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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Harlem Heights and the Manhattan Battlefield

Washington's victory at Harlem Heights, like the First Battle of Trenton, was not strategically significant; it was an accidental battle on Manhattan island that did not save New York from British occupation.  Nonetheless what began as a skirmish turned into a series of fierce engagements along what is now Broadway, Barnard College campus and the area around Grant's Tomb.  The Americans forced the British to retreat various times, and after the debacle in Brooklyn on August 27, 1776 three weeks earlier, this battle on September 16, 1776 proved the Americans were capable of standing up to the Regulars.
Here we are around 117th and Broadway in New York City--on the island of Manhattan.  I've walked up from Straus Park between 106th and 107th, where the Nicholas Jones house stood and the battle began.  On the wall on the right is the bas relief of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton (leading the Connecticut Rangers) and Major Andrew Leitch (leading a force of Virginians), set in the area where they attempted to turn the British flank.  Both were killed in this battle.

We are accustomed to looking at battlefields as parks.  While parts of Harlem Heights are still parkland, as in the area around Grant's Tomb, much of the battlefield is typical of this scene.  Still, as we visualize the events of the day, we can obtain a sense of space.  Notwithstanding the buildings and concrete, we can glimpse at times the Hudson River to our left and its embankment, and understand the roll and grade of the land.

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