Fort Independence Fiasco, New York

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Fort Independence Fiasco, New York

FORT INDEPENDENCE FIASCO, NEW YORK. 17-25 January 1777. On 5 January, immediately following the rebel victories at Trenton and Princeton, Washington wrote to William Heath in the Hudson Highlands:

The enemy are in great Consternation; and as the Pannick affords us a favorable oppertunity to drive them out of the Jerseys … you Should move down towards New york with a Considerable force as if you had a design upon the city—that being an object of great importance, the enemy will be reduced to the necessity of withdrawing a Considerable part of their force from the Jerseys if not the whole to Secure the city.

After spending ten days mobilizing militia forces to augment his Continental garrison in the Hudson Highlands, Heath took up an arc of positions across Westchester County. On the night of 17-18 January he launched three columns toward Kings Bridge, intending to converge simultaneously on the enemy's outposts at dawn. Lincoln's command moved from Tarrytown on the Albany road; the forces of Wooster and Parsons advanced from New Rochelle and East Chester; and the center column, comprising the militia of John Scott, marched from a point below White Plains. At first the plan worked smoothly, all columns arriving on schedule, and Heath's troops overran the outposts at Valentine's Hill, Van Courtland's, Williams's, and the Negro Fort. The rebels closed up to Fort Independence (in the Valentine's Hill area just north of Spuyten Duyvil), and Heath summoned the German commander to surrender. The enemy opened fire with artillery that Heath had not suspected the other side possessed. Instead of driving in to take the fort, Heath took a more cautious approach consistent with his mission of conducting a feint. Several days of ineffective cannonading and maneuvering followed. On the 19th, Heath ordered an attempted envelopment across the frozen creek to cut off the Hessian battalion at Kings Bridge the next morning. On the 20th, he canceled it when warming weather melted the ice. The British sallied forth early on the 25th in the direction of Delancey's Mills and routed the rebel screening force, then pushed on to Valentine's. On 29 January the signs of an approaching blizzard convinced Heath and his generals to end the campaign.

The British crowed about the affair and historians ever since have accepted their viewpoint, one of them calling the operation a "seriocomical affair" (Freeman IV, p. 384). In point of fact, Heath performed his assigned task, distracting Howe from Washington's activity in New Jersey.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington. Vol. IV. New York, 1951.

Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series. Edited by Philander D. Chase. 13 vols. to date. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985–.

                           revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.

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