Town of Colebrook,
County of Litchfield,
State of Connecticut, USA
"Prior to the spring of 1779, Stony Point and the point
directly opposite on the east bank of the Hudson named Verplanck’s, was in
the possession of the Continental forces. "
Of the many residents of this area who
fought either in General
Continental Army or in the Colonial Militia, at least three from Colebrook
served in New York’s highlands, and one, Nathaniel Bass died there on
September 10, 1776. Perhaps to many readers this is a gray area with no
exact location readily recognized as this historic district. What is meant
by this description is the mountainous area embracing the Hudson River that
is located north of the Tappan Zee Bridge and south of Newburgh with West
Point being the center of importance. Thirteen miles south of West Point
lies a small promontory jutting out from the west bank of the Hudson River
named Stony Point. Prior to the spring of 1779, Stony Point and the point
directly opposite on the east bank of the Hudson named Verplanck’s, was in
the possession of the Continental forces. This was to change in the spring
of 1779 when British forces moved northward from their headquarters in New
York City and captured both sides of the river at this point with the
intention of forcing Gen. Washington to move part of his army away from West
Point, thus falling into a trap that would endanger the American forces and
possibly enable the British to fulfill their desire to separate New England
from the rest of the colonies and to do serious damage to the American army
at the same time. Washington saw through the plan and did not fall victim to
it. Stony Point remains one of the highlights of the successful military
campaigns of the War of Independence. As some of our native sons took an
active part in this episode, one of whom we know by name – Lewis Hurd, and
as we are currently in the midst of the 225 anniversary of the great War of
Independence, now is a good time to retell the exploits that took place that
summer 223 years ago.
The storming of Stony Point July 15, 1779 was
one of the highlights of the War of Independence. It took place at the
mid-point of the war in a year without a pitched battle or memorable
campaign. It was the year England realized that most of Europe was aligned
philosophically and militarily against her with France having taken the most
prominent role, a fact that infuriated the British. The French factor was
what led the British political leader, Lord North, to offer in February 1778
all that the Americans were asking for except total independence, if they
would renounce the French alliance. The plan was quite obviously an attempt
by the British to pacify the Americans, and then fight France.
A three-man commission was dispatched to
Philadelphia to present these views, but they were turned away with
derision. England therefore had to reassess her policies in this relatively
quiet military year of 1778. She had some successes in the southern
colonies, but the north was where the power of the colonies lay and things
did not go well with their plans. To begin with, one of the most telling of
events was the partial depletion of Britain’s best troops in the New York
area to the British West Indies, now at risk due to the French fleet. Never
the less, a new plan for the future was devised in 1779.
In 1776, the first year of extensive military
operations, the British determined to make New York [City] their central
base, thus severing Washington’s lines of communication and fragment his
army. In that year they met with greater success than at any other, but near
the end of the year the military reversals at Trenton and Monmouth in New
Jersey offset the effect of their progress. In 1777 the British capture of
Philadelphia became insignificant compared to Burgoyne’s surrender of his
army at Saratoga. In 1778 came the American alliance with France. In 1779
they attempted their last campaign in the north. The initial hope was to
force a general and decisive action upon Washington’s army, thus forcing him
to seek shelter in the New York highlands, well away from populated areas;
second, harass the frontiers and coasts, both north and south and third,
restore the province [State] of New York, reestablish the former government
while allowing the general population to elect a loyal assembly, thus
allowing the old ways to reestablish themselves. It was believed that upon
seeing this plan implemented, the rest of the rebellious colonies would be
eager to jump on the bandwagon. That was the plan, at least.
Their problem was that they did not understand
just what sort of man George Washington was, and the year 1779 was perhaps
the year when both the Americans and the rest of the World came to
appreciate him for what he was. With all the trials and tribulations of the
previous three years behind him, he emerged as a man best described as
reserved, conservative and practical. He was not known by words and
proclamations, but rather by his patience, vigilance, judgment and energies.
He began to be universally observed as a man of strength and quiet greatness
who inspired profound confidence.
In the spring of 1779, the Continental troops
from the middle and southern
states were at winter quarters in Middlebrook New Jersey, Connecticut and
New Hampshire troops were in Redding Connecticut, and Massachusetts troops
were quartered among the highlands east of the Hudson River. West Point and
Peekskill were garrisoned. All of these encampments were so placed that they
all were within two or three days march of West Point, considered to be the
key to the continent; the side that held it controlled the military
situation in the north. It was the reason that Burgoyne had marched south
from Canada in 1777, only to be met and defeated at Saratoga, some 120 miles
short of his goal.
The initial military maneuver was the British
seizure of Kings Ferry between Stony Point and Verplanck’s Points on the
Hudson, 13 miles south of West Point, which they immediately fortified. When
this did not cause Washington to attempt to dislodge them, the British next
initiated the notorious raids on southwestern Connecticut where, during a
ten-day period, they burned 240 dwellings, 7 churches and many barns, mills,
stores, shops and vessels, but even this did not cause Washington to make a
military move that would have weakened his defense of West Point. After all,
the damage was done and the British troops had withdrawn.
As spring turned to summer, the situation
seemed stalemated; the British retained possession of the now fortified
Stony Point, and Washington remained firmly in control of the highlands and
West point. A certain amount of tension existed both on the British as well
as the American side as to what, if anything would happen next. Uninformed
colonists could misinterpret Washington’s forced inactivity as a weakness;
what was needed was an inspirational success such as Trenton or Bennington.
Washington watched his opportunities and in a brilliant move that had all
the effect of a much larger operation, stormed Stony Point by the American
Light Infantry at midnight on July 15.
