The Battle is also referred to as the Battle of Brooklyn Heights or simply the Battle of Brooklyn. The battle was the earliest and the largest battle in the American Revolutionary War after the declaration of independence of the United States. The United States army was under the command of General George Washington, and they were defeated in the battle. The size of the army that Washington had in one way or the other had some impact on the defeat over the Long Island battle. This thesis talks about how the size of General Washington’s army leads to his defeat at the battle of Long Island the thesis. It is divided into the background of the battle, the actual battle, the aftermath, casualties of the battle, the monuments and statues commemorating the battle, and the order of battle.
The battle of Long Island was a part of the American revolutionary war fought on August 27th, 1776. The cities affected were Kings County, Long island and New York. The war was fought by United states against the Great Britain and Hessians. The United States was led by George Washington, Israel Putnam and Wiliam Alexander while the British army was led by William Howe, Charles Cornwallis and Henry Clinton. United States had a smaller army as compared to Great Britain and this caused them to lose the battle; the result was a decisive British victory.
On the nineteenth April, 1776 after the battles of Concord and Lexington, the British Army were defeated by the Americans and trapped in Boston. On March 4, 1776, the Commander-in-Chief, General George Washington moved his weaponry to the Dorchester Heights (McCullough 96). William Howe, the commander of the British army, realized that he could not seize the city because the weaponry on the Dorchester heights would be a threat to the British Fleet in Boston Harbor. After two weeks, William Howe commanded the army out of the city to Halifax, Nova Scotia (McCullough 110). After the British army abandoned Boston, General Washington believed that they would attack New York City due to its strategic importance (McCullough 112; Lengel 128). He moved his army via Rhode Island and Connecticut to New York. Washington personally arrived at New York on April 13 and reinforced the fortifications there; he set up his headquarters on Broadway (McCullough 121). Earlier in February, Washington had commanded his deputy, Charles Lee, to move to New York to construct the defense fortresses for the city (Lengel 125). Charles Lee remained in charge of the city’s defenses until March when Congress deployed him to South Carolina. The task of organizing the defenses was handed over to Lord Stirling, General William Alexander (McCullough 121).
General Washington had been approved by Congress to enlist a troop of up to 28,500 soldiers; he had, however, barely 19,000 men when he reached New York (Lengel 132). His military force lacked discipline; even straightforward orders had to be repeated frequently. Soldiers in the base camps fired their muskets carelessly and needlessly, destroyed their flints, used their bayonets as cook’s knife; to cut food, and they seldom cleaned their muskets (Lengel 133). Due to the fact that soldiers in the troop were from various different regions, they were meeting for the first time; this contributed to sporadic differences that resulted in conflicts amongst the force. General Washington’s troop had a dearth of artillerymen; Henry Knox, the commandant of the artillery wing is documented persuading Washington to reassign a force of about 500 or 600 soldiers who did not have muskets to the artillery wing (McCullough 129).
On June 28, General Washington was informed that the British flotilla was cruising from Halifax on June 9 headed for New York (McCullough 133). On June 29th, the first British fleet reached Staten Island. In a few hours time, forty-five British ships anchored in Lower New York Bay (McCullough 134). In less than a week’s time, 130 British ships under the command of Richard Howe anchored off the Staten Island (Lengel, 135). The residents of New York went were frightened by the scene of the British vessels; they sent distress messages and soldiers, without delay, hurried to their posts (McCullough 124). On July 2nd, the invading British forces started to disembark at Staten Island. The Continental regulars who had been deployed on the island fired a few gunshots at the advancing British troops and took flight; the island’s militia composed of the general population changed loyalty to the British side (Lengel 125).
On July 6, word got to New York that, four days earlier, Congress had unanimously voted declaration of independence (McCullough 135). Three days later, at six in the evening, General Washington ordered some brigades to rally at the Commons of the City to listen to the reading of the Declaration of Independence speech. After the conclusion of reading, a mass dashed to bowling green, and they brought down the statue of King George III (McCullough 127). The crowd ferociously severed the head of the statue, and the rest of it was taken to Connecticut and smelted into musket balls (McCullough 128). On July 12, two British ships, the Phoenix and the Rose, navigated up the wharf toward the waterfront of the Hudson (McCullough 128). The firing at the ships by the American batteries deployed at Fort George, Red Hook and Governors Island did not deter the ships from advancing their voyage, because they returned fire and continued sailing up to Tarrytown (McCullough, 138. The objective of the Phoenix and the Rose was to sever off supplies to the Americans and promote Loyalist support. The only fatalities resulting from this aggression were six Americans who were died after their own cannon blew up (McCullough 138).
