The Battle of Harlem Heights
Adjutant General Joseph Reed to his wife.
Heights near Kingsbridge, September 17, 1776
Just after I had sealed my letter and sent it away, an account came that the enemy were advancing upon us in three large columns. We have so made false reports that I desired the General to permit me to go and discover what truth there was in the account. I accordingly went down to our most advanced guard and while I was talking with the officer, the enemy's advanced guard fired upon us at a small distance. Our men behaved well, stood and returned the fire till, overpowered by numbers, they were obliged to retreat The enemy advanced upon us very fast. I had not quitted a house 5 minutes before they were in possession of it. |
Finding how things were going I went over to the General to get some support for the brave fellows who had behaved so well. By the time I got to him the enemy appeared in open view and in the most insulting manner sounded their bugle horns as is usual after a fox chase. I never felt such a sensation before; it seemed to crown our disgrace.
The General was prevailed on to order over a party to attack them,and | as I had been upon the ground which no one else had, it fell to me to conduct I them. An unhappy movement was made by a regiment of ours which had been ordered to amuse them while those I was with expected to take them in the rear. But being diverted by this the Virginia regiment, with which I was, went another course; finding there was no stopping them, I went with them the new way and in a few minutes our brave fellows mounted up the rocks and attacked them; then they ran in turn. Each party sent in more succours so that at last it became a very considerable engagement and men fell on every side.
However, our troops still pressed on, drove the enemy above a mile and a half till the General ordered them to give over the pursuit, fearing the whole of the enemy's army would advance upon them; they retreated in very good order and I assure you it has given another face of things in our army. The men have recovered their spirits and feel a confidence which before they had quite lost. We have several prisoners and have buried a considerable number of their dead. Our own loss is also considerable. The Virginia major (Leech) `who went up first with me was wounded with 3 shots in less than 3 minutes. But our greatest loss was a brave officer from Connecticut whose name and spirit ought to be immortalized, one Col Knowlton. I assisted him off and when gasping in the agonies of death all his inquiry was if we had drove the
Be not alarmed, my dear creature, when I tell you the horse I rode received a shot just behind his fore shoulder. It happened to be [one] taken from a number on the hill. Tho' [many fell] round me, thank God I was not struck [by] a single ball, and I have the great happiness [to know] that I have by getting the General to [direct a] reinforcement to go over contributed in [some way] to the benefit which may result from this [action]. When I speak of its importance I do not mean that I thihk the enemy have suffered a loss which will affect their operations but it has given spirits to our men that I hope they will now look the enemy in the face with confidence. But alas our situation here must soon be a very distressing one if we do not receive much relief in the articles of stores, provision, forage, etc. The demands of a large army are very great and we are in a very doubtful condition on this head.