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Landing at Kip's Bay
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Date September 15, 1776
Location Kips Bay, Manhattan, New York
Coordinates: 40°44′10.79″N 73°58′28.7″W / 40.7363306°N 73.974639°W / 40.7363306; -73.974639
Result Decisive British victory[1]
Belligerents
 United States United Kingdom Great Britain
Hesse Hesse-Kassel (Hessians)
Commanders
George Washington Sir Henry Clinton
Richard Howe
Strength
500[2] 4,000[3]
Casualties and losses
50 killed
320 captured[4]
12 killed or wounded[5]

The Landing at Kip's Bay was a British maneuver during the New York Campaign in the American Revolutionary War on September 15, 1776, occurring on the eastern shore of present-day Manhattan. Advance fire from British naval forces in the East River led the inexperienced militia forces guarding the landing area to flee, making it possible for the British to easily land their troops at Kip's Bay. Skirmishes in the aftermath of the landing resulted in the British capture of some of those militia, and British maneuvers following the landing very nearly cut off the escape route of some Continental Army forces. The flight of American troops was so rapid that at one point George Washington, who was attempting to rally them, was left exposed dangerously close to British lines.

The battle was a decisive British victory, and resulted in the withdrawal of the Continental Army to Harlem Heights, ceding control of New York City (which then occupied only lower Manhattan).

Contents

Background

General William Howe, after evacuating Boston in March 1776, regrouped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and embarked in June on a campaign to gain control of New York City.[6] His troops began an unopposed landing on Staten Island in early July, and made another unopposed landing on Long Island, where General George Washington's Continental Army had organized significant defenses, on August 22.[7]

After losing the Battle of Long Island on August 27, General Washington and his army of 9,000 troops escaped on the night of August 29–30 to York Island (as Manhattan was then called).[8] Despite showing discipline and unity during the evacuation, the army quickly devolved into despair and anger. Large numbers of militia, many of whom had summer enlistments, disbanded and departed for home.[9] Leadership was questioned in the ranks, with soldiers openly wishing for the return of General Charles Lee.[10] Washington sent a missive to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia asking for some direction—specifically, if New York City, which then occupied only the southern tip of Manhattan, should be abandoned and burned to the ground. "They would derive great conveniences from it, on the one hand, and much property would be destroyed on the other," Washington wrote.[11]

Washington, uncertain of General Howe's next step, had spread his troops thinly along the shores of York Island and the Westchester shore, and actively sought intelligence that would yield clues to Howe's plans. He also ordered an attempt to be made on Admiral Richard Howe's flagship, HMS Eagle. In the first documented case of submarine warfare, a volunteer, Sergeant Ezra Lee, on September 7 piloted the submersible Turtle to the Eagle, and attempted without success to attach explosives to the ship. (The attempt failed because the drill used to attach the explosives struck an iron band it could not penetrate.) Lee was able to escape, although he was forced to release his explosive payload to fend of small boats sent by the British to investigate when he surfaced to orient himself. The payload exploded harmlessly in the East River.[12]

Meanwhile, British troops, led by General Howe, were moving north up the east shore of the East River, towards King's Bridge. During the night of September 3 the British frigate Rose, taking advantage of a north-flowing tide and towing thirty flatboats, moved in and anchored in the mouth of Newtown Creek, across from Kip's Bay. The next day, more transports and flatboats moved up the East River. Three warships—HMS Renown, HMS Repulse and HMS Pearl—along with the schooner HMS Tryal, sailed into the Hudson.[13][14]

On September 5, General Nathanael Greene, recently returned to duty from a serious illness, sent Washington a letter urging an immediate withdrawal from New York. Without possession of Long Island, Greene argued, New York City could not be held. With the army in its scattered situation on York Island, it was impossible for the Americans to stop a British attack, and another decisive defeat would be catastrophic. He also recommended burning the city; once the British had control, it could never be recovered without a comparable or superior naval force. There was no American benefit to preserving New York City, Green summarized, and recommended that Washington convene a war council.[15] By the time the council was gathered on September 7, however, a letter had arrived from John Hancock stating Congress's resolution that although New York should not be destroyed, Washington was not required to defend it.[16][17] Congress had also decided to send a three-man delegation to confer with Lord Howe — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge.[18]

Statue of George Washington in Brooklyn

On September 10, British troops moved onto Montresor's Island from Long Island, at the mouth of the Harlem River. Two days later on September 11, the Congressional delegation arrived on Staten Island to meet with Howe for several hours. The meeting, in which Lord Howe did the majority of the talking, came to nothing. It did, however, postpone the upcoming British attack, allowing Washington more time to decide if and where to confront the enemy.[19]

