- Brooklyn 08/27/2015 by Tom Moore, Cathyrn Prince (WBAI News)
A colonial re-enactor holds a "Betsy Ross" 13 star flag.at ceremonies kicking off Battle of Brooklyn week in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
There was a battle in Brooklyn – it was back in 1776 – it broke out only a little more than a month after the Declaration of Independence… with British troops attacking Brooklyn to try and stop the Americans’ rebellious ways by taking back New York.
General George Washington lost the battle but he saved his army and as we all know…he won the war. Historian and author Robert Furman says the battle doesn't get much notice because Brooklyn grew so fast -- that almost all traces of the battle vanished.
Furman also says another reason why we don’t hear much about the battle is that we don’t usually talk about our defeats. Washington saved his army back in late August 1776 by withdrawing his troops, heading across the East River to Manhattan in the middle of the night, ‘’We don’t usually celebrate something that’s a saving grace,” he said.
Furman is the author of the recently published ‘’Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America's First Suburb.’’ He says the British attacked New York with overwhelming force aiming to end the war once and for all, “The British intent was not just to seize New York City. It was to destroy the Continental Army, to kill as many as they could and capture the remainder and end the revolution right there.”
We walked into the woods of Prospect Park one afternoon with historian Barnet Schechter. He told us about a crucial part of the fight, at Battle Pass, near the park’s Long Meadow, “The stage is set for the battle with fewer than ten thousand Americans deployed across the Gowanus Heights where we’re standing now,” and he said you can add thousands more Continental Army forces in places like Brooklyn Heights.
Schechter also said with all those troops in Brooklyn under Washington’s command, the Americans still faced a much larger British invasion force. The Redcoats landing at the site of the Verrazano Bridge in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, “The British had assembled the largest expeditionary force to that time, with 34,000 sailors and soldiers, a terrifying site. One American on patrol said it looked like all of London was afloat.”
Another central location of the battle was the Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was rebuilt using materials from the original Dutch home from the 1600’s. It sits in a city park between 5th and 6th Avenues in Brooklyn, near 3rd street. The executive director of the Stone House is Kim Maier. She says her job at the Stone House is to take that story of a crucial 1776 battle and connect it to present day stories like the fighting still going on in places we’re at war now like Afghanistan and Iraq. “It’s an incredible story what happened here and it relates to what’s happening today in Brooklyn today. The fact that we are in this ongoing war for so many years and we’re protected from it in the city except for the people who are off fighting and the families who know they have their loved ones fighting. We need this constant reminder of what happened here, defending our rights and privileges, the first official battle of the United States Army.”
Bringing the story to the present day – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is making preliminary moves toward building a memorial park to commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn and one of the units in that battle, soldiers who paid a very high price. The Maryland 400 was a group of highly trained, elite soldiers. Washington ordered them to fight at the Stone House – giving the American army enough time to evacuate – heading toward Brooklyn Heights. Washington knew the Marylanders would stand their ground – and most of them paid the ultimate price for it.
Tom Moore is a CUNY Journalism Professor at York College. He’s also a freelance CBS News Radio reporter and writer. His first piece on WBAI dates back to 1992.
Author and journalist Cathryn Prince reported on the story as well. Her the forthcoming book is "American Daredevil: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Halliburton, the World's First Celebrity Travel Writer."