Greenwood Heights

History comes alive at Green-Wood

240th Anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn

August 29, 2016 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Keynote speaker Joseph McCarthy. Eagle photo by John Alexander

Green-Wood Cemetery hosted an entire day’s worth of activities this past Sunday honoring the heroes of the Battle of Brooklyn on the 240th anniversary of the historic confrontation between American and British troops.

America’s path to independence really began in August of 1776 during a violent, evolving, two-day battle. The Battle of Brooklyn was the first battle fought by the U.S. as an independent nation, and it was fought on land that is now part of the cemetery.

To commemorate this historic event, Green-Wood began the day with a trolley tour visiting Revolutionary War sites led by author and historian Barnet Schecter and Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman.

Richman told the Brooklyn Eagle that this battle has largely been forgotten over the years, but that Green-Wood, along with other organizations, has brought it back to the public’s attention. The event “brings history back to life,” according to Richman, who added, “It gives people the opportunity to see and hear and become interested in history, and go out on their own and discover all sorts of things that they never knew.” Richman explained, for instance, that people may not know that in Brooklyn, George Washington was in command of the Continentals, and that this was the biggest battle of the entire revolution.

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Attendees were also treated to living history programs, including military drills and a weapons demonstrations featuring reenactments of battles with actors dressed as American and British soldiers meeting on the battlefield. There were rifle and cannon demonstrations, along with reenactors intermingling in character with those in attendance while happily posing for photos.

The commemorative ceremony took place in front of the monument and Altar to Liberty, which was presented to the people of Brooklyn by donor Charles M. Higgins.  The monument stands atop the highest point in Brooklyn where the battle was fought.

Following a welcome from Richman and Battle of Brooklyn Memorial Society member Eric Kramer, who made the audience laugh when he said that this was “the best crowd gathered here since Grover Cleveland was alive,” the Rev. Katherine A. Salisbury of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church offered the invocation. City Councilmember Brad Lander thanked the veterans for attending and acknowledged Alexander Hamilton and his newfound popularity due to the hit play “Hamilton,” noting that Hamilton was 21 when he fought in the Battle of Brooklyn.

This year’s keynote speaker was acclaimed filmmaker Joseph McCarthy, who directed the film “The Brave Man,” which focused on Gen. William Alexander, Lord Stirling. McCarthy has served on the board of the Old Stone House for many years, and for two years as interim executive.

McCarthy gave a well-received speech that began with a reference to the Roman goddess Minerva whose statue stood before the Altar of Liberty where everyone was gathered. McCarthy drew a correlation between the statue of Minerva and “another statue, across the water, the Statue of Liberty. And where Minerva wore many hats, she only wears one, a crown, but what she holds high is the flame of liberty.”

McCarthy added that some believe that the statue is “looking at this hillside, where, on Aug. 27, 1776, the embers of the American Revolution burst into flame. She knew, and she remembers.”

McCarthy also made reference to the significance of the Battle of Brooklyn, saying, “One hundred years later, Walt Whitman celebrated the battle in his great poem ‘The Centenarian’s Tale.’ When Lady Liberty arrived here in 1885, there could be no question where she should face: she should face Battle Hill, right here, and, down there, Battle Pass, in Prospect Park, and still further on, the Old Stone House in the Gowanus valley, where two companies of men from Maryland and Delaware delayed the great British Army long enough for the rest of their compatriots in the field to escape … We are gathered today to remember the Battle of Brooklyn, and to mourn and honor the 1,100 men who were killed or captured during the battle.”

McCarthy garnered a round of applause when he proclaimed “As has been often said, the Declaration of Independence was signed in ink in Philadelphia, and signed in blood in Brooklyn.”

He concluded his remarks by adding, “The men fighting in the hills around us in August 1776 couldn’t have envisioned how the twists and turns of history would bring us to where we are today, but we must be grateful to them for their trust in the future. I think they would be immensely proud to know what has arisen from the bloody foundation they put down.”

After enthusiastically applauding McCarthy’s speech, the audience remained silent as the Regimental Band of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy played “Amazing Grace.” Rev. Salisbury gave the benediction and the band played “Taps” as the crowd departed in single file from the ceremony. It was a fitting way to end a day of celebration and salutation of an integral part of America’s proud past.

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