The Battle of Long Island was the largest battle of the Revolutionary War. It was also the first major battle that occurred after the Declaration of Independence.
When and where did it take place?
The battle took place in the southwest portion of Long Island, New York. This area is called Brooklyn today and the battle is often referred to as the Battle of Brooklyn. The battle took place early in the Revolutionary War on August 27, 1776.
Battle of Long Island by Domenick D'Andrea
Who were the commanders?
The Americans were under the overall command of General George Washington. Other important commanders included Israel Putnam, William Alexander, and John Sullivan.
The primary commander for the British was General William Howe. Other generals included Charles Cornwallis, Henry Clinton, and James Grant.
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, the British began landing troops on Long Island. The Americans remained in their defensive positions and waited for the British to attack.
The British first attacked in the early morning hours of August 27 sending in a small force at the center of the American defense. While the Americans focused on this smaller attack, the main force of the British army attacked from the east nearly surrounding the Americans.
The Maryland 400 hold off the British to give the US Army time to retreat by Alonzo Chappel
Rather than losing his entire army to the British, Washington ordered the army to retreat to Brooklyn Heights. Several hundred men from Maryland, who would later become known as the Maryland 400, held off the British while the army retreated. Many of them were killed.
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, Washington made a desperate attempt to save his army. The weather was foggy and rainy making it hard to see. He 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.
Artillery Retreat from Long Island, 1776 Source: The Werner Company, Akron, Ohio
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.