Friday, October 7, 2011

September 3, 1776: Atrocities on Long Island

Several American newspapers published a letter dated 3 Sept. 1776, written by a Scottish officer in the British service, boasting of atrocities by British soldiers at the Battle of Long Island (26 Aug. 1776).

Intercepted by American forces, the letter is attributed to "an officer in General Frazier's Battalion," that is, the 71st Regiment of Foot, also known as "Frazier's Battalion" for Lieutenant General Simon Fraser, the Scottish Highland noble who recruited many of the soldiers in Nov. and Dec. 1775.

The unnamed officer wrote, "The Hessians and our brave Highlanders gave no quarters; and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they despatched the Rebels with their bayonets after we had surrounded them so that they could not resist."

The officer claimed the brutal treatment of outnumbered men was the product of design by British officers: "We took care to tell the Hessians that the Rebels had resolved to give no quarters to them in particular, which made them fight desperately, and put all to death that fell into their hands. You know all stratagems are lawful in war, especially against such vile enemies to their King and country."

David McCullough suggested the letter was "very likely a fake," but other sources corroborate several unpleasant details.  Hessian Colonel Heinrich von Heeringen wrote, "The English did not give much quarter, and constantly urged our people to do the like." Others sources describe Scottish Highlanders as relatively magnanimous to captives. Colonel Samuel Atlee and a group of his men surrendered, throwing themselves "into the mercy of a battalion of Highlanders" posted "upon an eminance" near the road to Flatbush.  

Don Troiani, artist, and Earl J. Coates and James L. Kochan, editors, Don Troiani’s soldiers in America, 1754-1865 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1998), 43; David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 181; Edward Jackson Lowell, The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1884), 64; Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and with Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 232-237.

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