In a September 12 war council, Washington and his generals made the decision to abandon New York City. Four thousand troops under General Israel Putnam remained behind as a rear guard while the main army moved north to Harlem and King's Bridge. On the afternoon of September 13, major British movement started as the warships Roebuck and Phoenix, along with the frigates Orpheus and Carysfort, moved up the East River and anchored in Bushwick Creek, carrying 148 total cannons and accompanied by six troop transport ships.[20] By September 14 the Americans were urgently moving stores of ammunition and other materiel, along with American sick, to Orangetown, New York.[21] Every available horse and wagon was employed in what Joseph Reed described as a "grand military exertion". Scouts reported movement in the British army camps but Washington was still uncertain where the British would strike. Late that afternoon, most of the American army had moved north to King's Bridge and Harlem Heights, and Washington followed that night.[22][21]

General Howe had originally planned a landing for September 13, recalling the date of James Wolfe's key landing before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He and General Clinton also disagreed on the point of attack, with Clinton arguing that a landing at King's Bridge would have cut Washington off once and for all. But Howe prevailed, and after delays due to unfavorable winds, the landing, targeted for Kip's Bay, began on the morning of September 15.[23]

Landing

A 1781 British map depicting Manhattan. Kip's Bay is on the East River, labelled "Kepp's Bay".

The bulk of the American forces prepared to fight near the then-small village of Harlem at the northern end of York Island. Protected by small earthworks, the American line at Kip's Bay was about 500 Connecticut militia troops under the command of Colonel William Douglas.[2] Many of the American troops were inexperienced and had no muskets, but carried homemade pikes made from poles with attached scythe blades. After having been awake all night, and having had little or nothing to eat in the previous twenty-four hours, the Americans awoke to see five British warships in the East River near Kip's Bay, at the present line of 33rd Street.[24] Admiral Howe of the British forces sent a noisy demonstration of Royal Navy ships up the Hudson River early on the morning of September 15, but Washington and his aides determined that it was a diversion and maintained their forces at the north end of the island.[21] As the American troops at Kip's Bay lay in the ditches, the British ships, anchored 200 yards (180 m) offshore, lay quiet. The day was oppressively hot. At about ten o'clock, General Sir Henry Clinton, to whom Howe had given the object of making the landing, ordered the crossing to begin. Leaving Newtown Cove, a first wave of more than eighty flatboats carrying 4,000 British and Hessian soldiers, standing shoulder to shoulder, began crossing towards Kip's Bay.[3]

Around eleven in the morning, the five warships began a salvo of broadside fire that flattened the flimsy American breastworks and panicked the Connecticut militia. "So terrible and so incessant a roar of guns few even in the army and navy had ever heard before," wrote Ambrose Serle, private secretary to Lord Howe. Nearly eighty guns fired at the shore for a full hour. The Americans were half buried under dirt and sand, and were unable to return fire due to the smoke and dust. After the guns ceased, the British flatboats appeared out of the smoke and headed for shore. By then the American troops were in a panicked retreat, and the troops began their amphibious landing.[3]

Although Washington and his aides arrived from the command post at Harlem Heights soon after the landing began, he was unable to rally the retreating militia. About a mile (1.6 km) inland from Kip's Bay, Washington rode his horse furiously among the men, trying to stop them. Cursing violently, he lost control of himself. By some accounts, he brandished a cocked pistol and drew his sword, threating to run men through and shouted, "Take the walls! Take the cornfield!" When no one obeyed, he threw his hat to the ground, exclaiming in disgust, "Are these the men with which I am to defend America?"[25] When some fleeing men refused to turn and engage a party of advancing Hessians, Washington is said to have flogged some of their officers with his riding crop.[26] The Hessians shot or bayoneted a number of American troops who were trying to surrender. Two thousand Continental troops under the command of Generals Samuel Parsons and John Fellows arrived from the north, but at the sight of the chaotic militia retreat, they also turned and fled. Washington, still in a rage, rode within a hundred yards of the enemy before his aides managed to get him off the field. As more and more British soldiers came ashore, including light infantry, grenadiers, and Hessian Jägers, they spread out, advancing in several directions. By late afternoon, another 9,000 British troops had landed at Kip's Bay and sent a brigade down to abandoned New York City, officially taking possession. While most of the Americans managed to escape to the north, not all got away. "I saw a Hessian sever a rebel's head from his body and clap it on a pole in the entrenchments," recorded a British officer.[27] The southern advance pushed for a half mile (0.8 km) to Watts farm (near present-day 23rd Street) before meeting stiff American resistance. The northern advance stopped at Inclenberg (now Murray Hill), just west of the present Lexington Avenue, due to orders from General Howe to wait for the rest of the invading force. This was extremely fortunate for the thousands of American troops south of the invasion point. Had Clinton continued west to the Hudson he would have cut off General Putnam's forces from the main army, trapping them in lower Manhattan.[28]

