Battle of Harlem Heights



The night of September 15, 1776, the American army under General George Washington was encamped in a line from the East River to the Hudson. Harlem Plains lay between the American and British armies.

The patriots who marched from the city to Harlem Heights were drenched by a shower, and slept in the open air that night. The stars were hidden by clouds until morning. Before the dawn of the 16th, a ruddy light suddenly glared along the Palisades and illumined the Hudson many miles. It was the flame of Captain Silas Talbot's fire-brig, with which he attempted to burn the British shipping in the Hudson. He failed, but the vessels were scared away, leaving a free communication between the strong work on Mount Washington and Fort Lee, on the crown of the Palisades opposite.

A few hours later some Virginians under Major Leitch, and Connecticut Rangers commanded by Colonel Knowlton, were engaged in a severe fight, on Harlem Plains, with British infantry and Highlanders, using several pieces of artillery, and commanded by General Leslie, who was in charge of the British advance-guard. They fought desperately with varying fortunes, till Washington reinforced the Americans with some Marylanders and New Englanders, with whom Generals Putnam, Greene and others took part to encourage the men. The British were pushed back, and climbed to the high, rocky ground at the northern end of the Central Park east of the Eighth Avenue. There they were reinforced by Germans and Britons. Washington now fearing an ambush, and unwilling to bring on a general engagement, ordered a retreat. This affair greatly inspirited the Americans, though Major Leitch and Colonel Knowlton were killed, and about sixty others were slain or wounded. Howe was displeased with Leslie's movement, and rebuked him for imprudence. The British chief did not make any aggressive movement for about three weeks afterward.

At that moment the smoke of the smoldering embers of a great conflagration was hovering over the city of New York. At one o'clock in the morning of the 21st, a fire burst out in a low "groggery" near Whitehall. It swept up and across Broadway, laying Trinity Church and more than four hundred tenements in ruins. While it was raging the exasperated soldiers, who had expected winter shelter in the buildings, charged the disaster to the Whigs. Some of them, who came out in the gloom to save their property, were murdered by bayonets, or were cast into the flames and perished. General Howe, in his report, without a shadow of truth, declared the accident to have been the work of conspirators.





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