Wednesday, August 27, 2008

battle of brooklyn - august 27, 1776

as a kid growing up in brooklyn, the anniversary of the battle of brooklyn (also known as the battle of long island and, less frequently, the battle of brooklyn heights) is nothing new - so to speak. in fact, commemorating it often leads to one of those counter-intuitive moments that devolves into something like this: "i know this is a significant historical event, but why remind ourselves of military defeat that ushered in such disastrous consequences?" put into modern historical context, it's similar to the british reliving the world war II battle of dunkirk (figuratively and literally)!

that said, one should never shirk from historical observations. a couple of points about the battle of brooklyn deserve mention. the british, in staging their troops on august 22nd, carried out the largest amphibious military operation prior to the 20th century when they successfully landed 34,000 soliders in gravesend bay. five days later, when the combatants finally met, general george washington led, for the first army of the united states (approximately 10,000 men) in a field of battle. outnumbered almost 2 to 1, the outcome wasn't in much doubt. the american troops, after suffering almost 2,600 causalities, retreated to brooklyn heights (literally, to the water's edge).

on the evening of august 28th and into the early morning hours of the 29th, good fortune - and the british failure to follow through with its military advantage - allowed general washington to get his remaining troops across the east river, under the cover of night (and early morning fog), to the relative safety of manhattan island. that respite from battle was brief. the british quickly followed washington and his troops across the river and pursued them to the northern end of manhattan, where they then crossed the hudson river (near the present day site of the george washington bridge) and escaped the british.

an interesting highlight of general washington conduct - he did not leave brooklyn heights until the very last of his troops was on the water, rowing across to manhattan. he was subsequently praised (by both the americans and british) for his strategic withdrawal against the overwhelming odds!

and, one lost battle aside, if memory serves me correctly - we did eventually win that war ;D

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