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The Battle of Brooklyn Heights

22 August 1776: In the largest amphibious operation prior to the 20th century, he British Navy transports 21,000 infantry across the Verrazano Narrows and lands them at Gravesend Bay. Their objective is to gain control of Brooklyn Heights - the highest point in all of greater New York. He who controls the Heights controls the city.

George Washington knows this and has deployed a force of 11,000 soldiers, making up the majority of the Continental Army, to defend them. On August 27th, the two forces clashed atop the Heights.

Map of the Battle drawn by British General Staff

Out-flanked and out-fought, the Continental Army reeled under the British assault. Within a couple hours, they had suffered 2700 casualties and been pushed off the heights towards Manhattan. Now all the British commander had to do to trap Washington and his entire army with its back to the river was ask the navy to sail up the East River behind him. The War would undoubtedly have ended right there.

But fate intervened. Like the Germans at Dunkirk, the British Army let up. General Sir William Howe, the British commander-in-chief, chose to bask in his victory. At the same time, a storm came up, blowing down the East River and preventing British ships from sailing up it.

Retreat Across the East River - 29 August 1776

This allowed Washington and his army to retreat across the river to Manhattan under cover of darkness on the night of August 29th. Eye-witness accounts record how the army silently retreated that night in the storm. The British were camped only a few hundreds yards away. All through the night, American soldiers retreated from one entrenchment after another in the order they were assigned.

Slowly they made their way down to the waters edge and filed aboard small boats. They were so careful not to make noise that the sailors tied their shirts around the oars to muffle their sound in the water.

The situation was hazardous in the extreme. Washington rode all night among the troops on his white mule Magnolia, telling them to “keep quiet and keep moving.” As the sun came up on August 29th , the last of the men were just leaving. The storm has stopped, and a dense fog rolled in, which completely obscured the action on the waterfront. The British line were so close they could hear the British sentries from the ferry dock. As the fog burned off in the morning sun, a young officer named Ben Tallmadge looked back across the river from Manhattan. Loading onto the last boat

Through the mists, he saw a tall figure in a long black cloak with a three cornered hat. George Washington, the commander-in-chief, was the last man to cross the river.

From there, the rest is history. Washington and his army would fly up Manhattan in the face of British pursuit. They would cross the Hudson near the present site of George Washington Bridge, on their way to winter quarters. On December 26th, Washington would cross the Delaware into New Jersey, surprise the British at Trenton and Princeton, and reinvigorate the American Cause.


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