When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
July 15, 1779 Stony Point taken by General Wayne
In a well planned and executed nighttime attack, a highly trained select group of Continental Army troops under the command of Brigadier General Anthony Wayne defeated British troops in quick and daring assault on their outpost in Stony Point, New York, approximately 30 miles north of New York City. Wayne considered this surprise attack as a revenge for the Battle of Paoli. He commanded the Corps of Light Infantry, a select force which probed British lines, fought running skirmishes, and defended the army against sudden attack.
Bad weather that night aided the Continentals. Cloud cover cut off moonlight and high winds forced the British ships in Haverstraw Bay to leave their posts off Stony Point and move downriver. At midnight, the attack began with the columns crossing the swampy flanks of the point. The southern column unexpectedly found its approach inundated in 2-4 feet of water and required 30 minutes to wade to the first line of abatis, during which it was spotted by British sentries and fired upon.
Under fire, Wayne’s column succeeded in getting inside the British first line of defenses. Wayne himself was struck in the head by a spent musket ball and fell to the ground, leaving Colonel Febiger to take over command of Wayne’s column. Meanwhile, Butler’s column had succeeded in cutting its way through the abatis. The two columns penetrated the British line almost simultaneously and seized the summit when six companies of the 17th Regiment of Foot took positions opposite the diversionary attack and were cut off.
Because of the stealth in which the Patriot assault forces approached the British defenses on the slopes of the hill, the artillery pieces that the British had placed on the summit for just such defensive purposes were unsuccessful in repelling the attack. Due to the speed at which the Patriots were moving, the British cannons could not be lowered to an angle low enough to sufficiently harass the men assaulting up the hill.
The first man into the British upper works was Lieutenant Colonel Francois de Fleury, a French engineer commanding a battalion of the 1st Regiment. As the men entered the British works they called out, “The fort’s our own!” – the prearranged watchword to distinguish friend from foe. The action lasted 25 minutes and was over by 1:00 AM.
The British suffered heavy losses in a battle that served as an important victory in terms of morale for the Continental Army. While the fort was ordered evacuated quickly after the battle by Washington, this key crossing site was used later in the war by units of the Continental Army to cross the Hudson River on their way to victory over the British.
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