Two-hundred thirty-nine years ago yesterday, New York City was a battleground: nearly 40,000 Continental and British troops faced off in Brooklyn. Today, the Battle of Brooklyn is remembered as the largest battle (in terms of combatants) fought during the American Revolution. To learn more about the revered general and Founding Father, George Washington, who led the charge and the retreat, don’t miss out on our upcoming talk by renowned military historian, Jeremy Black: How Washington Won. Tickets for this program and our entire season of venerable speakers are now on sale online or by phone.
After Washington and his ragtag army had successfully run the Red Coats out of Boston by March 1776, he correctly predicted that their next target would be the crucial port city of Manhattan. Washington wasted little time celebrating; he marched his men south to defend the island.
The Seat of Action, between the British and American Forces. Or An Authentic Plan of the Western Part of Long Island, with the Engagement of the 27th August 1776, between the King’s Forces and the Americans: containing also Staten Island, and the environs or Amboy and New York, with the course of Hudsons River, Major Holland. New-York Historical Society, 87322d
Upon arrival, no British were found, but Washington waited patiently, and by early July 400 British ships were spotting sailing into New York Harbor. Over the coming months, Washington strategically spread out his men to guard key routes in preparation for battle. Unfortunately, he didn’t assign anyone to patrol the scantly traveled Jamaica Pass. Little did he know that on August 26, the British General William Howe would lead 10,000 men along the route toward the American military lines.
Lord Sterling at the Battle of Long Island, Ridgeway after painting by Alonzo Chappel. New-York Historical Society, 77489d
Musket fire broke the muggy dawn air on August 27, when British troops fired on the Continental soldiers stationed in Brooklyn. Fighting spread to Lower Manhattan and east to Long Island. While the American soldiers bravely held off the professional British and Hessian soldiers, Washington realized his folly at the Jamaica Pass would leave him surrounded. To avoid capture, he ordered a retreat.
As American troops rowed swiftly toward Manhattan and away from the fighting, a heavy fog fortuitously fell over New York City, allowing them to flee safely. It was said that their fearless leader, George Washington was the last man to leave Brooklyn.
Battle of Long Island, “Retreat of the Americans Under Gen. Sterling Across Gowanus Creek, Ridgeway after painting by Alonzo Chappel. New-York Historical Society, 72025
After the sounding American defeat in the Battle of Brooklyn, the British retained control of New York City until 1783. Though the Red Coats surrendered to the French-allied American forces at Yorktown in October 1781, the peace treaty defining American independence wasn’t signed until two years later.