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The Battle for Long Island was one of the first major battles of the American Revolution, and a major failure for the American rebels. George Washington, who was appointed commander-in-chief, wanted to hold New York and moved most of his force, feeling this would be the first target of a British attack. He hoped to hold it and therefore prevent the British from taking New York.
When the British attacked, it was much more devastating than expected. Instead of attacking from one direction, the British forces encircled the Americans. The attack came from three directions, each starting at a different time. This was intended to spread the American rebels thin, which would allow the British to take them out. The initial attack is very successful, driving the Americans back and spreading them thin. The Americans quickly panic, and take enormous casualties. However, the fight continued for almost an hour, at which point the Americans pushed the British back, but only barely.
The second attack was even more destructive to the American forces. British troops charged the defenses in five locations, brutally pushing the American forces back trying to remove them from their fortifications. Again, the attack has initial success, forcing the Americans back from their fortifications, and almost destroying their entire force. However, at that point, two battalions of Americans attacked the British flank. Because of this, the British were finally pushed back but the Americans had to consider retreating.
Finally, George Washington decided to retreat, a maneuver that would prove fatal. He decided to evacuate his army to Manhattan, using boats to escape without the British noticing. However, a British scouting unit was able to see the ships arrive and immediately reported back to the British high command. General Howe, moving quickly, ordered two regiments to set up on the other side of the river, and kill them as they crossed. The maneuver was extremely successful and when combined with an assault on the American rear, nearly wiped out the rebels. After the battle, the Americans were defeated, suffering one of the bloodiest losses of the war.