Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - Conflict & Date:
The Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery was fought October 6, 1777, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - Background:
In the summer of 1777, Major General John Burgoyne began advancing south across Lake Champlain with the goal of securing the Hudson River and severing the New England colonies from those to the south. This campaign initially met with success as Fort Ticonderoga fell in early July and his troops inflicted a defeat on American forces at Hubbardton a few days later. Pressing south, Burgoyne's advance was soon slowed as his army suffered persistent logistical issues and was delayed by American troops. To the west, a supporting column under Brigadier General Barry St. Leger won a costly victory at Oriskany before being forced to retreat after the failed Siege of Fort Stanwix. Left to his own, Burgoyne suffered another reverse on August 16 when Hessian units from his army were badly beaten at the Battle of Bennington.
In embarking on his campaign, Burgoyne had anticipated assistance from General Sir William Howe's army in New York City. Howe's role in his junior's advance was never clearly defined by Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, nor was he issued orders from London to aid Burgoyne. As a result, though Burgoyne moved forward, Howe launched his own campaign to capture the American capital at Philadelphia. This proved successful as he took city in late September after defeating General George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine. In his absence, New York was held by forces led by Major General Sir Henry Clinton.
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - Clinton's Orders:
Before departing for Pennsylvania, Howe instructed Clinton to defend the city and only engage in offensive actions that aided this mission. This was somewhat mitigated by an allowance that he could support Burgoyne's advance as long as New York was properly protected. On September 12, Clinton wrote to Burgoyne that he planned to attack Fort Montgomery in the Hudson Highlands later in the month and asked if 2,000 men would be sufficient to assist his efforts further north. This letter was received nine days later after Burgoyne's army had fought the opening action of the Battle of Saratoga against American forces led by Major Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold.
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - American Defenses:
In the Hudson Highlands, Major General Israel Putnam held command of American troops in the region. These numbered around 1,000 at the main camp in Peekskill as well as an additional 600 at Forts Clinton and Montgomery. While the former was an established post, the latter was still under construction. A veteran of the French & Indian War, Putnam had also seen action at Bunker Hill and Long Island. Located to the north of Peekskill and on the west bank of the river, Forts Clinton and Montgomery guarded a massive chain which stretched across the Hudson to obstruct British ships. The western end of the chain was protected by Governor of New York George Clinton's garrison at Fort Montgomery. Situated to the south and across Popolopen Creek, Fort Clinton was overseen by Clinton's older brother, Brigadier General James Clinton.
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - Clinton Advances:
Reinforced in late September, Clinton began preparations to move north in response to urgent calls for action by Burgoyne. Embarking around 3,000 men, he sailed from New York on October 3. Advancing north, Clinton conducted a series of feints at Tarrytown and Verplanck's Point in an effort to hold Putnam on the east bank of the river. Convinced that the British were moving against Peekskill, he called for reinforcements from across the river. As he conducted these maneuvers he received a dispatch from Burgoyne asking whether he should advance or retreat and when Clinton would reach Albany. Early on the morning of October 6, Clinton began landing his men at Stony Point on the river's western shore. Moving over a rise known as the Timp, the British column descended into the hamlet of Doodletown where they drove off an American scouting party (Map).
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - The British Attack:
Desiring to attack the two forts simultaneously, Clinton directed Lieutenant Colonel Mungo Campbell to take 900 men on a march around Bear Mountain with the goal of reaching the rear of Fort Montgomery. Pausing to allow time for Campbell's men to cover the distance, Clinton then advanced on Fort Clinton with the remainder of his command. Having been made aware of the initial skirmish at Doodletown, Governor Clinton requested reinforcements from Putnam and dispatched around 100 men from Fort Montgomery to slow the British advance. His brother sent a similar force out from Fort Clinton. The force from Fort Montgomery established a blocking position approximately a mile from the fort and soon was attacked by Campbell. Though mounting a stout defense, the Americans were forced back on two occasions before withdrawing to the fort.
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - Fort Montgomery Falls:
Reaching Fort Montgomery early that evening, Campbell called for the garrison to surrender. This was refused by Lieutenant Colonel William S. Livingston who in turn cheekily asked Campbell to surrender instead. Angered, Campbell directed his men to begin assaulting the fort with British troops on his right, Hessian chasseurs in the center, and Loyalist forces on the left. Campbell's first attempts were met with heavy resistance and British casualties began to mount. As the fighting raged, Campbell was killed. Surging forward, the British were able to overwhelm the defenders. Flooding into the fort, they took few prisoners as they sought retribution for the death of their commander. With defeat imminent, Clinton and part of the garrison were able to escape through the woods north of the fort.
Battle of Fort Clinton & Montgomery - Loss of Fort Clinton:
Advancing from Doodletown, Clinton approached Fort Clinton from the south. As the direct approach to the fort was over a narrow spit of land between the river and a small lake, he ordered the 63rd Regiment of Foot to move northwest and circle around to the fort's rear. As the regiment did so, Clinton pushed two regiments across the spit toward the fort. Struggling through abatis and under fire from the fort's guns, these men soon commenced their assault with assistance of naval gunfire from British ships in the river. With the approach of the 63rd from the northwest, the garrison came under attack from two sides. Though they mounted a spirited defense, the men of Fort Clinton were unable to hold the British back. While part of the garrison was captured, the remainder, including the elder Clinton, was able to escape.
Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - Aftermath:
In the Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery, British forces sustained 41 killed and 142 wounded, while the Americans incurred 75 killed and wounded as well as 263 captured. The day after the victory, Clinton responded to Burgoyne's earlier note and stated that he had conducted the requested diversion and had no intention of advancing as far as Albany. While the Royal Navy worked to remove obstacles from the river, Clinton returned to New York City leaving Major General James Vaughan in command with orders to raid up the Hudson Valley. On October 17, Howe requested that Clinton send 3,000 men south to support the occupation of Philadelphia. Short on men, he recalled Vaughan, who had raided as far north as Kingston. Withdrawing south, the British destroyed the two forts on October 26 before returning to New York.
Left alone in the wilderness, Burgoyne surrendered his army on October 17. The turning point of the conflict, the victory at Saratoga led to the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France.