Mad Anthony Captures Stony Point
Anthony Wayne was about thirty years old. He was a handsome young officer in Washington's army, and fond of fine uniforms and military equipment. He was a very dandy in his appearance, but, when his spirit was aroused in battle, he forgot all his fine manners in reckless daring. His men spoke of him as "Mad Anthony."
Indeed, he was about the hardest fighter of the Revolution. In battle, his eye would blaze with fury, and his face flashed with the glory of conflict that was wonderful to see. He was afraid of nothing, and counted his own life as naught when it came to winning a fight.
Washington's army was in New Jersey, near New York. The British held a large part of the Hudson River, and had fortified Stony Point, only thirteen miles below West Point. This position controlled the King's Ferry, where troops and supplies were ferried across to support the Patriot army.
The fort was on a bluff nearly two hundred feet high, jutting out into the river, a half mile from shore. A marshy neck crossed by a causeway separated it from the mainland. The top of this rocky point was strongly protected with cannon that defended it in all directions.
Along the causeway, and in the marshes, the British had driven logs, sharpened on ends which pointed outwards so as to form what, in military terms, is called an "abatis." These logs were supposed to make a barrier that would stop the advance of enemy troops long enough for the guns of the fort to annihilate them completely.
Washington decided to attack Stony Point, and chose "Mad Anthony" for the purpose. He rode out, one day, to look over the situation.
"There is no one who can take that fort better than Wayne," said Washington, "but it requires all his skill and daring. Ten minutes warning to those troops in the fort would blast all our hopes."
The Commander-in-Chief gave orders to kill every dog within three miles of the camp, in order to prevent them from barking when the time came for the Americans to approach the fort. He also ordered all stragglers arrested or kept away.
One Captain reported: "Arrested the widow Calhoun, going to the enemy with chickens and vegetables."
In this way did Washington plan. And now it was time for Wayne to act!
About thirteen hundred picked men were chosen for the attack. They were lined up for inspection, with orders to be in marching trim, fully armed and provisioned, "fresh-shaved and powdered." After inspection, they marched away, instead of returning to camp. Not one of them had an idea of his mission, or of the danger of the enterprise upon which he had started.
"If any soldier loads his musket, or attempts to fire, or tries to shirk his duty in face of danger, he must be put to death by the officer nearest him. This is a struggle in which I take no risks, and absolute quiet is necessary," were the commands of Wayne.
One man started to load his gun. The officer called sharply to him to desist, and gave him warning. "I cannot fight without firing my gun," replied the soldier, and continued to put in the powder charge. The officer then ran his sword through the soldier's body, and left him dead on the road. He had to do this, so as to save the lives of the other men, and to carry out successfully the plan of attack.
All the hot July afternoon the men marched along the rough roads, through swamps and ravines, until they came to a place about a mile from Stony Point. Not a sound was heard. The soldiers sank upon the ground, and, in silence, ate their supper of bread and meat.
Then Wayne passed the word—what he intended to do. It was the first notice the troops had had of what was before them. It seemed a hopeless task to attack a strong fort, across a swamp, protected by an abatis of heavy logs. But "Mad Anthony" was to lead the charge, and Patriots were his soldiers.
At half-past eleven came the quiet order: "Fall in! Forward march!" Every man pinned a piece of white paper or cloth to his cap, that he might be distinguished in the darkness from the enemy, and not be killed by his own men. Not a sound was uttered, every footstep was quiet, and not an equipment rattled as the men started forward. The watchword was "The fort is our own."
An old negro, named Pompey, who had been selling fruit to the British, was engaged as guide. He knew the short cuts through the woods, and the road across the swamp. At midnight, the silent band of Americans reached the edge of the swamp, and waded in.
"Steady! Make no noise! Let the men with axes go first, so as to cut down the abatis. The rest of you rush in and follow me," were the whispered orders Wayne passed down the column.
The water was waist deep in places, for the tide was in. The marsh was six hundred feet across. The night was dark, and the danger very great. The column moved as if on parade. Yard by yard they silently crossed the marsh, and, at last, found themselves close to the outer defenses of the British.
"Halt! Who goes there?" cried a British sentry. No answer from the steadily advancing Patriots! The sentry, catching sight of troops, fired his gun for a general alarm. The sleeping British leaped from their beds. The "long roll" was sounded, calling the men to fall in and repel an attack. They were taken by complete surprise, and the battle was on before they had time to think.
The Patriot axmen rushed forward, and cut away the logs, while the bullets whizzed over their heads. The main columns of Americans climbed over the wall and formed in line on the other side. A small attacking party made a detour around the fort, and opened a brisk fire on that side. The British guns were turned upon them, and a British force was sent down to engage them, thinking they were the main body of the enemy. But the small attacking force withdrew, leading off their prisoners, while the main body of the Patriots rushed in and took the fort, crying out, "The fort is our own! The fort is our own!"
Wayne was shot in the head by a musket ball, and fell to the ground, blood covering his face. "Take me into the fort and let me die at the head of my troops," he said to the officer near him. It turned out to be only a flesh wound, and so "Mad Anthony" was able to enter the battle again.
The bayonet did its grim work of death. The British fled, crying out, "Mercy! Mercy! Quarter! Quarter! We surrender!"
In thirty minutes it was all over, and Stony Point was captured. Only one British soldier escaped. He leaped into the river, and swam a mile to a British ship, and here he told of the exploits of "Mad Anthony Wayne and his terrible men."