Saturday, November 16, 2013

Battle of Fort Washington (16 Nov. 1776)

On November 16, 1776, Hessian and British forces took 2,607 American soldiers prisoner after the Battle of Fort Washington, on Manhattan.  In his memoirs, American Major General William Heath recalled the shocking news of what befell so many of the prisoners taken at Fort Washington.  "The prisoners were marched to New York; where, being crowded in prisons and sugar houses...they fell sick, and daily died in a most shocking manner.  It was common, on a morning, for the car-men to come and take away the bodies for burial, by loads!"  

William Heath, Memoirs of the American War (Bedford, Mass.: Applewood Books, 2009 [originally published in 1798]), pages 97-98.  For Ethan Allen's description of the carts that carried the dead to mass graves, please consult the posts here and here.    

Friday, November 8, 2013

Torture Survivors Suffer Years Later: Tel Aviv University Study

     In November 2013, researchers at Israel's Tel Aviv University found that survivors of torture suffer a heightened perception of pain, years after the torture.
     Researchers, including lead author Ruth Defrin, believe psychological torments, like mock executions, contribute to a long-term distortion of neurological perception of pain.
     Several of the physical and psychological torments suffered by Israeli soldiers in 1973 were also suffered by Americans in British custody in occupied New York City--starvation, mock execution, and overcrowding.  
     Researchers studied 104 veterans of the Yom Kippur War (1973), comparing 60 people who became Prisoners of War (POWs) to 44 who did not.  
Read a great story on the findings by Sarah Griffiths at UK paper The Daily Mail.  You can read a summary of the European Journal of Pain article, or purchase access to the full article at the Wiley Online Library

     For accounts of mock executions by British soldiers in 1776, please check Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners during the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008) pages 6-7.  For overcrowding, check posts like "December 12, 1776: Prisoners in New York City."  For accounts of starvation, and Americans returning from British military hands in an "emaciated" condition, please consult posts in this blog like "October 23: French Prisoners" or "Memories of a Prison Ship," for the story of one prison ship survivor who fought a fellow-prisoner over which of them would have the privilege of eating "the putrified carcase of a starved RAT!"

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fort Washington POWs

On November 16, 1776, the American garrison at Fort Washington on Manhattan surrendered to Anglo-Hessian forces.  The surrender followed intense fighting with the Hessians.
     The British reported they took 2,607 American enlisted men prisoners at Fort Washington, 197 commissioned officers and fourteen staff.  The British eventually transferred the privates who were prisoners, and some of the officers, to a series of detention centers and prison ships around New York City.  
     In the next month and a half, many of the American prisoners taken at Fort Washington died in the hands of the British military personnel and their Loyalist functionaries.  In early-January 1777, some returning POWs estimated that 1,100 of the privates who surrendered at Fort Washington died in British custody.
     The American commissioners in Paris--Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee--estimated that two-thirds of the prisoners from Fort Washington died in captivity.  According to that estimate, about 1,738 soldiers taken from Fort Washington died in less than two months.