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The Battle of Brooklyn Heights


Our country’s Revolutionary War lasted eight years from 1775-83. During the early months of that war, the bizarre “Battle of Brooklyn Heights” may have unexpectedly saved this young nation.

Following their failed attempt to capture Boston, during March 1776 the British troops sailed to Nova Scotia to reinforce their troops and develop plans for capturing New York City. They planned to occupy New York City then move up the Hudson River to separate the “troublesome” New England colonies from the rest of the American colonies thus ending the ongoing rebellion.

Four months later, August 1776, in the world’s largest amphibious operation prior to the 20th century, the British Navy moved 21,000 infantrymen to New York’s Gravesend Bay. Believing “He who controls the Heights controls the City,” their objective was to take control of Brooklyn Heights New York City’s highest point.

However, General George Washington, anticipating that the British might try such a plan, stayed one step ahead. He positioned his force of 11,000 soldiers, a majority of the Continental Army, to defend Brooklyn Heights.

One account of that battle reads: “Out-flanked and out fought, Washington’s Continental Army reeled under the British assault. Within a couple of hours, they suffered 2,700 casualties and were pushed off the Brooklyn Heights.”

Having won that battle, all the British troops had to do was keep Washington and his army trapped with their backs to the East River making them an easy target. The British commander could then sail his ships up the river behind them, attack them, win the battle, and, hopefully, end the war right there.

Fate, however, intervened. As General Sir William Howe, the British commander-in-chief, was relishing his envisioned “victory,” a strong storm blew in from the northeast and prevented the British wind-driven ships from sailing up the East River.

During the darkness of night, that same storm allowed Washington’s troops time to escape to the other side of the river by secretly and repetitively rowing small boats filled with Continental soldiers across the river. Their situation was extremely hazardous because the British troops were camped just a few hundred yards away so close Washington’s troops could hear them from the ferry dock. Throughout the night Washington’s troops quietly rowed their boats back and forth across the river transporting group after group. Slowly each group made its way to the water’s edge, boarded the small boats and silently paddled across the river thus escaping capture.

During that process, Washington rode among the troops telling them to “keep quiet and keep moving.” Unfortunately, as dawn approached and the final groups of soldiers were filling the boats, the storm that had provided cover throughout the night suddenly ended. However, an unexpected, life-saving, ground fog rose to hide the river, the British line, and the last boatloads of Continental troops. As the morning sun “burned off” the fog, soldiers looking across the river from Manhattan could see the last boats load. They spotted a tall figure in a long black cloak with a three cornered hat. It was General Washington, the last man to board the boats and cross the river.

Thus Washington’s Army escaped in the dark of night. The storm plus that miraculous early morning fog had protected them during their escape!

Later, Washington’s army crossed the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, surprised the British at Trenton and Princeton, and put new life in the American cause. Ultimately, six years later, America won the Revolutionary War thanks, in part, to that critical “life-saving fog” at Brooklyn Heights!

Ken and Nan Webster have collected inspiration for many years from many sources, and now inspire readers of “A Matter That Matters.” Contact them at or visit

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