After the British evacuation of Boston in early 1776, George Washington accurately guessed that their next target would be New York City. Washington moved his army to the city in April and May, and slowly began to build fortifications. The British fleet arrived in late June, disembarking on Staten Island. One man remarked that it looked like "all London afloat."
The British warships dominated the river waterways that cut through New York City, rendering the American defense untenable. With so much land to cover, Washington made the fatal flaw of splitting his forces between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
On August 22, British transports landed 10,000 infantrymen at Gravesend Bay on Long Island. Wrongly thinking that this was a diversion for a main attack on Manhattan, Washington did not reinforce Brooklyn. On August 27, the British launched their attack.
The Americans occupied two lines: Guan Heights to the south and Brooklyn Heights farther north. The British first attacked Guan Heights, breaking through several American positions, and eventually gaining control of the ridge while another force flanked the American left. The battle's bloodiest fighting occurred near "Battle Pass," where Hessian mercenaries fought the patriots hand-to-hand.
As the Americans pulled back towards Brooklyn Heights the "Maryland 400" were nearly surrounded by the British. The Marylanders counter-charged in order to buy time for their comrades to escape. More than 250 were killed as they held the British, but the rest of the army managed to escape. Washington, watching the battle, remarked, "what brave men I must this day lose." By nightfall, the Americans were trapped on Brooklyn Heights with the East River behind them. British General William Howe decided to entrench and lay siege rather than lose men unnecessarily.
Washington, however, would not consent to a siege. In the dark of night, he coordinated a retreat across the river without losing a single life. The British awoke to find the American lines empty. Despite his defeat, Washington had managed to keep his army intact.