[Editor's Note: Richard J. Koke authored a series of five articles that appeared in Volumes 19 -23 of the OCHS Journal between 1990 and 1994. These articles will be presented in multiple sections over the next few years.]
1779: A Crucial Year
Chapter 1: Intro
Seventeen seventy-nine has been called the forgotten year of the Revolutionary War, inactive and uneventful and devoid of great battles or great marches, but it was the year in which Smith's Clove attained its significant renown as a strategic appendage of wartime activity in the Hudson Highlands; a year in which thousands of soldiers funnelled into its snake-ridden confines in a waiting game between two armies.
On May 31, Sir Henry Clinton, in his third thrust up the Hudson, again appeared in Haverstraw Bay with a fleet and a military force, and by 11:00 the next morning, June 1, was in possession of the fortified American posts on Stony and Verplanck's Points at either end of King's Ferry. The vital line of communication across the Hudson between New England and the middle states was severed and a British base was established at the gate of the Highlands, barely twelve miles from West Point.
Two days later, British ships moved into Peekskill Bay in a threatening move towards West Point and Sir Henry and a force reported at between 3,000 and 5,000 reconnoitered Peekskill and the eastern approaches into the mountains at the Continental Village - then he pulled back towards the ferry and no further aggressive move was made.
Unknown to the Americans, Clinton's strategy was not to possess a Hudson River fortress, important though it was. With limited forces, he was not ready for West Point and had no intention of fighting his way into the mountains. What he wanted, essentially, was to engage Washington in a general battle on low ground below the Highlands where he could maneuver to advantage and crush the rebel army. The possession of Stony and Verplanck's Points, he surmised, was of “such great importance” (his words) that he firmly believed Washington could be lured from the mountains into the hazard of battle for their recovery, but with little or no risk for himself.
The captured ferry forts were strengthened and a strong garrison was placed in them, and Clinton withdrew downstream with the major part of his force, but held it in readiness to move at a moment’s notice to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself. He dispatched a raiding expedition along the Connecticut coast and bided his time, waiting for Washington to make the next move.