Once the British had evacuated Boston, all eyes turned to New York. New York was important for many reasons- it connected the Northern and Southern colonies, and it had the Hudson River which was crucial for transportation and trading. The British needed to maintain control of it and if they could defeat the Continental Army in Long Island, they would be able to win the war.
Just like in Boston, it was most important for each side to maintain the high ground. It was now the summer of 1776, and Brooklyn Heights was where the British had their sights set. George Washington knew that he needed to focus his efforts on fortifying Long Island, an attack from the British would be eminent. In June, the British arrive on Long Island and within 2 months, they are 32,000 strong; the Americans sit just at 9,000. Along with being heavily outnumbered, Washington finds it almost impossible to know where and when the British will begin attacking. He must now spread his troops out and defend every possible point of attack, making the army even weaker. General Howe, the British commander, is able to lead a surprise attack on the Americans in August of 1776, causing them to retreat all the way to Brooklyn Heights. If Howe can deliver one more successful attack, they will have Brooklyn Heights under their possession. But he doesn’t; he orders his men to halt. He wants to regroup, build trenches, and wait for the British Navy to sail up the Hudson River which would trap the Americans on both sides. Surprisingly, the British fleet is not able to get up the river, the winds are preventing them from sailing north. Remember who controls the weather. General Howe’s decision proves to be a mistake. He has now given the Americans time, and while they will not be able to fight back against the British, Washington is able to devise a plan of evacuation.
Washington is very smart and knows that this evacuation must be kept a secret. Since the British Navy was not able to get up the Hudson like they had planned, Washington can now get his troops across the Hudson and off Long Island. In an effort to keep this a secret, Continental troops will act under the cover of night. On August 29th, the evacuation begins. Here is where God’s intervention becomes very apparent. A family that lived near the site of the evacuation saw what was happening. They happened to be Loyalists, or those who sided with the King. They send one of their black servants to go and tell the British what the Americans are doing. The servant makes it to the British lines and is met by Hessian troops. The British had hired Hessian, or German, troops to help in the fighting because they were known for their strength. The Hessians that meet this servant cannot understand anything he is trying to tell them, and they decide to hold him till the next morning. Again, this is disastrous for the British. By the time the servant is able to talk to a British soldier, it is too late.
Washington’s evacuation will take all night as the men are being ferried across the river in small fishing boats. It was noted that before the evacuation began, Washington was worried about the wind, that it would keep them from being able to make it across the river. But the wind becomes still once the process begins. As dawn is approaching the next morning, Washington is still on Long Island, he wanted to be the last man ferried across, but he will be captured if the British see what is happening. An officer in the Continental Army by the name of Benjamin Tallmadge gave this account of what took place next:
“As the down of the next day approached, those of us who remained in the trenches became very anxious for our own safety, and when the dawn appeared there were several regiments still on duty. At this time a very dense fog began to rise, and it seemed to settle in a peculiar manner over both encampments. I recollect this peculiar providential occurrence perfectly well; and so very dense was the atmosphere that I could scarcely discern a man at six yards distance.”
It was said by those who lived in New York that this kind of fog had not been seen for 20 to 30 years. This was not normal; this was God’s intervention. With the help of the fog, the Continental Army made it across the Hudson. The fog lifted as soon as the last of them had made it safely to the other side. The Battle of Long Island is a huge loss for the Americans. The Army felt defeated. But this battle is still worth noting because it could have, and should have, been the end of the war. The British had everything they needed to successfully surround and capture Washington and his army. But because the winds kept their ships out of the Hudson River, the Hessians could not understand the servant who they had captured, and the dense fog settled over Washington just as the sun was rising, the Continental Army escaped and would be able to continue the fight for freedom.
Spivey, Larkin. Miracles of the American Revolution. Chattanooga, Tennessee, God and Country Press, 2010.
Johnston, Henry P. The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn. Brooklyn: Long Island Historical Society, 1878.