Landing at Kip's Bay was a British maneuver during the New York Campaign in the American Revolutionary War on
September 15, 1776,
occurring on the eastern shore of present-day Manhattan.
The battle was a decisive British victory,
and resulted in the withdrawal of American militia
to Harlem Heights
losing the Battle of Long
Island, General George
Washington and his army of 9,000 troops escaped on the night of
August 29–30 to York
(Manhattan) Island. Despite showing discipline and unity
during the evacuation of Long Island, the army quickly devolved into despair and
Soldiers looted New York houses and deserted by the
hundreds. Entire state militias disbanded and departed for home,
discouraged. Leadership was questioned in the ranks, with soldiers
openly wishing for the return of General Charles Lee
. Washington sent a
missive to the Second
Continental Congress in Philadelphia asking for some direction — specifically, if
City, which then consisted of the southern tip of the
island only, should be abandoned and burned to the ground.
"They would derive great conveniences from it, on the one hand, and
much property would be destroyed on the other," Washington
British troops, led by General William Howe, were
moving north up the east shore of the East River, towards King's
Bridge. During the night of September 3 the British
frigate Rose, taking advantage of a
north-flowing tide and towing thirty flatboats, moved in and anchored in the mouth of
Newtown Creek, across from Kip's Bay.
The next day, more transports and flatboats
moved up the East River. Three warships – HMS Renown
and HMS Pearl
, along with the
schooner HMS Tryal
, sailed into the Hudson
On September 5, Nathanael Greene
recently returned to duty from a serious illness, sent Washington a
letter urging an immediate withdrawal from New York. Without
possession of Long Island, Greene argued, New York City could not
be held. With the army in its scattered situation on York Island,
it was impossible for the Americans to stop a British attack, and
another decisive defeat would be catastrophic. He also recommended
burning the city; once the British had control, it could never be
recovered without a comparable or superior naval
. There was no American benefit to preserving New York
City, Green summarized, and recommended that Washington convene a
war council. By the time the council was gathered on September 7,
however, a letter had arrived from John
stating Congress's resolution that although New York
should not be destroyed, Washington was not required to defend it.
Congress had also decided to send a three-man delegation to confer
with Lord Howe — John Adams
, Benjamin Franklin
, and Edward Rutledge
September 10, British troops moved onto Montresor's Island from Long Island, at the mouth of the Harlem River. Two days later on September 11, the
Congressional delegation arrived on Staten Island to meet
with Howe for several hours.
The meeting, in which Lord
Howe did the majority of the talking, came to nothing. It did,
however, postpone the upcoming British attack, allowing Washington
more time to decide if and where to confront the enemy.
In a September 12 war council, Washington and his generals made the
decision to abandon New York City. Four thousand troops under
General Israel Putnam
behind as a rear guard while the main army moved north to King's
Bridge. On the afternoon of September 13, major British movement
started as the warships Roebuck
along with the frigates Orpheus
moved up the East River and anchored in Bushwick Creek, carrying
148 total cannons and accompanied by six troop transport ships.
September 14 the Americans were urgently moving stores of ammunition and other materiel, along with American sick, to Orangetown, New
Every available horse and wagon was
employed in what Joseph Reed
described as a "grand military exertion". Scouts reported movement
in the British army camps but Washington was unable to determine
where the British would strike. Late that afternoon, most of the
American army had moved north to King's Bridge and Harlem Heights
, and Washington followed that
of the American forces prepared to fight near the then-small
village of Harlem at the
northern end of York Island. Protected by small earthworks, the
American line at Kip's Bay was about 500 Connecticut militia troops under the
command of Colonel William
Many of the American troops were inexperienced
and had no muskets, but carried homemade pikes
made from poles with attached scythe
blades. After having been awake all night, and
having had little or nothing to eat in the previous twenty-four
hours, the Americans awoke to five British warships in the East River near Kip's
Bay, at the present line of 33rd Street.
British forces sent a noisy demonstration of Royal Navy
ships up the Hudson River
early on the morning of September
15, but Washington and his aides determined that it was a diversion
and maintained their forces at the
north end of the island. As the American troops at Kip's Bay lay in
the ditches, the British ships, anchored 200 yards offshore, lay
quiet. The day was oppressively hot. At about ten o'clock, across
the river at Newtown Cove, a first wave of more than eighty
flatboats carrying 4000 British and Hessian soldiers
, standing shoulder to
shoulder, began crossing towards Kip's Bay.
Using flat-bottomed boats for an amphibious landing
, the British, under
the command of General Henry Clinton
began their invasion
. Around eleven in the
morning, the five warships began a salvo of broadside fire that
flattened the flimsy American breastworks
and panicked the Connecticut
militia. "So terrible and so incessant a roar of guns few even in
the army and navy had ever heard before," wrote Ambrose Serle
, private secretary to Lord Howe.
