The dead spoke loudly yesterday at Green-Wood Cemetery, where part of the Battle of Brooklyn took place back on August 27, 1776.
Loudest of all were the guns and cannon fired by the reenactors who’d traveled to this spot to commemorate that bloody engagement—the first test of the newly established Continental Army and the largest battle of the Revolutionary War.
Also known as the Battle of Long Island, it did not go well for the Americans, but thanks to a brave and suicidal counterattack by a small group of Maryland troops, brilliant tactics by General Washington, and fortuitous weather, most of the inexperienced army—some 9000 men—escaped to fight another day, much to the bewilderment of the British General Howe.
For some 90 years now, locals and visitors have held on-site commemorations of the Battle of Brooklyn. While the swamps and farms are long gone, Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, and the Old Stone House afford some tiny inkling of what things were like for those armies. It’s the least we can do, as Americans, to give some thought to those who risked and often gave everything, including their lives, for the dream of an independent nation free of tyranny.
One wonders what would happen if those on the two sides of our present political chasm were to make a point of meeting peacefully at events like these. Maybe we could find more common ground by sitting down together on what is, literally, common ground.
Reenactors parade through Green-Wood Cemetery Commemorating the Battle of Brooklyn, August 29, 2010
Battle Hill in the cemetery is the highest point in Brooklyn. Looking out from the crest of the hill across western Brooklyn and New York Bay to Staten Island and New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty gives at least some sense that beneath the paved city lie the remnants of a natural topography. The green, hilly surroundings of the 478-acre cemetery add to the effect.
The Merchant Marine Academy Band mounts Battle Hill
When we think of the Revolution, we tend to think of Philadelphia (for the Declaration of Independence), Massachusetts (for Paul Revere and the Adamses and Lexington and Bunker Hill), and Virginia (Yorktown). But in the immediate aftermath of the Declaration, with the establishment of the Army of the United States of America, all the action was in and around New York City. Washington’s men were ill-equipped, green, and outnumbered. But of course they survived 1776 and the rest is, obviously, history.
Outside the American Legion Hall at Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn, a mile or so from Green-Wood’s main entrance, there’s a plaque which notes that somewhere beneath these streets—exact location unknown—lie the remains of the Marylanders who fell on August 27, 234 years ago. Everywhere we go we walk on history.