Orange County
Historical Society

Sidman's Bridge

A Brief Account of the History of the Fortifications at Ramapo, New York during the American Revolution

Kenneth R. Rose

[Editor's Note: This article appeared in the 1989 Issue of the Journal of the Orange County Historical Society (No. 18). It is being republished on the website as part of the ongoing activities surrounding the 250th Anniversary of the Revolutionary War. The footnoted version is contained in the 1989 Journal which is available for purchase. The original article contained no illustrations. All of the illustrations and their captions in this on-line version were added by the editor. JAC]

Part II:
Winter of 1776/1777

It is difficult, if not impossible, to derive an accurate figure on the number of troops employed in defense of the fortifications at Sidman's Bridge on a day to day basis. Troop levels fluctuated drastically during most of the war. The number of troops employed as the garrison of this outpost at any particular time was determined by several factors, the two most decisive being the strategic situation of the forces in the Hudson Highlands and the availability of militia to provide for the garrison.

Colonel Jedediah Huntington of the 17th Connecticut Regiment stated in a letter of late December 1776 that the strength of the garrison was 400 men. By mid January 1777 General George Clinton informed Colonel Hasbrouck of the 4th Regiment Orange [Ulster] County Militia that the militia of Orange and Ulster Counties would be called upon to provide five hundred men to guard the Ramapo Pass of which Colonel Hasbrouck's regiment was to provide one hundred. During the war a great deal of responsibility of providing men for the garrison fell to the Militia regiments of Orange and Ulster.

If a total force of Continentals or militia amounting to a strength of between three to four hundred men were stationed at Sidman's it would seem that this force would be adequate to perform its primary and secondary missions. It must be remembered that Sidman's was more or less an outpost fortification not built to sustain a large scale attempt by the enemy to take it. If such an attempt had been made the natural geography of the Ramapo Pass would have enabled the garrison, if the position were made untenable, to withdraw northward and mount a blocking action in the Pass while advance warning of the impending danger was sent to the army in the Highlands, thereby denying the enemy the element of surprise and allowing time for appropriate action to be taken by the commander of American forces in the Highlands.

There appears to have been a rotation system in use among the militia regiments of Orange and Ulster County which for much of the war provided the manpower for the garrison at Sidman's Bridge. This would have been similar to the system used by Captain Turnure's company of Orange County which "were divided into four classes of four men in a class, and arrangement was made that one man in a class should guard one week and be relieved by another, and so continue until each had served his week, that a continued guard might be kept and their necessary labor at home might be done in which manner the militia served until the end of the war from early spring until winter and often in the winter."

On November 9, 1776 the Committee of Safety, acting during the recess of the Legislature, passed the following resolution: "Whereas: The Committee of Safety have this day received information that Major General Lee is assembling an army at Morristown to co-operate with General Washington in opposing the enemy who are marching toward Philadelphia. And Whereas; the security of the Highlands on the west side of the Hudson River must greatly depend on the Militia of Ulster and Orange counties who for that reason ought not to be removed to so great a distance; Resolved, That General George Clinton take special care to secure the passes in all events, and that the regiments commanded by Col. Huntington and Col. Tyler be put under the command of General George Clinton as he will take care that the post at Sidman's Bridge at Ramapo be properly secured."

Prior to General Washington's retreat across New Jersey, he had left several thousand men at Peekskill under the command of General William Heath. Heath's command consisted of four brigades of New York and Connecticut troops under Generals Parson, James Clinton, George Clinton and John Morin Scott. Heath was under strict orders from General Washington requiring "... Your division, with such troops as are now at Forts Montgomery, Independence and Constitution, are to be under your command, and remain in this quarter, for the security of the above posts, and the passes through the Highlands, for this place and the one on the west side of Hudson's River". In compliance with these orders Heath noted in his journal on November 13, 1776 that:

"Our General [Heath referring to himself] made a disposition of the troops under his command, to their several destinations. Col. Hintington's[sp] and Tyler's regiments, to the west side of the Hudson, to Sidnum's[sp] Bridge on Ramapaugh River, to cover the passes into the Highlands, on that side ..."

All troops sent under this directive to Sidman's Bridge were under orders to commence construction of winter quarters and to erect such fortifications as when deemed necessary to secure their positions.

In an extract from a letter written by Colonel Huntington to his son, dated Ramapo Camp, 21st November 1776 he reported that:

"I am now at Sedman's[sp] bridge, on Ramapaugh river, in the precinct of Haverstraw, Orange County, New York, twenty miles in a southwesterly direction from Peekskill, on Hudson's river, twenty miles from Hackensack town, which lies on the river of that name that empties itself into Newark Bay, about ten miles below Hackensack town. We hear today that the enemy are at Hackensack new bridge two miles below the town, and that our army have taken up the bridge to prevent their passing. I expect to be stationed in this place all winter. Have orders to build barracks for my men, which I am doing with logs. They make homely but very warm habitations.”

General Jedediah Huntington From a painting by Col. Trumbull, son of Jed's father-in-law Governor Trumbull; engraved by A.H. Ritchie, Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to enlarge.

