A Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Battle of Brooklyn Sites
Two scouts from the leading column of the Royal Marines and Tories and two companies of Long Island Tories were attracted to watermelons growing near the southwest corner of Green-Wood Cemetery. Riflemen fired on the would-be melon poachers.
The Old Stone House now at Fifth Avenue and Third Street in Park Slope, which has an interpretive center, was then named the Vechte Farmhouse, located south of Gowanus Creek. The event involving the retreat of the Americans says that Lord Stirling (he was on our side) gathered 2,000 men. These included troops from Delaware and Pennsylvania, along with an elite regiment from the First Maryland Regiment.
The Old Lyon Inn is now an American Legion Post near the IKEA on the point of Red Hook. The chance meeting at the watermelon patch became a major confrontation that stretched for a quarter of a mile and was responsible for convincing the Americans that the major attack would be on the Gowanus Road. With two sides confronting each other in regular battle formation, this was the first time the Americans, as an independent nation, faced the British in an open field. With no fortifications or stones to hide behind, only hedges and trees to face Grant, the commander of the British (not related to our former president General Grant) took on the fight.
The Brits, however, went east and linked up with the Hessians (paid German mercenaries) to seize high ground in what we now know as Battle-Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery.
The main body of the enemy came down through Flatbush to the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy. (5). The British were very sneaky in this maneuver, as they swung around in a loop behind the Americans and attempted to capture them all. Howe, the British general ordered his men to cut off the American retreat to the Brooklyn forts on Brooklyn Heights. Most of the Americans survived, some were captured by the British, and others were bayoneted as they tried to surrender to the Hessians.
There is a monument to those who died in terrible conditions as prisoners of the British on ships in our harbor. An obelisk stands in Fort Greene Park that is a 150-foot tall Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument and crypt, which honors some 11,500 patriots who died aboard British prison ships during the American Revolution.
Washington’s headquarters, and he had many of them during the war, was at The Four Chimneys in a mansion overlooking the harbor from Brooklyn Heights. A small garden with a flagpole now marks this spot on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. There is also a small plaque with information about the house embedded into the stand that supports the flag. Washington held his war council there on August 29, 1776. The British, despite their clever advances, made a tactical error. They wasted time digging trenches. This decision took away the Brits’ opportunity to win the war in one stroke.
Lord Stirling managed to disengage from Grant and get around Cornwallis’s forces stationed around the Vechte farmhouse, blocking the Post Road, now First Street in Park Slope. Stirling ordered his troops to plunge into the marsh and go across Gowanus Creek on August 27, 1776.
On what can be seen now as a suicide mission, he staged a preemptive strike against Cornwallis in and around the Vechte farmhouse and its orchard. This sacrificial rearguard gave the bulk of the American wing a chance to escape across the marshes along Gowanus Creek.
A very dense fog drifted in and Washington and his men escaped from the Ferry Landing next to what is now the elegant River Cafe. Washington took the whole regiment by ferry to New York. The last man over received permission to go back for his horse and he and the volunteers were fired upon in what he said was a salute from the enemy with musketry that couldn’t reach them as they returned to safety.
General Howe was in Red Hook and his men were spread all the way to Hells Gate to keep the Americans guessing where he would attack, but he never crossed the East River to pursue them. Howe did succeed to take Brooklyn Heights and Governor’s Island, concealing his invasion flotilla in Newton’s Creek, the border between the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens at approximately 32nd Street.
General Howe is said to have dallied too long at the home of Robert Murray on a hot evening of September 15th when Mrs. Murray and her two daughters opened the wine cellar at the mansion and served cakes and Madeira to the British generals and Governor Tyron. Howe’s delay allowed the Americans to slip away again. There is a plaque to mark the mansion on Park Avenue and 37th Street in Manhattan.