Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume I, Page 617

Success of the Enemy in the Highlands.--Let us stop to notice briefly the British account of the capture and demolition of the Highland forts, as found in Robert Beatson's Naval and Military Memoirs.+ After Speaking of the funs and ammunition

+Vol. 6, p. 77 of Appendix.

captured, he adds to the trophies: "Other stores such as port-fires, match, harness, spare gun carriages, tools, instruments, etc., etc., in great plenty. A large quantity of provisions, the boom and chain which ran across the river from Fort Montgomery to St. Anthony's Nose which is supposed to have cost the rebels £70,000. Another boom which we destroyed near Fort Constitution, must likewise have cost the rebels much money and labor. [This boom was not very effectually destroyed, and was re-constructed and used at West Point.] Barracks for 1,500 men were destroyed by Maj.-Gen. Tryon at Continental village, besides several store-houses and loaded wagons, of articles of which no account could be taken." In the capture of these works the same account reported the British loss at about 100 killed and wounded, and 250 made prisoners. "Their loss "-meaning that of the Americans-he adds, "in other respects was immense." Gen. Sir Henry Clinton led this expedition, accompanied by Generals Tryon and Vaughn, and Lieut.-Col. Campbell. The latter officer was killed on the first fire, and was succeeded by Col. Robinson.

" Fort Clinton," says this account, "is situated on a circular height, defended by a line for musketry, with a barbed battery of three guns in the centre and Banked by too redoubts. The approaches to it were through a continued abbatis of near 400 yards in length, defensive in its whole course, and exposed to the fire of 10 pieces of cannon. Maj.-Gen. Vaughn led the attack on this fort, assisted by Gov. Tryon. It has been the wonder of the general American reader, what became of the Fort Montgomery chain. This writer says: "This chain was of most excellent workmanship; it was sent to England and from there to Gibraltar, where it was of great use in protecting the shipping at the moles."* All early American writers seem from ignorance, to have remained silent upon the fate of this chain.

In ascending the river the enemy's shipping had to pass the chain at Fort Montgomery, and in my account of this affair in 1845, I said that they broke it. I so stated, because misled by all previous writers; but the father of the late Rev. William H. Watson, of Cobelskill, who was a soldier at the time in the Highlands, sent me word by his son that I was in error in saying that the enemy broke that chain. He said that after they had taken the forts, they made several ineffectual attempts to break it by running their vessels upon it, when, finding they were injuring and likely to sink them, they severed the chain by filing. Capt. Ebenezer Williams, much on duty in the Highlands, also assured the writer that the enemy cut this chain. Some writers have said that the enemy severed the West Point chain. This is wide of the truth: the nearest approach to that by any British craft was made by the Vulture, while she was engaged in the Arnold conspiracy.

Early in December Capt. Machin was so far recovered from his wound as to be engaged in his regular duties, as the following Clinton papers will show:

"LITTLE BRITAIN, 1st Dec'r, 1777.
"DEAR MACHIN-I wrote to Doctor Tappen and Maj. Billings some time ago to endeavor to provide me a house at or near Poughkeepsie, providing the legislature determined to meet at that place; since which I have not heard from them. Mrs. Clinton is anxious to get settled again, and as I believe Poughkeepsie would be her choice as well as the place where the legislature will meet, I will be much obliged to you if you will be kind enough to take a ride there, consult with Maj. Billings and Doct. Tappen, and concert with them-endeavor to procure some convenient house for me. It will be no objection should it be a mile or two out of town.

"I offered Capt. Harris the use of my house this winter for his family. He thinks it would be too lonesome for her [his wife]. But as Mrs. Bedlow is not to move to New Windsor, suppose Capt. Harris was to move into my house and you was to take your lodgings with them; and, indeed, Capt. Harris will be at home great part if not the whole of the winter. Will you mention this to the captain?

"I have a cot at my house out of which the militia stole the irons: will yon get it repaired for me, as I have no other bed or bedstead.

"I am Dr. Sir, yours sincerely,
"P. S.-If you go to Poughkeepsie, advise me of it by a line. Maj. Taylor will furnish yon with a horse for the purpose."

" POUGHKEEPSIE, 13th Dec., 1777.
"DEAR MACHIN-There are some mahogany boards in and about our mill which Mrs. Clinton brought from Capt. Nevin's, which I wish you would measure and secure for me. You forgot to send my razors; pray let me have them by first good conveyance.

" Yours sincerely,
"P. S.- We are all well. Mrs. Clinton's compliments to you."

"POUGHKEEPSIE, 19th Dec'r, 1777.
"DEAR SIR-I am much obliged to you for the wood, &c., you have sent me by Serg't Halsted. The sloop carries but six and a half cords of wood: I have therefore got but that quantity. The Sheep the sergeant tells me he put up in my stable and gave them in charge of some militia that were threshing: in the morning they were gone, so that I have not got them. I suppose, or, at least, it is likely, they stole them. I wish you would try to find them again, and when you come to see us throw them in the bottom of your slay [sleigh] and you shall eat part of them. Sam gave your saddle-bags to Col. Dubois' Bob, who promised to take care of them for you. Col. Taylor promised to send Mrs. Clinton two pots, which he has forgot; perhaps you may have an opportunity to Rend or bring them. As to my house and farm, I leave it entirely at your discretion and disposal. I wish to oblige Capt. Harris, but if he declines you can let it to who [whom] you please. I wish to have the timber saved as much as possible.

