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Battle of Long Island
Part of the American Revolutionary War
BattleofLongisland.jpg
The Delaware Regiment at the Battle of Long Island.
Date August 27, 1776
Location 40°39′54″N 73°58′52″W / 40.665°N 73.981°W / 40.665; -73.981Coordinates: 40°39′54″N 73°58′52″W / 40.665°N 73.981°W / 40.665; -73.981
Result British victory
Belligerents
 United States

 Great Britain

  • Hesse Hesse-Kassel
Commanders and leaders
United States George Washington
United States Israel Putnam
United States William Alexander
United States Thomas Mifflin
United States Henry Knox
United States John Sullivan
Kingdom of Great Britain William Howe,
Kingdom of Great Britain Charles Cornwallis,
Kingdom of Great Britain Henry Clinton
Kingdom of Great Britain William Erskine
Kingdom of Great Britain James Grant
Kingdom of Great Britain Charles Mawhood
Strength
10,000 32,000
Casualties and losses
300 killed
~700 wounded
1,000 captured
64 killed
293 wounded
31 missing according to Lord Howe report 21 {1 officer and 20 Grenadiers of the Marines} were captured

The Battle of Long Island was a major battle in the American war of independence. The battle which was fought on August 27, 1776, was a major victory for the British and defeat for the Americans under General George Washington. It was the start of a successful British campaign that gave the British control of the strategically important city of New York. In the American Revolutionary War it was the first major battle to take place after the United States declared independence in July, 1776. In terms of soldiers, it was the largest battle of the entire conflict.

General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief had defeated the British in the Siege of Boston on March 17, 1776. Washington then used the Continental Army to defend the port city of New York. At that time, New York City was only at the southern end of Manhattan Island. Washington understood that the city's harbor would provide an excellent base for the British Navy during the campaign. For this reason, he established defenses there and waited for the British to attack.

The British were commanded by General William Howe. In July his force landed a few miles across the harbor on sparsely-populated Staten Island. Over the next few months, new ships slowly reinforced their position in Lower New York Harbor. In August there were 32,000 soldiers, and the British controlled the entrance of the harbor at The Narrows. Washington knew that it would be difficult to hold the city against such a force. He believed Manhattan would be the first target and he moved most of his forces there.

Before the Battle

The British fleet in the lower bay 1876
The British fleet in the lower bay (Harpers Magazine, 1876) depicts the British fleet amassing off the shores of Staten Island in the summer of 1776

On August 22, the British landed on the shores of Gravesend Bay in southwest Kings County, across The Narrows from Staten Island, more than 12 miles (20 km) south from the East River crossings to Manhattan. Washington brought some of his troops to northern Kings County, expecting to fight only part of the attacking army.

Battle

After five days of waiting, the British attacked American defenses. Unknown to the Americans, however, Howe had brought his main army around their rear and attacked their flank soon after. The Americans panicked, although a stand by 400 Maryland troops prevented most of the army from being captured. The remainder of the army fled to the main defenses on Brooklyn Heights.

Retreat to Manhattan

Fulton Ferry House 1746
The Foot of Wall Street And Ferry House – 1746. The Manhattan side of the East River crossing, known then as the Brooklyn Ferry, as it looked in the mid-1700s.

The British dug in for a siege but, on the night of August 29–30, Washington evacuated the entire army to Manhattan without the loss of materiel or a single life. Washington and the Continental Army were driven out of New York entirely after the battle of Fort Washington and other defeats, and forced to retreat through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. All 9,000 troops had been evacuated with no loss of life.

Aftermath

U.S. Army - Artillery Retreat from Long Island 1776
U.S. Army – Artillery Retreat from Long Island 1776 (1899)
Washington Battle of Brooklyn 3c 1951 issue
Washington evacuating Army 175th Anniversary Issue of 1951. Accurate depiction of Fulton Ferry House at right. Flat-bottomed ferry boats in the East River are depicted in the background.
Englishfleetrevolution
The British fleet in New York Harbor just after the battle

The British were stunned to find that Washington and the army had escaped. Later in the day, August 30, the British troops occupied the American fortifications. When news of the battle reached London, it caused many festivities to take place. Bells were rung across the city, candles were lit in windows and King George III gave Howe the Order of the Bath.

