Battle of Long Island parson's Report - History

Battle of Long Island parson's Report - History

Brigadier General Samuel Parsons to John Adams.

Morrisania, October 8,

. To give you a clear idea of the matter [the Battle of Long Island must trouble you with a description of that part of the country where t. enemy landed and encamped, and the intervening lands between that and os lines.

From the point of land which forms the east side of the Narrows, rum a ridge of hills about N. E. in length about 5 or 6 miles, covered with a . wood, which terminate in a small rising land near Jamaica; through the hills are three passes only, one near the Narrows, one on the road called the Flatbush Road and one called the Bedford Road, being a cross road from Bedford to Flatbush which lies on the southerly side of these hills; these passes are through the mountains or hills, easily defensible, being very narrow and the lands high and mountainous on each side. These are the only roads which can be passed from the south side the hill to our lirtes, except a road leading | around the easterly end of the hills to Jamaica. On each of these roads placed a guard of 800 men, and east of them in the wood was placed Col M. with his battalion to watch the motion of the enemy on that part, with order I to keep a party constantly reconnoitering to and across the Jamaica Road The sentinels were so placed as to keep a constant communication between the three guards on the three roads. South of these hills lies a large plaines tending from the North River easterly to Rockaway Bay perhaps 5 mi,. and southerly to the sound bounded on the south by the Sound and on the north by the hills. Those hills were from two or three miles and a half from our lines. The enemy landed on this plain and extended their camp from the river to Flatbush perhaps 3 or 4 miles.

On the day of the surprise I was on duty, and at the first dawn of the day I the guards from the west road near the Narrows came to my quarters and informed me the enemy were advancing in great numbers by that road. I soon found it true and that the whole guard had fled without firing a gun; west (by way of retaliation I must tell you) were all New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians; I found by fair daylight the enemy were through the woods descending the hill on the north side, on which with 2o of my fugitive guard, being all I could collect, I took post on a height in their front at about half a mile's distance which halted their column and gave time for Lord Sterling with his forces to come up; thus much for the west road.

On the east next Jamaica Col. Miles suffered the enemy to march not less than 6 miles till they came near two miles in rear of the guards before he discovered and gave notice of their approach. This also was in the night and the guard kept by Pennsylvanians altogether the New England and New Jersey troops being in the other two roads through which the enemy did not attempt to pass.

We were surprised our principal barrier lost by that surprise, but as far as the cover of the night is an excuse we have it. The landing of the troops could not be prevented at the distance of 6 or 7 miles from our lines; on a plain under the cannon of the ships, just in view of the shore. Our unequal numbers would not admit attacking them on the plain when landed.

Order of battle of the Battle of Long Island

Lord Stirling leading an attack against the British in order to enable the retreat of other troops at the Battle of Long Island, 1776. Painting by Alonzo Chappel, 1858.

The Battle of Long Island was a decisive British victory early in the American Revolutionary War over American forces under the command of Major General George Washington, and the opening battle in a successful British campaign to gain control of New York City in 1776. The Americans had lined New York's harbor with various levels of entrenchment and fortification, which were defended by an array of Continental Army forces and militia companies from New York and nearby states. Ώ] After the British made an unopposed landing on Long Island in mid-August, Washington reinforced forward positions in the hills of central Brooklyn. ΐ]

The British forces were led by Lieutenant General William Howe, and included veterans of the Siege of Boston, new regiments from Ireland, and hired German troops from Hesse-Kassel. On August 27, 1776, Howe made a successful flanking maneuver around the American left while occupying the American right with diversionary battle. As a result, a significant portion of the American army became entrapped and surrendered after its retreat to the entrenched position was cut off. Α] With a siege of the position looming, General Washington successfully withdrew his remaining army to Manhattan in the early hours of August 29. Β]

Battle of Long Island

Generals at the Battle of Long Island: Major General William Howe led the British and Hessian troops against General George Washington and the American Continental Army.

Size of the armies at the Battle of Long Island: 20,000 British and Hessian Troops against around 10,000 Americans.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Long Island: The British wore red coats, with bearskin caps for the grenadiers, tricorne hats for the battalion companies and caps for the light infantry. The Hessians wore blue coats. The Hessian grenadiers wore the Prussian style brass fronted mitre cap.

The Americans were without issue of standard uniforms and dressed as best they could.

Long Island: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

Both sides were armed with muskets and bayonets. Many men of the Pennsylvania regiments carried rifled weapons. Both sides were supported by artillery.

British Light Dragoon Officer: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

The only cavalry at the Battle of Long Island was the British 17 th Light Dragoons and some small Americans mounted groups.

Winner of the Battle of Long Island: The British won the battle of Long Island, driving the Americans from Brooklyn and forcing them to evacuate New York.

British Regiments at the Battle of Long Island:
17th Light Dragoons

Foot: composite battalions of grenadiers, light infantry and Foot Guards (1st, 2nd and 3rd Guards), 4 th , 5 th , 10 th , 15 th , 22 nd , 27 th , 28 th , 33 rd , 35 th , 37 th , 38 th , 42 nd (Black Watch), 43 rd , 44 th , 45 th , 49 th , 52 nd , 55 th and 63rd Regiments of Foot and Fraser’s Highlanders.

Map of the Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Long Island:
Following the withdrawal of the British army from Boston on 17th March 1776, General George Washington, in the expectation that General Howe would attack New York, which was held for the Congress, marched much of his army south to that city from Boston.

In fact, the British sailed north from Boston to Halifax in Nova Scotia and it was not until the summer of 1776 that Howe launched his attack on New York.

British troops landing from the fleet: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

The British fleet reached the entrance to the Hudson River on 29th June 1776 and Howe landed on Staten Island on 3rd July. The Congress declared independence for the American Colonies on the next day, 4 th July 1776.

Reinforcements began to arrive from Britain and Major General Clinton returned from his abortive attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina.

Lord Stirling, American officer, with his 1st Maryland Regiment, at the Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by Charles Henry Granger: the ‘Old Stone House’ is in the distance

In the meantime, the Americans built batteries on Manhattan and Long Island to prevent the British fleet penetrating past New York.

Of his 18,000 men, Washington positioned around 10,000 in fortifications on Brooklyn Heights, facing the sea and inland, to defend the approach to Manhattan. This force was commanded by Major General Israel Putnam. Part of the American force held the fortified area along the coast while the main body took up positions along the high ground inland.