The following day, Britain’s General Howe, tried to start a dialogue with the Americans. He mailed a correspondence to Washington conveyed by Lieutenant Philip Brown, who went to them under the flag of ceasefire. The correspondence was addressed George Washington, Esq. (McCullough 144). Citing the lack of recognition and acknowledgement of his rank as a general, Washington rejected the letter. After several attempts to correspond through letters and emissaries, General Washington rejected the truce ideology suggested by Howe (McCullough 145). In the mean time, British flotilla continued to arrive (McCullough 146). On the first of August, a fleet of forty five ships commanded by Generals Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis sailed in, alongside three thousand troops. By twelfth of August 12, extra thousand British troops and extra eight thousand joined them (McCullough 148). By then, the British armada totaled more than four hundred ships, with seventy three war ships, and thirty two thousand armed forces camping on Staten Island. Puzzled by the huge British force that greatly outsized his army, General Washington was uncertain as to place the British troops would attack (McCullough 152). Both Greene and Reed believed that the British troops would assail Long Island, but General Washington thought that they an assault on Long Island may be a distraction for the major attack on Manhattan. Washington, thus, split his troops into two, deploying one half on Manhattan, and the rest on Long Island; the men on Long Island were under the command of Greene (McCullough 152).
In the early morning of the twenty-second day of August, the first group of four thousand British men left Staten Island for Long Island. Clinton and Cornwallis were commanding them (McCullough 158). At eight in the morning, all the four thousand men reached the Gravesend Bay shore, without any opposition. Pennsylvanian riflemen under the command of Colonel Edward Hand had been deployed on the shore, but they did not resist the advancement of the British forces (McCullough 157). By midday, fifteen thousand forces had advanced to the shore together with forty artilleries. While many hundreds of loyalists came up to meet and cheer the British forces, Cornwallis still pressed on with progressing the troops; on that day the troops advanced six miles on to the island and set up base at Flatbush. He was ordered not to proceed beyond there (McCullough 157; Johnston 141).
The news of the landings and advancements reached General Washington the same day they happened, but he was misinformed that size of the force was eight to nine thousand men (McCullough 141). This influenced Washington to believe that it was the ploy he had forecasted and thus, he only added fifteen hundred more men to Brooklyn, raising the sum of the men on Long Island to six thousand. On 24th of August, Washington appointed Israel Putnam to be the commander of the forces on Long Island (McCullough 160). The new commander, Putnam, landed on Long Island the following day with six battalions. On the other side, the British forces on Long Island got five thousand Hessian men back up, making their number to twenty thousand (McCullough 161). Even though, the combating on the days immediately after the landing was minimal, some diminutive clashes occurred with American sharpshooters equipped with rifles attacking and shooting off British men from time to time (Johnston 152).
General Washington plan was that Putnam would command the resistance from Brooklyn Heights whereas Stirling, Sullivan, and their men would be deployed on the Guana Heights (McCullough 162; Lengel 142). This is because the Guans heights were high enough (150 feet) to and to aid the Washington’s troops in blocking the most express route to Brooklyn Heights. The Commander-In-Chief supposed that by deploying his troops on the heights that would help his men to inflict huge fatalities on the British forces and then the troops would move back to the main defenses at Brooklyn Heights (Lengel 142). There were three major passageways via the heights; the Gowanus, the Flatbush and the Bedford Roads. The Americans anticipated the British forces would attack through the Flatbush road. Stirling with five hundred men was in charge of defending Gowanus Road; Sullivan, was to oversee the defense of the Flatbush road, with a thousand men, and Bedford Road, with eight hundred men (McCullough 162). Six thousand men stay behind at Brooklyn Heights. However, there was still one widely unknown pass via the heights afar to the east named the Jamaica Pass; it was secured by only five militia men on horses (McCullough168)
On the side of British troops, General Clinton became aware of the almost unsecured Jamaica Pass from the local Loyalists (McCullough 163). He came up with a strategy which he passed on to William Erskine to suggest to Howe. The Strategy had the central troops advancing during the night and passing via the Jamaica Pass whilst other men would engage the American troops in front to keep them busy (McCullough 166). On twenty sixth August, General Clinton got a nod from Howe that the strategy would be utilized and that Clinton was to lead the army of the main troop of ten thousand men on the advancement march via the Jamaica Pass. At the same time as they marched, other British Troops some Hessians, adding up to four thousand men, under the command of General James Grant would assail the American troops from the front to distract them from the main troop advancing on their flank (McCullough 166).
