From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
September 3. –General Howe gives the following account of the late action on Long Island:
On the twenty-second of last month, in the morning, the British, with Colonel Donop’s corps of Chasseurs and Hessian grenadiers, disembarked near Utrecht on Long Island, without opposition, the whole being landed with forty pieces of cannon, in two hours and a half, under the direction of Commodore Hotham, Lieutenant-General Clinton commanding the first division of the troops.
The enemy had only small parties upon the coast, who, upon the approach of the boats, retired to the woody heights commanding a principal pass on the road from Flatbush to their works at Brooklyn. Lord Cornwallis was immediately detached to Flatbush with the reserve, two battalions of light infantry, and Colonel Donop’s corps, with six field-pieces, having orders not to risk an attack upon the pass, if he should find it occupied; which proving to be the case, his lordship took post in the village, and the army extended from the ferry at the Narrows, through Utrecht and Gravesend, to the village of Flatland.
On the twenty-fifth, Lieutenant-General de Heister, with two brigades of Hessians from Staten Island, joined the army, leaving one brigade of his troops, a detachment of the 14th regiment from Virginia, some convalescents and recruits, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple, for the security of that island.
On the twenty-sixth, Lieutenant-General de Heister took post at Flatbush, and in the evening Lord Cornwallis, with the British, drew off to Flatland. About nine o’clock, the same night, the van of the army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Clinton, consisting of light dragoons and brigade of light infantry, the reserve under the command of Lord Cornwallis, excepting the 42d regiment, which was posted to the left of the Hessians, the first brigade, and the 71st regiment, with fourteen field-pieces, began to move from Flatland across the country through the new lots, to seize a pass in the heights, extending from east to west along the middle of the island, and about three miles from Bedford, on the road to Jamaica, in order to turn the enemy’s left, posted at Flatbush.
General Clinton being arrived within half a mile of the pass, about two hours before daybreak, halted and settled his dispositions for the attack. One of his patrols, falling in with a patrol of the enemy’s officers, took them, and the general learning from their information that the rebels had not occupied the pass, detached a battalion of light infantry to secure it, and, advancing with his corps, upon the first appearance of day, possessed himself of the heights, with such a disposition as must have insured success, had he found the enemy in force to oppose him.
The main body of the army, consisting of the guards, 2d, 3d, and 5th brigades, with ten field-pieces, led by Lord Percy, marched soon after General Clinton, and halted an hour before day in his rear. This column (the country not admitting of two columns of march) was followed by the 49th regiment, with four medium twelve-pounders, and the baggage closed the rear with a separate guard.
As soon as these corps had passed the heights, they halted for the soldiers to take a little refreshment, after which the march was continued, and about half an hour past eight o’clock, having got to Bedford, in the rear of the enemy’s left, the attack was commenced by the light infantry and light dragoons upon large bodies of the rebels having cannon, who were quitting the wood heights before mentioned, to return to their lines, upon discovering the march of the army. Instead of which, they were driven back, and the army still moving on to gain the enemy’s rear, the grenadiers and 32d regiment being in front of the column, soon approached within musket-shot of the enemy’s lines at Brooklyn, from whence these battalions, without regarding the fire of cannon and small arms upon them, pursued numbers of the rebels that were retiring from the heights so close to their principal redoubt, and with such eagerness to attack it by storm, that it required repeated orders to prevail upon them to desist from the attempt. Had they been. permitted to go on, it is my opinion they would have carried the redoubt; but as it was apparent the lines must have been ours at a very cheap rate, by regular approaches, I would not risk the loss that might have been sustained in the assault, and ordered them back to a hollow way, in the front of the works, out of the reach of musketry.
Lieutenant-General de Heister began soon after daybreak to cannonade the enemy in his front, and, upon the approach of our right, ordered Colonel Donop’s corps to advance to the attack of the hill, following himself at the head of the brigades. The light infantry, about that time, having been reinforced by the light company, the grenadier company, and two other companies of the guards, who joined them with the greatest activity and spirit, had taken three pieces of cannon, and were warmly engaged with very superior numbers in the woods, when, on the Hessians advancing, the enemy gave way, and was entirely routed in that quarter.
On the left, Major-General Grant, having the fourth and sixth brigades, the 42d regiment, and two companies of the New York Provincials, raised by Governor Tryon in the spring, advanced along the coast with ten pieces of cannon, to divert the enemy’s attention from their left. About midnight, he fell in with their advanced parties, and at daybreak with a large corps, having cannon and advantageously posted, with whom there was skirmishing, and a cannonade for some hours, until by the firing at Brooklyn, the rebels, suspecting their retreat would be cut off, made a movement to their right, in order to secure it across a swamp and creek, that covered the right of their works; but being met in their way by a party of 2d grenadiers, who were soon after supported by the 71st regiment, and General Grant’s left coming up, they suffered considerably. Numbers of them, however, did get into the morass, where many were suffocated or drowned.
The force of the enemy detached from the lines where General Putman commanded, was not less, from the best accounts I have had, than ten thousand men, who were under the orders of Major-General Sullivan, Brigadier-Generals Lord Stirling and Woodhull. Their loss is computed to be about thirty-three hundred killed, wounded, prisoners, and drowned, with five field-pieces and one howitzer taken.
On the part of the King’s troops, five officers, and fifty-six non-commissioned officers and rank and file are killed; twelve officers, and two hundred and forty-five non-commissioned officers and rank and file are wounded; one officer and twenty grenadiers of the marines taken, by mistaking the enemy for the Hessians.
The Hessians had two privates killed, three officers, and twenty-three rank and file wounded. The wounds are in general very slight. Lieutenant-Colonel Monckton is shot through the body, but there are the greatest hopes of his recovery.
The behavior of both officers and soldiers, British and Hessians, was highly to their honor. More determined courage and steadiness in troops have never been experienced, or a greater ardor to distinguish themselves, as all those who had opportunity amply evinced by their actions.
In the evening of the 27th, the army encamped in front of the enemy’s works. On the 28th, at night, broke ground six hundred yards distant from a redoubt upon their left, and on the 29th, at night, the rebels evacuated their intrenchments, and Red Hook, with the utmost silence, and quitted Governor’s Island the following evening, leaving their cannon and a quantity of stores, in all their works. At daybreak on the 30th, their flight was discovered; the pickets of the line took possession, and those most advanced reached the shore opposite to New York, as their rear guard was going over, and fired some shot among them.
The enemy is still in possession of the town and island of New York, in force, and making demonstration to oppose us in their works on both sides of King’s Bridge.
The inhabitants of Long Island, many of whom had been forced into rebellion, have all submitted, and are ready to take the oaths of allegiance.1
1 Letter from General Howe to Lord George Germaine; Upcott, iv. 401.