Putnam had served through the French and Indian Wars in various ranger companies and at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was a tough and popular man, but elderly and of limited ability in a high-ranking command.

The British attack: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by John Fawkes

On 22nd August 1776, the British force landed on Long Island to the south of the American fortifications.

On 26th August 1776, the main body of the British troops marched north-east, below the line of high ground held by the Americans to begin their attack. Information revealed to the British that the most northern of the three roads across the high ground was not guarded. Howe took his troops over this road and attacked the division on the American left, commanded by Sullivan, in the flank and rear, while German troops attacked in front. Sullivan’s troops were forced to leave their positions with much loss and retreat behind the main Brooklyn fortifications.

Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by Alonzo Chapell

On the right of the American position, Clinton attacked with a smaller force. The American commander, Lord Stirling, and his men resisted for some hours, until the British appeared in their rear from the other flank. Stirling’s force then fell back to the fortified line.

Battle of Brooklyn: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

On 28th August 1776, Washington brought reinforcements over to Long Island from New York, but with the increasing threat from the Royal Navy, he withdrew from Brooklyn on 29th August. Howe failed to interfere with the withdrawal.

American withdrawal across the river to New York: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

On 15th September 1776, Washington was forced to leave New York. Again, Howe failed to interfere with the withdrawal, losing the opportunity to capture Washington and much of the Continental Army

Washington was forced to conduct a fighting withdrawal to the Delaware River where he wintered.

Casualties at the Battle of Long Island: British casualties were around 400 men killed and wounded, while the Americans lost around 2,000 men killed, wounded and captured, and several guns.

Follow-up to the Battle of Long Island: The loss of Long Island and New York constituted the worst period of the war for Washington and the American cause for independence. Morale in parts of the Continental Army collapsed and whole companies deserted. George Washington showed his quality by recovering from the disaster and rebuilding the Continental army.

Old Stone House: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

Anecdotes from the Battle of Long Island:

  • James Alexander, Lord Stirling, of Bernard’s Township, New Jersey, was a prominent American officer in the American Revolutionary War and claimant to the Scottish title of Earl of Stirling. At the Battle of Long Island, Stirling held up the British advance with his 1 st Maryland Regiment, at the Old Stone House near Gowanus Creek, enabling Washington to evacuate the rest of the American army across the river to New York. Stirling was captured by the British but exchanged. Stirling became one of Washington’s most important subordinates, but died shortly before the end of the war.
  • The Old Stone House, the scene of Lord Stirling’s fight with British troops, has been reconstructed, using some original materials, and can be seen in Brooklyn, NYC.

References for the Battle of Long Island:

History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue

The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward

The American Revolution by Brendan Morrissey

George Washington and the American evacuation from Brooklyn: Battle of Long Island on 27th August 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

The previous battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Sullivan’s Island

The next battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Harlem Heights


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The Battle of Sag Harbor In The War For Independence

Monument at the site of the Battle of Sag Harbor on Long Island. Dedicated May 23, 1902.

Long Island was a war zone during the American Revolution. At times, with tightening British military control of New York City and its environs, the glorious cause for independence appeared to turn into a lost cause for local Patriots and the American army.

A major battle had ended in defeat for the Patriots on the Heights of Guan. General George Washington and his army barely escaped capture through the fog of night. Thousands of Americans suffered from disease and infections from the deplorable conditions on British prison ships anchored in Wallabout Bay. Many died and their remains were committed to watery graves. Farther east, the farms and woods of Long Island witnessed clandestine activities by a rebel spy network that extended to Setauket while frequent confrontations between Loyalist and Patriot citizenry, many from the same families, resulted in death. Skirmishes and raids involving rival militias, the Continental Army, British regulars and Hessian mercenaries blanketed the plains and probed the shores from Hempstead to Montauk.

Patriot raids on the crown’s outposts on the island initiated in Connecticut. Americans crossed Long Island Sound at night. They navigated the bays and coves on its north shore, marched quietly to prevent discovery and penetrated fortifications across the width and along the length of the island. Throughout the war, the daring excursions generated several rewarding results for the American cause.

The Battle of Sag Harbor possessed these same tactics. However, in this fight, the Patriots faced the duel challenge of negotiating the twin forks at the end of Long Island.

Sag Harbor Raid

The Battle of Sag Harbor, also known as Meigs Raid, was a response to a successful British raid on a Patriot supply depot in Danbury, Connecticut, during late April 1777. The Battle of Ridgefield was part of that campaign. Associated with this battle are the celebrated ride of 16-year-old Sybil Ludington to turn out the Patriot militias and the heroism of General Benedict Arnold for the American side.

The Long Island retribution was organized in New Haven by Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons. According to his report to General Washington, a force of 234 men from several regiments assembled at New Haven under the command of Connecticut Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs. The troops rowed 13 whaleboats to Guilford on May 21. Rough seas and high winds prevented the force from crossing Long Island Sound until the afternoon of May 23. Two armed sloops and one unarmed sloop accompanied the raiders. Only 170 arrived near Southold on the North Fork of Long Island at approximately 6 p.m.

British troops had occupied Sag Harbor on the South Fork of Long Island since the August 1776 Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn). A strong defensive position had been established on Meeting House Hill. Earthworks protected about 70 soldiers attached to the Loyalist unit of Lieutenant Colonel Stephen De Lancey (the family spelling also is listed as de Lancy and Delancey). These troops were under the command of Captain James Raymond. The ships of the Royal Navy that patrolled the eastern end of Long Island Sound obtained provisions from Sag Harbor when anchored in nearby Gardiner’s Bay.

Following his arrival in Southold, Colonel Meigs scouted the area. He learned that most of the British soldiers had been dispatched to New York City and only the small force of De Lancey’s Loyalists remained at Sag Harbor. Miegs’ men carried 11 of the whaleboats across the island’s North Fork to reach one of the bays between the two forks. The boats were relaunched with 130 men rowing toward Sag Harbor. By midnight, the Patriots landed about four miles from the harbor. Meigs formed his men for the short march, arriving at the harbor at about two o’clock in the morning.

The commander then divided his force. One detachment stormed the earthworks on nearby Meeting House Hill. The second detachment of about 40 men was assigned to destroy British boats and eliminate or capture provisions.

