American Revolution: Battle of Stony Point

Anthony Wayne
Brigadier General Anthony Wayne. Public Domain

Battle of Stony Point - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Stony Point was fought July 16, 1779, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

Forces & Commanders

Americans

British

  • Lieutenant Colonel Henry Johnson
  • 600-700 men

Battle of Stony Point - Background:

In the wake of the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, British forces under Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton largely remained idle in New York City.

The British were watched by General George Washington's army which assumed positions in New Jersey and to the north in the Hudson Highlands. As the 1779 campaigning season began, Clinton sought to lure Washington out of the mountains and into a general engagement. To accomplish this, he dispatched around 8,000 men up the Hudson. As part of this movement, the British seized Stony Point on the eastern bank of the river as well as Verplanck's Point on the opposite shore.

Taking possession of the two points at the end of May, the British began fortifying them against attack. The loss of these two positions deprived the Americans of using King's Ferry, a key river crossing over the Hudson. As the main British force withdrew back to New York having failed to force a major battle, a garrison of between 600 and 700 men was left at Stony Point under the command Lieutenant Colonel Henry Johnson. Consisting of imposing heights, Stony Point was surrounded by water on three sides.

On the mainland side of the point flowed a swampy steam that flooded at high tide and was crossed by one causeway.

Dubbing their position a "little Gibraltar," the British constructed two lines of defenses facing west (largely fleches and abatis rather than walls), each manned with around 300 men and protected by artillery.

Stony Point was further protected by the armed sloop HMS Vulture which was operating in that part of the Hudson. Watching the British actions from atop nearby Buckberg Mountain, Washington was initially reluctant to assault the position. Utilizing an extensive intelligence network, he was able to ascertain the strength of the garrison as well as several passwords and the locations of sentries (Map).

Battle of Stony Point - The American Plan:

Reconsidering, Washington decided to move forward with an attack utilizing the Continental Army's Corps of Light Infantry. Commanded by Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, 1,300 men would move against Stony Point in three columns. The first, led by Wayne and consisting of around 700 men, would make the main attack against the southern side of the point. Scouts had reported that the extreme southern end of the British defenses did not extend into the river and could be flanked by crossing a small beach at low tide. This was to be supported by an attack against the northern side by 300 men under Colonel Richard Butler.

To ensure surprise, Wayne's and Butler's columns would make the assault with their muskets unloaded and relying solely on the bayonet.

Each column would deploy an advance force to clear obstacles with a 20-men forlorn hope to provide protection. As a diversion, Major Hardy Murfree was ordered to stage a diversionary attack against the main British defenses with around 150 men. This effort was to precede the flank attacks and serve as signal for their advance. To ensure proper identification in the darkness, Wayne ordered his men to wear pieces of white paper in their hats as a recognition device (Map).

Battle of Stony Point - The Assault:

On the evening of July 15, Wayne's men gathered at Springsteel's Farm approximately two miles from Stony Point. Here the command was briefed and the columns began their advance shortly before midnight. Approaching Stony Point, the Americans benefited from heavy clouds which limited the moonlight.

As Wayne's men neared the southern flank they found that their line of approach was flooded with two to four feet of water. Wading through the water, they created enough noise to alert the British pickets. As the alarm was raised, Murfree's men began their attack.

Pushing forward, Wayne's column came ashore and began their assault. This was followed a few minutes later Butler's men who successfully cut through the abatis along the northern end of the British line. Responding to Murfree's diversion, Johnson rushed to the landward defenses with six companies from the 17th Regiment of Foot. Battling through the defenses, the flanking columns succeeded in overwhelming the British and cutting off those engaging Murfree. In the fighting, Wayne was temporarily put out of action when a spent round struck his head.

Command of the southern column devolved to Colonel Christian Febiger who pushed the attack up the slopes. The first to enter the innermost British defenses was Lieutenant Colonel Francois de Fluery who cut down the British ensign from the flagstaff. With American forces swarming in his rear, Johnson was ultimately compelled to surrender after less than thirty minutes of fighting. Recovering, Wayne sent a dispatch to Washington informing him, "The fort & garrison with Col. Johnston are ours. Our officers & men behaved like men who are determined to be free."

Battle of Stony Point - Aftermath:

A stunning victory for Wayne, the fighting at Stony Point saw him lose 15 killed and 83 wounded, while British losses totaled 19 killed, 74 wounded, 472 captured, and 58 missing.

In addition, a host of stores and fifteen guns were captured. Though a planned follow-on attack against Verplanck's Point never materialized, the Battle of Stony Point proved a vital boost to American morale and was one of the final battles of the conflict to be fought in the North. Visiting Stony Point on July 17, Washington was extremely pleased with the result and offered lavish praise upon Wayne. Assessing the terrain, Washington ordered Stony Point abandoned the next day as he lacked the men to fully protect it. For his actions at Stony Point, Wayne was awarded a gold medal by Congress.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Battle of Stony Point." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/battle-of-stony-point-2360641. Hickman, Kennedy. (2016, February 24). American Revolution: Battle of Stony Point. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-stony-point-2360641 Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Battle of Stony Point." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-stony-point-2360641 (accessed January 22, 2018).