When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
August 27, 1776 Battle of Long Island
After the British evacuation from Boston in March, the British general Lord William Howe moved to occupy New York City under the protection of a British fleet that commanded the surrounding waters. To protect his left flank, the defending American general, George Washington, stationed one-third of his troops (numbering no more than 2,000 trained soldiers) on the Long Island side of the East River. where they erected fortifications. A Continental Army division under Major General Nathanial Greene occupied a line of fortifications on Long Island’s Brooklyn Heights, across the East River from New York City.
On 22 August, 30,000 British regulars and German mercenaries landed on the south beaches of Long Island. The Americans reinforced their strength to 9,000 men, but Greene fell ill and was replaced by Major General Israel Putnam, a less capable soldier. About 6,500 men manned the main American positions while the rest were placed forward to block the three approach roads up to the Heights. Howe divided his men into three assault columns, one for each road.
After midnight on 27 August, Howe’s left and central columns marched forward, causing Putnam to shift units to meet the threat. Meanwhile, the main British attack swung right and, finding the road undefended, attacked the American rear. Surprised and outnumbered, American units fled to the main defense line. Several regiments fought desperate rearguard actions but were overwhelmed. Despite his initial success, Howe paused two days in front of the American fortifications to prepare a final assault. When a storm drove the British warships downriver, Washington used the opportunity to abandon Long Island. During the night of 29 August, the bulk of the American army crossed the East River to Manhattan, a successful escape that helped repair low American morale.
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