Bennett Park and Fort Washington, New York City

Photo by Michael Kleen

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Over 240 years ago, this unassuming park in Manhattan was the scene of one of the patriot’s worst defeats during the Revolutionary War.

The Battle of Fort Washington was fought on November 16, 1776 between American forces commanded by Col. Robert Magaw and British and Hessian forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Hugh Percy and Wilhelm von Knyphausen in present-day Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was a complete British victory, with all American defenders killed, wounded, or captured.

In the fall of 1776, American aspirations of independence were at a low point. British General Sir William Howe had overwhelmed and driven the Continental Army commanded by Gen. George Washington out of New York City and Long Island. Washington aspired to escape north to White Plains to avoid being surrounded in Manhattan. He left several thousand men at Fort Washington under Col. Robert Magaw and a brigade commanded by Col. John Glover at Pell’s Point to contest any British landing.

Though Col. Glover delayed the British advance at Pell’s Point on October 18, he was forced to retreat. With General Washington’s defeat at White Plains ten days later, the path was clear for Howe’s army to march on Fort Washington. Col. Robert Magaw stubbornly held on despite Washington’s discretionary order that the fort be abandoned.

At noon on November 16, British forces attacked the fort’s outer defenses from three sides. Hessian mercenaries commanded by Wilhelm von Knyphausen made the main breakthrough on the fort’s eastern approach. During the fighting, an artilleryman named John Corbin was killed, and his wife Margaret took his place at the cannon, helping to load and fire it until she was severely wounded. After the war, she was given a military pension and recognized as the first woman to serve in combat in the U.S. Army.

As the smoke cleared, 59 Americans lay dead and 96 wounded. Eighty-four British and Hessians were killed and 374 wounded. Hessian Col. Johann Gottlieb Rall, who would be killed later that year at the Battle of Trenton, accepted Fort Washington’s surrender. Two thousand, eight hundred and thirty seven Americans were taken prisoner, nearly three-fourths of whom would die in captivity.

Fought between Great Britain and her Thirteen American Colonies from 1775 to 1883, the Revolutionary War led to a Declaration of Independence and the formation of the United States of America in 1776. The Thirteen Colonies won their independence, at the cost of an estimated 158,000 British, American, French, German, Spanish, and American Indian lives. It was a dynamic and surprisingly international conflict.

Fort Washington no longer exists, but it is commemorated by the Fort Washington Memorial at Bennett Park. The Fort Washington Memorial, made from Vermont white marble, bronze, and Quincy granite, was designed by architect Charles Lamb and dedicated in 1901. Granite stones mark the boundaries of the fort on the pavement, and visitors can view a reconstructed Revolutionary War-era cannon. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

The 1.8-acre Bennett Park is bound by Pinehurst Avenue, W 183rd Street, Fort Washington Avenue, and W 185th Street in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, just east of the Henry Hudson Parkway and northeast of George Washington Bridge. The park is named after newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett and is open from dawn to dusk.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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