Forts Clinton and Montgomery
October 6, 1777
|| The British strategy for 1777 was to
England from the other rebelling colonies by way of a three pronged
advance. An army under John Burgoyne was to advance
south from Canada to Albany, NY. In Albany, he would meet up with
a column under Lt. Col. Barry St Leger advancing through the Mohawk
another column moving north from New York City. The primary
British army in America under Sir William Howe in New York City,
on an expedition to Philadelphia involving a long sea voyage through
the Chesapeake Bay. Howe left only a minimal force of around
7,000 men (4,000 British and Hessian and 3,000 Tories) in New
York under Sir Henry Clinton, ordered to defend New York City and
cooperate with Burgoyne. Burgoyne captured Ticonderoga easily
enough, but his advance slowed and his enemies increased in number.
By late September, Burgoyne had advanced further than prudence
advised and was facing an entrenched and numerically superior
enemy near Saratoga. The force of St Leger had already been
repulsed. Burgoyne managed to send word to Clinton in New York.
If Clinton could break through the rebel defenses in the Hudson
Highlands, he could distract American attention from Burgoyne and
perhaps even meet up with him near Albany. With reinforcements
arriving, Clinton would have nearly 7,000 British and Hessian troops in
addition to the 3,000 Tories. Sir Henry felt he could spare 3,000
men in an attempt at the American defenses.
The American defenses consisted of an iron chain floating on rafts
stretched across the Hudson River. A log boom downstream was
designed to absorb
some of the impact of enemy ships. Several American ships, two
frigates, a sloop, and two galleys, protected the chain and boom
defenses. Chevaux de Frise were
placed on the river bottom, and artillery batteries in Fort Montgomery
could plunge their fire into British ships 120 feet below.
Defenses against land attack
were built, Forts Montgomery and Clinton, separated by Popolopen Creek.
Properly manned, the American defenses would be difficult to
capture, but Gen. Putnam had only 1,400 men to defend the Hudson
|Museum Displays and Diorama at Ft Montgomery
Grand Battery of Ft Montgomery
On the right in the woods is the artillery
battery of Ft Montgomery that covered the river. Below it,
a chain stretched across the river to the opposite
bank. The suspension bridge, built in the 1920s, spans from
Anthony's Nose on the left to the site of Ft Clinton on the
right. Sadly the road was built
through the site of Ft Clinton, and only the fort's West Redoubt is now
Bear Mountain Bridge
From the bridge, you can understand the terrain better. The view upriver is north. The two
forts were on either side of Popolopen Creek, the mouth of which is now
crossed by a railroad bridge. During the battle, a bridge spanned
the creek to maintain communication between the forts.
The British landed 2,000 men at Stony Point as well as a diversionary
force of 1,000 men at Verplanck's Point directly across from Stony
American commander, Gen. Israel Putnam, was duped by the Verplanck's Point diversion
reinforced Peekskill with troops from Forts Clinton and Montgomery - exactly what the British hoped for.
The main British effort would be west of the river toward the two
American forts. An important pass, the Timp, 850 feet high, was left undefended by
the Americans, contrary to the advice of George Washington. At Doodletown, a small American
force sent forward to skirmish with the advancing British was
View From Bear Mountain
Looking south from atop Bear Mountain, you can get a
good idea of the terrain that the British faced. As we have seen,
landing at Stony Point, obscured here behind the Dunderberg, the
British marched through the mountainous barrier at The Timp and reached
Doodletown. Here, they pushed back an American detachment and
formed two columns. One column marched to Ft Clinton toward the
left side of the panorama while the other column, around 900
men, marched approximately seven miles around Bear Mountain to
strike at Ft Montgomery.
From Eastern Slope of Bear Mountain
From here, you can see the area of the forts from
above, including 'Hessian Lake' at the foot of the mountain, which
would funnel the column attacking Ft Clinton into a relatively narrow
strip of land. The British column advancing around Bear Mountain
pushed back an American force a mile from the fort. Upon reaching
Fort Montgomery, the British invited
the Americans under Gov. George Clinton to surrender. They
refused and invited their
opponents to surrender instead. The battle was on.
The British deployed and attacked Ft Montgomery, focusing on Round Hill
Redoubt. Lt Col Campbell, who had led the advance guard, was
killed in the attack, disincling some of the redcoats to take
prisoners. The attack succeeded, and many of the Americans
Map of the Park at Ft Montgomery
Diorama of Ft Montgomery
Round Hill Redoubt
Diorama of Fighting at Round Hill Redoubt
The attackers in green were Tories.
Ft Clinton was easier to defend. Only 400
yards separated Hessian Lake from the bluffs overlooking the Hudson.
These 400 yards were protected by abatis and were covered by 10
American guns. The British force attacked through this area, with
only one British regiment circling around the lake to attack Ft Clinton
from the northwest.
Diorama of Ft Clinton
Ft Clinton - West Redoubt
Pressing through the abatis and enemy fire, the British stormed Fort Clinton's West Redoubt.
Popolopen Creek Near Bridge Site
Near the Mouth of Popolopen Creek
Americans fleeing from Ft Clinton crossed Popolopen
Creek toward Ft Montgomery and escaped to the north or across the
Hudson as best as they could. The defenders lost heavily - 65
guns, numerous supplies, and around 250 men from a total of 600 militia
and a few regulars. The American ships defending the chain were
unable to escape and were burned. British losses were
approximately 300 men. For their losses, though, the British had
opened an avenue of advance up the Hudson. They broke through the
chain on October 7th and reached West Point, driving the Americans from
a fort on Constitution Island. By mid October, a detachment of
1,700 British had gotten to within 45 miles of Albany, causing a great
deal anxiety among the American army fighting Burgoyne.
In the end, however, Clinton was ordered by his
superiors to withdraw the expedition and reinforce Howe's army in
Philadelphia. Burgoyne surrendered,
leading French intervention and ultimate American victory.
The pressure from Clinton's expedition only served to increase
Burgoyne's hand in surrender negotiations, but the relatively generous
terms allowing the troops to return to Europe were reneged on, and
the men were put into POW camps. Had Burgoyne acted more
prudently, or had Clinton embarked on his expedition earlier,
the story of the Revolution may have turned out much
Copyright 2010, John Hamill