General Israel Putnam

General Putnam had come north to with some of his troops when the landing began. After briefly conferring with Washington, he rode south to lead the retreat of his remaining troops. Abandoning supplies and equipment that were in the process of being moved north, his column, under the guidance of his aide Aaron Burr, marched north along the Hudson.[29] Trying to avoid being cut off by a westward British advance, the Americans briefly passed within a mile of the enemy. Greeted by cheers after having been given up for lost, Putnam and his men marched into the main camp at Harlem after dark. When Henry Knox arrived later after a narrow escape made possible by seizing a boat on the Hudson, he also was excitedly greeted and was even embraced by Washington.[30]

Aftermath

Present day Kip's Bay, looking north

The British were welcomed by the remaining New York City population, pulling down the Continental Army flag and raising the Union Flag. Howe, who had wanted to capture New York quickly and with minimal bloodshed, considered the invasion a complete success. Not wanting to continue battling with the Americans that day, Howe stopped his troops short of Harlem.[31][32]

Washington was extremely angry with his troops' conduct, calling their actions "shameful" and "scandalous". The Connecticut militia, who already had a poor reputation, were labeled cowards and held to blame for the rout. However, others were more circumspect, such as General William Heath, who said, "The wounds received on Long Island were yet bleeding; and the officers, if not the men, knew that the city was not to be defended." If the Connecticut men would have stayed to defend York Island under the withering cannon fire and in the face of overwhelming force, they would have been annihilated.[33]

The next day, September 16, the two armies fought the Battle of Harlem Heights.[34]

Notes

  1. ^ McCullough, 1776
  2. ^ a b McCullough, 1776, p. 210
  3. ^ a b c McCullough, 1776, p. 211
  4. ^ Lengel, General George Washington, p. 154
  5. ^ Brooks, Victor and Hohwald, Robert, How America Fought Its Wars, p. 64
  6. ^ Schecter,The Battle for New York, pp. 85,97
  7. ^ Schecter,The Battle for New York, pp. 100, 118–127
  8. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 188–191
  9. ^ Gallagher, John. Battle of Brooklyn 1776, p. 158
  10. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 201–202
  11. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 203
  12. ^ Schecter,The Battle for New York, pp. 171–174
  13. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 203–204
  14. ^ Grizzard, Jr., Frank E. George!, p. 167
  15. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 205–206
  16. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 206
  17. ^ Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, p. 354
  18. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 207
  19. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 207–208
  20. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 208
  21. ^ a b c Fischer, Washington's Crossing, p. 102
  22. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 208–209
  23. ^ Schecter,The Battle for New York, pp. 179–182
  24. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 210–211
  25. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 212
  26. ^ Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, p. 355
  27. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 211–213
  28. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 213
  29. ^ Schecter,The Battle for New York, pp. 184–188
  30. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 213–214
  31. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 212–213
  32. ^ Matloff, American Military History, p. 65
  33. ^ McCullough, 1776, pp. 214–215
  34. ^ McCullough, 1776, p. 216

References

  • Brooks, Victor and Hohwald, Robert (1999). How America Fought Its Wars. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing. ISBN 9781580970020.  
  • Grizzard, Jr., Frank E (2005). George!. Mariner. ISBN 0976823802.  
  • McCullough, David (2005). 1776. Simon & Schuster. pp. 188–216. ISBN 0743226712.  
  • Fischer, David Hackett (2004). Washington's Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 101–106. ISBN 0-19-517034-2.  
  • Middlekauff, Robert (2005). The Glorious Cause. Oxford University Press. pp. 353–6. ISBN 9780195162479.  
  • Lengel, Edward (2005). General George Washington. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 9781400060818.  
  • Matloff, Maurice (1969). American Military History. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History. pp. 65. ISBN 0938289721.  
  • Schecter, Barnet (2002). The Battle for New York. New York: Walker. ISBN 0802713742.  
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