New York & New Jersey Campaign > Battle of Long Island

Battle of Long Island


The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, was a significant early engagement during the American Revolutionary War. Fought on August 27, 1776, it was the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence and marked the beginning of the British campaign to seize control of New York City and its strategic port. The battle resulted in a decisive British victory and highlighted the challenges facing the Continental Army.


  1. Strategic Context:

    • Following the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776, General George Washington anticipated that the British would target New York City due to its strategic importance as a port and its central location.
    • Washington moved his army to New York to defend the city, fortifying positions on Manhattan Island and Long Island (now Brooklyn).
  2. British Strategy:

    • The British, under General Sir William Howe, planned to capture New York City and use it as a base for operations. Howe's strategy involved landing troops on Long Island, outflanking American defenses, and forcing the Continental Army to retreat.
  3. American Defenses:

    • Washington’s forces, numbering about 20,000, were divided between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The defenses on Long Island were concentrated around Brooklyn Heights, with additional fortifications at key points such as the Gowanus Heights.

The Battle:

  1. British Landing:

    • On August 22, 1776, British forces, totaling around 32,000 troops, began landing on the south-western shore of Long Island near Gravesend Bay. The landing was largely unopposed, allowing the British to establish a beachhead.
  2. Initial Skirmishes:

    • Skirmishes between British and American forces occurred over the next few days, as American troops attempted to probe British positions and gather intelligence. American forces, under General Israel Putnam and General John Sullivan, held defensive positions on the Gowanus Heights.
  3. The British Flanking Maneuver:

    • On the night of August 26-27, General Howe executed a flanking maneuver. While part of his army engaged the American forces at the Gowanus Heights, Howe sent a large force under General Henry Clinton and General Charles Cornwallis on a night march around the American left flank, through the Jamaica Pass.
    • By early morning on August 27, the British flanking force had positioned itself behind the American lines, effectively surrounding the American defenders.
  4. Main Engagement:

    • The British launched a coordinated attack on the American positions at Gowanus Heights. American forces, caught off guard by the flanking maneuver, were overwhelmed from multiple directions.
    • Fierce fighting ensued, but the Americans, realizing they were outflanked and outnumbered, began a disorganized retreat towards Brooklyn Heights.
  5. The Retreat to Brooklyn Heights:

    • The retreat was chaotic, with many American soldiers being captured or killed. Some units, like those commanded by General William Alexander (Lord Stirling), fought valiantly to cover the retreat, but were ultimately forced to surrender.

Aftermath and Impact:

  1. Casualties:

    • American casualties were significant, with around 1,000 men killed, wounded, or captured. British casualties were relatively light, with approximately 400 killed or wounded.
  2. Washington’s Withdrawal:

    • Following the defeat, Washington and his remaining forces were entrenched at Brooklyn Heights. Recognizing the vulnerability of his position and the potential for encirclement by the British navy, Washington decided to evacuate his troops to Manhattan.
    • The evacuation, conducted on the night of August 29-30, was a remarkable feat of stealth and coordination, allowing Washington to save the bulk of his army.
  3. British Occupation of New York:

    • The British victory at Long Island paved the way for their capture of New York City. They occupied the city and held it for the remainder of the war, using it as a major base of operations.
  4. Strategic Consequences:

    • The Battle of Long Island was a significant setback for the Continental Army, highlighting its logistical and tactical challenges. However, the successful evacuation of Washington’s troops preserved the core of the Continental Army, allowing them to fight another day.
    • The defeat underscored the need for better intelligence, training, and coordination among American forces, leading to subsequent reforms and improvements.


The Battle of Long Island remains a pivotal moment in the American Revolutionary War, illustrating both the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces and shaping the subsequent course of the conflict.

New York & New Jersey Campaign Battles


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