The Battle of Stony Point is probably one of the more unconventional engagements of the American Revolution. But before discussing the uniqueness of the battle, let’s have a little background.
Stony Point, in New York, is located on the Hudson River, just a few miles south of West Point Military Academy. Sir Henry Clinton, leading the British campaign, had occupied the area in June of 1779 as part of a plan to lure General Washington’s troops into a final decisive battle that would give the British control of the Hudson River.
The British didn’t construct a fort so much as they simply fortified the area, building earthen embankments with pikes and numerous cannon positions. They believed that, with the Hudson to the rear and swamps on either side, Stony Point was solidly defended and only open to attack from the west.
The Continental Corps of Light Infantry, comprised of four regiments (1,350 men) and led by Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, was tasked with removing the British forces (roughly 700 dug-in Redcoats commanded by Lt. Col. Henry Johnson) from Stony Point. So let’s dive in and see what was unusual about the battle.
First, it was fought at night. The Americans began their assault at midnight on July 16, 1779. The Hudson River was affected by tides, and the Wayne’s forces exploited this, flanking the heaviest defenses at low tide, coming in on the River’s edge from the north and south, and climbing Stony Point itself. The flanking manuever was aided by cloud cover (no moonlight) and high winds which forced British ships to move downstream.
Second, the main attack was made without firing a shot. In order to achieve surprise, these men were not allowed to fire a single musket ball. This attack from the rear would be performed with fixed bayonets only. Wayne did send a battalion out to the front to lay down fire and keep the British otherwise occupied, but the actual assault would be “fire-free”.
Third, the engagement’s duration was measured in minutes. In less than half an hour, Wayne’s forces had captured Stony Point with a loss of just 15 killed and 85 wounded. Wayne, who led the main attack himself, was hit in the head by gunfire, but the musket ball had already lost most of its momentum, so the wound wasn’t fatal. Their opponents saw 20 killed and 550 captured.
And finally, the victors didn’t stick around long. Realizing they didn’t have enough men to hold against a concerted British counterattack, they abandoned Stony Point just two days later. Of course, they took the cannon and other supplies with them.
With the British now concerned about French involvment in the conflict, they moved southwards, and the Battle of Stony Point was, for all intents and purposes, the end of the American Revolution in the northern colonies.
Recommended Reading: The Stony Point Battlefield website