Monday, October 14, 2013

The Battle of Sleepy Hollow, New York. June 13, 1933


IN the late afternoon hours of June 11th, 1933, a group of "armed ruffians, dressed in a civilian clothing and wearing large pistols on their hips" entered the town of Sleepy Hollow New York, and approached several local vendors, attempting to bargain for food, dry guns, and various "assorted supplies (sic)."

Some of the strangers appeared to be drunk, and their armed appearance caused local citizens to panic, as a result of which, a local constable appeared on the town's main thoroughfare, where they had gathered, and requested that they leave, citing the town's ordnance against carrying weaponry and various policies against public intoxication. "The ruffians," period accounts go on to say, "left in a huff."

In consideration of the possible threat posed by the armed visitors, the tiny force of constables placed a call to nearby State Police and Sheriff's offices, requesting reinforcements in case "the armed interlopers" returned again. An additional forty officers - excessive by the standards of the town -had appeared by late that evening, and manned check points on the major roads leading into and out of the town. The expected return of the outsiders, however, did not occur during the 12th, and many of the police reinforcements correspondingly had left the town and returned to their own homes by the evening of the second day.

Around 6:30 AM, on June 13th, a column of trucks, some of them "covered over with boiler plate", rushed into town, disgorging approximately sixty armed "brigands" equipped with "all manner of weapons, both primitive and modern", and demanded that the town immediately surrender large quantities of, "(sic) Ammunition, Dry Goods, and Sundry." They identified themselves as members of the "International Communist Movement."

The twenty or so police officers remaining, mainly State Police and the Sleepy Hollow Constabulary, responded by demanding that the armed strangers leave town, at which point, one of the invaders fired a "warning shot", shattering the window of a local dry goods store. Thereafter followed an hour long engagement between the Communist brigands and the heavily outnumbered policemen.

By the time that the dust had cleared, twelve of the original twenty police officers, and some fifteen Communist guerillas lay dead. The leader of the column, an "unidentified middle aged man, dressed in a sweater and smoking a pipe" clambered to the top of the lead vehicle and offered to leave the town in peace "if the demands of the column were met without further bloodshed." The first demand was that the original supplies requested would be delivered without further delay. The second was that the local policemen surrender their firearms, at which point the invaders would "leave the town in peace."

Completely outnumbered, the policemen reluctantly complied, at which point the Communists began what is described as an "unusually restrained form of looting" in which they "entered several of the local shops, exiting with large numbers of the supplies they sought," which where then loaded onto their trucks. Before leaving, the column of guerillas finished by collecting the firearms of the policemen and setting fire to approximately six buildings on the outlying areas of town before leaving without further violence.

Further police and National Guard reinforcements arrived in Sleepy Hollow the next day, but the town was not subjected to any further violence by the Communists during the early period of the war.

A monument, dedicated to the dead policemen, was erected in 1940, not far from a statue of Washington Irving, the man who immortalized the town with his story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Historical Significance

This was the first of many large scale Communist attacks in Upper New York and New England, part of Chairman Browder's plan to fight a long-running guerilla war against local police and military units. While regarded as a Communist victory, it is more significant in that this marks the first time a so-called "Flying Column" of mobile, truck mounted insurgents, was reported in use. The use of such tactics became standard in many areas where Communist forces were not definitively in control of strongly held territories, and helped to sew chaos and confusion, as well as to promote their cause.

Gaming the Battle

This would be an excellent, small scale skirmish scenario, requiring less than one hundred figures - approximately twenty policemen and about sixty or so odd guerillas. The "sweater wearing" leader may actually have been Chairman Browder himself. One would need only a single street and a handful of buildings to provide cover.

The column of trucks, while interesting, do not appear to have played any role in the actual fighting, and could easily be abstracted with one or two vehicles for cover, or simply ignored all together.

The scenario could be fairly simply designed, with the policemen attempting to hold the town until reinforcements could arrive, and typifies the low intensity warfare typical of the war against the Communists in New England and the Mid Atlantic.

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