Today, August 27, 1776: Washington Almost Lost Revolutionary War

Brooklyn, New York -- August 27, 1776

Colonel Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War and father of Robert E. Lee, once commented that during the war "the state of Delaware furnished one regiment only; and certainly no regiment in the army surpassed it in soldiership." At the Battle of Long Island, the actions of the Delaware Regiment kept the American defeat from becoming a disaster. Fighting alongside the 1st Maryland Regiment, the soldiers from Delaware may well have prevented the capture of the majority of Washington's army - an event that might have ended the colonial rebellion. Organized in January 1776 by Colonel John Haslet, the Delaware Regiment was noted as the best uniformed and equipped regiment of the Continental Army. Delaware's blue jackets with red facings and white waistcoats and breeches would later become the uniform for all the Continental troops. During the Battle of Long Island, the Delaware and Maryland troops were positioned on the right of Washington's line. They defended the most direct route from the British landing site in south Brooklyn to the American fortifications in Brooklyn Heights. Though the troops faced the fiercest fighting of the day, they held their ground long enough to allow the remainder of Washington's army to safely retreat to the fortifications. However, the Delaware regiment was outflanked and forced to retreat, taking 23 prisoners with them, through marshland and across the Gowanus creek. Two nights later, Washington entrusted his Delaware and Maryland soldiers to be the rear guard as he secretly withdrew his army from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Today, the 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland Army National Guard, preserves the legacy of the 1st Maryland Regiment. The 198th Signal Battalion, Delaware Army National Guard, perpetuates the proud lineage of the Delaware Regiment.

In March, 1776, newly appointed Commander of the Continental Army ordered five regiments of the army to New York. This was in response to the British siege of Boston also in March 1776. The regiments gathered at an area known as Brooklyn Heights, also referred to as the Height of Guan.

At the same time as Washington gathered a large portion of his army on the heights in Brooklyn, British General William Howe was positioning his nearly 20,000 troop force that had been ferried over to Long Island five days earlier. Howe’s goal was to take New York and create a division between the northern and southern American colonies which should have led to their eventual surrender and end to the rebellion in the colonies.

On this day, August 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, also called the Battle for Long Island began. Howe’s forces, which included a Hessian unit were positioned in three locations around the eastern wide of Brooklyn Heights.

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Washington tried to counter with several units of lesser trained, experienced or supplied troops, but those troops were eventually defeated by the British and Hessian units.

By August 29, 1776, Washington knew his position was untenable and he ordered a retreat across the East River to Manhattan. British General Howe at the same time had instructed his brother, Admirable Richard Howe to sail down the East River in an attempt to cut off any avenue of retreat.

However, Washington had managed to get a number of his troops and most of his officers, including himself, across the river before Admirable Howe reached the location to cut off the escape route.

General Howe wasn’t aware of the retreat of the American troops until the next day. Instead of pursuing Washington into Manhattan, he decided to establish his command on Long Island. Most historians agree that if Howe pursued Washington, he most likely would have captured the American commander and end the rebellion of the colonies. They also agree that had Admirable Howe moved into the East River any earlier that he would have captured Washington and his officers as they crossed to Manhattan and again end the rebellion.

After the British surrender seven years later in 1783, Washington acknowledged that he was out numbered and out gunned and should have lost the war, as early as the defeat at Brooklyn Heights.  He also acknowledged that the American victory over the British was solely due to the providential hand of God who protected and watched over him and his army.

In Washington’s First Inaugural Address, he stated:

“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow- citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.” [Emphasis mine]



Sources for the above includes: Battle of Long Island; George Washington: Defeated at the Battle of Long Island; Howe Brothers Defeat Washington in Battle of Brooklyn Heights; The Battle For Brooklyn, 1776; The Battle of Long Island 1776; Battle of Long Island; George Washington First Inaugural Address

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