Nearly eighty guns fired at the shore for a full hour. The
Americans were half buried under dirt and sand, and were unable to
return fire due to the smoke and dust. After the guns ceased, the
British flatboats appeared out of the smoke and headed for shore.
By then the American troops were in a panicked retreat.
Although Washington and his aides arrived from the command post at
Harlem Heights soon after the landing began, he was unable to rally
the retreating militia. About a mile inland from Kip's Bay,
Washington rode his horse furiously among the men, trying to stop
them. Cursing violently, he lost control of himself. By some
accounts, he brandished a cocked pistol and drew his sword,
threating to run men through and shouted, "Take the walls! Take the
cornfield!" When no one obeyed, he threw his hat to the ground,
exclaiming in disgust, "Are these the men with which I am to defend
America?" When some fleeing men refused to turn and engage a party
of advancing Hessians, Washington is said to have flogged some of
their officers with his riding crop. The Hessians shot or bayoneted
a number of American troops who were trying to surrender. Two
thousand Continental troops under the command of Generals Samuel
Parsons and John Fellows arrived from the north, but at the sight
of the chaotic militia retreat, they also turned and fled.
Washington, still in a rage, rode within a hundred yards of the
enemy before his aides managed to get him off the field. As more
and more British soldiers came ashore, including light infantry
, they spread out,
advancing in several directions. By late afternoon, another 9000
British troops had landed at Kip's Bay and sent a brigade down to
abandoned New York City, officially taking possession. While most
of the Americans managed to escape to the north, not all got away.
"I saw a Hessian sever a rebel's head from his body and clap it on
a pole in the entrenchments," recorded a British officer. The
southern advance pushed for a half mile to Watts farm (near
present-day 23rd Street) before meeting stiff American resistance.
northern advance stopped at Inclenberg (now Murray Hill), just west of the
present Lexington Avenue, due to orders from General Howe to wait for the
rest of the invading force.
This was extremely fortunate for
the thousands of American troops south of the invasion point, who
would have been cut off from the main army had Clinton continued
west to the Hudson and sealed off their escape route.
General Putnam, leading the several thousand American troops who
were defending the city at the southern portion of York Island, was
trying to escape back to the relative safety of Harlem. He had set
off on a forced march down the east side of the island and almost
led his troops directly into the British invaders. Aaron Burr
, a twenty-year-old lieutenant
in the Continental Army
, convinced Putnam to head
north along the Hudson instead. Trying to avoid being cut off by a
westward British advance, the Americans briefly passed within a
mile of the enemy. Greeted by cheers after having been given up for
lost, Putnam and his men marched into the main camp at Harlem after
dark. When Henry Knox
arrived later after
a narrow escape by seizing a boat on the Hudson, he also was
excitedly greeted and was even embraced by Washington.
Present day Kip's Bay, looking
The British were welcomed by the remaining New York City
population, pulling down the Continental Army flag and raising the
. Howe, who had wanted to
capture New York quickly and with minimal bloodshed, considered the
invasion a complete success. Not wanting to continue battling with
the Americans that day, Howe stopped his troops short of
Washington was extremely angry with his troops' conduct, calling
their actions "shameful" and "scandalous". The Connecticut militia,
who already had a poor reputation, were labeled cowards and held to
blame for the rout. However, some opinions were more circumspect,
such as General William Heath
said, "The wounds received on Long Island were yet bleeding; and
the officers, if not the men, knew that the city was not to be
defended." If the Connecticut men would have stayed to defend York
Island under the withering cannon fire and in the face of
overwhelming force, they would have been annihilated.
The next day, September 16, was the Battle of Harlem Heights
- McCullough, 1776, 188–91.
- McCullough, 1776, 201–02.
- McCullough, 1776, 203.
- McCullough, 1776, 203–04.
- “George!” by Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., Frank E
Grizzard Jr., Mariner Companies, Inc., 2005. ISBN
- McCullough, 1776, 205–06.
- McCullough, 1776, 206.
- Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, 354.
- McCullough, 1776, 207.
- McCullough, 1776, 207–08.
- McCullough, 1776, 208.
- Fischer, Washington's Crossing, 102.
- McCullough, 1776, 208–09.
- Fischer, Washington's Crossing, 102
- McCullough, 1776, 210–11
- McCullough, 1776, 212.
- Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, 355
- McCullough, 1776, 211–213.
- McCullough, 1776, 213
- McCullough, 1776, 213–214.
- McCullough, 1776, 212–13
- Matloff, American Military History, 65
- McCullough, 1776, 214–15
- McCullough, 1776, 216