Americans Fought From Treetops
In Last Stand On Battle Hill
Battle Hill has been honored as an important site in the Battle of Long Island since the fabulous Victorian cemetery Greenwood was built there in the 19th century. Its role in the battle is slightly less central and perhaps a bit more legandary than the Old Stone House or Battle Pass.
Fighting did occur on the hill and it has been the principal shrine to the battle for more than a century. Here are the main points of the story:
American riflemen had taken up a position on Battle Hill in what is now Greenwood Cemetery. From the highest point in the area, they could use their rifles to good advantage against the British officers.
One American rifleman somewhere in the area killed Lt. Col. James Grant and another officer.
As the British closed in on Battle Hill, they fired a volley into a treetop, killing an
American sniper. The hill was soon surrounded and the British rushed in. The defenders
were shot. The British would not allow the American sniper to be buried. Accounts say the
tree in which he had been positioned soon blew over in a storm. At night, his body was
moved to the cavity opened when the tree's roots pulled out of the ground.
Noted on the Altar to Liberty on Battle Hill, in a piece written by Sarah Day in 1913, are remarks by Col. Grant and Lord Sterling, the American commander of the Maryland 400. Grant had told the House of Commons that if he were given 5,000 men, he could cross the American continent. On the day of the battle, Sterling told his men, "I promise you he'll march no farther through our continent than Brower's Mill Ponds yonder."
At the end of the day, Grant was dead and the mill ponds were in British hands.
Though casualty figures were disputed, the Americans apparently lost about 1,100 men captured, many of them wounded. Another 100 wounded were evacuated to within the new American lines. Estimates are that 300 Americans were killed. The British lost about 370 killed and wounded, plus 23 prisoners who were successfully carried to Brooklyn Heights in the retreat.
While the British had successfully taken the low hills of Brooklyn through superior tactics, they had also begun to learn the terrible truth of the long conflict. It was expensive to take even small pieces of ground from the American army. The patriots could match the best soldiers in the world for hours, and then retreat to fight another day. The continent was huge and even with a very determined king, there would never be enough time, money and men to subdue the patriots.
The Battle of Long Island Memorial Committee holds at memorial ceremony at Battle Hill annually at 2 p.m. on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the battle, which occurred Aug. 27, 1776.
Address: Greenwood Cemetery, 500 25th Street.
Hours: Closes at 4 p.m.
Tours: Availble occasionally from local guide.
Transportation: N or R Train to 25th Street. (From Old Stone House, take the N or R train to 25th Street, walk east on 25th to main gate. Ask guard to point direction to Battle Hill.)
Web site: www.green-wood.com/index.html