Today, the New York State Quarter Coin remembers the capture of Fort Washington 240 years ago with documentation from both sides.
First, from the American side — in the Diary of the Revolution by Frank Moore, published in 1876:
November 16. — About two o’clock this afternoon a large body of British troops from New York, with a body of Hessians from King’s Bridge, made an attack upon the American lines at that place.
At the same time, a number of boats from the shipping came up Harlem River, and landed a party of men, who advanced forward with an intention to cut off our retreat, which in part they effected; but a part of our men taking advantage of a hill, got safe to the fort; the other part, being almost surrounded, were obliged to fight their way through the enemy, by which means the heaviest fire from our troops was directed against the Hessians, who were beat back, and obliged to be reinforced three several times by large detachments from their main body.
In this manner our small army, under the command of Colonel Magaw, retreated, sustaining with unexampled resolution a continual fire of the cannon, field-pieces, and musketry of more than five to one in number, till they reached Fort Washington, when the engagement ceased.
Soon after the engagement ended, the enemy made a demand of the fort, and Colonel Magaw finding it impossible to defend it, surrendered the same to the enemy about sunset.
The number of our men who were killed in the above engagement is uncertain, but the whole loss in killed and taken prisoners, is upwards of two thousand.
What loss the enemy sustained is likewise uncertain, but if we may believe the account given by a deserter who came to headquarters since the engagement, the Hessians had between four and five thousand men killed on the spot.
Master James Lovel, of Boston, who has been a prisoner more than eighteen months, is now on his way from New York to Boston, having been exchanged for Governor Skeene, who was some time held a prisoner in Hartford.
We hear Colonel Ethan Allen is now on board a ship at New York; that he has been treated since his being taken a prisoner with the utmost barbarity, till lately, but the rigor of his oppressors has been a little softened, and he is now treated according to his rank; and we hope an exchange will soon take place, when he may again return into the bosom of his grateful country.
Second, from the British side — in the Remembrancer; or Impartial Repository of Public Events Part III for the Year 1776, published in London, 1777:
Extract of a Letter from New York, Dec. 4.
“It is with pleasure I can inform you that Fort Washington, which was our grand object, is now in our possession.
“In the afternoon of the 15th of November the Adjutant-General was sent by the Commander in Chief to summon the Fort to surrender, telling them, that it was from motives of humanity, and a wish to spare the effusion of blood, which induced the General to give them warning, that the whole force of the army was bent against them, and if they stood a storm they must expect to be put to the sword to a man.
“The commanding Officer (Colonel Magaw) desired till nine o’clock the next morning to consider of the matter, but was told that only two hours would be allowed him; at the expiration of which the Adjutant-General was informed, that they intended to defend the fort to the last.
“On the 16th in the morning General Knyphausen, who was to conduct the attack, began by cannonading at eight o’clock, and continued it about four hours, during which time the troops (chiefly Hessians) were advancing, being obliged to ascend the hills, which from rocks and woods, were almost inaccessible, and the rebels at the same time pouring on them the hottest fire of their musquetry, which did not at all diminish the order of the Hessians, who continued to persevere, and surmounted every obstacle.
“At last they reached so near the fort, that in five minutes they would have been in it; but just at that critical time, the enemy sent out a flag, in order to treat upon a capitulation, notice of which was immediately sent to the Commander in Chief, who suffered them to surrender prisoners of war, and give up all their ammunition, stores, &c.
“By this success about 3000 prisoners fell into our hands, and also a quantity of pork, flour, rum, gin, molasses, &c.
“The officers, about 250 in number, were soon after enlarged upon their parole.
“The loss on our side was near 280 Hessians, and 80 British killed and wounded
“The number of the rebels killed was but very few, from their very advantageous situation; no officer of any distinction is among the slain.”
The following is a Copy of the Summons sent to the Commander of Fort Washington, Nov. 16, 1776.
“The Commander in Chief demands an immediate and categorical answer to his second summons of Fort Washington.
“The Garrison must immediately surrender prisoners of war, and give up all their arms, ammunition, and stores of every kind, and send two Field Officers to headquarters as hostages; in so doing the General is pleased to allow the Garrison to keep possession of their baggage, and their Officers to have their swords.
“Agreed to J. Patterson, Adj. General.
“Robert Magaw, Col. 5th Pennsylvania Bat. commanding at Fort Washington.”
The New York State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s drawing of Fort Washington from Benson John Lossing’s The pictorial field-book of the revolution, published 1850.