Greenwich Village’s Sheridan Square is not named for Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who wrote The Rivals. The statue of General Philip Sheridan, for whom the square is named, is around the corner in Christopher Park. And the only nearby battle was the Stonewall Riot at 53 Christopher Street in June 1969. Sheridan’s statue, erected in 1936, [...]
Demonstrations and riots had torn New York for over a year. The legal government had fled and nearly three-quarters of the population with it. Committees of public safety dominated by radicals ruled the streets. An army of 23,000 insurgents held lower Manhattan.
On the morning of July 9, messengers from Philadelphia crossed the Hudson with a document for the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary army. Five days before, Congress had approved a clear policy statement that coincidentally clarified his personal position. Until now he had been a rebel. Now he was a traitor.
The fighting ended when Cornwallis surrendered his army to George Washington at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. But the Royal Army held New York for another two years. They had taken the city in the fall of 1776. By 1782, New York City’s population was less than 10,000 Most resided below Wall Street. Accident, disaster, and the war had disrupted civic life. The Great Fire of September 21, 1776, had burned everything between Whitehall and Broad Streets, as far up Broadway as Rector Street and as far up Broad as Beaver St. Rents rose 400 percent within the first year of occupation; the price of food and other goods and services 800 percent.
The provincial assembly, city council and courts were dormant, although nothing indicates the politicians had stopped drawing their salaries. The city was governed by the Royal Army, and in the absence of a free press its government had become corrupt.
If warfare were boxing, General Sir William Howe had George Washington on points in early September 1776. Having driven the rebels off Long Island in eight days, Sir William now spent two weeks in peace negotiations with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin at Colonel Christopher Billopp’s stone mansion in Tottenville, Staten Island, now called Conference House. Howe’s secretary wrote, “They met, they talked, they parted. Nothing now remains but to fight it out…”
Washington had reorganized his army, with 5,000 men in New York City, below Chambers Street in lower Manhattan; 5,000 along the East River; and 9,500 on Harlem Heights, the bluffs running from the Hudson at 135th Street to Point of Rocks at 127th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue to the Harlem River at 155th Street. On September 12, Congress authorized Washington to withdraw from New York City. The army began moving supplies to Harlem Heights via the West Side’s Bloomingdale Road and the East Side’s Post Road.
At first light, Daniel McCurtin awoke. He checked the weather and then glanced down the Upper Bay toward the open sea. He paused. There had been a change during the night. It was June 19, 1776, and the British had come. General Sir William Howe, commanding His Majesty’s forces in North America, had passed the Narrows with forty-eight men-of-war and transports. Neither McCurtin nor the hundreds of New Yorkers who soon lined the Battery and the waterfront piers had seen anything like it. They had seen nothing yet….
Even today, when people often change careers, General Edward Ferrero’s resume might seem startling. The son of Italian political refugees, the future general was practically raised on the shining floors of the dance academy’s his father ran at the northeast corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue, becoming a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, even teaching dancing to the cadets at West Point. Yet the dance master was also a lieutenant colonel in the New York National Guard….
Joseph Brodsky, in “Homage to Marcus Aurelius,” describes the “etiquette of equestrian statuary: “…when a horse, for instance, rears up under the rider, it means that the latter died in battle. If all of its four hooves rest on the pediment, that suggests he died in his four-poster.” Up at Riverside Drive and West 106th Street, Karl Bitter’s heroic bronze represents Major General Franz Sigel, U.S. Army, astride his stallion (it is, as the Spanish say, an entire horse), gazing toward the Palisades. The horse’s four feet are firmly planted in the ground. He is going nowhere, as if in protest to his rider’s latest imbecility.