat.""
At length "they gave a Hurra! and left the
field in good order,"" just as the foremost
columns of the British reinforcements ap-
peared. From Jones's house to the " Hollow
Way " the redcoat had pursued the blue-
coat; from the "Hollow Way" to Jones's
house the bluecoat chased the redcoat, or,
in the somewhat picturesque language of
Captain Brown of the Rangers, "drove the
dogs near three miles." *' The derisive bugle
call of the morning was answered by the ex-
ultant hurrah of the afternoon.
" Hail to the shades where Freedom dwelt !
Where wild flowers deck her martyrs' grave,
Where Britain's minions keenly felt
The stern resistance of the brave.
" 'T was here in firm array they stood —
Here met Oppression's giant power ;
Here nobly poured their sacred blood,
And victory crowned their dying hour." •*'
The effect of this encounter on the droop-
ing spirits of the Americans was simply
magical. " A most timely and well delivered
return stroke," observes Professor Johnston,
"it revived the energies of our army, and had
its influence in compelling another delay in
the enemy's movements." " Its effect is seen
in the glow of joyful hope that pervaded the
hearts of the patriot soldiers. " 1 assure you
it has given another face of things in our
army," writes Reed ; "the men have recov-
ered their spirits, and feel a confidence which
before they had quite lost." " " The impres-
sion it made upon the minds of our people,"
says Major Morris, " is [that of] a most signal
victory."" "Our troops," declares Major
Shaw, "behaved with as much bravery as
men possibly could. . . . Now or never
is the time to make a stand, and rather than
quit our post [we will] be sacrificed to a
man."" "An advantage so trivial in itself,"
remarks Colonel Humphreys, "produced, in
event, a surprising and almost incredible effect
Xlbe JBattle of Ibarlem Ibeujbts
upon the whole army. Amongst the troops
. . . every visage was seen to brighten,
and to assume, instead of the gloom of de-
spair, the glow of animation. " " Colonel Silli-
man and General Knox take about the same
view. Says the former: "They [i.e., the
British] have found now that when we meet
them on equal ground we are not a set of
people that will run from them, but that they
have . . . had a pretty good drubbing." "
Says the latter : "They [/. e., the Americans]
find that if they stick to these mighty men
they will run as fast as other people." " In-
deed, General Greene somewhat extravagantly
asserts that, with good discipline and leader-
ship, the Americans "might bid defiance to
the whole world." " And what words of
commendation had the commander-in-chief
to bestow ? In the general orders issued
the next day Washington "most heartily"
thanked the troops for their courageous be-
havior, and added: " Once more . . . the
general calls upon officers and men to act up
to the noble cause in which they are engaged,
and support the honor and liberties of their
country."" The crisis had passed. The
doubts of Washington as to the staying quali-
ties of the American soldier vanished with
the receding forms of the enemy. The morti-
fication of yesterday was replaced by the
gratification of to-day. The success for which
Ube Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
he had so earnestly wished, to retrieve mis-
fortune and infuse new courage, had been
attained. Henceforth the devotion of the
American soldier to his chief was only equalled
by the confidence of that chief in his soldier.
Because the Americans who had enjoyed
the rare sport of chasing their enemies for
over a mile, and, deeming it unwise to attack
the main body, had reluctantly withdrawn,
the British construed the "affair of outposts " "
at Harlem Heights into a victory for themselves.
According to General Howe, they "repulsed
the enemy with considerable loss, and obliged
them to retire within their works " *" ; and in
his orders of September 17, he "entertains
the highest opinion of the bravery of the few
troops that yesterday beat back a very supe-
rior body of the rebels," although he disap-
proves, the "want of attention in the light
companies pursuing the rebels without . . .
proper discretion." *' Colonel von Donop,
however, who commanded the Hessians,
comes nearer the truth when he modestly ob-
serves that had it not been for his "Yagers
(riflemen), two regiments of Highlanders and
the British infantry would have all perhaps
been captured."" But the utterance of an
English officer, as related by an American
prisoner on one of his Majesty's ships, affords
the best commentary on the events of Sep-
tember 15 and 16, at Kip's Bay and Harlem
Ubc Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
Site of tbe
Heights. It seems that, on the evening after
the unfortunate occurrence at Kip's Bay, this
officer went on board denouncing "the Yan-
kees for runaway cowards, and storming that
there was no chance to fight and get honor
and rise." Quite different the burden, if not the
manner, of his complaint when, having fairly
encountered the patriot soldiers at Harlem
Heights, he again went on board cursing the
war, and " saying he had found the Americans
would fight, and that it would be impossible
to conquer them." °' Unwittingly the bluster-
ing soldier told the truth. From Harlem to
Yorktown the story of the Revolution is his
On the buckwheat -field of Morningside
Heights, the American soldier studied and
learned a lesson of bravery in the school of
warfare. The woods and fences, fields and
orchards, have long since disappeared, but on
their site the genius of education still lives to
perpetuate the memory of that lesson, and of
that school, in the mind of the American
student, — on their site arise to-day the stately
buildings of Barnard College and Columbia
University. Here, in the centre of what once
was the buckwheat-field — the historic land-
mark of a victory in war — stands Barnard Col-
lege, a magnificent memorial of a far grander
victory in peace, of a victory over the nar-
rowness of Revolutignary days, of a victory
Zbc Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
for the enlightenment of the nineteenth cen-
tury, of a victory for the higher education of
the American woman.
