Washington Outside New York City
Following Monmouth, the British shifted their major operations to the south. In the north, the war became an affair of raids and small-scale actions. Washington maintained a loose blockade of New York City. He was not strong enough to attack Clinton, whose forces outnumbered his own. For Washington's army, the war became a test of endurance. The army suffered through another miserable winter at Morristown, New Jersey. Pay was plentiful, though it was handed out in depreciated Continental currency and the soldiers suffered because their money could not purchase necessary supplies.Wayne at Stony Point
The British took advantage of their sea power to raid several New England port towns. These raids were enormously destructive because the British usually set fire to the towns. These ugly episodes reflected a growing bitterness in the conflict. The use of loyalist troops in these raids inflamed Patriot opinion. Dreams of reconciliation had disappeared after the French alliance.
On May 31, 1779, Clinton made a movement up the Hudson River. The next day he captured two small American posts at Verplanck's Point and Stony Point, opening the way to West Point and command of the river. Stony Point was a naturally strong position atop a cliff that jutted into the Hudson. On the landward side it was covered by bogs that could be easily crossed only by a single bridge and causeway. Clinton fortified the place and garrisoned it with more than 600 troops.
Washington wanted Stony Point neutralized. Spies from among the local population provided him with accurate information on the fort's defenses. He assigned the task of reducing the place to a newly formed brigade of light infantry, commanded by Anthony Wayne. The light infantry was an elite unit, the men chosen for their energy, intelligence, and physical fitness.
On the morning of July 15, Wayne assembled his men and led them on a rugged march into the country. Only when they arrived a mile and a half from Stony Point were the men told their mission. Wayne divided his 1,350 men into two columns. After approaching closer to the fort, the two columns waded into the bog to attack from two directions. Each column was headed by 150 men with axes to cut a path through the heavy abatis protecting the fort. None of Wayne's men were allowed to load their muskets. They would rely on the bayonet.
Pickets discovered the advance of the Americans, and the British opened up a heavy fire. Wayne was stunned by a wound to his head but quickly recovered. The Americans swarmed into the fort and tore down the British flag. The defenders were overwhelmed and surrendered. The melee was short but brutal. The British suffered sixty-three killed and seventy wounded. The remaining 543 soldiers were taken prisoner. The American casualties included fifteen killed and eighty wounded. Washington ordered the fort demolished.Lee at Paulus Hook
Wayne's victory at Stony Point was a model of planning and execution, reflecting the increasing professionalism of the American army. Major Henry Lee Jr. sought to emulate Wayne's exploit. A cavalryman nicknamed “Light-Horse Harry,” Lee was an able and enterprising officer.
Henry Lee was the father of a soldier even more famous than himself. His son Robert E. Lee became a legend commanding the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Robert E. Lee's wife also had familial connections to the commanders in the American Revolution; Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee was George Washington's step-great-granddaughter.
Lee targeted Paulus Hook, a British post on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson near New York City. It stood on a sandy bar projecting into the river. A ditch made it an island at high tide. More than 200 men guarded its fortifications. At four o'clock on the morning of August 19, Lee and several hundred men approached the fort undetected. Taking their cue from Stony Point, they attacked in several columns with bayonets. Fifty of the defenders were killed and 158 captured. Taking his prisoners, Lee eluded enemy pursuers and safely returned to the army and the acclaim he desired.