[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 9: Redeployment
By the middle of July the Clove had served its usefulness as a base from which to counter the British advance. The inactivity of the enemy and lessening threat of a British offensive rendered the presence of three idle divisions in the Clove unnecessary, and on the very day Washington was inspecting Stony Point and savoring victory, de Kalb and his Marylanders were on the march to Buttermilk Falls (now Highland Falls) and St. Clair and his Pennsylvanians were moving to West Point to assist in the work of fortification. Putnam, informing Washington from the Clove of the march of troops, also made his way to the river.
De Kalb related how he and his men left Smith’s Clove on July 16 and stumbled “over roads hardly passable for goats,” carrying provision on their backs and stopping to bivouac for two nights in “Deane's Woods,” where they dined on mutton and beef served, lacking crockery, on large round crackers which they also ate; and while at their repast a dispatch arrived from Washington with compliments for De Kalb and his Maryland command "for the valor and conduct of our troops” at the storming of Stony Point in which the light companies had taken part. De Kalb and his two brigades left the Forest on the twentieth and completed their march by way of Fort Montgomery and the river road to a new camp on the Hudson, two miles below the Point.
The departure of the Pennsylvania division on July 17 was not easily forgotten by John William Smith as he gazed over the desolate condition of his farm in the bottomlands below Schunemunk Mountain at Mountainville where the division had camped for one month. On August 1 he sent a complaining letter to Nathanael Greene and the quartermaster department from “Smith's Clove," seeking recompense for the damage done to his property, and stating that “on the 14th June last, General Sinclair's division Encamped on my Farm, and continued here to the 17th Ulto. During their Stay, they have Consumed Several thousand Rails in so much, that the whole Farm, for above a Mile in Extent is a Common. Besides this (I am sorry to Say) there has been an Unnecessary destruction of Chestnut Timber, (as firewood was very plenty at their Elbows) by Stripping the Bark off, for Floors for the Tents, and the Soldiers to lay on, all which is too Apparent.” Smith requested to be informed to whom he should apply for payment, “as I understand this Affair falls within your department.” The petition, no doubt, like endless others of similar vein, was duly received, considered and filed and the matter ended. War was war.
In accordance with a new arrangement announced in General Orders on July 19, the Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland divisions were grouped as the army's Right Wing under Major-General Putnam (the Left was on the east shore, under Heath), and on the following day Washington ordered Woodford's brigade posted “at or near June’s” and Muhlenberg's at the Forest of Dean, while the Pennsylvania and Maryland divisions remained at their assigned stations to labor on the forts. The Virginia division under Stirling and his two brigadiers, Woodford and Muhlenberg, remained mobile in the field for the next four months, marching and counter marching through the Clove and across lower Orange and into Bergen while the enemy was still at Stony Point.
The deployments had not long taken place, when word was received of a movement of ships and an enemy embarkation at Dobbs Ferry, and on July 24 Washington ordered Stirling to advance to Suffern’s, where his division would be better positioned to move either to the river or into Bergen if the British crossed to the west shore; and, as the enemy was in “respectable force” at Stony Point and might attempt to retaliate for Wayne's attack, suggested that his Lordship move cautiously and advance one or two regiments onto the Haverstraw crossroad at June's to protect his flank and baggage until he arrived at Slot's and they could then rejoin the division.
Four days later the commander-in-chief followed with another letter that the reported embarkation was groundless and there was no need for the division to be at the mouth of the Clove, but as the move had already taken place Stirling should stay where he was and keep his troops ready to move on short notice, but if word came of an enemy move towards King's Ferry he was to withdraw through the Clove to the Forest of Dean without waiting for orders and he was to send his baggage to Slot's or along the road to Chester.
The acute sense of watchful alertness at West Point was further apparent when Washington in the same letter ordered Stirling to have the wilderness country "well explored” that lay east of the Clove between Suffern's and the isolated mountain home of Simon House (Haws) at the Beaver Pond (now Lake Welch) to determine if a middle road could be opened whereby troops could move directly towards Haverstraw forge and into the passes leading into Queensboro without making a circuitous march through the Clove. One or two officers and a small party acquainted with the woods, he suggested, accompanied by some intelligent and "well affected” inhabitants, could well determine the practicabiliy of such a route in short time.
William Alexander, Lord Stirling, who laid claim to a Scottish earldom, prided himself in the Virginia command he held until December, calling the division “an excellent body of men, and among the officers many valuable men for whom I have the greatest esteem.” During his four weeks at Suffern’s New Antrim hostelry, he worked closely with Major Lee in covering the country between Haverstraw and Paramus and pursuing what Washington himself called “judicious measures” in the planning and support of Lee's successful attack on Paulus Hook in August in which contingents from Woodford's and Muhlenberg's brigades participated.
On August 28, nine days after Lee's attack, contracting the army closer to West Point after the arrival of British reinforcements at New York, Washington ordered Stirling to leave one regiment at Suffern’s as a protection for the supply of convoys and magazines and to fall back again with the division “towards June's," adding that Lee should remain and cooperate with the troops left at the tavern. Stirling's twelve-mile withdrawal and reoccupation of his earlier position in the mid-Clove was noted in the journal of an officer journeying from Murderers Creek to Slot's on September 6 who stopped to dine at June's tavern "where [are] Ld Stirling's Quarters."
Woodford, who disliked the region as much as everybody else, wrote from “Smith's Clove” on the next day that “We have nothing new at this disagreeable place – I have not sight of paper, or any kind of inteligence [sic] since we came here. An Officer & small party patrole to Stony Point as usual.”
The situation, in the meantime, was beginning to change for the British entrenched on the rocky Orange peninsula. The tardy arrival at New York in late August of reinforcement that had been expected since spring, sickly and weak in number, was followed in September with the reported presence of another French fleet off the coast, and this again put Clinton on the defensive for another anticipated confrontation with England's old enemy, leaving him little alternative but to abandon operations on the Hudson and to withdraw the outlying garrison at King's Ferry, whose importance ceased the moment he was compelled to relinquish the long-stalled offensive that had brought about its capture in June.
Washington realized soon enough that the weakness and ill-health of the enemy reinforcement would make it impossible for the English to press any further offensive against the Highlands, and he quickly began to entertain a sanguine hope for a move against New York with French cooperation (which never materialized). On September 14 he ordered Stirling to return to his “old ground" near Suffern’s and to hold the division “in the most perfect readiness” for service if the French appeared.
With his second appearance within weeks at New Antrim, Stirling joined the generals in receiving the French minister at West Point and during the next two months became increasingly involved in New Jersey and was frequently absent. The division lay mostly at Kakiat under Woodford, with patrols extended to Stony Point. Lee, who had been in the region since June, was sent to Monmouth in September in anticipation of the French arrival, and in early October Wayne and his light infantry came down into Kakiat by way of Queensboro to join the Virginians. Though troubled with recurring attacks of gout which made riding difficult, Stirling betook himself to Wayne's camp to welcome the victor of Stony Point, notwithstanding his “terrible situation of body.”
The quiet British presence prevailing at Stony Point since July ended on October 21 when the enemy evacuated King's Ferry and his ships fell down the Hudson to New York. Three days later, Woodford wrote to Wayne from Kakiat of a gentleman whom they both knew who, “by way of a nigh (night] out, came through the Clove, & stop'd at Widow Sidenhams [Sidman's] probably with intention to amuse himself in the same way as your Dragoon did.”