The capture of New York City was what General Howe desired
the most at this time, and an attack upon some other point, by which
a flank movement could be effected, and the city approached by more
accessible means than a direct attack, was expected. Long Island
and the Jersey shore both stood in suspense, ready to take alarm
at the first movements of the British in either direction. About the
8th of August deserters from the British fleet carried the news to the
Americans that Howe was taking his field pieces on board and preparing for an attack by land and water simultaneously upon Long Island and the city. On the other side the people of Elizabethtown were about the same time aroused by an alarm that the regulars were about to make an immediate attack upon that point. Every man capable of bearing arms was summoned to defend it. These alarms appear to have been without important results until the latter part of the month.
The forces of General Howe, in the meantime, were strengthened by the arrival at Staten Island of the fleet which returned from South Carolina, under Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, in the early
part of the month, and the first and second divisions of the foreign troops which arrived in the Lower bay on the 12th. The fleet which brought the latter numbered about one hundred and ten sail of vessels, on board of which about eight thousand Hessians and Waldeckers and a few English guards. All these were sent into camp onStaten Island. Estimates of the numbers on Staten Island at this time make them to be about twenty-two thousand men. The naval forces were accommodated on board the ships Asia and Eagle, each carrying sixty-four guns, and the Roebuck and Phoenix of forty-four guns each, about twenty frigates and sloops of war and above three hundred sail of transports, store ships and prizes.
The battle of Long Island — the memory of the awful carnage of
which will ever send a thrill of horror and regret to every American
heart — was planned in the famous old Rose and Crown farmhouse at
New Dorp. The state of affairs on the eve of this decisive battle is
told very effectively in a private letter, written in New York. August
22d, 1776. From it we quote :
“This night we have reason to expect the grand attack from our
barbarous enemies, the reasons why, follow. The night before last, a lad went over to Staten Island, supped there with a friend and got safe back again undiscovered; soon after he went to General Washington, and upon good authority reported,— that the English army amounting to fifteen or twenty thousand, had embarked, and were in readiness for an engagement, —
That seven ships of the were to surround this city and cover their landing, — That the Hessians being fifteen thousand were to remain on the Island and attack Perth Amboy, Elizabethtown point, and Bergen, while the main body were doing their best here; that the Highlanders expected America was already conquered, and that they were only to come over and settle on our lands, for which reason they had brought their churns, ploughs, etc.; being
deceived, they had refused fighting, upon which account General
Howe had shot one, hung five or six, and flogged many.
“Last evening, in a violent thunder storm, Mr. [?], (a very intelligent person), Adventured over. He brings much the same account as the above lad, with this addition, — That all the horses on the Island were by Howe’s orders killed, barreled up and put on board; the wretches thinking that they could get no landing here, of any consequence aud would be soon out of provisions. That the tories were used cruelly, and with the Highlanders were compelled to go on board the ships to fight in the character of common soldiers against us. The British army are prodigiously incensed against the tones, and curse them as the instruments of the war now raging.
Mr. [?] further informs that last night the fleet was to come up, but the thunder storm prevented. The truth of this appears, from the circumstances of about three thousand red coats lauding at ten o’clock this morning on Long Island, where by this time it is supposed our people are hard at it. There is an abundance of smoak to-day on Long Island, our folks having set fire to stacks of hay, etc., to prevent the enemy’s being benefited in case they get any advantage against us. All the troops in the city are in high spirits and have
been under arms most of the day, as the fleet have been in motion, and are now, as is generally thought, only waiting for a change of tide. Forty-eight hours or less, I believe, will determine it as to New York, one way or the other.”
General Howe, having signified to the admiral that it was his intention to make a descent on Gravesend bay, on Long Island, on the morning of the 22d of August the necessary dispositions of the fleet were made, and seventy-five flat boats, with eleven batteaux and two galleys (built for this service) were prepared for landing the troops. Howe delegated the direction and superintendence of the embarkation of the army from Staten Island entirely to Commodore Hotham, by whom it was conducted with the greatest dispatch.
The troops who were to compose the second and third embarkations were, on the afternoon of the 21st, put on board transports which had been sent up from Sandy Hook to Staten Island for that purpose. At an early hour in the morning of the 22d, the Phoenix, Rose, and Greyhound, frigates, commanded by Captains Parker, Wallace and Dickson, together with the Thunderer and Carcass, bombs, under the direction of Colonel James, were placed in Gravesend bay, to cover the landing of the army.
Immediately after the covering ships had taken their respective
stations, the first embarkation of the troops from Staten Island
commenced. These, consisting of the light infantry and the reserve,
both forming a body of four thousand men, and under the command
of General Clinton, made good their landing without opposition.
The transports with the brigades which composed the second debark-
ation, consisting of about five thousand men, moved at a little dis-
tance after the flat-boats, galleys and batteaux, and by eight o’clock
were ranged on the outside of the covering ships. The transports,
with the remainder of the troops, followed in close succession, and
before noon fifteen thousand men and forty pieces of cannon were
landed on Long Island.
Howe ordered General de Heister with two brigades of Hessians from Staten Island, to join the army on the 25th. leaving one brigade of his troops, a detachment of the Fourteenth regiment of foot from Virginia, and some convalescents and recruits, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple, to take care of Staten Island. The landing of the troops on Long Island was effected without opposition.
The story of the awful battle of Long Island need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say the British succeeded in gaining possession of New York, which was their main object. But to keep possession
after having obtained it required a strong force, and, in consequence, the greater part of the British forces on Staten Island were withdrawn; enough, however, were left to defend it against any force the Americans might be able to bring against it. Upon the whole, the result of the battle was beneficial to the people of Staten Island, as it left fewer soldiers here to depredate upon them, and to rob them of their property.
Quoted From: Morris, I. K. (1898). Morris’s memorial history of Staten Island, New York. New York: Memorial Pub. Co.