Site of tbe
^be ^Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
NOTES AND REFERENCES.
For a collection of original authorities on the battle of
Harlem Heights, see the appendix to Jay, The Battle
of Harlem Plains, Oration before the New York
Historical Society, September 16, 1876; Johnston,
The Campaign of 1776 around New York and
Brooklyn — Memoirs of the Long Island Historical
Society, iii., part ii. ; The Magazine of American
History, iv., pp. 3^9-375 ; viii., part i., pp. 39-49 ;
part ii., pp. 627-629 ; Johnston, The Battle of Har-
lem Heights, -pY*- '-5~-34- The best account of the
battle — particularly for its precision in locating the
various sites of the conflict — is The Battle of Harlem
Heights, by Professor Henry P. Johnston (Columbia
University Press). Indeed, so far as topographical
details are concerned, the present sketch is based al-
most wholly upon Professor Johnston's observations.
Besides giving a brief description of the campaign of
1776 around New York City, Professor Johnston also
critically reviews earlier versions of the battle, and
appends practically all the original authorities. ,
Force, American Archives, Fifth Series, ii., p. 467.
Johnston, The Battle of Harlem Heights, ^y>- '4'. '42-
Collections of the New York Historical Society, Lee
Papers, i., p. 309.
New York City during the American Revolution,
Johnston, The Campaign of iyy6, etc., part i., pp.
Johnston, The Correspondence and Public Papers of
John Jay, i., p. 47.
Johnston, The Campaign of 1776, etc., p. 93, note.
Irving, Life of George IVashington (1857 ed.), ii., pp.
XTbe 3Battle ot Ibarlem IbeiQbts
10. Ford, The Huntings of George IVashington, iv., pp.
1 1. Graydon, Memoirs of His Own Time, p. 174.
12. Hid., p. 175.
1 3, Journals of Congress, i., p. 465.
14. [Martin], A Narrative of some of the Adventures,
Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier,
15. For a picture of this mansion, see The Magazine of
American History, xxi., p. 3 ; Lossing, Field Book
of the American Revolution, ii., p. 609.
16. [Martin], A Narrative, etc., pp. 26-28.
17. Upcott Collection in the library of the New York
Historical Society, iv., p. 41 1.
18. Ford, The IVrititigs, etc., iv., pp. 407,408; Force,
American Archives, Fifth Series, ii., p. 370 ; Heath,
Memoirs, p. 60 ; Graydon, Memoirs, p. 1 74 ; Gor-
don, A History of the United States, ii., p. 327 ;
Thacher, a Military Journal during the American
Revolutionary War, p. 59.
19. Ford, The Writings, etc., iv., p. 408.
20. Thacher, A Military Journal, etc., pp. 59, 60 ; His-
tortc New York, i., pp. 246, 317.
21. Lossing, Field Book, ii., p. 611.
22. Humphreys, An Essay on the Life of the Honorable
Major-General Israel Putnam, pp. 136, 137.
25. Ford, The Writings, etc., iv., p. 409.
24. Marshall, The Life of George Washington, ii., p.
25. Woodward, Memoir of Colonel Thomas KnowUon,
26. The Connecticut Gazette and the Universal Intelli-
gencer, September 27, 1 776.
27. Reed, Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, i., p.
29. Ford, The Writings, etc., iv., p. 471.
Zbc Battle of Ibarlem Ibeiabts
Memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel Tench Tilghman, p.
Ford, The IVritings, etc., iv., p. 417.
Johnston, The Battle, etc., p. 141.
Ford, The IVritings, etc., iv.^ p. 417.
Johnston, The Battle, etc., p. 162.
The Connecticut Gazette, September 27, 177b.
Woodward, Memoirs, etc., p. 15.
Reed, Life and Correspondence, etc., i., p. 237.