When the night set in, the British troops started advancing out. Only the commanders were aware of the planned strategy. General Clinton led the contingent of light infantry composed of men with fixed bayonets in front; behind them was Cornwallis with his fourteen artillery pieces and eight battalions. Howe and Hugh Percy trailed them with extra artillery, baggage and six battalions, more artillery, and baggage (McCullough 176). The troops totaled ten thousand men and were guided towards the Jamaica pass by three Loyalist farmers. The British had kept fires back in the camps burning to trick the Americans into believing that not anything was going on (McCullough 168). The troops matched up to a few hundred yards from Jamaica pass without encountering any resistance from American troops; on reaching the Pass, they arrested the five militia with no shot fired (McCullough178). After interrogation, the militia acknowledged that they were the only men securing the pass. By sunrise, the British troops had gone through the pass; they rested and waited for the two heavy cannon flare signals to continue with attack (McCullough 170).
At the crack of dawn, Putnam was informed of the British attacks through the Gowanus Pass. He lit warning signs to Washington who was on Manhattan and went to south to notify Stirling of the attack. Stirling mobilized two brigades; Delaware and Maryland Continentals, numbering sixteen hundred men to fight back and impede the British advance ((McCullough 171; Lengel 143). The British and the American troops fought at a distance of about 200 yards apart, but the Americans had no idea that this was not the main British assault (McCullough 172). Under the command of General Von Heister, the Hessian men, in the center, began to barrage the American lines (McCullough 173). The Hessian brigades, nevertheless, did not show aggression, and thus, Sullivan redeployed some of his troops to aid Stirling. At nine in the morning, Howe signaled the Hessians, and they started to move forward in front, meanwhile; the main British troops closed in on Sullivan from behind ((McCullough 173). Sullivan ordered the advance guard to keep fighting off the Hessians whilst he ordered the rest of his men to turn around to battle the British main army. Many casualties, both Americans and the British occurred, and some troops on both sides took flight out of fear (McCullough 174). Sullivan tried to calm his troops and attempted to retreat. By this time, the Hessian men had completely battled the advance guard on the heights. Man-to-man assault ensued; the Hessians bayoneted most of the American men who surrendered. Regardless of the turmoil, Sullivan succeeded to withdraw majority of his troops to Brooklyn Heights he was captured.
When Washington came from Manhattan, it dawned on him that he was incorrect about a ploy on Long Island. He deployed more troops from Manhattan to Brooklyn (McCullough 175). On the other front, Stirling still kept defense against Grant; He put up a spirited fight for four hours, uninformed of the British main army advancement in the flank. His troops believed they were defeating the British. Later, Grant got a reinforcement of two thousand marines, and he hit Stirling’s center. This, coupled to the Hessians assault on the left (Lengel 145; McCullough 176) forced Stirling to pull back but the main British army was, by now, approaching from behind too. He commanded all his men; expect the 250 Maryland troops, to go across the creek to Brooklyn heights-the only left route of escape. The 250 Maryland troops fought the British, in a bid to let the others to withdraw; he then ordered the remaining men to cross over to the Brooklyn heights in any way possible (McCullough 176). Stirling and some of the troops such as those who could not swim were captured. Howe halted the advancement of all of his army although a majority of his troops wanted to push up to Brooklyn Heights. Howe differed; instead of attacking the fixed American position, he started a more methodical approach to siege it (Johnston 171).
