The Battle of Fort Washington
Battle: Fort Washington
War: American Revolution
Date: 16th November 1776
Place: New York, United States
Combatants: British and German troops against the American Continental
Generals: General Lord Howe against General George Washington
Size of the armies: 8,000 British and German troops attacked some
2,900 American troops.
Map of the Battle of Fort Washington
Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats and headgear
of bearskin caps, small caps or tricorne hats depending on whether the
troops were grenadiers, light infantry or battalion company men. The
two regiments of light dragoons serving in American wore red coats and
leather crested helmets. The German infantry wore blue coats and
retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre with brass front plate.
The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war
progressed regular infantry regiments of the Continental Army wore
blue uniform coats but the militia continued in rough clothing. Both
sides were armed with muskets and guns. The Pennsylvania regiments
carried rifled weapons.
Winner: The British and Germans who
stormed Harlem Heights
British troops crossing the river
Composite battalion of grenadiers
Composite battalion of light infantry
Composite battalion of Foot Guards (1st, 2nd and 3rd Guards)
4th Foot later King’s Royal Regiment, now the King’s Own Royal
10th Foot later the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, now the Royal Anglian Regiment
15th Foot later the East Yorkshire Regiment and now the Prince of
Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers
27th Foot later the Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish
28th Foot later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal
Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
38th Foot later the South Staffordshire Regiment, now the
42nd Foot now the Black Watch
43rd Foot later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and
now the Royal Green Jackets
52nd Foot later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and
now the Royal Green Jackets
"British hutted encampment at Dyckman Farm, New York
Shee’s 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment
Magaw’s 5th Pennsylvania Regiment
Col Moses Rawlings Maryland and Virginia Riflemen
Col Baxter’s Bucks County militia, Pennsylvania
In November 1776 the last position the Americans held on Manhattan
Island was the area around Fort Washington on the northern tip, known
as Harlem Heights. General Nathan Greene commanded the American
positions with a discretion to withdraw if he considered it necessary.
General Howe planned three attacks. Brigadier Lord Percy was to attack
from the South up the island. Brigadier Matthews with the light
infantry and Guards to cross the Harlem River and attack Baxter on the
east side, supported by Lord Cornwallis with the grenadiers and the
33rd Foot. The main attack was to be on Rawlings’ position by Hessian
troops commanded by General Von Knyphausen. An additional assault was
to be carried out on the same side by the 42nd under Colonel
Sterling. (the grenadiers, light infantry, Guards, 33rd and 42nd
were the corps regularly used for particularly demanding
assignments. It is interesting that the 33rd had a consistently
high reputation throughout the1740s and 1750s).
Early on the 15th November Howe called on the fort to surrender. This
was refused. A bombardment broke out from British batteries across the
Harlem River and the frigate Pearl on the American positions.
At 10am Percy advanced to the attack. At noon Matthews landed on
Manhattan and began his assault. Baxter was killed and is militia fled
into the fort.
Knyphausen crossed onto Manhattan at Kingsbridge and at 10am began his
move south. The two Hessian columns assaulted American positions and
after a hard fight with Rawlings’ riflemen the Americans fell back
into the fort.
Percy attacked Cadwallader in the South and the 42nd landed on the
east side and pushed inland behind Cadwallader’s position, forcing the
Americans to fall back to the fort.
With all his troops pinned in Fort Washington under heavy fire, Magaw
was forced to surrender to the Hessian general Knyphausen.
Casualties: The British side suffered 450 casualties of which 320 were
Hessians. The Americans suffered 2,900 casualties of which the
preponderance were prisoners.
Follow-up: Following the battle Fort Lee on the west bank of the
Hudson was abandoned and Washington and the Continental Arm retreated
to the Delaware.
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward