War On Long Island – The Battle Of Brooklyn

Sitting in the state of new York, Long Island – the world’s 149th largest island and home to 7.5 million people – is also the scene of the first major battle in the American Revolutionary War which followed the United States’ Declaration of Independence. The battle was also the largest battle in the entire conflict and the first that a United States army ever engaged in.

In March 1776, George Washington, (who went on to become the first ever president of the United States) moved his troops to Long Island and new York City and set about reinforcing their defences there, anticipating an attack from British troops. Their intelligence had proved accurate; on the 22nd of August 1776, 15,000 British troops began to cross The Narrows to Brooklyn from Staten Island.

Much of the American rebel force were undisciplined, untrained and unaccustomed to following orders from above, giving their British counterparts a considerable advantage. The British managed to manoeuvre their troops through unguarded terrain and then surprise the Americans with unrelentless firing of their musket shot, from column after column until they reached bayonet range, at which point they charged the American lines and engaged them in hand to hand combat. The Americans had little chance under this form of open combat and fell back.

The British troops’ numerical and tactical superiority served them well; the American rebels were severely outnumbered, yet prepared to die for the cause; and die they did. After losing hundreds of troops in various skirmishes, Washington decided it was time to retreat from Brooklyn while the wind was still blowing in his favour. As the rain lashed down and fog descended over the area, Washington used the weather to conceal his retreat; in complete silence, nine thousand men, complete with their ammunition, artillery, provisions, horses and carriages rowed across the East River. The entire retreat operation took 13 hours, and was completed without the loss of a single man.

When the British troops marched up to Brooklyn Heights the following morning expecting to force the rebels into surrender, or slaughter them, they found nothing but a few empty ration packs.

On September the 11th, 1776, the British accepted the request of an American delegation to discuss a treaty, but the peace conference failed because the Americans refused to revoke the Declaration of Independence. The British troops then continued to move through Long Island, occupying local homes, farmsteads and even hotels in Westbury, Hempstead, Hicksville, and various other settlements.

British Military historians were later to commend Washington on his retreat; while his original misjudgment had put his army in extreme danger, his strong leadership is credited with saving the majority of his troops, which would have likely been massacred had it not been for Washington’s quick thinking.

War On Long Island – The Battle Of Brooklyn

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