Forts Clinton and Montgomery

October 6, 1777

    The British strategy for 1777 was to isolate New 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 Valley and another column moving north from New York City.  The primary British army in America under Sir William Howe in New York City, however, embarked 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 Highlands.

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 interpreted.  

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.  

Campaign Map

    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 Point.  The American commander, Gen. Israel Putnam, was duped by the Verplanck's Point diversion and 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 driven back.   

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 fled.

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.

Hessian Lake

    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 differently.   

Copyright 2010, John Hamill

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