The day before, Cornwallis had advanced upon Fort Lee by forced march from their landing place at Closter, forcing the American to abandon Fort Lee and begin a rapid retreat across the Jerseys. Truly it was one of the darkest hours of the war for the Continental Army. By November 21st, Washington and the army had abandoned Hackensack and had continued their retreat. In a letter to General Heath, dated November 23rd, Huntington reported that:

"I expect to be here the 1st of January without any men, unless something is done to encourage the new enlistment. Some men would engage now, if they could have furloughs. Will it not be best to let some go home now; for they will as soon as the term expire. I shall not be able to do more than complete the musketry line this season; the baracks will take up the rest of the time. Three or four pieces of small artillery may, by and by, be advantageously planted at this pass. A considerable number of troops, sick and well, are come up this way from our army below, and are gone to Fishkills. They have no passes. I should think of stopping them if I had covering or provisions for them. I beg leave to repeat my wishes that some officers and men may go home on furloughs immediately."

Colonel Huntington's depressing letter states problems which were not his alone, but were shared by fellow officers throughout the army during the desperate time.

The withdrawal of the main American army from the neutral ground caused Huntington to inform General Heath that, "a great number of the inhabitants between this (post) and Hackensack have been to the enemy and obtained letters of protection ... are friendly to them, and will do them all the service in their power."

On the 25th of November, Huntington sent a message to Heath explaining the fear and apprehension of the Whigs in the Ramapo area that the Tories of the neutral ground would serve as guides to lead the British in an expedition of destruction in that area. Huntington reported that, “Their anxiety has gone far towards intimidating some of my own troops." He concluded his report with the promise to forward to General Heath whatever intelligence he had the good fortune to receive.

At two o'clock on the morning of November 26th, a message was received from General Heath ordering Colonel Tyler's Regiment (10th Connecticut) to Tappan to bring off a number of supplies which had been gathered there. Tyler set out for Tappan at Daybreak of the 26th.

Colonel Ann Hawkes Hay, commander of the 2nd Orange County Regiment (militia), had sent a message to Heath on the 25th stating that he had been informed that a number of Tories from Ramapo had gone over to the enemy and had voiced the intention of guiding the British in a raid on Colonel Huntington's position in Ramapo. Acting on this information General Heath and his brigadiers held a Council of War at Peekskill. The Council of War unanimously agreed that General Scott's brigade should move to Haverstraw to cover supplies at that place and to support Huntington if the need should arise.

By the 28th of November, General Scott's brigade had taken up station at Haverstraw. On that day he informed General Heath that he had, "received an answer to the letter I wrote to Colonel Huntington, to know of him whether he wanted an aid from me, informing me that he wanted none at present, as he expected Colonel Tyler back in a day or two." Scott then received orders to have Tyler remain at Tappan until further orders.

General Heath announced his intention to Scott to "have Colonel Tyler's regiment continue at Tappan until the stores and provisions are all moved off, after which I think it would be best for him to return to his post..."

On December 1st, 1776, General Heath sent the following letter to Colonel Tyler:

"I have received your favor of the 29th ultimo, and thank you for the vigilance which you have discovered in securing stores, &c., at Tappan. I should have ordered you to return to your former post before this time, but have waited for the moving of part of the Army, whom I have been for several days expecting would cross the river. They will probably pass this day or to-morrow, after which you will join Colonel Huntington with your regiment, except two companies which you are to detach, upon receipt hereof, to Colonel Hays to protect such stores and provisions as are there until further orders. General Scott is now at General (?) Hay's with his brigade, but the time of their engagement expired yesterday, and I fear that not many of them will stay longer ..."

General William Heath The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Genl. William E. Heath. Retrieved 2022_10_24. Click on the image to enlarge.

Colonel Huntington informed Heath on the 4th of December that:

"Six companies of Colonel Tyler's regiment returned to camp last night. They have brought with them six pipes of Madiera Wine, ten barrels of wine in bottles, much broken and wasted, said to be Teneriffe; one box of soap; all which await your orders. The last article is as much wanted here as it is anywhere. I will venture to save as much of the wine, or at least a part of it. The officers will be glad of some of it on some terms or other. Part of the wine is marked Gabriel Ludlow. The two other companies of Tyler's regiment are at Haverstraw; their baggage goes from us this night. Colonel Tyler tells me there are eleven chests of armourer's tools, beside bellows, anvils, &c., in the care of Abraham Post, at Tapan, who promised to put them into a store of Abraham Maybie's at the Slote. He thinks they are very safe with the present keeper, and there is a safe passage for boats from that in Haverstraw."

Colonel Huntington's and Tyler's regiments were ordered on December 11th, to advance from Ramapo to Paramus leaving fifty men to guard the pass as General Heath had crossed the Hudson at King's Ferry and proceeded toward the Jersies. Heath marched south for Hackensack on December 14th, 1776 sending word for Huntington's and Tyler's regiments to move from Paramus at the same time having intelligence that Van Buskirk's greencoats were at Hackensack Bridge on the preceding day and were in all probability still in the area. Unfortunately the plan failed when it was found that Van Buskirk's regiment had moved south to Bergen to draw new arms. One British soldier, twenty or thirty suspected Tories, and a number of arms were taken.

