The Storming Of Stony Point

In their ragged regimentals

Stood the old Continentals,

Yielding not,

When the grenadiers were lunging,

And like hail fell the plunging


When the files

Of the isles

From the smoky night encampment bore the banner of the rampant


And grummer, grummer, grummer, rolled the roll of the drummer,

Through the morn!

Then with eyes to the front all,

And with guns horizontal,

Stood our sires;

And the balls whistled deadly,

And in streams flashing redly

Blazed the fires;

As the roar

On the shore

Swept the strong battle-breakers o'er the green-sodded acres

Of the plain;

And louder, louder, louder cracked the black gunpowder,

Cracked amain!

--Guy Humphrey McMaster.

One of the heroic figures of the Revolution was Anthony Wayne,

Major-General of the Continental line. With the exception of Washington,

and perhaps Greene, he was the best general the Americans developed in

the contest; and without exception he showed himself to be the hardest

fighter produced on either side. He belongs, as regards this latter

characteristic, with the men like Winfield Scott, Phil Kearney, Hancock,

and Forrest, who reveled in the danger and the actual shock of arms.

Indeed, his eager love of battle, and splendid disregard of peril,

have made many writers forget his really great qualities as a general.

Soldiers are always prompt to recognize the prime virtue of physical

courage, and Wayne's followers christened their daring commander "Mad

Anthony," in loving allusion to his reckless bravery. It is perfectly

true that Wayne had this courage, and that he was a born fighter;

otherwise, he never would have been a great commander. A man who lacks

the fondness for fighting, the eager desire to punish his adversary,

and the willingness to suffer punishment in return, may be a great

organizer, like McClellan, but can never become a great general or win

great victories. There are, however, plenty of men who, though they

possess these fine manly traits, yet lack the head to command an army;

but Wayne had not only the heart and the hand but the head likewise.

No man could dare as greatly as he did without incurring the risk of an

occasional check; but he was an able and bold tactician, a vigilant

and cautious leader, well fitted to bear the terrible burden of

responsibility which rests upon a commander-in-chief.

Of course, at times he had some rather severe lessons. Quite early in

his career, just after the battle of the Brandywine, when he was set to

watch the enemy, he was surprised at night by the British general Grey,

a redoubtable fighter, who attacked him with the bayonet, killed a

number of his men, and forced him to fall back some distance from the

field of action. This mortifying experience had no effect whatever on

Wayne's courage or self-reliance, but it did give him a valuable lesson

in caution. He showed what he had learned by the skill with which, many

years later, he conducted the famous campaign in which he overthrew the

Northwestern Indians at the Fight of the Fallen Timbers.

Wayne's favorite weapon was the bayonet, and, like Scott he taught his

troops, until they were able in the shock of hand-to-hand conflict to

overthrow the renowned British infantry, who have always justly prided

themselves on their prowess with cold steel. At the battle of Germantown

it was Wayne's troops who, falling on with the bayonet, drove the

Hessians and the British light infantry, and only retreated under orders

when the attack had failed elsewhere. At Monmouth it was Wayne and his

Continentals who first checked the British advance by repulsing the

bayonet charge of the guards and grenadiers.

Washington, a true leader of men, was prompt to recognize in Wayne a

soldier to whom could be intrusted any especially difficult enterprise

which called for the exercise alike of intelligence and of cool daring.

In the summer of 1780 he was very anxious to capture the British fort at

Stony Point, which commanded the Hudson. It was impracticable to attack

it by regular siege while the British frigates lay in the river, and the

defenses ere so strong that open assault by daylight was equally out of

the question. Accordingly Washington suggested to Wayne that he try a

night attack. Wayne eagerly caught at the idea. It was exactly the kind

of enterprise in which he delighted. The fort was on a rocky promontory,

surrounded on three sides by water, and on the fourth by a neck of land,

which was for the most part mere morass. It was across this neck of

land that any attacking column had to move. The garrison was six hundred

strong. To deliver the assault Wayne took nine hundred men. The

American army was camped about fourteen miles from Stony Point. One July

afternoon Wayne started, and led his troops in single file along the

narrow rocky roads, reaching the hills on the mainland near the fort

after nightfall. He divided his force into two columns, to advance one

along each side of the neck, detaching two companies of North Carolina

troops to move in between the two columns and make a false attack.

