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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kips Bay and the Disappearance of History

So here we are in New York City, on the island of Manhattan, on Second Avenue looking across the intersection of 33rd and north towards 34th Street--as best as I can determine from my readings, the site of the actual landing of the British at Kip's Bay on September 15, 1776.  Landfill has moved Manhattan to the east; Kip's Farm itself was supposedly at 35th and Second, hence the name of the area.  If there is any signage of this momentous landing--the "D-Day" of 1776 with massive bombardment of the American forces and a well-coordinated amphibious landing by the British--I could not find any.  There are other such signs in New York at various Revolutionary spots; too bad that this, the actual physical invasion by a foreign force in New York, not seen again until September 11, 2001, is otherwise unmarked.  Following the rapid retreat of the overwhelmed American forces, Howe proceeded in leisurely pace up Manhattan, while the Americans re-established their position to the north.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Battle of Pell's Point

Pell's Point was a battle fought not to win, but to delay, to enable Washington to get his forces to White Plains.  White Plains was to be a loss for the Americans, so one must wonder, as with so many battles in this war (and others, for that matter), what was accomplished.  Still, as in chess, a space or a piece becomes important, if not critical, at one time and a few moves or some time later, completely irrelevant.  For those who die "in the moment," their lives are never regained. Here we see the Throg's Neck Bridge and the area of Throg's Neck (also spelled Throgg's Neck, and also referred to at the time as Throg's Point).  We are looking across Eastchester Bay.

The fighting occurred on October 18, 1776 and consisted of Colonel John Glover's 750 or so men sniping at the superior British forces from behind walls and in the rough terrain, inflicting heavy casualties on the Hessians and delaying the British advance.  Among the privates in the Continental Army who fought at Pell's Point was John Russell, who also fought at Trenton.  His statue is one of the two soldiers featured at the base of the Trenton Battle Monument.  So here is another instance where I have traveled the Revolution in the footsteps of an identifiable man, from Brooklyn to Pell's Point to Trenton.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Memorials and Statues

     June 17 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1775.  There is of course a large monument on the hill, which you can ascend and take in a view of Charlestown and Boston.  But I want to focus on the statue of Colonel William Prescott, standing in front of the monument and facing the direction of the British assault on Breed's Hill.

     Prescott was in command but of course did not fight alone.  Although the Patriots lost the battle, Prescott received accolades for his courage and leadership, though there remains some dispute as to whether he or General Israel Putnam was in actual command, but it was Prescott who manned the fort and directed the action in the thick of things.

     His statue on this hill is a reminder of the personal nature of war.  In an age of drones and killing people remotely based on "baseball cards," with Prescott's presence on this hill, where brutal, "whites of their eyes" close killing occurred, we confront the reality of what war is all about, in all its human dimension.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Monmouth Courthouse

     June 28 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, fought in 1778 on a brutally hot day.  Considered by many an American victory, since the British left the field, it was a costly engagement that nonetheless failed to destroy the British army, which continued on its retreat to Sandy Hook.  I wandered out there today, along County Road 522 and the route from Englishtown to Freehold taken by General Charles Lee.  On the way back, I stopped at Old Tennent Church and was intrigued to find the graves of several Americans adjacent to that of British Lieutenant Colonel Henry Monckton:

     Monckton's grave is on the far right.  To the immediate left is the grave of American Captain Henry Fauntleroy of Virginia.  Next is the grave of Captain Joshua Huddy, a New Jersey militiaman hanged by the British in a matter that rose to the level of Washington's attention.  The stone on the farthest left commemorates six others buried in the graveyard.  In another part of the church cemetery is a marker for unknown American soldiers killed at Monmouth.

     Monckton, just shy of 38 when he was killed, had been wounded during the Battle of Long Island, fought at the Trenton-related skirmish at Assunpink Creek, as well as at Brandywine and Germantown.  He was removed from the battlefield by members of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment and died in the church, which served as a hospital after the battle.

     More on Monmouth as the month progresses, but this juxtaposition of graves by men who were sworn enemies and fought to the death on the fields of Monmouth is a statement unto itself.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Connecticut Farms

     This week, on June 7, we mark the anniversary of the Battle of Connecticut Farms, and later in the month, the Battle of Springfield on June 23, 1780.  These battles, involving relatively large numbers of troops over a fairly wide area, marked the last significant effort of the British in New Jersey and the northern theater to destroy Washington's army.  Unlike some of the smaller battles and skirmishes led by Hessian commanders, such as Karl von Donop at Red Bank (Fort Mercer), Hessian General Wilhelm von Knyphausen led a force of 6,000 British and Hessian troops to attempt to engage the Continental army encamped at Jockey Hollow, near Morristown, New Jersey.  

     Connecticut Farms is now known as Union Township, New Jersey.  This is the current First Presbyterian, replacing the one burned by the British that stood on the battle site in 1780.  In the adjacent courtyard is a mass grave containing the remains of British and Hessian soldiers.  We tend to forget that the Revolution was a major war fought mainly on American soil, and foreign soldiers are buried here, much as Americans are buried in European battlefields of World War II.  Some have called the Revolution the first world war, or the logical consequence of its predecessor global conflict, the French and Indian War.  The fact that such a memorial grave exists on an otherwise barely marked battlefield in a densely populated county, is remarkable.  There's a poignancy and sadness to a mass grave, as though these individual human beings can only find relevance in their collective anonymity.