The attack on the hill was conducted in silence with fixed bayonets. Only one shot was reported to have been fired by a soldier. At the waterfront, a British schooner of 12 guns opened fire on the Americans as they burned the boats. Twelve boats were destroyed. Six Loyalists were killed. The Americans did not suffer any casualties. The raiders grabbed 53 prisoners at the garrison and 37 at the wharf. The prisoners were evacuated to Connecticut.

Aftermath And Today

The victory at Sag Harbor marked the first significant American success in New York State since New York City and Long Island had fallen to the British. Additional Patriot operations, including raids and Washington’s spy network, continued on Long Island for the remainder of the war.

In recognition for his success, Colonel Meigs was awarded “an elegant sword” by the Second Continental Congress. A stone commemorating the battle was placed on the site on May 23, 1902.

Today, the hill that was occupied by the Loyalist garrison and attacked by the Patriots is a local cemetery. Many headstones date to the late 1700s and a considerable number of the interred are local Patriots. At the battle site, by blocking out modern intrusions, a visitor can gaze upon the slope of the property and visualize the fight for independence that took place here almost 250 years ago.

Mike Virgintino is the author of Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive History, the story about America’s theme park published by Theme Park Press. It can be found on Amazon, eBay, Goodreads and Barnes & Noble. Just click on pic for a direct link to Amazon.

A listing of the Revolutionary War soldiers interred in the cemetery.

A headstone for a Revolutionary War soldier on the site of the Battle of Sag Harbor.

The Battle of Sag Harbor at the end of Long Island occurred on this hill that is the final resting place for local Patriots who fought for independence.

Retreat to Manhattan

On the night of August 29-30, 1776, the American troops were ferried from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Washington wrote to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.

Inclination as well as duty would have Induced me to give Congress the earliest Information of my removal and that of the Troops from Long Island & Its dependencies to this City the night before last, But the extreme fatigue whic⟨h⟩ myself and Family have undergone as much from the Weather since the Engagement on the 27th rendered me & them entirely unfit to take pen in hand— Since Monday scarce any of us have been out of the Lines till our passage across the East River was effected Yesterday morning & for Forty Eight Hours preceding that I had hardly been of[f] my Horse and never closed my Eyes so that I was quite unfit to write or dictate till this Morning.

Our Retreat was made without any Loss of Men or Ammunition and in better order than I expected from Troops in the situation ours were —We brought off all our Cannon & Stores, except a few heavy peices, which in the condition the earth was by a long continued rain, we found upon Trial impracticable—The Wheels of the Carriages sinking up to the Hobs, rendered it impossible for our whole force to drag them—We left but little provisions on the Island except some Cattle which had been driven within our Lines and which after many attempts to force across the Water we found Impossible to effect, circumstanced as we were …

In the Engagement on the 27th Generals Sullivan & Stirling were made prisoners … Nor have I been yet able to obtain an exact account of Our Loss, we suppose It from 700 to a Thousand, killed & taken— Genl Sullivan says Lord Howe is extremely desirous of seeing some of the Members of Congress for which purpose he was allowed to come out & to communicate to them what was passed between him & his Lordship—I have consented to his going to Philadelphia, as I do not mean or conceive It right to withold or prevent him from giving such information as he possesses in this Instance.

I am with my best regards to Congress Their & Your Most Obedt He Servt

Hostilities paused for ten days while Howe went to New Jersey to speak to delegates from Congress. On September 11, 1776, Edward Rutledge reported the results to Washington:

I must beg Leave to inform you that our Conferrence with Lord Howe has been attended with no immediate Advantages— He declared that he had no Powers to consider us as Independt States, and we easily discover’d that were we still Dependt we would have nothing to expect from those with which he is vested —He talk’d altogether in generals, that he came out here to consult, advise, & confer with Gentlemen of the greatest Influence in the Colonies about their Complaints, that the King would revise the Acts of Parliament & royal Instructions upon such Reports as should be made and appear’d to fix our Redress upon his Majesty’s good Will & Pleasure —This kind of Conversation lasted for several Hours & as I have already said without any Effect—Our Reliance continues therefore to be (under God) on your Wisdom & Fortitude & that of your Forces—That you may be as succesful as I know you are worthy is my most sincere wish … (Whole letter here)

Holding history in your hand: Rare letter from American Revolution surfaces

(Credit: Copyright G. Gosen Rare Books & Old Paper)

The short letter was dashed off quickly, 246 years ago this month. Sent from New London, Conn. across Long Island Sound to Shelter Island, it arrived damp from what must have been a rocky crossing, but to this day is still sturdy and legible.

Written on April 27, 1775 from Thomas Fosdick to his brother-in-law Nicoll Havens, the letter is an insight into the emotions Americans felt at the moment the American Revolution was born.

Thomas Fosdick wrote: “Dear Brother, I Send You Inclosed the News Paper containing the most a Larming News of the King’s Soldiers Striking a Blow on the Americans, I’ve Recd the News Last Night, & are one Fixing To Go Immediately for Boston, So I have only Time To Let You Know that I am one that is Going who am your Affectionate Brother Thos. Fosdick.”

Further down on the paper, he added: “This Morning News is Arrived that they have had Three Battles Since the first News Come away —T. Fosdick.”

It’s said that bravery is marching toward the sound of gunfire for a good cause that’s exactly what Fosdick was telling his brother-in-law on Shelter Island he was preparing to do. “The a Larming News” were reports of the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. And young Fosdick was off to Massachusetts to enlist.

He rose to the rank of major and was the adjutant to Brigadier General John Glover, fighting in many of the battles of the War Of Independence. He was named in dispatches to General George Washington, a high honor for any American soldier.

The letter, history you can hold in your hands, is now for sale by Manhattan’s Gosen Rare Books & Old Paper. Owner Gary Gosen told the Reporter he has several other items of historical interest relating to Shelter Island. For more information, contact Mr. Gosen at [email protected] .

The Battle of Lexington and Concord was the culmination of years of simmering disputes and bitter resentments between the English Crown and the American colonists, which gradually, inevitably ignited into the flames of revolution and war. Massachusetts was the center of revolutionary ardor, with citizens arming themselves and preparing for a full-scale showdown with British troops.