Western Long Island
On September 11, 1776, an American delegation composed of Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge, and John Adams travelled to southwestern flank of Staten Island where they meet the British at Conference House for a peace conference (Field 262). The peace conference was unsuccessful because the Americans declined to rescind the Declaration of Independence. The conditions were officially rejected on fifteenth of September. On the same day, the British forces heavily bombarded the green militia forces and traversed to Manhattan; they landed at Kip’s Bay, and the Americans there were routed (Field 265). The next day, the two armed forces engaged in the Battle of Harlem Heights, but the outcome was a tactical draw. After another war at White Plains, General Washington recoiled across the Hudson to New Jersey (Field 267)
On twenty first September, an inferno started out on Whitehall Street near the Battery in New York City. Strong winds propelled the fire almost a quarter of New York City’s section, razing down close to six hundred buildings (Whittemore 224). The British blamed the radicals of starting the fire, even though indigenous New Yorkers, on the other hand, blamed the British. In the aftermath of the fire, Nathan Hale, a commander in the Connecticut Rangers, sacrificed to go into New York dressed in civilian outfits and investigate the incident. Disguised as a Dutch schoolteacher, Hale effectively collected intelligence but, he was arrested before returning to the rebel lines. Howe ordered his men to hang Captain Hale a day after he was captured (Whittemore 226).
Eastern Long Island
Despite the fact that the battle was mainly fought on the western Long Island, on a stretch of approximately 16 km of Manhattan, British army was were also positioned to the east of the island to conquer the entire stretch of Long Island to including Montauk. The forces encountered little or no resistance in this operation (Field 270). The first dispatch was made up of two hundred Continental troops under the command of Henry B. Livingston; they were charged with protecting Sag Harbor port from falling. General Livingston experienced a shortage of manpower, and he later abandoned the Long Island in September. The British took it over, and the inhabitants of eastern Long Island were obligated to take a loyalty oath to the British government (Field 272). In Sag Harbor, the inhabitants met to deliberate on the issue of oaths; about half of the families resolved to evacuate to Connecticut. The British army intended to utilize Long Island as a staging base for a new attacks and assault of New England (Field 280). They tried to control the ships sailing into Long Island Sound and cordoned off Connecticut.
The exact number of American casualties is difficult to tell because most of the relevant documents were consumed by the fire. It is estimated that about 1,407 Americans were injured, or missing, while 312 were killed although estimates from British and Hessian side suggest a total loss of about 3000 men (Field 313-316). British troops took into captivity about 1,097 including Generals Sullivan, Stirling, and Nathaniel. Out of estimated thirty thousand British troops including nine thousand Hessians, they suffered a loss of three hundred and seventy seven men; five British officers and fifty men were killed, whereas thirteen officers and two hundred men were wounded or went missing (Field 314-316).
There are numerous monuments commemorating the battle of Long Island. The Minerva Statue is built in Green-wood Cemetery at the highest point of Brooklyn, near the top of battle hill. It faces the Statue of Liberty (Whitmore 56). The monument of Prison Ship Martyrs’ is a Doric column constructed at Fort Greene. It memorializes those men who succumbed while imprisoned in the British ships just off the shoreline of Brooklyn, in Wallabout Bay. The old stone house is a renovated farmhouse that is a museum of the battle. It is built in Brooklyn within the borderlines of the battle and includes models and maps. Lastly, in the Prospect Park; Brooklyn, Battle Pass there is a huge granite rock affixed with a brass plaque that commemorates the battle of the Long Island. Additionally, in the park there is the Line of Defense marker constructed by the Sons of the American Revolution.
British victory in the battle of Long Island was very decisive and had a great impact on the Americans. The defeat of General Washington’s troops defeat exposed his inadequacy as a strategist who divided his men, the fact that his generals lacked experience and did not have an understanding of the battle, and his raw men that who took off in a disarray at the first shots. Nevertheless, his retreat has been praised as one of his best military act.
Adams, Charles. “The Battle of Long Island.” The American Historical Review 1.4 (1896): 650-670. Print.
Field, Thomas W. The battle of Long Island – with connected preceding events, and the subsequent American retreat. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Long Island Historical Society, 1869. Print.
Johnston, Henry Phelps. The campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn. New York: DaCapo Press, 1971. Print.
Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: a military life. New York: Random House, 2005. Print.
McCullough, David G. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.
Whittemore, Henry. The heroes of the American Revolution and their descendants: Battle of Long Island. New York: Heroes of the Revolution Publishing Company, 1897. Print.