Stoney (Stony) Point

Text from William Wade

At the head of Haverstraw Bay are Stony and Verplank's points, celebrated in the annals of America. The former is on the west side of the river, the latter nearly opposite, about forty miles from New York. Stony Point is a little rough promontory, now crowned by the lighthouse on its summit. It was stronly fortified during the Revolution, and completely commanded the approach up the river. The Americans commenced the works erected on the two points, and Sir Henry Clinton determined to drive them away. Early in June, 1779, the forts were attacked and taken without much resistance, owing to the unfinished state of the works. Clinton left considerable garrisons in them, with orders to complete the fortifications at Stony Point as quickly as possible, and fell down the river to New York. He soon after sent the tory Governor, Tryon, with a squadron, to devastate the towns on the coast of Connecticut. With a view of forcing Clinton to recall this marauder, General Washington undertook a series of brilliant exploits on the Hudson. Of these the first was Wayne's famous attack upon Stony Point. This was made on the 16th of July, 1779. In Wayne's official account of this glorious affair, he says that "at twelve o'clock the assault was to begin on the right and left flanks of the enemy's works, whilst Major Murphy amused them in front; but a deep morass covering their whole front, and at this time overflowed by the tide, together with other obstructions, rendered the approaches more difficult than was at first apprehended, so that it was about twenty minutes after twelve before the assault began; previously to which I placed myself at the head of the right column, and gave the troops the most pointed orders not to fire on any account, but place their whole de pendence on the bayonet, which order was literally and faithfully obeyed. Neither the deep morass, the formidable and double rows of abatis, nor the strong works in front and flank, could damp the ardour of the troops, who, in the face of an incessant and most tremendous fire of musketry, and from cannon loaded with grape shot, forced their way at the point of the bayonet through every obstacle, both columns meeting at the centre of the enemy's work nearly at the same instant. Too much praise cannot be given to Lieutenant-Colonel Fleury, who struck the enemy's standard with his own hand, and to Major Stewart, who commanded the advance parties, for their brave and prudent conduct."

Colonel Lee says, somewhere in his Memoirs, that Wayne had a constitutional attachment for the sword, a cast of character which acquired strength from indulgence, and from the temper of the gallant troops who followed his standard. Bold and daring, they were impatient and refractory, they would always prefer an appeal to the bayonet to a toilsome march. The storming of Stony Point shows his fearless character no less than his daring attack, at the head of eight hundred men, upon the whole of Cornwallis's army at James city. His bravery amounted almost to rashness, and his devoted soldiers not unaptly named him "Mad Anthony" Though mad he was also modest, for his official despatch almost suppresses entirely the part which he himself took in the attack upon Stony Point. He shared the danger equally with the meanest soldier, and was near losing his life by a ball which struck him on the head, and inflicted what was at first supposed to be a mortal wound. But he earnestly requested his aids to carry him forward, because if die he must, it should be in the fort. Fortune favours the brave: the general was but slightly stunned, and the sight of the stars and stripes waving over the cross of St. George, quickly restored him.

Congress acknowledged the merit of Wayne in this affair, by a vote of thanks and a gold medal. It is generally considered the most brilliant feat of the Revolutionary war.

Painting of Stoney Point Lighthouse by E.C. Coates