"I had letters from Head Quarters dated the 3d and l0th instant. No News there. Gen. Washington is anxious about securing the river. Putnam is ordered to turn his whole attention to that business, and will be up with his troops in a few days. Colonels Webb and Ely were taken in a sloop with about thirty men, crossing to Long Island, by an armed brig. Gen. Parsons has had a brush with the Hessians, beat them and took one field piece, it is said, but wants confirmation. Ensign Adamson about a week ago broke his parole and went off, but was fortunately taken with six: other rascals in Mile-Square-two of them negroes he had seduced off. Mrs. Clinton joins in best respects to you and love to Caty. I wish to see you soon.
"Yours sincerely,


The Fifth River Obstruction.-The success of the enemy in the Highlands in the autumn of 1777, wonderfully deranged the plans of the patriotic Americans: for they had not only caused the destruction of all the forts along the river and opened nearly a free passage to Albany-had they dared to go there-but they had absolutely carried away the chain that, while it defended, made a barrier in their pathway. Gen. Putnam was then in command in the valley of the Hudson, and December 2d, Gen. Washington in great anxiety wrote to him urging the importance of defending the river passage as follows: "It is the only passage by which the enemy from New York, or any part of our coast, can ever hope to co-operate with an army from Canada; the possession of it is indispensably essential to preserve the communication between the Eastern, Middle and Southern States; and further, upon its security in a great measure, depends our chief supply of flour for the subsistence of such forces as we may have occasion for in the course of the war, either in the eastern or northern departments, or in the country lying high up on the west side of it. These facts are familiar to all; they are familiar to you. I therefore request you, in the most urgent terms, to turn your most serious and active attention to this important object. Seize the present opportunity and employ your whole force and all the means in your power for erecting and completing, as far as it shall be possible, such works and obstructions as may be necessary to defend and secure the river against any further attempts of the enemy. You will consult with Governor Clinton, Gen. Parsons, and the French Engineer, Col. Radiere upon the occasion, etc.;" and adds, "I shall expect that you will exert every nerve, and employ your whole force in future, while and whenever it is practicable, in constructing and forwarding the proper works and means of defence, etc."

Gen. Putnam brought this matter before the State Convention, and that body appointed a committee of its own members to consult with military men on the ground. This commission selected West Point as the Gibraltar of the Highlands-because for a chain obstruction it would require 300 feet less than at any other point, while the angles of the gorge were such as to cause counter-currents of wind to change the course of vessels and better than all, batteries could be erected on the shores and on the hills which would completely command obstructions placed there, and cast a sinking weight of shot upon any vessel' having the temerity to put in its appearance there. The report of the committee to the State Convention was dated at Poughkeepsie, January 14, 1778.

Forts Montgomery and Clinton at Poplopins kill were not rebuilt, but the erection of forts and batteries at West Point was commenced early in the spring of 1778. At each end of the chain a water battery was constructed, with several heavy guns to protect it. Fort Constitution which had stood upon Martlair's Rock on the east side of the river was rebuilt; and several strong redoubts bristled upon its hills to command the obstructions and the pass; while on the west shore the largest fort was erected and called Fort Arnold, until the treason of that officer, when its name was changed to Fort Clinton. Far above this towered Fort Putnam, with redoubts known as Forts Webb and Wyllys southerly from it. In the report of military posts of all kinds at this place, the list found in the stocking of Major Andre, numbered a dozen or more, mounting nearly 100 cannon.

Gen. Washington at West Point.- Very little has ever been said about the personal interest manifested by Washington in the West Point defenses upon the ground. In the summer of 1779, he established his headquarters at New Windsor; and in a private from Cornelius Tenbroeck, a soldier there to his father, dated at that place August 11, 1779, recently first published,* he says: "Washington continues at the forts and has near a thousand men at work daily, in order to make them yet stronger; so as a less number of men may garrison them and be secure in case of all attack, if the enemy continue in their present position. It is said Washington will remain at the fort until it is finished." The enemy in numbers were about a dozen

* Stevens' Mag. of Amer. His. March No., 1878, page l7l.

miles below. What fort was then being. re-constructed or strengthened we do not know; but think it was Fort Putnam. The letter spoke of Fort Constitution on the east side of the river, as also of Forts Arnold and Putnam on the west side. He mentioned Fort Arnold as the principal fort; and referred to the batteries on both sides of the river without naming them. A visit from the enemy was anticipated while they were near by; but they did not seem to care about closing their final accounts just yet, and no attempt was made to storm any of the works.

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