Continued from Part 2
The Battle for Manhattan
Now in Manhattan, General Washington’s army was faced with a truly unwinnable situation. Previously, he had been fighting a running battle, but now the words of General Lee, the commander he dispatched to do reconnaissance for the battle of New York, must have hit him sharply. The geography of the island made it indefensible for General Washington. Escaping on ships was not possible due to British dominance of the seas. If General Howe’s forces landed in Westchester County to the north or captured King’s Bridge, then the Patriots would be trapped on Manhattan (Johnson, 226) where they would be wiped out or forced to surrender. General Washington needed to find a way out before they were surrounded.
For a few weeks, British and American forces stared each other down from across the East River until General Washington gave the order for a complete evacuation, first moving up to Harlem Heights (Schecter, 178). The invasion of Manhattan kicked off on the 14th of September with 3,500 Americans still on the island when the British landed in Kips Bay (Schecter, 181).
The American militia began to panic, especially after Hessian mercenaries bayoneted some of the Patriots as they attempted to surrender. Not even General Washington could regain control of the mob of militia who fled the scene, many throwing down their guns and running as fast as possible (Schecter, 185). Writing in a letter about the incident to the Continental Congress, General Washington called the mass desertion, “disgraceful and dastardly” (Johnson, 236). Through the night, Patriot forces marched north alongside the Hudson River, completely oblivious to the fact the British were also marching north in parallel to them alongside the East River. General Washington and his men successfully made it behind their artillery lines in Harlem Heights that night.
On September 16th, the Battle of Harlem Heights began. Despite courageous scouting and bold flanking maneuvers by militiamen under the command of Thomas Knowlton, the British repelled and routed the American forces, with the help of naval gunfire provided by their ships now in the East River (Schecter, 200). Seeing the losses his men were taking, General Washington ordered his troops to pull back from the front lines.
General Washington’s men continued to dig in at Harlem Heights but General Howe was able to effect an encirclement by sending ships up the North River and landing troops in Westchester. In order to shore up their flanks, the militiamen had to abandon Harlem Heights (Johnson, 271) and move troops out of Manhattan to meet the British in the Battle for White Plains. While General Washington’s campaign continued, the Battle for New York was essentially abandoned.
To be concluded in Part 4
Johnson, Henry. “The Campaign of 1776 and New York and Brooklyn.” Long Island Historical Society, 1878. Print.
Schecter, Barnet. “The Battle for New York.” Walking Publishing Company, 2002. Print.