New York & New Jersey Campaign > Battle of Harlem Heights

Battle of Harlem Heights


The Battle of Harlem Heights, fought on September 16, 1776, was a significant engagement during the American Revolutionary War. It took place in what is now the Morningside Heights and Harlem neighborhoods of Manhattan, New York City. This battle followed the American defeat at the Battle of Long Island and the subsequent retreat from New York City. The Battle of Harlem Heights marked a morale-boosting victory for the Continental Army, demonstrating their ability to stand up to British forces.


  1. Strategic Context:

    • After the American defeat at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, General George Washington and the Continental Army were forced to retreat from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
    • The British, under General Sir William Howe, aimed to capture New York City and pursue the Continental Army to force a decisive engagement. Washington sought to delay the British advance and find a defensible position.
  2. American Position:

    • Washington positioned his troops on the high ground of Harlem Heights, a strong defensive location on the northern part of Manhattan Island. The area provided a vantage point to observe British movements and offered natural defensive advantages.
    • American forces numbered around 9,000 troops, including regulars and militia, positioned to defend against the expected British assault.
  3. British Movements:

    • The British and Hessian forces, numbering around 5,000, moved northward from their positions in New York City. General Howe aimed to outflank and trap the Continental Army, cutting off their retreat.

The Battle:

  1. Skirmish and Reconnaissance:

    • On the morning of September 16, 1776, a detachment of American troops under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton and Major Andrew Leitch engaged in a skirmish with British light infantry near Bloomingdale (modern-day Upper West Side).
    • The skirmish served as a reconnaissance mission to probe British strength and positions. Initially, the Americans were forced to withdraw under pressure from the advancing British forces.
  2. Main Engagement:

    • Washington, observing the initial skirmish, recognized an opportunity to counterattack. He ordered reinforcements to support Knowlton and Leitch, including troops under Colonel Joseph Reed.
    • The Americans launched a coordinated attack, advancing through the wooded terrain and engaging the British forces. The battle saw fierce fighting, with both sides exchanging musket and artillery fire.
  3. American Tactical Success:

    • The American troops, utilizing the cover provided by the terrain, managed to outflank the British forces. The British light infantry, under pressure from the American counterattack, began to fall back.
    • Despite the death of Lieutenant Colonel Knowlton and the wounding of Major Leitch, the American forces continued to press the attack, driving the British back towards their main lines.

Aftermath and Impact:

  1. Casualties:

    • American casualties were estimated at around 30 killed and 100 wounded. The British and Hessian forces suffered similar losses, with around 90 killed and wounded.
    • The death of Knowlton, a respected officer, was a significant loss for the Americans. He was later honored for his bravery and leadership.
  2. Strategic Consequences:

    • The Battle of Harlem Heights was a morale-boosting victory for the Continental Army. It demonstrated that American forces could successfully engage and repel British troops, countering the narrative of invincibility surrounding the British army.
    • The victory encouraged the Continental Army and helped restore confidence following the defeats at Long Island and the retreat from New York City.
  3. Washington's Leadership:

    • Washington's decision to counterattack and his ability to inspire his troops played a crucial role in the battle's outcome. His leadership was instrumental in achieving the American tactical success.


The Battle of Harlem Heights stands as an important early victory for the Continental Army, symbolizing resilience and the potential for success in the struggle for American independence. It marked a turning point in the morale and confidence of Washington's forces, proving their ability to challenge British dominance on the battlefield.

New York & New Jersey Campaign Battles


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