When 27 August 1776
Strength British – 20,000 including 8,000 Hessians Americans – 10,000
After the British army left Boston in March 1776, they initially sailed to Halifax in Nova Scotia where they awaited reinforcements from elsewhere in the Empire. In London, Lord George Germain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, decided that the British should take control of New York City where the deep harbor would give the Royal Navy a base of operations as well as maintaining a vital supply route to Britain.
On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army. Washington realized, (even before the British had left Boston), that New York was extremely important to both sides and began to organize a defense of the city. In January 1776, he ordered General Charles Lee to recruit soldiers and build defenses around New York.
By the time Washington had the Declaration of Independence read to his troops on 6 July, more than 400 ships of the Royal Navy and 32,000 redcoats had arrived in New York City. In fact, British troops had already landed and captured Staten Island, which was undefended at the time. Washington ordered batteries built on Manhattan and Long Island to prevent the Royal Navy sailing around his army up the East River and had 10,000 men positioned in fortifications on Brooklyn Heights to defend the approach to Manhattan. On 22 August, the British landed 15,000 troops on Long Island to the south of the American fortifications.
On the night of 26 August, a force of 10,000 British troops, led by three Loyalist guides, silently moved through the unguarded Jamaica Pass, one of several roads crisscrossing Long Island. At 9 a.m. the following morning, the British, with Hessian allies, launched a head on assault and flanked the American position on the Heights of Guan. Hessians quickly overwhelmed General John Sullivan’s force of 1500 Continentals but those under the command of General William Alexander held on for four long hours. Alexander ultimately ordered his men to retreat across a millpond on the Gowanus Creek, on the other side of Brooklyn Heights.
Americans who had not been captured, escaped behind the fortifications on Brooklyn Heights. General William Howe, then ordered his British troops to halt their attack. Washington and his army were surrounded with the East River to their backs. To avoid an attack across open ground, the British began digging trenches toward the American defenses. Washington then instructed boats of every kind to be brought to the East River by nightfall. On 29 August, he ordered his army to retreat across the river to Manhattan. The troops were told to gather up all their ammunition and baggage and prepare for a night attack; wagon wheels were muffled, men were forbidden to talk, and soldiers led by General Thomas Mifflin tended to campfires to deceive the British. Men and supplies were then noiselessly ferried across the East River. The evacuation proceed slowly and by morning, many of Washington’s men had yet to cross but a dense fog rolled into to mask their movement. At 7 a.m., as British patrols noticed the absence of American pickets and began searching the area, Washington stepped on to the last boat arriving safely in Manhattan where his army was waiting.
The loss of New York City severely damaged the Patriot cause. Morale in the Continental army collapsed and many men deserted.
The British quickly occupied the city, which was used as a base for operations for the rest of the war.
In September 1776, Howe defeated Washington again at the Battle of White Plains, which forced the Americans to retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.
British – 64 killed / 293 wounded /31 missing
Americans – 300 killed / 800 wounded / 1079 captured
Battle of Long Island by Domenick D'Andrea.