new york harbor
When one side of a war takes control of an area or a fort belonging to the other side, they often change the name of the area or fort to reflect the name of the hero who laid siege on it. Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen became a British hero in 1776, when he and a force of 3,000 Hessian mercenaries and 5,000 Redcoats laid siege to Fort Washington at the northern end and highest point of Manhattan Island on November 16, 1776.
Throughout that morning, Knyphausen met stiff resistance from the Patriot riflemen inside, but by afternoon, the Patriots were overwhelmed, and the garrison commander, Colonel Robert Magaw, surrendered. Nearly 3,000 Patriots were taken prisoner, and valuable ammunition and supplies were lost to the Hessians. The prisoners faced a particularly grim fate, because many later died aboard British prison ships anchored in New York Harbor. Among the 53 dead and 96 wounded Patriots were John and Margaret Corbin of Virginia. When John died in action, his wife Margaret took over his cannon, cleaning, loading, and firing the gun until she too was severely wounded. The first woman known to have fought for the Continental Army, Margaret survived, but lost the use of her left arm. Margaret Cochran (Corbin) was born in Western Pennsylvania on November 12, 1751 in what is now Franklin County. Her parents were Robert Cochran, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his wife, Sarah. In 1756, when Margaret was five years old, her parents were attacked by Native Americans. Her father was killed, and her mother was kidnapped, never to be seen again. Margaret and her brother, John escaped the raid because they were not at home. They lived with their uncle for the rest of their childhood. Margaret became a survivor…not a victim, and I’m sure that was why she picked up where her husband left off and fought as well as any man there.
While Margaret, her husband, John, and many others showed great heroics in the attack, not everyone involved in Magaw’s army, were heroes. Two weeks earlier, one of Magaw’s officers, William Demont, had deserted the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion and given British intelligence agents information about the Patriot defense of New York, including details about the location and defense of Fort Washington. Demont was the first traitor to the Patriot cause, and his treason contributed significantly to Knyphausen’s victory. What a vast difference there was between this horrible, traitorous man and the very brave Margaret Corbin!!
After the siege, and in honor of Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, who had stormed the post five days earlier, British Commander in Chief General William Howe renamed Fort Washington, “Fort Knyphausen” on November 17, 1776. It was a devastating loss to the patriots. Today, the site of Fort Washington is Bennett Park on Fort Washington Avenue, between West 183rd and West 185th streets in the neighborhood of the Washington Heights section of New York City. The locations of the fort’s walls are marked in the park by stones, along with a tablet commemorating the location of Fort Washington, and the brave troops who took back the fort on their triumphal entry into the city of New York on November 25, 1783. Nearby is a tablet indicating that the schist outcropping is the highest natural point on Manhattan Island, one of the reasons for the fort’s location. Bennett Park is located a few blocks north of the George Washington Bridge. Along the banks of the Hudson River below the Henry Hudson Parkway is Fort Washington Park and the small point of land alternately called Jeffrey’s Hook or Fort Washington Point, which is the site of the Little Red Lighthouse.
When most of us think of submarines, we think of the modern day nuclear subs that are basically underwater mobile cities, but as we all know, submarines have been around a lot longer…just how long was a surprise to me, although a learned history buff might not have been shocked at all. The idea of being able to operate underwater, actually dates back to ancient times when people used a hollow stick to breathe underwater. I’m not sure how successful any of those early attempts were, especially in the use of a vehicle of some kind, but probably not successful enough to warrant any kind of mass production.
The first documented record of a submarine being used in combat, came as quite a surprise to me. The submarine, named Turtle, but usually called American Turtle, was used during the American Revolutionary War in 1776. Turtle was built in Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 1775 by American, David Bushnell as a means of attaching explosive charges to ships in a harbor. Turtle was designed for use against British Royal Navy vessels occupying North American harbors. Then Connecticut governor, Jonathan Trumbull recommended the invention to George Washington. Even though Washington had his doubts, he provided funds and support for the submarine’s development and testing.
By 1776, Turtle was ready for testing. Several attempts were made by submarine operator, Sergeant Ezra Lee to affix explosives to the undersides of British warship HMS Eagle on September 7, 1776 in New York Harbor. Unfortunately, all of them failed, and Turtle’s transport ship was sunk later that year by the British…with Turtle aboard. Bushnell claimed to have recovered Turtle, but that has not been proven. Replicas of Turtle have been built and they are on display at the Connecticut River Museum, the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force Library and Museum, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco.
While Turtle was not successful, it was innovative, and it inspired other inventors to come up with ways that a submarine could be successful in combat, as well as exploration. I have to wonder if David Bushnell, or any of the other early inventors of crafts that operated under water had any idea how far below the surface of the oceans the submarine would eventually be able to go. Think of all the ships and planes that would never have been located, if we had no way to peer beneath the surface, and how much cargo would never have been recovered if we could not travel far below to not only locate, but salvage the cargo lost at sea. The submarine is truly amazing.