On the evening of April 18, 1775, the Redcoats marched from Boston to Concord to investigate reports of arms being stored for the rebels. The silversmith and revolutionary Paul Revere alerted the local militia, who were ready at Lexington to engage the British regulars. The ill-trained and outgunned Americans fought fiercely and routed the British, who retreated back to Boston.

Every American knows the story, immortalized in poetry especially, “The Landlord’s Tale,” which opens, “Listen, my children/ and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,/ On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five…”

But as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, it wasn’t just Americans who were affected by the battle of Lexington and Concord: “By the rude bridge that arched the flood/ Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,/ Here once the embattled farmers stood/ And fired the shot heard round the world.”

Nicoll Havens, who married Anna Fosdick, Thomas Fosdick’s sister, played a large part in the history of his town, region and country. He signed Shelter Island’s “Declaration of Independence,” dated May 1775, which was drafted and signed by the Island’s male heads of households just one month after the Battle of Lexington and Concord. In his life he held many Shelter Island elected offices, plus county and state offices.

In a Reporter story from July 2019, Karen Kiaer, historian of the Shelter Island Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and Joyce Bowditch-Bausman, the DAR’s honorary regent, spoke about how during the Revolution, when neighbors could be friend or foe, Shelter Island had surprisingly uniform support for independence from the British,

According to Ms. Kiaer, the Island paid a dear price for their rebellion. In a 2010 issue of the DAR’s magazine, “American Portals,” there’s an account of Islanders’ commitment to the Revolution. After George Washington’s defeat in August 1776 at the Battle of Long Island, 1,000 revolutionary soldiers were captured. Those prisoners of war were kept in hastily built prisons, as well as on board prison ships, anchored off the East End, and according to historical accounts, kept in deplorable conditions, with overcrowding, hunger, and disease rampant.

Some of those 1,000 patriots were from Shelter Island, and some are buried on the Island.

And now, a long-ago letter from one brother-in-law to another has surfaced, giving us an insight into the urgency and passion of two patriots during a moment when the wheel of world history turned.

Ambrose Clancy has been the editor of the Shelter Island Reporter since 2012. He’s worked as a staff reporter for The North Shore Sun, the Southampton Press and was associate editor of the Riverhead News-Review and an editor at Long Island Business News.

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.

Order of Battle of The Battle of Long Island - American Forces

The troops arrayed to oppose the British were primarily from regiments of the Continental Army, although there were a large number of militia units from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the field as well. A significant number of the Continentals had participated in the Siege of Boston, after which they had moved to join troops already in New York preparing its defenses. Some troops had participated in the expeditions against Quebec begun in fall 1775. That attempt ended in June 1776 after a disastrous retreat to Fort Ticonderoga prompted by the arrival of a large British force at Quebec City, and some of those troops were then rushed south to assist in New York. The American defense of Long Island became complicated when Major General Nathanael Greene fell ill on August 15. He had directed the defense work on Long Island, and was thus the general most familiar with the terrain. Washington replaced him on August 20 with Major General John Sullivan, lately returned from Ticonderoga. After sending reinforcements onto Long Island on August 25, Washington replaced Sullivan with the ranking major general, Israel Putnam. David Hackett Fischer observes that the American command situation was "o tangled that units were uncertain about their commanders and not sure of the positions they were to defend."

The basis for this order of battle is a return prepared by General Washington on August 3. It encompasses all of the units stationed in the New York area, not only those involved in the battle. The total provided is a listing of all troops, not just those listed as ready for duty. A substantial number of troops were sick during July and August. For example, General William Heath, writing in his memoirs, recorded that about 10,000 men were sick on August 8, and Washington reported on September 2 having fewer than 20,000 men present and fit for duty. Later returns were apparently impossible: Washington wrote to Congress on August 26 that "he shifting and changing which the regiments have undergone of late has prevented their making proper returns, and of course puts it out of my power to transmit a general one of the army."

The notes for each unit give some indication of where it was stationed, and what sort of movements it made, especially between August 22 and 29, a time period in which there were several significant movements and reassignments of troops. A number of units were moved from Manhattan to Long Island after the British landing on Long Island, and more were sent over during and after the fighting to bolster the defenses before they were finally abandoned on August 29.

Detailed American casualties are not available because many of the relevant records were destroyed by fire in 1800. British and Hessian estimates placed the total American losses at around 3,000, and a return prepared by General Howe listed 1,097 prisoners, including Generals John Sullivan, Lord Stirling, and Nathaniel Woodhull. Casualty numbers for specific units are rare historian John Gallagher has compiled a partial listing confirming 1,120 killed or missing, noting that returns for 52 of 70 units under Washington's command are missing. The Maryland Regiment of William Smallwood was virtually wiped out, suffering 256 killed and more than 100 captured out of a unit numbering nearly 400. Casualty figures are listed as notes if they are available for a given unit.

