Reenact the Battle of Long Island

In August of 1776, early in the American Revolutionary War, general Washington had maneuvered his troops to Long Island in the hopes of protecting the city of New York from the British. Washington occupied and fortified Brooklyn Heights, across the East River from the city. Washington had a strong position, but very inexperienced and undisciplined troops. Also the British had complete control of the water, both the East River and Long Island Sound were filled with British war ships. Washington only had a few row boats manned by the famous Marblehead fishermen.

This is a painting of the Battle of Long Island. It was made by a member of the National Guard for the US government and is in the public domain.

 Battle of Long Island Exploration

You can reenact the battle of Long Island with your kids to give them a better idea of what took place. First make some place signs. You’ll need:

  • East River
  • Long Island Sound
  • New York
  • Brooklyn Heights
  • Gravesend

Put Brooklyn Heights in the center of your “battlefield”. The East River should be just to the north and Long Island Sound to the west. Gravesend is south of Brooklyn Heights, at the very southern end of Long Island. New York is just across the East River to the north of Brooklyn Heights.

This map is from the history department of the US Military Academy and is in the public domain.

Have your kids find themselves a toy gun (even pretending their arm is a rifle will do). Then divide your troops into British and American armies. You can use stuffed animals or dolls to fill out the troops.

Here’s the way the battle went in a very simplified version of events:

  1. Washington dug in with his troops at Brooklyn Heights, a hill overlooking the surrounding land. Then he sent some of his troops forward to meet the British troops in the field.
  2. The British landed at Gravesend and marched north to meet Washington.
  3. The British pushed the Americans back and back until they had retreated behind their fortifications on Brooklyn Heights.
  4. Night fell and the British hunkered down to camp, preparing for a siege of Washington’s position.
  5. Washington did not want a siege. He knew he would be beaten and his army completely decimated. So Washington did not sleep.
  6. Very quietly the American troops made for their rowboats and slipped past the British war ships on silent oars, rowed by the Marblehead fishermen. They had to take many trips all through the night and be as silent as possible.
  7. When morning came they were still not done with the retreat across the river. But just before dawn a thick fog rolled in concealing their movements from the watching British. They continued to remove the men and supplies across the East River, into New York.
  8. When the sun finally burned off the fog, the last man was getting into the last boat to cross the East River. That last man was Washington himself. He had stayed until all his men were safely across.
  9. When the British saw what had happened they took off in hot pursuit. They chased Washington and his men clear across Manhattan Island, across New York and New Jersey to the west bank of the Delaware River, where Washington camped for the winter. The retreat had taken many weeks.

If you’d rather, you can act this out with action figures. You can also get really into it and wear costumes and have fake blood. It’s up to you.

Additional Layers

  • Color and label a map of the Battle of Long Island.
  • Learn about some of the key figures of this battle. Who were Washington’s commanders? Who were the British Commanders?
  • The book 1776, by David McCullough gives a detailed description of this battle. Read it to find out more.
  • Learn about the weapons used by the British and the Americans.

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