On this day in 1776, General George Washington writes to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, reporting on the Battle at Harlem Heights and relaying the unfortunate news of the death of Captain Thomas Knowlton.
In the early morning hours of September 16, 1776, General Washington ordered the Continentals to hold their line at Harlem Heights while he sent Captain Thomas Knowlton and a volunteer group of Rangers to scout British movements and possibly lure the British into combat. While Captain Knowlton and the Rangers engaged the British in a frontal assault, Washington sent a second force of Patriots to attack the British from their right flank. During the short but intense fighting that ensued, the Americans were able to force a small British retreat from their northern positions.
Despite the American failure to stop the British invasion of New York City the previous day at Kip’s Bay, the successful Battle of Harlem Heights restored public confidence in the American troops and lifted the spirits of the Continental Army. The Americans and British each lost approximately 70 troops in the fighting. One of the Americans lost was the Ranger leader, Captain Thomas Knowlton.
In his letter to Congress, General Washington wrote, “The Parties under Colonel Knowlton and Major Leitch unluckily began their Attack too soon, it was rather in flank than in Rear. In a little time Major Leitch was brought off wounded, having received three Balls thro’ his side, and in a short time after Col. Knowlton got a Wound, which proved Mortal.” Despite his premature action, Washington memorialized Knowlton as “a brave and good Officer.”