Washington's defeat revealed his deficiencies as a strategist who split his forces however, his daring nighttime retreat has been seen by some historians as one of his greatest military feats.

Casualties

Old Sugar House and Middle Dutch Church
Old Sugar House and Middle Dutch Church c.1830. The Middle Dutch Church is where some of the enlisted men captured at the Battle of Long Island were imprisoned. The Sugar House also became a prison as the British captured more of Washington's soldiers during the retreat from New York. The site today is the location of 28 Liberty Street.

If the Royal Navy is included, over 40,000 men took part in the battle. Howe reported his losses as 59 killed, 268 wounded and 31 missing. The Hessian casualties were 5 killed and 26 wounded. The Americans suffered much heavier losses. About 300 had been killed and over 1,000 captured. As few as half of the prisoners survived. Kept on prison ships in Wallabout Bay, then transferred to locations such as the Middle Dutch Church, they were starved and denied medical attention. In their weakened condition, many succumbed to smallpox.

Historians believe that as many as 256 soldiers of the First Maryland Regiment under Colonel William Smallwood fell in the battle, about two-thirds of the regiment. It is known that they were buried in a mass-grave, but the grave's exact location has been a mystery for 240 years.

Legacy

Dongan Oak eagle plaque jeh
Dongan Oak memorial in Prospect Park

The most significant legacy of the Battle of Long Island was that it showed there would be no easy victory, and that the war would be long and bloody.

Commemorations of the battle include:

  • The Altar to Liberty: Minerva monument: The battle is commemorated with a monument, which includes a bronze statue of Minerva near the top of Battle Hill, the highest point of Brooklyn, in Green-Wood Cemetery. The statue was sculpted by Frederick Ruckstull and unveiled in 1920. The statue stands in the northwest corner of the cemetery and gazes directly at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. In 2006, the Minerva statue was invoked in a successful defense to prevent a building from blocking the line of sight from the cemetery to the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. The annual Battle of Long Island commemoration begins inside the main Gothic arch entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery and marches up Battle Hill to ceremonies at the monument.
  • The Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument: A freestanding Doric column in Fort Greene memorializing all those who died while kept prisoner on the British ships just off the shore of Brooklyn, in Wallabout Bay.
  • Soldiers' Monument – Milford, Connecticut. Memorializes the 200 seriously ill prisoners of the Battle of Long Island who were dumped on the beach at Milford the night of January 3, 1777.
  • The Old Stone House: A re-constructed farmhouse (c.1699) that was at the center of the Marylanders' delaying actions serves as a museum of the battle. It is located in J.J. Byrne Park, at Third Street and Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, and features models and maps.
  • Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Battle Pass: along the eastern side of Center Drive is a large granite boulder with a brass plaque affixed, and another marker lies near the road for the Dongan Oak, a very large and old tree felled to block the pass from the British advance. In addition, in the park resides the Line of Defense marker erected by the Sons of the American Revolution and, near the eastern edge of Long Meadow, the Maryland Monument & Maryland Memorial corinthian column.

There are only thirty currently existing units in the U.S. Army with lineages that go back to the colonial and revolutionary eras. Five Army National Guard units (101st Eng Bn, 125th MP Co, 175th Inf, 181st Inf and 198th Sig Bn) and one Regular Army Field Artillery battalion (1–5th FA) are derived from American units that participated in the Battle of Long Island.

Interesting facts about the Battle of Long Island

  • The British were trying to seize control of New York so they had control of the Hudson River.
  • At the time, it was by far the largest battle ever fought in North America.
  • 8,000 Hessians (German soldiers) arrived to help the British.
  • The battle is also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights

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