General Anthony Wayne



The Americans in 1779 were preparing to strike the British heavy and unexpected blows. The brave and impetuous General Wayne was then in command of infantry in the Hudson Highlands. Washington was at New Windsor just above them. Wayne proposed to surprise the garrison at Stony Point, and take the fort by storm. "Can you do it?" asked Washington. "I'll storm hell, if you'll only plan it, general," replied Wayne. Washington consented to let him try Stony Point first; and on the evening of the 15th of July, Wayne was within half a mile of the bold, rocky promontory with a few hundred men whom he had led secretly through the mountains, from near Fort Montgomery. As stealthily they approached the fort at midnight, arranged in two columns, a greater part of the little force crossed a narrow causeway over a morass, in the rear, and with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets, marched up to the assault. A forlorn hope of picked men led the way to make openings in the abatis at the two points of attack. The alarmed sentinels fired their muskets, and the aroused garrison flew to arms. The stillness of the night was suddenly broken by the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon from the ramparts. In the face of a terrible storm of bullets and grape-shot, the assailants forced their way into the fort at the point of the bayonet. Wayne, who led one of the divisions in person, had been brought to his knees by a stunning blow from a musket-ball that grazed his head. Believing himself to be mortally wounded, he exclaimed: "March on! carry me into the fort, for I will die at the head of my column!" He soon recovered, and at two o'clock in the morning, he wrote to Washington: "The fort and garrison, with General Johnston, are ours. Our officers and men behaved like men determined to be free." In this assault, the Americans lost about one hundred men; fifteen killed and the remainder wounded. The British had sixty-three killed; and Johnston, the commander, and five hundred and forty-three officers and men, were made prisoners. The British ships lying in the river near by, slipped their cables and moved down the stream. The Americans attempted to recapture Fort Fayette, on Verplanck's Point opposite, but failed. They removed the heavy ordnance and the stores from Stony Point to West Point, for the republicans were not strong enough to garrison and hold it, and abandoning the post it was repossessed by the British a few days afterward. The Congress awarded a gold medal to Wayne, and a silver medal each to Colonels De Fleury and Stewart, the leaders of the two main divisions; for their gallantry on this occasion.

This brilliant victory--one of the most brilliant of the war--was followed by another bold exploit a month later. The British had a fortified post at Paulus's Hook (now Jersey City) opposite New York. Between three and four o'clock on the morning of the 19th of August (1779), its garrison was surprised by Major Henry Lee, who had come from the rear of Hoboken with three hundred picked men, followed by Lord Stirling with a strong reserve force. The British garrison, unsuspicious of danger near, were careless. Lee entered the loosely-barred gate of the outer works, and gained the interior of the main intrenchments before he was discovered, the sentinels being absent or asleep. He captured one hundred and fifty-nine of the garrison. The redoubt, in which the remainder had taken refuge, was too strong to be affected by small arms, and as he was without cannon, Lee retreated, bearing away his scores of captives. For this exploit the Congress honored him with a vote of thanks and a gold medal. In this expedition, Lee had only two men killed and three wounded.

These events elated the Americans. A sad one in the far east lessened their joy. Massachusetts had fitted out about forty war-vessels and transports to convey almost a thousand men to attempt the capture of a British fort at Castine, at the mouth of the Penobscot River. They arrived on the 25th of July, and landed on the 28th. Too weak to take the fort by storm, they waited more than a fortnight for reinforcements. Meanwhile Sir George Collier sailed into the Penobscot with a British squadron, just as the republicans were about to assail the fort (August 14), and attacked the American flotilla. He captured two war-vessels, when the rest, with the transports, fled up the river, and were burned by their crews. Sir George took many of the soldiers and sailors prisoners, and drove the remainder into the wild forests, where they suffered intensely while making their way back to Boston. The survivors reached that town toward the close of September.





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