SAVE THE VISTA

COMMITTEE TO SAVE THE VISTA

c/o The Municipal Art Society, 457 Madison Avenue, New York, NY  10022

Tel: 267-980-5528   Fax: 212-753-1816   info@savethevista.org

OLD STONE HOUSE

 

The Old Stone House, strategically positioned at a crossroads, made it the focus of the most dramatic event of the day. Taken in the morning by an estimated two thousand British soldiers, it blocked the retreat of the out-manned American army in the field.  General Lord Stirling attacked Cornwallis with a small group of Marylanders in a valiant effort to cover the retreat of the American forces.  Into a rain of British fire the Marylanders charged, and Cornwallis recoiled, stunned by the unexpected rebel onslaught.  Though the ground became littered with dead and dying Maryland militia, Stirling formed them up again.  Again, they attacked, closing up the line when comrades fell, reforming and attacking again, their numbers diminishing by the minute.  Six times Stirling charged, and twice the assaults drove the British from the stone house. 

 

Each attack was met with withering counterfire as the British masses swelled against this fanatically determined American rearguard.  As Stirling launched his last assault, with a remaining handful of men, even more British reinforcements arrived.  At last, the remnant of the Marylanders broke into small parties to fight their way to safety.  In the last attack Stirling himself was captured by some Hessians who had outrun their unit.  But he refused to give up to Cornwallis, the senior British commander on the scene.  Instead, on searching out de Heister, he surrendered his sword to the Hessian commander.  Cornwallis later said, “General Lord Stirling fought like a wolf.”

 

Stirling’s and the Marylanders’ gallant action allowed the rest of the Americans remaining in the field to escape across the Gowanus Creek and survive.  Only seven men crossing the Gowanus were lost through drowning.  But the Marylanders had sacrificed themselves for the sake of the army.  Out of barely 400 men, 256 lay dead in front of the Old Stone House. 

 

A smaller action took place on a hill a mile south of the Old Stone House where an unidentified, company-sized unit of American riflemen had taken position.  The hill rises steeply above the Gowanus Road at about present-day 24th Street.  There, because of their commanding position and the sparse foliage, the Americans, for the first time in the battle, were able to make use of the accuracy of their long rifles.  They concentrated their fire on officers of units from Cornwallis’ column that had bypassed the Old Stone House to clean out pockets of resistance.

 

Some of the Americans had posted themselves in trees to get a better field of fire.  One, who killed Lieutenant Colonel James Grant and another officer, was discovered and a British squad fired a volley into the tree, dispatching him.  The two British officers were buried in a field, but the American sniper’s body was left to rot on the ground as an example.  Civilians were prohibited from burying it.  A few days later, though, a storm felled the tree and late the next night his body was placed in the cavity left by the roots and covered with earth. 

 

This American position on the hill was soon surrounded and rushed and the defenders shot.  The fallen were buried where they lay.  It is now Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery, where the Altar to Liberty stands. 2