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Exploring the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley

During the Revolution Washington Spent More Time in the Hudson River Valley Than Anywhere Else in the Country

General George Washington

Visitors to New York’s Hudson River Valley can retrace the footsteps of America’s first Commander in Chief as he and his troops struggled to keep the British from gaining control of the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War.

George Washington understood better than anyone the strategic importance of the mighty Hudson in the fight for American independence. In fact, he knew that whoever controlled the Hudson would win the war. He called Fortress West Point in the Hudson Highlands the “Key of America.” If British forces could gain a hold on the Hudson, they could cut America in two, leaving New England isolated to the north and weakening American supply lines and positions to the south.

American fortifications were built in the Hudson Highlands consisting of Fortress West Point, where the United States Military Academy stands today, Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the West side of what is now the Bear Mountain Bridge, and Fort Constitution on an island opposite West Point. A giant chain was forged at the Sterling Forest Iron Works near Warwick and stretched across the river to keep British ships from moving north up the river.

King George III

A little-known but critical battle was fought at Forts Montgomery and Clinton near present-day Bear Mountain Bridge on October 6, 1777. At a cost of some 70 killed, 40 wounded, and 240 taken prisoners, the Americans exacted a substantial price, killing 40 and wounding 150 of the attackers. Although British forces won the battles of Forts Clinton and Montgomery, they were discouraged from relieving General John Burgoyne’s army trapped north of Albany. General Burgoyne soon surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga, in what was to become the turning point of the war.

In 1779, from his headquarters at Newburgh, Washington ordered General Anthony Wayne to retake Stony Point from the British. In a surprise attack by night, Wayne’s troops overwhelmed the British garrison with a bayonet charge and re-claimed the fortifications there at the entrance to the Hudson Highlands.

One of Washington’s most trusted generals, Benedict Arnold, conspired to turn West Point over to the British in 1780. He gave plans of the fort at West Point to British Major John Andre, who was captured at Tarrytown and hanged at Tappan.

After the British surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, the general once more returned his army to the Hudson to keep pressure on the British in New York City and to await the negotiation of a peace treaty in Paris. He established headquarters north of West Point in Newburgh, where his wife, Martha, joined him. It would be seventeen months before General and Mrs. Washington, or his troops, who were encamped nearby at New Windsor, could go home to enjoy their hard-won peace.

While at Newburgh, Washington awarded the first “Badge of Military Merit,” which later became the Purple Heart given to those wounded and killed in action. He also resisted a suggestion that he allow himself to be crowned king of America and dissuaded some mutinous officers from marching on Congress to demand their back pay.

More Detailed Information

The Strategies
Hudson Valley Timeline
Fortress West Point
Forts Montgomery & Clinton
Benedict Arnold & Major Andre
Battle of Stony Point
Newburgh At the End
Hudson Highlands Itinerary

In 1783, word reached Washington that a preliminary peace treaty had been signed. He soon met at DeWint House in Tappan with the British general, Sir Guy Carleton, to arrange the orderly evacuation of New York City. As Washington boarded Carleton’s ship, anchored near the present day Tappan Zee Bridge, he was greeted with a 17-gun salute, the first official British recognition of American sovereignty.

Late in November, Washington rode south along the Hudson and into Manhattan, cheered by crowds of jubilant New Yorkers, as the last British ships set sail. The Hudson, America’s river, had been well defended and liberty secured.

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