What Is the Importance of the Battle of Long Island?

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The Battle of Long Island in August 1776, the first and largest battle of the Revolutionary War, was important because it enabled the British to capture the strategically crucial port and city of New York. Victory in this battle boosted the morale of the British, but General George Washington's daring night escape with most of his troops ensured that the war would be a prolonged conflict.

After he captured Boston, General Washington guessed correctly that New York would be the next British target because of its strategic importance. To prepare a defense, he took about 20,000 men to New York City. British General William Howe landed his forces on nearby Staten Island and waited until his 32,000 troops had arrived. Howe sent some of his men on a frontal attack and others on a surprise flanking maneuver. The Americans were forced to retreat to Brooklyn Heights with great losses.

Instead of attacking, the British began building siege lines. Realizing the Americans were surrounded and outnumbered, Washington ordered a retreat to Manhattan. While a rearguard tended campfires to confuse the British, the bulk of Washington's forces silently drew back to the ferry landing at the East River, from which they were evacuated. Washington managed to save his entire remaining army without further loss of supplies or lives. However, the Battle of Long Island resulted in almost 400 Americans dead, 1,400 wounded and 1,200 captures, whereas the British casualties were less than 400 killed and wounded.