The Battle of Long Island
Before the Battle:
When the British were finally forced out of Boston in March of 1776, George Washington knew they would soon return. The most strategic port in the Americas was New York City and Washington correctly guessed that the British would attack there first. Washington marched his army from Boston to New York and ordered them to start preparing to defend the city.
Sure enough, a large British fleet arrived off the coast of New York in July. They set up camp on Staten Island across from New York. The British sent across men to negotiate with Washington. They offered him a pardon from the king if he would surrender, but he replied that ” Those who have committed no fault want no pardon.”
On August 22, British forces under General William Howe landed on Long Island, hoping to capture New York City and gain control of the Hudson River, a victory that would split the colonies in half. The Americans remained in their defensive positions and waited for the British to attack.
On August 27 in the early morning hours, Howe led his men up the North road and attacked the Americans guarding a road (left side) led by General John Sullivan. Howe’s army attacked Sullivan from behind, Hessians attacked from the front. Sullivan was soon overpowered and retreated behind a Brooklyn wall (10,000 men in Brooklyn Heights defending Manhattan).
Howe, feeling proud of his victory attacked the men guarding the right road, using the same technique. The patriots were also forced to retreat to Brooklyn.
On August 28, Washington was informed of the attacks and came with reinforcements. However, the British forces were too strong and they forced the Americans to evacuate the city of Brooklyn. Several hundred men from Maryland, who would later become known as the Maryland 400, held off the British while the army retreated. General Howe, missing an opportunity to take General Washington captive. let them escape.
Instead of finishing off the Americans, the British leaders halted the attack. They didn’t want to needlessly sacrifice British troops as they had at the Battle of Bunker Hill. They also figured that the Americans had no way to escape.
On the night of August 29, the weather was foggy and rainy making it hard to see. Washington ordered his men to stay silent and had them slowly make their way across the East River to Manhattan. When the British woke up the next morning, the Continental Army was gone.
The Battle of Long Island was a decisive victory for the British. George Washington and the Continental Army were eventually forced to retreat all the way to Pennsylvania. The British remained in control of New York City for the rest of the Revolutionary War.
Interesting Facts about the Battle of Long Island:
The British had 20,000 troops and the Americans around 10,000.
Around 9,000 of the British troops were German mercenaries called Hessians.
The Americans suffered around 1000 casualties including 300 killed.
Around 1,000 Americans were also captured.
The British suffered around 350 casualties.
The battle showed both sides that the war would not be easy and that many men would likely die before it was over.
Adams, Charles Francis. “The Battle of Long Island,” American Historical Review Vol. 1, No. 4 (Jul. 1896), pp. 650–670.
Calderhead, William L. “British Naval Failure at Long Island: A Lost Opportunity in the American Revolution,” New York History, July 1976, Vol. 57 Issue 3, pp 321–338.
Field, Thomas Warren (1869), The Battle of Long Island, Brooklyn: The Long Island Historical Society, p. 600.
McCullough, David (2006), 1776, New York: Simon and Schuster Paperback, p. 12.
Pavao, Janelle. ” Revolutionary-War.net. Greatest Stories Ever Told. 2014. Accessed day month year. <name.html>.