George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lord Stirling, 29 August 1776

From Lord Stirling

Eagle, August 29th 1776.

My dear General

I have now an Oppertunity of informing you of what has happened to me Since I had last the pleasure of Seeing you; about 3 oClock in the morning of 27th I was Called up and Informed by General Putnam that the Enemy were advanceing by the Road from flat Bush to the Red Lyon,1 and ordered me to March with the two Regiments nearest at hand to Meet them; these happend to be Haslets & Smallwoods, with which I accordingly Marched, and was on the Road to the Narrows Just as the day light began to appear, we proceeded to within about half a Mile of the Red Lyon and there met Col: Atlee with his Regiment who Informed me, that the Enemy were in Sight, indeed I then Saw their front between us and the Red Lyon, I desired Colonel Atlee to place his Regiment on the left of the Road and to wait their Comeing up, while I went to form the two Regiments I had brought with me, along a Ridge from the Road up to a peice of wood on the Top of the Hill, this was done Instantly on very Advantageous ground. Our Opponents advanced and were fired upon in the Road by Atlee’s, who after two or three Rounds retreated to the wood on my left and there formed,2 by this time Kichline’s Rifle Men arrived, part of them I placed along a hedge under the front of the Hill, and the rest in the front of the wood.3 The troops opposed to me were two Brigades of four Regiments Each under the Command of General Grant; who advanced their light Troops to within 150 yards of our Right front, and took possession of an Orchard there & some hedges which extended towards our left;4 this brought on an Exchange of fire between those troops and Our Rifle Men which Continued for about two hours and the[n] Ceased by those light troops retireing to their Main Body. In the Meantime Capt. Carpenter brought up two feild peices which were placed on the side of the Hill, so as to Command the Road and the Only Approach for some hundred Yards; on the part of General Grant there were two feild peices one Howitz advanced to within three Hundred yards of the front of our Right and alike detachment of Artillery to the front of our left on a riseing Ground, at About 600 yards distance, one of their Brigades, formed in two lines opposite to our Right and the other Extended in one line to top of the Hills in the front of our left, in this possition we stood Cannonadeing each other ’till Near Eleven oClock, when I found that General Howe with the Main Body [of] the Army was between me and Our Lines, and saw that [the] only Chance of Escapeing being all made prisoners,5 was to pass the Creek near the Yellow Mills, and in order to render this the more practicable I found it Absolutely Necessary to Attack a Body of Troops Commanded by Lord Cornwallis posted at the House near the Upper Mills; this I Instantly did, with about half of smallwoods first ordering all the other troops to make the best of their way thro’ the Creek,6 we Continued the Attack a Considerable time the Men haveing been rallied and the Attack renewed five or Six Several times, and were on the point of driveing Lord Cornwallis from his Station, but large [Succours]7 arriveing rendered it impossible to do more than to provide for Safety, I endeavoured to get in between that House and fort Box,8 but on Attempting it I found a Considerable body of Troops in my Front, and Several in pursuit of me on the Right & left & a Constant fireing on me, I immediately Turned the point of a Hill which Covered me from their fire, and I was soon out of the Reach of my pursuers; I soon found that it would be in Vain to Attempt to make my Escape, and therefore went to Surrender my self to General De Heister Commander in Cheif of the Hessians.9

AL, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 31 Aug. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. Stirling was a prisoner aboard Lord Howe’s flagship, the Eagle (see Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 80–82). This letter was brought to GW by Gen. John Sullivan, who had been paroled by his British captors (see GW to Hancock, 31 Aug.).

1The Red Lion Tavern stood about three miles south of the Brooklyn ferry at the junction of Gowanus Road, which ran from Brooklyn to the Narrows, and Martense Lane, a narrow road leading southeast through the Heights of Guana toward Flatbush.

2For Col. Samuel John Atlee’s account of these events, see his journal entry for 27 Aug. in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:1251–55. For other accounts, see extract of a letter from a Marylander [Mordecai Gist], 30 Aug., ibid., 1232–33; extract of a letter from New York, 1 Sept., ibid., 2:107–8; Sabine, Fitch’s New-York Diary description begins W. H. W. Sabine, ed. The New-York Diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch of the 17th (Connecticut) Regiment from August 22, 1776 to December 15, 1777. New York, 1954. description ends , 30–31; and Samuel Holden Parsons to John Adams, 29 Aug., in Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 5:4–7.

