Battle: Harlem Heights
War: American Revolutionary War
Date: 16th September 1776
Place: Manhattan Island, New York, United States of America
Combatants: Small forces of Americans and British
Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats and headgear of bearskin caps, leather 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 America, the 16th and 17th, 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 long, small calibre, rifled weapons.
Winner: An inconclusive fight which revived American morale but had no particular benefit for either side.
33rd Foot, now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding)
42nd Foot, the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment)
On 16th September 1776 General George Washington was in considerable anxiety at the inability of his troops to stand up to the British and Germans of General Howe’s army. Step by step the Americans were being driven off the Island of New York, now Manhattan. On the day before, a British force had landed at Kipp’s Bay on the west side of the island and the Virginia militia had fled before them. Washington now held only the northern plateau of the island, around the fortification of Fort Washington on the Hudson shore.
On 16th September, Washington sent a party of New England Rangers under Captain Thomas Knowlton to scout the British movements to the South of his position.
Knowlton descended from the northern plateau into an area of lower ground known as the Hollow Way and on to the next plateau. There his party of around 120 men encountered the British light infantry picquets and firing broke out. More British troops from the 42nd Highlanders came up and the small party of Rangers was forced to retreat in some haste, with the British in pursuit.
It is said that the Americans on the northern plateau were particularly enraged to hear the British using derisive fox hunting calls. Washington ordered a force forward to lure the party of British further onto the plateau, while a second force moved around the British right flank and cut them off from the southern plateau and further reinforcement.
The light infantry and highlanders took the bait and moved further onto the northern plateau as the Americans fell back before them. As they moved south, the American flanking party encountered some British troops and firing broke out, warning the light infantry that they were in a perilous position. Under persistent attack, the British retreated to a field in the Hollow Way where they were joined by troops from the 33rd Foot, some Hessian battalions and guns. The fighting continued for an hour until the imminent arrival of more British forces caused Washington to call his troops back.
This was a skirmish in which probably around 70 British were killed and the same number of Americans. Captain Knowlton was killed.
The importance of this action for the Americans was that
it was the Virginia militia who had fled the British the day before
who fought steadily and effectively alongside the Northern Rangers,
going a long way to restoring the confidence of the American army in