Marshall, The Life, etc., ii., p. 468.
Ford, The IVritings, etc., iv., p. 417.
Johnston, The Battle, etc., p. 141.
Ibid. , p. 89. Note in the handwriting of Sir Henry
Clinton in his copy of Stedman, History of the
/American War, now in the James Carter Brown Li-
brary, Providence, Rhode Island.
Ford, The IVritings, etc., iv., p. 417.
LossiNG, The American Historical Record, ii., p. 260.
Johnston, The Battle, etc., p. 141.
Ford, The IVritings, etc., iv., p. 417.
Manuscripts of Joseph Reed in the library of the New
York Historical Society, iv. : Joseph Reed to his wife,
September 22, 1770.
Memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel Tench Tilghman, p.
The Connecticut Gazette, September 27, 1776.
These stanzas and four others " appeared originally in
the New York Evening Post, and were reprinted in
the New York IVeekly Museum of October 5, 181 1 ."
They are stated to be " lines occasioned by a ramble
over part of Harlem Heights, particularly a spot re-
markable for an action said to have taken place there
between a party of Americans and a detachment of
the British army." See The Maga:^iue of American
History, viii., part ii., p. 629. The stanzas must
have had a special significance in view of the ap-
proaching renewal of conflict with Great Britain.
Xlbe Battle of Ibarlem Ibeigbts
Johnston, 7/?^ Battle, etc., p. 90.
Reed, Life and Correspondence, etc., i., p. 237.
JohNSTON, 7"^^ Battle, etc., p. 147.
QyiNCY, 7"A^ Journals of Major Samuel Shaw, p.
Humphreys, yin Essay, etc., p. 141.
Johnston, The Campaign of iyy6, etc., part ii., p.
Johnston, The Battle, etc., p. 151.
Ibid., p. 163. Extracts from the manuscript literary
diary and journal of occurrences kept by Ezra Stiles,
D.D., now in the library of Yale University.
Ihid., p. 162.
Ibid., p. 206.
Ibid., p. 204.
Ibid., p. 209.
Ibid., p. 225.
Ibid., p. 164.
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only in this instance the writer states the case for both sides." — Cincinnati
Part II. — Ready shortly.
DECISIVE BATTLES SINCE
A Continuation of Creasy's " Decisive Battles of the World." By
Thomas W. Knox. With 59 plans and illustrations. 8°,
pp. viii. -1- 490 $2.50
" Must go wherever Creasy's invaluable preceding book of 1852 has gone, and
perhaps where it has not found its way. . . . The author has done his work
well and attractively." — Hart/ord Post.
THE NAVAL WAR OF 1812 ;
or. The History of the United States Navy during the Last War
with Great Britain. By Theodore Roosevelt. 3d edition,
8°, pp. xxxviii. + 531 ...... $2.50
" Shows in so young an author the best promise for a good histori.in — fearlessness
of statement, caution, endeavor to be impartial, and a brisk and interesting way
of telling events." yV. }'. Times.
"The reader of Mr. Roosevelt's book unconsciously makes up his mind that he
is reading history and not romance, and yet no romance could surpass it in
interest." —Philadelphia Times.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, New York and London.
The City History Club
of New York
The City History Club aims to awaken a general
interest in the history and traditions of New York,
believing that such interest is one of the surest
guarantees of civic improvement. Its work is car-
ried on through three channels :
I. — A Normal Class
2. — Popular Classes
3- — Public Lectures
For further information, conditions of member-
ship, etc., address
Secretary dry History Club,
II West 50th Street,
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
011 712 461 7'
XLhc 1baIfs=nDoon Series
Series of (898
Published monthly. Per number, locts.
Subscription price for the 12 numbers, $1.00
The Second Series of the Half Moon
Papers will commence in January, 1898,
with a paper on "Slavery in Old New
York," by Edwin V. Morgan.
"Tammany Hall," by Talcott Williams;
** Old Family Names," by Berthold Fernow ;
" Bowling Green," by Spencer Trask ;
"Prisons and Punishments," by Elizabeth
Dike Lewis ; " Breuklen," by Harrington
Putnam ; " Old Taverns and Posting Inns,"
by Elizabeth Brown Cutting ; " The New
York Press in the i8th Century," by Char-
lotte M. Martin and Benjamin Ellis Martin ;
" Neutral Ground," by Charles Pryer ; " The
Doctor in Old New York," by Francke H.
Bosworth ; " Old Schools and Schoolmas-
ters," by Tunis G. Bergen ; "The Battle of
Harlem Heights," by William R. Shepard.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
New York and London