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The Battle of Long Island 1776

War: American Revolution

Date: 27th August 1776

Place: New York, United States of America

Combatants: British and the American Continental Army

British Light Dragoon Officer
British Light Dragoon Officer

Generals: Major General Lord Howe and General George Washington
Size of the armies engaged: 20,000 British and Hessian Troops and around 10,000 Americans

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British wore red coats and headgear of bearskin caps, small caps or tricorne hats depending on whether the troops were grenadiers, light infantry or battalion company men. The Americans were still dressing as best they could. Both sides were armed with muskets and guns. The Pennsylvania regiments carried rifled weapons.

Winner: The British drove the Americans from Brooklyn and forced them to evacuate New York.

British Regiments:
17th Light Dragoons later the 17th/21st Lancers and now the Queen’s Royal Lancers
Composite battalion of grenadiers
Composite battalion of light infantry
Composite battalion of Foot Guards (1st, 2nd and 3rd Guards)

Long Island
The Battle of Long Island
(c) Illustration by John Mackenzie 2008.   Click on the illustration to reach the enlarged version

4th Foot later the King’s Royal Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
5th Foot later Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
10th Foot later the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
15th Foot later the East Yorkshire Regiment and now the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire
22nd Foot now the Cheshire Regiment
27th Foot later the Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment
28th Foot later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
33rd Foot now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
35th Foot later the Royal Sussex Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
37th Foot later the Hampshire Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
38th Foot later the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the Staffordshire Regiment
42nd Foot now the Black Watch
43rd Foot later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets
44th Foot later the Essex Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
45th Foot later the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment
49th Foot later the Royal Berkshire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
52nd Foot later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets
55th Foot later the Border Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
63rd Foot later the Manchester Regiment and now the King’s Regiment
Fraser’s Highlanders

Map of the Battle of Long Island
Map of The Battle of Long Island

Following the withdrawal of the British army from Boston on 17th March 1776, Washington in the expectation that Howe would attack New York which was held for the Congress marched much of his army south to that city. In fact the British had sailed north to Halifax in Nova Scotia. It was not until the summer of 1776 that Howe launched his attack on New York.

British Troops Advancing

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 the next day.

Reinforcements began to arrive from Britain and Major General Clinton arrived from his abortive foray to Charleston, South Carolina.

The battle of Long island

Washington had built batteries on Manhattan and Long Island to prevent the British fleet penetrating past New York. Of his 18,000 men Washington had 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 had taken up positions along the high ground inland.

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

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

General Washington ordering the disembarkation

On 26th August the main body of the British troops marched north-east along 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 the road and was enabled to attack the left American division commanded by Sullivan in the flank and rear while German troops attacked in front. Sullivan’s troops forced to leave their positions with much loss and retreat behind the main Brooklyn fortifications.

British Troops Landing in New York
British Troops landing at New York after the battle of Long Island

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

On 28th August Washington brought reinforcements 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. On 15th September 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

George Washington
General George Washington in the uniform of the Virginia Regiment

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

Casualties: British casualties were around 400 while the Americans lost around 2,000 and several guns.

Follow-up: Brooklyn and the loss of New York was the worst period of the war for Washington and the American cause of independence. Morale in parts of the Continental Army collapsed and whole companies deserted. It is the mark of a truly great leader that he is able to recover from such a reverse.

Caption: The British 27th Inniskilling Regiment of Foot


British troops crossing the river