"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." ~ Santayana

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Battle of Forts Montgomery and Clinton

The Battle of Saratoga is often noted as the turning point of the American Revolution. Probably less known, however, is the battle that took place only a day before, on October 6, 1777. The Battle of Forts Clinton and Montgomery, although not victories for the United States, slowed the advance of British troops, which were attempting to reinforce the English at Saratoga. If the forts had not tried to defend from the British, the Battle of Saratoga, and thus the War, may have been lost.

            Throughout the war, the Hudson River was important for transporting men and supplies throughout New England. On May 25, 1775, Congress passes a resolution that "…a post be also taken in the Highlands on each side of Hudson’s River and batteries erected in such a manner as will most effectually prevent any vessels passing that may be sent to harass the inhabitants on the borders of said river…" The eventual location of the fort had been noted for it’s strategic advantage for controlling navigation across the river as early as the seventeenth century. When the fort, named Montgomery, was under construction, the strategic value of an elevated cliff terrace  nearby was also realized and a smaller fort, named Clinton, was built. Fort Montgomery had six 32-pound cannons and a garrison of 700 men; however, at the time of the battle the fort was undermanned.
            General Burgoyne, the commander of the English at Saratoga, was running low on men and food. Sir Henry Clinton, also a British general, sent a letter to Burgoyne stating that he would attempt to attack Fort Montgomery and then push onwards to Saratoga to try to relieve Burgoyne. On October 3rd Sir Henry started to sail up the Hudson River with 3,000 men in three frigates and several smaller vessels. On the foggy morning of October 6th, 2,100 men landed and encountered a scouting party that Governor Clinton, the commander of the fort, had sent out for reconnaissance. The scouting party retreated back to the fort after a brief exchange of fire. Sir Henry then sent 400 Loyalists and a detachment of Hessians to attack Fort Clinton while he took the remaining force to Fort Montgomery. The detachment at Montgomery numbered 100 men and a few cannons. Although they stood their ground valiantly, the garrison was forced to spike their cannons and retreat. Fort Clinton also was eventually overwhelmed.

Governor Clinton and his brother were able to escape from the battle with a few others by boat but the majority of the survivors of the conflict were taken prisoner. The British casualties were 41 killed and 142 wounded. The Americans had 26 officers and 237 enlisted men captured and about 75 killed and wounded apart from wounded prisoners; most of them from the garrison of Fort Clinton. Captain James Wallace began to clear American-laid obstacles in the river immediately following the battle, but Saratoga was lost October 7th and he finished on the thirteenth. Even though the forts had not been entirely successful, Clinton was un-able to reinforce Burgoyne.

Was the battle a victory or a defeat? Many were killed and the forts were burnt to the ground; however, Clinton was delayed and Saratoga was won. You will have to answer that question yourself. But no matter what the answer is, it can definitely be said, that The Battle of Forts Montgomery and Clinton were part of the turning point of the American Revolution.

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