Unit Commander Unit size Notes
Putnam's Division
Commander Major General Israel Putnam 5,615 This division was stationed on Manhattan during the battle.
Read's Brigade Colonel Joseph Read 1,997 This brigade was actually assigned to Brig. Gen. James Clinton. Read commanded it in the general's absence.
3rd Continental Regiment Colonel Ebenezer Learned 521
13th Continental Regiment Colonel Joseph Read 505
23rd Continental Regiment Colonel John Bailey 503
26th Continental Regiment Colonel Loammi Baldwin 468
Scott's Brigade Brigadier General John Morin Scott 1,527 This unit was originally stationed in lower Manhattan. It was sent to Long Island before the battle.
New York militia Colonel John Lasher 510
New York levies Colonel William Malcolm 297
New York militia Colonel Samuel Drake 459
New York militia Colonel Cornelius Humphrey 261
Fellows' Brigade Brigadier General John Fellows 2,091 This brigade was stationed on Manhattan, and did not participate in the battle.
Massachusetts militia Colonel Jonathan Holman 606 This unit was from Worcester County.
Massachusetts militia Colonel Simeon Cary 569 This unit had men from Bristol and Plymouth Counties.
Massachusetts militia Colonel Jonathan Smith 551 This unit was from Berkshire County.
14th (Marblehead) Continental Regiment Colonel John Glover 365 Glover's regiment, stationed on Manhattan during the battle, was sent over to Brooklyn on August 28, and was instrumental in evacuating the army on the night of August 29–30.
Heath's Division
Commander Major General William Heath 4,265 Heath, based at King's Bridge, was responsible for the northernmost defenses, on the Hudson just above Manhattan. Most of his units were not involved in the battle.
Mifflin's Brigade Brigadier General Thomas Mifflin 2,453 This brigade was stationed at Harlem Heights, and did not participate in the battle. Mifflin went to Brooklyn with some of his troops, and commanded the rear of the retreat to Manhattan.
5th Pennsylvania Battalion Colonel Robert Magaw 480 These units was sent to Brooklyn on the morning of August 28.
3rd Pennsylvania Battalion Colonel John Shee 496
27th Continental Regiment Colonel Israel Hutchinson 513 This unit (along with John Glover's) manned the boats during the retreat.
16th Continental Regiment Colonel Paul Dudley Sargent 527
Ward's Connecticut Regiment Colonel Andrew Ward 437
Clinton's Brigade Brigadier General George Clinton 1,812 This unit was stationed in upper Manhattan before the battle.
New York militia Colonel Isaac Nichol 289 This unit was from Orange County.
New York militia Colonel Thomas Thomas 354 This unit was from Westchester County.
New York militia Colonel James Swartwout 364 This unit was from Dutchess County.
New York militia Colonel Levi Paulding 368 This unit was from Ulster County.
New York militia Colonel Morris Graham 437 This unit was from Dutchess County.
Spencer's Division
Commander Major General Joseph Spencer 5,889 Initially stationed in lower Manhattan, some of these units were sent over to Long Island before the battle.
Parson's Brigade Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons 2,469 This brigade was sent to Long Island on August 25, when it was clear that was the British target. Parsons had overall command of the Gowanus Heights defenses.
10th Continental Regiment Colonel John Tyler 569
17th Continental Regiment Colonel Jedediah Huntington 348 This unit suffered heavy casualties: 199 killed or missing.
20th Continental Regiment Colonel John Durkee 520
21st Continental Regiment Colonel Jonathan Ward 502
22nd Continental Regiment Colonel Samuel Wyllys 530 This regiment was assigned to guard the Bedford Pass the night before the battle.
Wadsworth's Brigade Brigadier General James Wadsworth 3,420
1st Connecticut State Levies Colonel Gold Selleck Silliman 415 This unit was initially stationed on Manhattan, but was transferred to Long Island before the battle.
2nd Connecticut State Levies Colonel Fisher Gay 449
3rd Connecticut State Levies Colonel Comfort Sage 482 This unit was initially stationed on Manhattan, but was transferred to Long Island before the battle.
4th Connecticut State Levies Colonel Samuel Selden 464
5th Connecticut State Levies Colonel William Douglas 506
6th Connecticut State Levies Colonel John Chester 535 This unit was initially stationed on Manhattan, but was transferred to Long Island before the battle. It was assigned to guard the Bedford Pass the night before the battle.
7th Connecticut State Levies Colonel Phillip Burr Bradley 569
Sullivan's Division
Commander Major General John Sullivan 5,688 Sullivan took command of this division on August 20, when Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene fell ill. The division was on the far left of the American line, and suffered the most from the British onslaught. Sullivan was the most senior Continental officer taken prisoner in the battle.
Stirling's Brigade Brigadier General William Alexander (Lord Stirling) 3,700 This brigade was sent to Long Island on August 25, when it was clear that was the British target. Stirling was stationed on the right side of the American line on the Gowanus Heights. His command was almost wiped out after becoming surrounded, and he was taken prisoner.
1st Maryland Regiment Colonel William Smallwood 400 This unit anchored the right against British General Grant's diversionary attack. Some of its men, the Maryland 400, fought a vicious rearguard action making possible the escape of much of Stirling's command. More than 100 men were captured and 256 killed, practically wiping the regiment out.
1st Delaware Regiment Colonel John Haslet 750 This unit fought in the center against British General Grant's diversionary attack.
Pennsylvania State Rifle Regiment Colonel Samuel Miles 650 This unit was responsible for guarding the hills at the far left of the American line. It suffered heavy casualties: 209 killed or missing.
Pennsylvania State Battalion of Musketry Colonel Samuel John Atlee 650 This unit fought against British General Grant's diversionary attack, and suffered 89 casualties.
Pennsylvania militia Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Lutz 200
Pennsylvania militia Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hachlein 200
Pennsylvania militia Major William Hay 200
McDougall's Brigade Brigadier General Alexander McDougall 1,988 Originally stationed in lower Manhattan, some of these troops were sent to Long Island before the battle.
1st New York Regiment Colonel Goose Van Schaick 428 This was McDougall's regiment prior to his promotion.
2nd New York Regiment Colonel Rudolphus Ritzema 434
19th Continental Regiment Colonel Charles Webb 542 This unit was sent to Long Island before the battle.
Artificers Colonel Jonathan Brewer 584
Greene's Division
Commander Major General Nathanael Greene 3,912 Greene was taken ill on August 15 his division was commanded by John Sullivan. It was the principal force defending Long Island.
Nixon's Brigade Brigadier General John Nixon 2,318 This brigade was sent to Long Island on August 25, when it was clear that was the British target.
1st Pennsylvania Regiment Colonel Edward Hand 288
Varnum's Rhode Island Regiment Colonel James Mitchell Varnum 391
Hitchcock's Rhode Island Regiment Colonel Daniel Hitchcock 368
4th Continental Regiment Colonel Thomas Nixon 419
7th Continental Regiment Colonel William Prescott 399
12th Continental Regiment Colonel Moses Little 453
Heard's Brigade Brigadier General Nathaniel Heard 1,594 This brigade was sent to Long Island on August 25, when it was clear that was the British target.
New Jersey State Troops Colonel David Forman 372
New Jersey militia Colonel Philip Johnston 235 Johnston's unit was on guard duty on the Flatbush Road the night before the attack. Johnston was mortally wounded in the battle.
New Jersey militia Colonel Ephraim Martin 382
New Jersey militia Colonel Silas Newcomb 336
New Jersey militia Colonel Phillip Van Cortlandt 269
Other units
Connecticut militia brigade Brigadier General Oliver Wolcott 4,200 This brigade was stationed on Manhattan, and did not participate in the battle. The unit strengths are described in surviving documents as an average.
2nd Connecticut Militia Lt. Colonel Jabez Thompson 350
13th Connecticut Militia Colonel Benjamin Hinman 350
18th Connecticut Militia Colonel Jonathan Pettibone 350
16th Connecticut Militia Colonel Joseph Platt Cooke 350
23rd Connecticut Militia Colonel Matthew Talcott 350
22nd Connecticut Militia Colonel Samuel Chapman 350
10th Connecticut Militia Lt. Colonel Jonathan Baldwin 350
9th Connecticut Militia Lt. Colonel John Mead 350
4th Connecticut Militia Lt. Colonel Ichabod Lewis 350
19th Connecticut Militia Lt. Colonel George Pitkin 350
15th Connecticut Militia Lt. Colonel Selah Heart (taken prisoner 9/15/1776) Major Simeon Strong 350
1st Connecticut Militia Major Roger Newberry 350
Long Island militia Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull 450 These units performed "fatigue" work, principally driving cattle. Stationed on the American left, it included small cavalry units familiar with the area, but these were not used for guard duty.
Long Island militia Colonel Josiah Smith 250 This unit was from Suffolk County.
Long Island militia Colonel Jeronimus Remsen 200 This unit was mainly from Queens County, and included men from Kings County.
Artillery Colonel Henry Knox 403
Total size 30,434
Unless otherwise cited, the information in this table is provided by Fischer, pp. 385–388.