There were many men in Washington’s army whose
homes were in this corner of Litchfield County. Every town around here was
represented in the campaigns in and around the highlands bracketing the
Hudson River. William Wallace Lee’s Catalogue of Barkhamsted Men Who
Served in the Various Wars, 1775 – 1865, by listing as many Barkhamsted
men as it was possible to trace, is an excellent indicator as to the level
of involvement attained by these rough, developing colonial towns. Lee’s
research turned up 165 names, which seems a remarkably high number, although
his intension was to show how many residents of the town had served during
the War of Independence. Many moved into town after being mustered out of
service. Lee’s list has many entries stating that so and so was credited to
New Hartford or Winchester. Far more rare than compilations of names,
however, are diaries or other personal accounts written by the soldiers
themselves. One such diary exists that is now in the possession of Mike Hurd
of Colebrook whose relative, Lewis Hurd, was an active participant in many,
if not most of the military campaigns of the Great War of Independence. Mike
has graciously allowed the Colebrook Historical Society to reproduce parts
of this document. As Lewis’ brother Seth came to Colebrook in 1785 and
became the first resident of the Beech Hill upland, this narrative has
additional local interest. We will begin with his early enlistment and the
skirmishes and campaigns he participated in that led up to his involvement
with Stony Point. The military action portrayed is no doubt an indication of
the type of situation that confronted most soldiers that were recruited from
Lewis Hurd was born in Roxbury, Connecticut in
1759. He was drafted for 6 months in June 1776 to be part of the force
assembled to defend Long Island.
This turned out
to be an unsuccessful campaign, as they were forced to retreat in the face
of far superior British soldiers. He then went home until the following May
of 1777, when he enlisted in a Stamford Connecticut regiment. His first tour
of duty consisted of some 60 officers and men who started out at 2 PM headed
toward East and West Chester, New York, then within enemy lines. Upon
arriving at 11 PM, they rested one half hour and then began collecting
cattle and horses. The British surprised them however, and after a sharp
skirmish, recovered all that had been taken and killed several of the
Americans. This took place in Rye, New York, near the waterfront, in July
1777. Lewis’ shoes were so bad that he couldn’t keep up with his unit, and
was almost captured, but managed to steal a horse from a man plowing a
field. He was thus able to catch up with his outfit, which by this time had
succeeded in stealing more cattle, some of which they took through the woods
and swamps to White Plains. No sooner did they arrive there than they were
beset upon by the British, and just barely managed to escape by hiding out
in the swamps all night. By the time they returned to Stamford, they had not
succeeded in capturing any horses or cattle, and had lost 41 men and 2
officers [two thirds of their force].
Hurd then marched to Peekskill under Gen.
Putnam. His duty there was to guard stores. From there his outfit tried once
more to cross the Sound onto Long Island, but were repulsed by the British.
They then returned to Peekskill.
The British marched up the Hudson and captured
two promontories across the river from each other, the one on the west being
Stony Point, the other Verplanck’s. At this point, word came that Gen.
Burgoyne had surrendered his army to Gen. Gates with 10,000 men.
They then marched to Pennsylvania in the
vicinity of Philadelphia, then on to Valley Forge in December 1777. He
states that here the army suffered more than at any one time during the
In January they received some supplies, but no
extra clothing or blankets. He acknowledged the fact that he was very lucky
to have been chosen to go to Reamstown, 40 miles west of Valley Forge, in
order to guard an ammunition dump for two months rather than to have
remained throughout the winter at the main encampment.
Hurd sheds some light dispelling a persistent
rumor that the Continental Army was reduced to eating their shoes while at
Valley Forge. The reality was that the encampment was close to a tannery,
and some of the hides, prior to their being tanned, were apparently
consumed. Once tanned and thus converted into leather, the nutritional value
would have been negligible.
In May, 60 men and 2 officers made an attempt
to round up cattle near the British lines. This sojourn was a carbon copy of
the raid attempted in Westchester County – no cattle captured, and a loss of
29 men killed, wounded or captured.
After the defeat of the British at Monmouth,
N.J., the American army marched back to the Hudson Valley in July, where
they had constant skirmishes until November, when they returned to
Connecticut, where they made their winter quarters. Due to a lack of
adequate clothing, Hurd had to keep himself wrapped in his blanket under his
uniform the entire season.
In July 1779 he was with Gen. Wayne’s troops
when they attacked and captured the British fort at Stony Point. Knowing
that they could not retain possession for long, everything was removed. Gen.
Washington, with his staff came down the following day to congratulate the
captors. The day after this, several British naval ships sailed up the
Hudson and commenced a bombardment of the fort, which it could not
withstand. Hurd and 29 other volunteers remained to face the bombardment and
burn or destroy whatever they could. In this they were successful, not
loosing a man. For his heroism in leading this endeavor, he was given a
promotion. His new job was to take charge of Gen. Anthony Wayne’s luggage.
In January 1781, he took a furlough and
visited friends in Connecticut and Vermont, traveling 365 miles in 40 days –
all on foot!
As part of the Conn. Light Infantry, under the
command of the Marquis De Lafayette, he was wounded in the elbow, but was
present at Cornwallis’ surrender.
Immediately his army departed for the Hudson
Valley where he remained until receiving his honorable discharge on
September 5, 1782.
Lewis Hurd was a modest man. Nowhere in his
journal does he say that he was the leader of those 29 men who faced the
British naval vessels, but we know that Gen. Wayne, as an incentive, offered
$500 and immediate promotion for the first man entering the enemy’s works,
lesser sums to the next four, and all who distinguished themselves should be
favorably reviewed by Gen. Washington. The fact that he received a
battlefield promotion speaks the words that modesty prevented him to write
And so Washington’s goals were attained – the
colonists received the military victory it needed for a moral booster and
the Americans retained West Point, the key to the northern colonies.
Our ancestors were fashioned from really tough
- Bob Grigg
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