3Lt. Col. Peter Kachlein (Kechlein; 1722–1789) commanded the militia regiment that had been raised in Northampton County, Pa., during July as part of the state’s quota for the flying camp. Kachlein’s men arrived on Long Island on 26 Aug., and in the fighting on Gowanus Road this day, many of them, including Kachlein, were captured. A native of Heidelburg, Germany, Kachlein emigrated to America in 1742 and soon settled at the site of Easton, Pennsylvania. From 1774 to 1775 he was a member of the Northampton County committee of observation and the Pennsylvania convention. On 22 May 1775 Kachlein was named captain of the Easton company of associators, and on 17 July 1776 he became lieutenant colonel of the county’s flying camp regiment. After the Battle of Long Island, Kachlein remained in captivity until he was paroled on 29 Dec. 1776. He was exchanged in August 1778 and became Northampton’s county lieutenant in March 1780.

4Maj. Gen. James Grant commanded his own 4th Brigade, which consisted of the 17th, 40th, 46th, and 55th regiments, and Brig. Gen. James Agnew’s 6th Brigade, which consisted of the 22d, 43d, 54th, and 63d regiments. Grant’s force also included the 42d Royal Highlanders, two New York provincial companies, and a Royal Artillery detachment with ten guns (see William Howe to George Germain, 3 Sept., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:216–18).

5The words within square brackets are taken from the copy in DNA:PCC, item 152.

6The retreating troops crossed Gowanus Creek and its extensive marshes to the Brooklyn lines, while Stirling with five companies from Col. William Smallwood’s Maryland regiment covered their retreat and tried to escape up the Gowanus Road by attacking the 2d Grenadiers and 71st Highlanders who had blocked the road behind him near the Cortelyou house. “Most of our Generals,” an anonymous American participant wrote on 1 Sept., “were upon a high hill in our [Brooklyn] lines, viewing us with glasses. When we began our retreat, they could see the enemy we had to pass through, though we could not. Many of them thought we would surrender in a body, without firing. When we began the attack, General Washington wrung his hands, and cried out, Good God! What brave fellows I must this day lose!” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:107–8; for other accounts of this action, see extract of a letter from a Marylander [Mordecai Gist], 30 Aug., ibid., 1:1232–33; Sabine, Fitch’s Diary description begins W. H. W. Sabine, ed. The New-York Diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch of the 17th (Connecticut) Regiment from August 22, 1776 to December 15, 1777. New York, 1954. description ends , 30–31; and Martin, Private Yankee Doodle description begins Joseph Plumb Martin. Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. Edited by George F. Scheer. 1962. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 26.

7Although this word is struck out on the manuscript of the AL, it appears in the copies in DNA:PCC.

8Fort Box, which presumably was named for Gen. Nathanael Greene’s brigade major Daniel Box, was a small redoubt located at the southeastern end of the Brooklyn lines near the head of Gowanus Creek.

9Leopold Philipp, Freiherr von Heister (d. 1777), an elderly lieutenant general in the service of the landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, commanded the division of Hessian troops, containing about eighty-six hundred men, that arrived at Staten Island on 12 Aug. (see Atwood, Hessians description begins Rodney Atwood. The Hessians: Mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution. Cambridge, England, and New York, 1980. description ends , 51–57). On 25 Aug. Heister landed on Long Island with two Hessian brigades totaling about four thousand men and relieved Cornwallis’s troops at Flatbush. During the Battle of Long Island, Heister’s corps attacked the American detachment at Flatbush Pass and moved west to assist in cutting off Stirling’s force on Gowanus Road. An officer of considerable battlefield experience but only moderate abilities, Heister was criticized increasingly by General Howe over the next four months for his seeming lack of aggressiveness and alleged indulgence of plundering. Howe’s complaints and news of the Hessian defeat at Trenton on 26 Dec. 1776 convinced the landgrave to recall Heister in April 1777. Heister left America the following July, and in October he reached Cassel, where he died the following month (see ibid., 61–65, 103–13).

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