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Battle of Long Island

As George Washington had anticipated, British forces under General William Howe departed from Halifax in the late spring of 1776 and headed for New York City. They entered the harbor in late June and on July 2 established headquarters on Staten Island. Ten days later, Admiral Lord Richard Howe arrived with additional forces. Over a period of several weeks the British army grew to about 32,000 men, including more than 8,000 mercenaries hired for service in America. Washington had moved the Continental Army from Boston following the British evacuation. He realized that New York City would be difficult to defend, but its strategic and symbolic importance dictated that the effort be made. Fortifications were erected around the city, which was then confined to the southern tip of Manhattan, as well as on the Brooklyn Heights area of Long Island to the east of the city. The Americans were unsure of where the British would choose to strike first. Beginning on August 22, the British plan began to become clear. Soldiers were transported from Staten Island to Long Island by way of Gravesend Bay. Meanwhile, on the waters off New York City, Lord Howe exchanged fire with American batteries on Manhattan. Within a few days, 20,000 British soldiers congregated in the vicinity of the village of Flatbush. The American army of 10,000 was deployed in a series of fortified positions on Brooklyn Heights and spread across the surrounding Heights of Guan. Several skirmishes occurred between small bands of the opposing forces over the following days.

On the night of August 26, British forces under General Howe were able to take advantage of intelligence provided by local Loyalists, who identified an undefended pass leading up to the Heights of Guan. Under the cover of darkness British soldiers managed to gain a position between American forces on Guan and the main force on Brooklyn Heights. In the daylight of the 27th the British opened fire on astonished Americans, who quickly recognized their dire situation. Soldiers under John Sullivan of New Hampshire broke and ran. Fellow American commander William Alexander of Pennsylvania, known as Lord Stirling because of his claim to a Scottish title, fought effectively for a while, but was slowly encircled by numerically superior British forces. It was evident that disaster could be averted only by retreating down the hill and across the swamplands by Gowanus Creek. Such a move, however, would expose the Americans to deadly fire from the British in the hills above. To provide cover for the retreat, Alexander and Major Mordecai Gist led a band of 250 Marylanders on a direct assault against the British lines. The Americans broke under withering fire, but regrouped and bought sufficient time to allow the bulk of the army to flee, often throwing arms aside, to Brooklyn Heights. Only a handful of the Marylanders were able to escape. Alexander was eventually surrounded and he surrendered, and Sullivan was captured. The Americans listed about 1,400 casualties from the Battle of Long Island. The British toll numbered fewer than 400. This embarrassing display was observed by a helpless Washington from atop Brooklyn Heights. For the next two days, he and his army expected a British assault, an event that would most likely had led to a decisive British victory. During this period of quiet, the weather was unseasonably cold and a steady rain fell American morale was at a low point and many soldiers talked of surrender. On the advice of his subordinates, Washington took advantage of British inaction and planned a retreat to Manhattan. British control of the harbor and rivers made this a risky prospect. Nevertheless, on the evening of August 29, the American army was ferried across the East River in a flotilla of small craft provided by sympathetic civilians. The retreat was aided immensely by calm waters that enabled the overloaded boats to make the crossing safely and by thick fog in the early hours of the next day that masked the departure of the last soldiers — which included a somber Washington. The question remains about why the British did not use their superiority on land and sea to strike a potentially lethal blow against the Patriot cause. Most historians agree that William Howe chose not to assault Brooklyn Heights because of his earlier experience at Bunker Hill where he also commanded an overwhelming force, but suffered extremely heavy losses. The general decided instead to set up a siege, believing that time was on his side. The failure of his brother, Admiral Howe, to halt the retreat across the East River has been ascribed to unfavorable winds that prevented his ships from destroying the tiny American flotilla and its human cargo. More recent historians, however, have argued that no ill wind was blowing at the time and that the admiral, a friend of America, was hoping to conclude affairs with a peace settlement, not a military victory to conclude the Battle of Long Island. See also campaigns of 1776 and timeline of the War of Independence.

George Washington: Defeated at the Battle of Long Island

General George Washington knew he had badly miscalculated. On August 27, 1776, British forces under a far more experienced military professional, General Sir William Howe, had soundly drubbed the American army in the Battle of Long Island and were now poised to finish it off. Outnumbered and out- generaled, with their backs to the East River and the British in front of them, the Americans appeared doomed. If Washington lost his army, it could mean the end of the Revolution.

Washington was well aware that his experience in the French and Indian War, 20 years earlier, hardly qualified him for his current position as commander in chief of the American armies. As a young colonial officer serving the British, Washington had lost a battle to the French at his hastily erected Fort Necessity in 1754. Serving as a militia colonel under British General Edward Braddock in 1755, the Virginian had fought gallantly at Fort Duquesne, but the British lost anyway. His one success had been a surprise attack against a small French party early in the war. ‘I heard the bullets whistle,’ Washington wrote to his brother Lawrence afterward ‘and believe me, there is something charming in the sound.’ (After a London newspaper printed Washington’s letter, King George II wryly remarked, ‘He would not say so had he heard many.’) The Americans were finding the sound somewhat less charming after the battles at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Whether they were prepared for it or not, the colonies were now at war — a war requiring an army and a commander in chief to lead it.

