The American Revolutionary War in the Middle Atlantic States:
Battle of New York City | Washington's Retreat from New York City | Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River
Battles of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey | British Capture of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania
The Paoli Massacre | Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania | Battle of the Barrels | The Winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey | Battle of Stony Point, New York | Battle of Springfield, New Jersey | General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne
Molly Pitcher | General Lord Charles Cornwallis
General Sir Henry Clinton1 was ordered to engage the Colonial Army and bring an end to the Revolutionary War. He captured the New York peninsula of Stony Point in May 1779 in an effort to threaten the Hudson River Valley.
Clinton immediately began to fortify the position by erecting an earthen fort and garrisoning 1000 men there. The British were also in possession of Verplanck's Point across the Hudson River from Stony Point. They had two ships of war in the area to help defend the forts. A ferry also ran between the two forts enabling a quick transfer of men should one be attacked. The garrison commander at Stony Point called his fort 'little Gibraltar' because of his confidence in his defensive position.
With West Point threatened by this mass of troops, General George Washington moved his army north from New Jersey to prevent a sudden British attack up the Hudson River. However, he did not rush to engage the British position.
Clinton then sent out raiding parties along the Connecticut coastline. They attacked various settlements to entice Washington to attack. Eventually, in July, the Rebel commander observed the British position and assigned General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne to take the fortress.
With this daunting assignment, Wayne was reputed to have said, 'Issue the orders Sir, and I will lay siege to Hell.'
In the spring of 1779, Wayne had been placed in command of a separate corps of light infantry. It was formed of chosen men from various states. With this corps, he endeavoured to carry out a surprise attack on Stony Point on July 16, 1779.
The Plan of Attack
Wayne split his force into three columns to attack the point. One column of 300 men was to wade through the marshes of the Hudson River to attack from the north. A second column, led by Wayne, was to wade through the marshes of Haverstraw Bay and attack from the south. During high tide, these marshy approaches were underwater so timing was critical for the nighttime raid.
To avoid confusion in the darkness, the soldiers in these two columns wore pieces of white paper in their hats for identification. Wayne also ordered his men to unload their muskets and fix bayonets so that an accidental shot would not ruin the element of surprise. One might also imagine that Wayne relished the opportunity to repay his enemy for the night bayonet attack at Paoli, Pennsylvania.
As a diversion, a third column was positioned near the centre of Stony Point peninsula where they diverted the enemy's attention by firing musket volleys.
Surprise was of the utmost importance for this attack to succeed. Wayne arrested any civilians his force came in contact with. After nightfall, all the dogs in the neighbourhood of the fort were killed lest their barking alert the Redcoats.
The northern and southern attacking columns crossed the marshes toward Stony Point. The southern group encountered water 4 feet high in places but pressed onward. Just before midnight, the two columns swept up the treeless slopes. Before their strike the third column began firing into the fort, and a large party of British charged out to engage them.
In the final assault, Wayne was wounded when a musket ball grazed his head. He insisted that his men carry him over the fort's walls so he could die victorious2. Heavy hand-to-hand fighting ensued inside the fortifications for about half an hour before the British surrendered. The party that sallied forth to meet the third column was cut off and prevented from re-entering the fort.
Of the 600 defenders, only 20 were killed and the rest were taken prisoner. American losses were 15 killed and an unknown number wounded.
In his report to Washington and Congress, Wayne wrote famously, 'Our officers and men behaved like men who are determined to be free'. For his daring, Wayne received a commendation from Congress and was acclaimed throughout the colonies as a war hero.
Three days after the victory, the Colonials abandoned Stony Point because Washington knew it could not be defended against the combined forces of the British army and navy.
The British returned to Stony Point and rebuilt the fort soon after the Colonial withdrawal. However, they withdrew from the fort in October due to a lack of resources.
The American victory at Stony Point was the last major battle in the northern colonies. While the war continued in the south for another two years, it was clear the Rebels could fight and defeat the vaunted British army.