General George Clinton wrote on December 17th from the city near Kakeate (New City) that he had "arrived here with 1200 men of Colonel Woodhull's, Mc Cleghy's, Heathorn's and Allison's Regiments." Heath had moved to Hackensack.

In a letter dated the same day, General Clinton ordered Colonel Allison's regiment to Orangetown under orders that "If the British should approach you under such advantages as to render it inexpedient to give them battle you will retreat so as to gain the pass in the Highlands near Sidman's Bridge. Col. Heathorn's regiment will stand ready to sustain you and strengthen the pass near Sidman's Bridge and extend my guards and patrolling parties from there towards Ringwood."

At this time only a Captain and fifty men of Huntington's regiment remained to defend the pass. The Convention of New York was so greatly alarmed at Heath's leaving the important passes to the Highlands unsecured, that they sent an express to General Washington asking that Heath might be ordered to return. General Washington granted their request and ordered Heach to return.

By December 18, 1776, General George Clinton had marched the whole of the militia of Orange and Ulster counties to Haverstraw, from which he proceeded to join General Heath with 600 of them. On December 21st he wrote a letter to the New York Convention from Paramus which read:

"The Militia of the Counties of Ulster and Orange think it exceeding hard at this time to be called out while those of other counties, equally interested in guarding the passes of the Highlands, are exempted from any part of the duty. They think one-half of them, to wit: about one thousand, would be fully competent for this purpose, and considering the business they were first intended for is now in a great measure accomplished, I am of their opinion. That number, I believe, would continue with cheerfulness. If the whole is kept out, though I know they will- they must- submit to it if desired, it will be with a degree of reluctance. I wish, therefore, I might have the liberty to dismiss one-half of them. I am sure it will be best."

General Clinton again communicated his views of the condition of troops under his command to the New York Convention on December 23, 1776. He reported that the troops stationed at Ramapaugh were extremely destitute for provisions and had been reduced to purchasing whatever they had from the inhabitants of the area. The Commissary at Sydman's bridge had informed him that there was only enough meal to provision Huntington's and Tyler's regiments which were to leave in several days. He stated:

"The Militia think they are ill used, and I am sorry to say that, in my opinion, they have great reason to complain. They declare they will go home and leave me. Many have already gone, nor can I expect but that the rest will be as good as their word. Indeed, they must desert or starve; and however well disposed, they will not submit to the latter. The consequences may be fatal to the country. I am not to blame. I have done everything in my power. I have no further influence over them; nor can I, after not being able to perform my promise with them, in the letter by which I called them out, and which contained no more than was fully warranted by the resolve of the Convention, ever think of commanding them. It would be cruel as well as unjust to force them back to starve, nor shall I have strength enough to do it."

The new year began favorably for the American Army when on January 3, 1777 Washington was victorious at Princeton. Word of the victory reached the troops in the Highlands on January 5th.

In January 1777 General George Clinton sent a letter to Colonel Sparhawk commanding a Massachusetts regiment, expected to arrive momentarily to take up position at Sidman's, instructing him that:

“... I would have the field pieces in or near the little redoubt on the other side of Sidman's Bridge. As for your Regiment as there are yet no barracks finished for them, you must put them in houses on this side of Severen's Tavern which I understand you now are. I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you tomorrow."

In a letter sent from New Windsor on January 16th, Clinton informed Colonel Hasbrouck (Fourth Orange [Ulster] County Regiment Militia) that the militia of Orange and Ulster Counties were to furnish 500 men to guard the Ramapo Pass and that in the present situation, until new levies could be made, the proportion which Colonel Hasbroucks' regiment had to supply was 100 men. That on receipt of this order, Hasbrouck was to send the required number to relieve the militia under Captain Tarpening and Robert's detachment then stationed at Sidman's.

On February 10, 1777, General Clinton, then at New Windsor, sent Major Pawling (3rd Ulster County Militia) to take command of that part of the brigade stationed at Sidman's and to remain there in command until March 31st, He was to relieve Colonel Hasbrouck's detachment. General Clinton informed the Committee of Safety, however, on March 23rd that:

"The time for which the troops under Col. Pawling are engaged for service expires the first of next month and I am apprehensive that unless means are taken by your Honorable House, that Present stores of Sidman's Bridge and all that quarter of the country will be exposed to the enemy, for by letters from Major General St. Clair and from his Excellency George Washington I am reason to believe a single man cannot be spared from the main Army."

The militia Regiments of Orange and Ulster Counties continued to bear the principal responsibility for the defense of the Sidman's Bridge fortification through November 1780. Supplementing the militia regiments at times during this period were men of Malcolm's Additional Regiment. Additional information on unit strength reports and the muster rolls of the various regiments that served at Sidman's during this three year period may be found in Volumes I and II of the Public Papers of George Clinton and in New York In the Revolution.

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