The rest of the force consisted of New Englanders, Pennsylvanians,

and Virginians. Each attacking column was divided into three parts, a

forlorn hope of twenty men leading, which was followed by an advance

guard of one hundred and twenty, and then by the main body. At the time

commanding officers still carried spontoons, and other old-time weapons,

and Wayne, who himself led the right column, directed its movements

spear in hand. It was nearly midnight when the Americans began to press

along the causeways toward the fort. Before they were near the walls

they were discovered, and the British opened a heavy fire of great guns

and musketry, to which the Carolinians, who were advancing between the

two columns, responded in their turn, according to orders; but the men

in the columns were forbidden to fire. Wayne had warned them that their

work must be done with the bayonet, and their muskets were not even

loaded. Moreover, so strict was the discipline that no one was allowed

to leave the ranks, and when one of the men did so an officer promptly

ran him through the body.

No sooner had the British opened fire than the charging columns broke

into a run, and in a moment the forlorn hopes plunged into the abattis

of fallen timber which the British had constructed just without the

walls. On the left, the forlorn hope was very roughly handled, no less

than seventeen of the twenty men being either killed or wounded, but as

the columns came up both burst through the down timber and swarmed up

the long, sloping embankments of the fort. The British fought well,

cheering loudly as their volley's rang, but the Americans would not be

denied, and pushed silently on to end the contest with the bayonet. A

bullet struck Wayne in the head. He fell, but struggled to his feet and

forward, two of his officers supporting him. A rumor went among the

men that he was dead, but it only impelled them to charge home, more

fiercely than ever.

With a rush the troops swept to the top of the wall. A fierce but

short fight followed in the intense darkness, which was lit only by the

flashes from the British muskets. The Americans did not fire, trusting

solely to the bayonet. The two columns had kept almost equal pace, and

they swept into the fort from opposite sides at the same moment. The

three men who first got over the walls were all wounded, but one of

them hauled down the British flag. The Americans had the advantage

which always comes from delivering an attack that is thrust home. Their

muskets were unloaded and they could not hesitate; so, running boldly

into close quarters, they fought hand to hand with their foes and

speedily overthrew them. For a moment the bayonets flashed and played;

then the British lines broke as their assailants thronged against them,

and the struggle was over. The Americans had lost a hundred in killed

and wounded. Of the British sixty-three had been slain and very many

wounded, every one of the dead or disabled having suffered from the

bayonet. A curious coincidence was that the number of the dead happened

to be exactly equal to the number of Wayne's men who had been killed in

the night attack by the English general, Grey.

There was great rejoicing among the Americans over the successful issue

of the attack. Wayne speedily recovered from his wound, and in the joy

of his victory it weighed but slightly. He had performed a most notable

feat. No night attack of the kind was ever delivered with greater

boldness, skill, and success. When the Revolutionary War broke out the

American armies were composed merely of armed yeomen, stalwart men,

of good courage, and fairly proficient in the use of their weapons, but

entirely without the training which alone could enable them to withstand

the attack of the British regulars in the open, or to deliver an attack

themselves. Washington's victory at Trenton was the first encounter

which showed that the Americans were to be feared when they took the

offensive. With the exception of the battle of Trenton, and perhaps of

Greene's fight at Eutaw Springs, Wayne's feat was the most successful

illustration of daring and victorious attack by an American army that

occurred during the war; and, unlike Greene, who was only able to fight

a drawn battle, Wayne's triumph was complete. At Monmouth he had shown,

as he afterward showed against Cornwallis, that his troops could meet

the renowned British regulars on even terms in the open. At Stony Point

he showed that he could lead them to a triumphant assault with the

bayonet against regulars who held a fortified place of strength. No

American commander has ever displayed greater energy and daring, a

more resolute courage, or readier resource, than the chief of the

hard-fighting Revolutionary generals, Mad Anthony Wayne.

The General Armstrong Privateer Washington facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail