The Battle of Long Island took place on August 27, 1776. It was the first battle that occurred after the Continental Congress declared independence from Britain in July. The British won the battle but allowed the Continental Army to escape and continue the fight.
On March 17, 1776, the Siege of Boston ended as British forces, under the command of General William Howe, evacuated the city. They sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and took roughly 1,000 Loyalists with them.
This mezzotint by Richard Purcell depicts William Howe during the Revolutionary War (Public Domain).
General George Washington anticipated the British would set their sights on New York, which is precisely what they did. The British decided to invade New York City by sailing into the bay and landing their troops on Staten Island. From there, the troops would be transported to confront the American forces. General Howe hoped it would bring a swift end to the hostilities.
Washington sent large portions of the Continental Army to New York. They were ordered to occupy parts of New York City on Manhattan Island and Brooklyn Heights on Long Island.
Washington’s army consisted of roughly 20,000 Continental soldiers and colonial militia who were inexperienced and untested. Washington had them build defenses on and around Manhattan Island and in Brooklyn Heights on Long Island. He divided his force, and half of his men were placed on Brooklyn Heights at the western end of Long Island under command of Major General Israel Putnam.
During July and August, the British fleet, under the command of Admiral Richard Howe, transported around 32,000 British and Hessian regulars to Staten Island. Then, from August 22–25, around 20,000 of those troops were carried across the bay to Long Island.
On the night of August 26, the British marched around the left wing of the Americans on Long Island. The American left wing was under the command of Major General John Sullivan.
On the morning of August 27, General Howe ordered an attack on Sullivan’s forces. The American lines fell apart and they retreated. However, the 1st Maryland Regiment, under the command of Brigadier General William Alexander (Lord Stirling), made a historic stand against the British forces, which gave many Americans time to escape and make their way to defensive positions in Brooklyn Heights.
This painting by Alonzo Chappel depicts Lord Stirling leading the Maryland Regiment against British forces at the Battle of Long Island (Public Domain).
Howe had an opportunity to smash the Continental Army and hand Washington a decisive defeat. However, he ordered his men to begin digging siege lines instead of pursuing the remnants of the American forces on Long Island.
Howe’s decision proved to be a costly mistake because it gave Washington and his officers time to devise a plan to escape the British on Long Island. Two nights later, the Americans executed a bold escape maneuver and all of the forces on Long Island moved across the East River to Manhattan Island. The escape was aided by fog that rolled in over the East River and kept the British from seeing what the Americans were doing.
Aftermath of the Battle of Long Island
On September 11, an American delegation made up of Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge, and John Adams met with British officials on Staten Island. The two sides were not able to come to terms and broke off negotiations on September 15.
On September 15, the British crossed over from Long Island to Manhattan Island and landed at Kip’s Bay. The British pushed the Americans back. The next day, the Battle of Harlem Heights occurred, where the Americans were able to hold their position.
The two armies clashed again at the Battle of White Plains. Washington was forced to retreat and crossed the army over the Hudson River into New Jersey.
The British occupied New York City for the rest of the American Revolutionary War.
Key Facts About the Battle of Long Island
The Battle of Long Island started on August 27, 1776, and ended on August 29, 1776.
The location of the Battle of Long Island was Brooklyn Heights on Long Island, New York.
The outcome of the Battle of Long Island was a British victory.
The key American military leaders at the Battle of Long Island were:
- George Washington
- Israel Putnam
- John Sullivan
- William Alexander
- Joseph Read
- John Morin Scott
- Samuel Holden Parsons
- William Smallwood
- John Haslet
The key British military leaders at the Battle of Long Island were:
- William Howe
- Charles Cornwallis
- Henry Clinton
- William Erskine
- James Grant
- Charles Mawhood
- Francis Smith
The strength of the American forces at the Battle of Long Island was around 10,000.
The strength of the British forces at the Battle of Long Island was around 20,000.
The American forces suffered around 2,200 casualties of men who were killed, wounded, or captured.
The British forces suffered around 390 casualties of men who were killed, wounded, or captured.
Significance of the Battle of Long Island
The Battle of Long Island was significant because it allowed the British to take an important first step in controlling New York City. However, Washington and the Continental Army escaped and were able to continue the fight for independence.
Eventually, the British would capture New York City and would hold it until the end of the war. In fact, the British did not evacuate New York City until November 25, 1783, two years after Cornwallis surrendered at the Battle of Yorktown.
Once again, just like at the Battle of Trenton, Washington, and the Continental Army were able to execute a bold maneuver and live to fight another day. And, just like at Trenton, they were aided by weather conditions that masked their movements.
The Battle of Long Island was the first battle fought by American forces as citizens of the new United States of America, as declared in the Declaration of Independence.
Battle of Long Island: In Four Minutes
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