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Washington’s defeat at Long Island

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Old 08.20.15, 06:23 AM
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Washington’s defeat at Long Island

08.19.15 09:01 PM

On Aug. 22, 1776, some 8,000 of approximately 24,000 British troops landed near Long Island, New York. Under the leadership of Gen. William Howe and including a contingent of grenadiers under Gen. Henry Clinton, the British intended to take New York, gain control of the Hudson River — which would divide the colonies in half — and capture George Washington and his army and so quell the American rebellion.

On Aug. 25, Clinton presented a plan of attack to Howe that Howe rejected out of hand. Howe’s officer staff was not fond of Clinton, and they convinced Howe the plan smacked of German-school tactics. But the next morning, Howe changed his mind and decided to execute Clinton’s plan after all.

Under Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, a British regiment began to move at about 8 p.m. But they left behind hundreds of their pitched tents in order to trick the Continentals into thinking they were still in camp.

Over the next several hours, thousands of British troopers began to move. They rolled up a few pickets and roving guards, taking them captive in order to prevent them from alerting the Continental army.

The battle began in full the next morning. British soldiers attacked from two points: Jamaica Road and Gowanus Road. Hessian mercenaries, set to the attack the center, remained in place as Washington looked on the battle from the heights at about 8:30 a.m.

By 9 a.m., the battle began to turn badly for the Americans. Col. Samuel Miles, patrolling the Jamaica Road with his Pennsylvania regiment, was cut off and surrounded. When he saw fighting was fruitless, he told his men to run for their lives. Then John Sullivan and his men on Gowanus Road became trapped between Cornwallis’ men and the Germans who had by then entered the battle.

Washington moved to Brooklyn and watched in dismay as the route unfolded. He was described as being noticeably shaken by the scene unfolding before him and was heard to mutter, “Good God! What brave fellows I must lose this day!”

Washington and the fort at Brooklyn were then extremely vulnerable. Behind the earthworks, American soldiers milled about leaderless. Their commanders were missing; and many of their fellow soldiers were captured, dead or dying in the woods below them. Washington tried to rally them; and some responded, but many did not.

Surprisingly, with victory in his grasp, Howe called on his troops to halt, saying, “Enough has been done for one day.”

Assuming that Howe was preparing an all-out assault to finish him the next day, Washington was surprised when no attack came as the next day dragged on. He had his troops keep up a steady barrage of gunfire into the British positions below and began to plot a way out of his predicament.

They were outnumbered 2-to-1 and boxed into a narrow space about two miles square, with the mile-wide East River to their rear. Two of Washington’s top commanders, Sullivan and Lord Stirling, had both been captured.

Howe felt the end was near. To save his army, he planned to employ a methodical siege to bring Washington to his knees. Howe allowed his army a few days to repair itself from the fighting. Then on Aug. 30, he sent out a patrol. It was astonished to find that during the previous night, Washington and his army had slipped away.

In secret, Washington had ordered every available vessel on the East River to come to his aid. Swarms of barges, sailboats and punts arrived and ferried the troops across the river; and he and his army had retreated to Manhattan.

Sources: History.com, “Patriots: The men Who Started American Revolution” by A.J. Langguth

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