Patriot leader John Adams and his cousin Samuel knew that finding a commander acceptable to all the colonies would be difficult. Charles Lee, Benjamin Church, Israel Putnam, and even John Hancock wanted the position. But the two Adams men decided Washington would lend dignity to the cause. Furthermore, placing a Virginian in the post would help deflect criticism that Massachusetts was dominating the Revolution. Although he did not lobby for the post, Washington signaled his willingness to accept it by wearing his scarlet and blue uniform of the Virginia militia to the meetings of the Second Continental Congress.

On June 15, 1775, the Congress approved the choice of Washington. The new commander in chief then read a letter of acceptance. ‘Mr. President, tho’ I am truly sensible of the high honour done me in this appointment, yet I feel distress from the consciousness that my abilities and Military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust,’ he said. ‘However, as the Congress desires, I will enter upon the momentous duty and, exert every power I Possess in their service for the Support of the Glorious Cause . . . .’ He also said he would keep an ‘exact account’ of his expenses and that he would accept no more than that for his service.

Washington achieved a quick victory in Boston when he placed cannon captured at Fort Ticonderoga atop Dorchester Heights and forced the British out of the city. Washington and his most experienced and trusted commander at that time, General Charles Lee, believed that the British would probably focus their efforts on the New York area. It was a logical assumption. If General Howe controlled New York City, he could send armies north or south while his brother, Admiral Richard ‘Black Dick’ Howe, could easily lend naval support wherever General Howe might need it.

Washington and Lee knew it would be difficult to defend New York, but it was a political necessity. At the very least the Americans had to make the British pay severely for the city, as they had made them pay at Bunker Hill. So with Lee back in the Boston area, Washington marched to New York to try to accomplish the nearly impossible. He planned to defend New York City by digging in and making earthworks for gun positions in Manhattan, in Brooklyn, and on the Battery. In addition, he intended to build Fort Washington up on Manhattan Island’s northern tip. The fortifications themselves were well engineered and executed, but the plan was too ambitious and spread the Patriot forces too thin.

General Washington placed his largest contingent of troops, numbering 4,000 and commanded by Nathanael Greene, on Long Island’s Brooklyn Heights, overlooking Brooklyn and New York City. He considered these soldiers to be his best units. On paper Washington probably had about 20,000 men in his army. But half of them were in various state militias, poorly trained, poorly equipped, and lacking discipline. Many in the regular army suffered from camp diseases and were too ill to fight. Facing them were General Howe and approximately 32,000 soldiers, including some 8,000 Hessians. Admiral Howe supported his brother with the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever dispatched — 10,000 sailors on 30 warships, with 1,200 guns and hundreds of supporting vessels. ‘Every thing breathes the Appearance of War,’ wrote the commander of one British frigate. ‘The Number of Transports are incredible. I believe there are more than 500 of different kinds, besides the King’s ships — a Force so formidable would make the first Power in Europe tremble . . . .’

On August 22 the British made their opening moves. In six hours Admiral Howe efficiently ferried his brother’s troops from Staten Island to Long Island and landed them below Greene’s position on Brooklyn Heights. Unfortunately for the Americans, Greene had become seriously ill, and Washington replaced him with John Sullivan of New Hampshire. Dissatisfied with Sullivan’s performance, Washington put another New Englander, Israel Putnam of Connecticut, in his place. As a result, he had a commander in the field who had no knowledge of the local terrain.

Washington worried about how his largely untested army would stand up under fire. In an attempt to motivate his men, he wrote out general orders and had them read to his troops. ‘The time is now near at hand, which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves whether they are to have any property they can call their own whether their homes and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the conduct and courage of this army . . . . We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die… ‘ General Putnam set up his line of defense on a wooded rise called the Heights of Guan. The ridge ran roughly parallel to the East River behind it. Four passes cut through the heights. The Americans were defending three of them, but in a colossal strategic blunder Putnam left the one on his left flank, Jamaica Pass, unprotected. It was all the advantage Howe needed. On the night of August 26 the British general personally took charge of a force of 10,000 troops under Sir Henry Clinton, Lord Charles Cornwallis, and Sir Hugh Percy and, guided by local Tories, moved through Jamaica Pass so he could fall upon the Americans from the rear. Early the next morning cannons signaled the British to begin their attack all along the American front. General Philip von Heister’s Hessians kept the American center busy, while General James Grant’s 5,000 troops hit the American right. Then Howe’s 10,000 soldiers emerged from Jamaica Pass and wrapped up the unprotected left flank and the American rear. Howe’s surprise was complete. ‘[W]e were ordered to attempt a retreat by fighting our way through the enemy, who had . . . nearly filled every field and road between us and our lines [at Brooklyn],’ wrote an American soldier. ‘We had not retreated a quarter of a mile before we were fired upon by an advanced part of the enemy, and those upon our rear were playing upon us with their artillery. Our men fought with more than Roman virtue . . . .’ The Hessians moving in from the center attacked especially fiercely — sometimes bayoneting Americans trying to surrender. ‘We took care to tell the Hessians that the Rebels had resolved to give no quarters to them in particular, which made them fight desperately and put all to death that fell into their hands,’ a British soldier wrote.

The day proved to be a disaster for the Americans, but it would have been even worse if not for the action of William Smallwood’s regiment of 400 to 500 men from Maryland, temporarily commanded by a young and capable major named Mordecai Gist. Although inexperienced, they were among the best and bravest troops that day. While under fierce attack they made an orderly retreat to the Cortelyou house, a stone structure that commanded the Mill Dam Road and bridge, the only escape route across the Gowanus Salt Marsh.

American General William Alexander (who claimed a Scottish title and called himself Lord Stirling) ordered Gist and 250 men to hold off the enemy while the other Americans withdrew across the Mill Dam Road. Not only did Gist’s men hold off the British, they made six counterattacks before being forced to scatter and make their individual ways back to the American lines. Watching from afar, General Washington turned to Israel Putnam. ‘Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose,’ he said. Those few surviving Marylanders who could swim and who were lucky made it back. ‘There was in this action a regiment of Maryland troops (volunteers), all young gentlemen,’ recalled Joseph Plumb Martin, then 17 years old and a member of the nearby Connecticut Fifth. ‘When they came out of the water and mud to us, looking like water rats, it was a truly pitiful sight. Many of them were killed in the pond and many were drowned.’ The British had soon backed the Americans into a defensive position two miles across and about one mile deep on the shore of the East River. Fortunately for Washington, the winds had prevented Admiral Howe from sailing his fleet up the river and using his great firepower to wreak havoc with the patriots. The general knew only too well what would happen if the wind changed.

