Monday, August 29, 2016

240 years ago: Washington's "great escape" from Brooklyn.

It was at about the time I'm writing this, the evening of  August 29, 1776, 240 years ago, that General George Washington began moving his roughly 8,000 strong Continental Army out of Brooklyn Heights, where I now sit, down to the shore of the East River. From there, they were ferried across to Manhattan on boats manned by members of Glover's 14th Continental Marblehead Regiment, made up mostly of fishermen from Marblehead and nearby on Massachusetts' North Shore. Their boats were like those in the photo above.

This move was crucial to the success of our War of Independence. Two days earlier Washington's army had engaged British forces in what is now Prospect Park. Park Slope, and Green-Wood Cemetery. This was the first time regular Continental troops, under Washington, instead of local militia, had faced Royal Army troops. Despite valiant rear-guard actions, one of which, by a Maryland regiment at the Old Stone House, was especially effective though resulting in 259 casualties, the Americans were forced to retreat. They camped on Brooklyn Heights, and rainy weather protected them from a British advance while Washington planned his escape. Had they not succeeded in crossing the East River to Manhattan that night and early morning, an improvement in the weather could have allowed the British fleet, anchored off Staten Island, to sail into the East River. This would have cut off Washington's escape route, and effectively ended the colonies' bid for independence.