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Monday, August 22, 2016

YOUNG AMERICA | Aug. 22–The British Land on Long Island

After landing on Long Island, the British pursued
the Continental Army at a slow pace, strung out across
the East Coast. On Dec. 25, Washington struck back.
This day in 1776, after the Declaration of Independence in July, the British army under Gen. Sir William Howe landed 24,000 men on Long Island–in what is now Brooklyn. The rebellion began in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord.

The British plan was to end the war by capturing New York City and controlling the Hudson River, splitting apart the rebel colonies. This plan to take New York City succeeded, but the underlying plan to defeat the rebellion failed.

Howe misjudged the resentment of the rebels and their determination to be independent, much as a dog-owner misjudges a pet that has tasted independence and doesn't follow its master's commands any more.

Five days after landing, on August 27, Howe's troops marched against the "rebels"–from the American perspective, the Patriots–ensconced in Brooklyn Heights. They first overcame the Patriots defending Gowanus Pass and then outflanked the Continental Army. The Patriots suffered 1,000 casualties; the British lost only 400.  This was the greatest battle of the war. After this, General Washington avoided direct confrontation, playing the Scottish "secret war" that won against Edward I and Edward II, a defensive game, attacking only relatively small British contingents. Washington surely learned about this game when he was a colonel serving loyally under unpopular General Edward Braddock in the French and Indian War.

Ignoring staff advice, Howe opted not to pursue the Patriots to Brooklyn Heights, where he might have captured General Washington and his senior command, executed them as rebels and probably ended the rebellion. British General William Howe and his brother Admiral Richard Howe believed their Mission was Accomplished and that General Washington or the Congress would surrender.

On September 11, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and other congressional representatives did reopen negotiations with the Howes. But after a couple of meetings the British refused to accept the non-negotiable demand for American independence and the congressional team went home.

The delays meanwhile gave General Washington and his troops time to retreat by boat to Manhattan under cover of darkness and fog. By the time the British army went back to work and captured New York City on September 15,  Washington and his men were on their way first north to White Plains and then across the Hudson to New Jersey. After many skirmishes in New Jersey, the Continental Army retreated to Pennsylvania.

NYC would remain in British hands until the end of the war. But on Christmas Day 1776, Washington led a bold counter-attack, recrossing the Delaware River above Trenton, and the Continental Army drove the British out of New Jersey. The war ended in Britain's defeat in 1781.