Despite the urging of subordinates who wanted to complete their victory, General Howe stopped his attack. Perhaps he feared a repeat of the costly and bloody ‘victory’ he had won at Bunker Hill. In a report to the British Parliament, Howe later said that the American army ‘could be had at a cheap price,’ meaning through a siege. Whatever Howe thought, his delay helped save Washington and the American cause.

Washington now called on Colonel John Glover of Massachusetts, who commanded one of the army’s crack regiments. Glover’s ‘Marvelous Men from Marblehead’ were well trained and wore smart blue-and-white uniforms. They were seamen and fishermen, so they were accustomed to shipboard discipline and were quick to carry out orders. As one Pennsylvania officer wrote, ‘[T]he only exception I recollect to have seen to the miserably constituted bands [Massachusetts regiments] was the regiment of Glover. There was an appearance of discipline in this corps.’ Washington had used Glover and his men before. The Hannah, the first ship to sail in the service of the new United States, was Colonel Glover’s own schooner, for which he found cannons and trained a crew and then successfully harassed British shipping and captured supplies for the Continental Army. In the wake of Hannah’s success, Washington asked Glover for two more ships to create what became known as ‘Washington’s Navy.’

John Glover is truly one of the forgotten men of American history. Born in 1732 a few houses away from the building where the accused Salem witches were imprisoned four decades earlier, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker and later moved to Marblehead, where he saved his money and bought a schooner. As a mariner he earned enough to purchase more ships. He joined the Marblehead militia in 1759 and soon worked his way up to the rank of captain of a ‘Military company of foot in the town of Marblehead.’ By 1776 he had become the regiment’s colonel. Washington knew that Glover was just the man to get his army out of its desperate situation. He also knew that there were spies in the ranks — one soldier had already been tried and hanged for his treachery and several others had been found guilty and put in prison — so he sent a misleading message to General William Heath on Manhattan: ‘We have many battalions from New Jersey which are coming over this evening to relieve those here. Order every flat-bottomed boat and other craft fit for transportation of troops down to New York as soon as possible.’ Then he ordered his quartermaster ‘to impress every kind of craft on either side of New York’ that had oars or sails, and to have them in the East River by dark. Anyone intercepting the messages would think that Washington was planning to bring reinforcements to Long Island in reality he hoped to evacuate his entire army before the British realized what he was doing.

The weather was still on Washington’s side. A drenching storm kept ‘Black Dick’s’ fleet out of the river and provided cover for the boat gathering. Late in the afternoon Washington met with his staff to tell them his real plans. As Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge wrote in a letter, ‘to move so large a body of troops with all their necessary appendages across a river a full mile wide, with a rapid current, in the face of a victorious, well-disciplined army nearly three times as numerous seemed . . . to present most formidable obstacles.’ The colonel was guilty of understatement.

The August nights were short, and Washington knew that if Glover had miscalculated the time required for the Herculean job, he would lose any troops unlucky enough to remain on the island at dawn. He had faith in the ‘tough little terrier of a man,’ and to help him he assigned a regiment of men from the Massachusetts towns of Salem, Lynn, and Danvers, sailors all.

The seamen began their work as soon as it was dark, about ten o’clock. The drenched Continentals left their entrenchments unit by unit and moved to the boats in darkness and in absolute silence. Each unit was told only that they were being relieved and were going back to Manhattan. They did not know that the entire army was doing the same thing. By the time any disloyal soldier discovered the truth, it would be too late for treachery. The quartermaster’s men had found only a few sailing craft, so there was much rowing to be done that night. At first the winds were favorable and the boats swiftly made the round trip to Manhattan, despite darkness and unfamiliar waters. Seamen in the rowboats plied them back and forth without a stop, oars muffled, across the fast East River current.

Washington stayed in the saddle, weary though he must have been. For several hours the situation looked favorable, but then the wind changed, blowing in combination with the unusually strong ebb tide. The sails could not overcome the two combined forces. Washington’s despair was partially alleviated when the men rigged the sailboats with temporary tholes, found oars, and rowed. But the tired general realized that many rearguard troops would still be on the island when dawn broke. Their loss would be a serious blow. Yet the seamen continued their race against time. ‘It was one of the most anxious, busy nights that I ever recollect,’ Benjamin Tallmadge recalled, ‘and being the third in which hardly any of us had closed our eyes in sleep, we were all greatly fatigued.’ At one point a rearguard unit under Colonel Edward Hand mistakenly received orders to move down to the water. Its movement left a gap in the lines that the British, had they been aware of it, could have used to smash through the American defenses. But the British didn’t know, and Washington, when he saw what had happened, hurriedly ordered the unit back into place.

In a few more hours luck rejoined the patriots. The wind changed direction and Glover’s men could again use their sails to speedily make the crossings and return. The tempo of the evacuation picked up, but the fickle wind had done its damage. As the dim first-light appeared in the cloudy, gray eastern sky, part of the rear guard was still on the wrong side of the river. As the sky lightened, however, a dense fog rolled in, obscuring the operation’s final movements. Colonel Tallmadge was in one of the last units to leave, and with regret he left his horse tied on the Long Island shore. Safe in New York, the fog as thick as ever, Tallmadge said, ‘I began to think of my favorite horse, and requested leave to return and bring him off. Having obtained permission, I called for a crew of volunteers to go with me, and guiding the boat myself, I obtained my horse and got some distance before the enemy appeared in Brooklyn.’ When the morning fog began to lift and the British patrols warily came to check on the American breastworks, they found them empty. Washington and the last of the rear guard were aboard the boats and sailing to safety. George Washington’s faith in John Glover and the seagoing soldiers had been vindicated. In about nine hours they had whisked 9,000 men and their supplies and cannon out from under the noses of the British. The Revolutionary cause lived on. Later that day, August 30, 10 British frigates and 20 gunboats and sloops finally sailed up the river. They were too late.

This article was written by J. Jay Myers and originally published in the June 2001 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!

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