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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The Battle of Washington Heights


Should you find yourself in Washington Heights, stop by Fort Tryon Park (home to the Cloisters); today marks the 241st anniversary of the battle of Fort Washington, where 3,000 Hessian troops and 5,000 British regulars overwhelmed the American troops. 

In the fall of 1776, the Americans were on the run. They'd abandoned Lower Manhattan in September and despite a minor American victory in Harlem Heights on September 16, George Washington's troops were then routed at White Plains on October 28. In the wake of that loss, Washington ordered General Nathanael Greene to abandon Fort Washington in Upper Manhattan and head to New Jersey. However, Greene and the post's commanding officer, Colonel Robert Magaw, convinced Washington that the fort was defensible. That turned out to be a grave miscalculation, in part because one of Magaw's soldiers, William Demont, turned out to be a traitor, and had already given the British details of the fort's defenses.

By the end of the battle, 59 Americans had been killed and nearly 3,000 taken as prisoners of war. Many of these prisoners would subsequently die in the fetid conditions of British prison ships in Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn.

One American killed was John Corbin. His wife Margaret, a nurse who been allowed to join the soldiers in the fort, took his place at his cannon and continued firing until she was gravely injured. She never fully recovered from the wounds she received that day and later became the first woman to receive a military pension.

Fort Washington itself stood where Bennett Park sits in Washington Heights. After the British victory, the fortifications were renamed after Sir William Tryon, the British governor; today, the main road in Fort Tryon Park honors Margaret Corbin.




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