From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
October 6. –This day the fortresses Clinton and Montgomery, on the North River, in New York, fell into the hands of the British, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton. A gentleman who was in Fort Montgomery when it was taken, gives the following particulars of the event: –On Saturday night, we had advice that a large number of ships, brigs, armed vessels, &c., had arrived at Tarrytown, where they had landed a considerable body of men, supposed to be about one thousand, and had advanced towards the plains. Colonel Lutlington being posted there with about five hundred militia, they sent in a flag to him requiring him to lay down his arms and surrender himself and men prisoners of war. Whilst he was parleying with the flag they endeavored to surround him, which he perceiving, ordered his men to retreat. The British then returned to their shipping, and the next morning we had advice of their being under sail, and coming up as far as King’s Ferry. In the afternoon they landed a large body of men on the east side of the river to draw our attention that way, but they re-embarked in the night and next morning landed on the west side.
On Sunday night his Excellency Governor Clinton, who then commanded at Fort Montgomery, sent out a party of one hundred men, under the command of Major Logan, across the Dunderburg, to watch the motions of the enemy. This party returned in the morning, and reported they had seen about forty boats full of men land below the Dunderburg. The governor sent out another small party of about twenty-eight men, under the command of Lieutenant Jackson. On the road that leads to Haverstraw, two or three miles below Fort Clinton, they fell in with a concealed part of the enemy, who ordered them to club their muskets, and surrender themselves prisoners. They made no answer, but fired on the enemy and hastily retreated. They returned the fire and pursued our people half a mile, but they all got back to the fort without losing a man, though within five rods of the enemy before they were discovered. Upon this intelligence one hundred men were immediately sent off, under Colonel Brown, who fell in with the enemy about two o’clock in the afternoon, when a smart engagement ensued, but the enemy being of much superior force, our people were forced to retreat.
At the same time it was thought proper to send some of the artillery, with a field-piece, to occupy an eminence commanding the road that leads to Orange Furnace, with a party of men to defend it. They were attacked soon after, and our field-piece did great execution; but it soon bursting, our men retreated, and an engagement of small arms was kept up a good while. Most of our men got within the breastworks, when the attack became general on both forts. At the same time the enemy’s shipping came in sight, but the wind being light, and the tide against them, none of the vessels could come up, except the galleys and armed sloops, which fired upon us, but did no execution; we, in return, fired upon them, and believe did them some damage.
The enemy continued a vigorous and incessant attack upon the forts; but notwithstanding their utmost efforts, they were many times repulsed and beaten back from our breastworks with great slaughter. But the smallness of our numbers, (being in both forts but about five hundred,) which required every man to be upon continual duty, and obliged him to unremitted exertions, fatigued our people greatly; while the enemy, whose number was supposed to be at least four thousand, continued to press us with fresh troops.
About four o’clock they sent in a flag, demanding in five minutes a surrender of the forts; and ourselves prisoners of war; or that they would put us all to the sword. An answer was returned by Colonel Livingston, acquainting them that we were determined to defend the forts to the last extremity. The action was renewed with fresh vigor on both sides, and continued till the dusk of the evening, when they stormed our upper redoubt, which commanded the fort, which after a severe struggle, and overpowering us with numbers, they got possession of; and we were obliged to give way. At the same time they stormed and got possession of Fort Clinton, in which were none but militia, who nobly defended it, till they, like the garrison at Fort Montgomery, were obliged to give way to superior force.
The darkness of the evening much favored the escape of our people, the greatest part of whom, with almost all the officers, by some means or other got off, and joined our army, or returned to their places of residence. How those who were so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the enemy, were treated by them, we have not heard, but have reason to think it was with a cruelty suitable to the wickedness of the cause in which the British are engaged.1
1 New York Journal, May 11, 1778. Gaine, in his paper of the 11th of October, gives the following account sent by an officer in the British army: –I have now the pleasure to felicitate you on our taking the forts Montgomery and Clinton by storm. It was effected last night. The garrisons in both places consisted of twelve hundred rebels. Of our detachment, we lost Mungo Campbell, Lieutenant Colonel of the 52d, and Major Sill of the 63d. Major Grant, of the New York Volunteers, was killed a little before the attack, which was commanded by Colonel Mungo Campbell. My old acquaintance, George Turnbull, late captain in the Royal American Regiment, was ordered to take the command of Grant’s corps. He has acquired great honor, being the first that entered Fort Montgomery, after losing one officer and eight privates. Sir Henry Clinton, who himself narrowly escaped the enemy’s grape-shot, in consideration of his very gallant behavior, has appointed him Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant of the New York Volunteers, in the room of the brave Major Grant. The gallant Count Gabrouski,* lately arrived from England, has died of his wounds. Amongst the prisoners is Colonel William Allison, of the Drowned Lands, whose son was killed in the fort. This person is a member of the provincial congress for the State (as it is termed) of New York. Also young William Livingston, late of New York, in the profession of the law. A great part of the twelve hundred rebels, who garrisoned the forts Montgomery and Clinton, or were not killed or prisoners, made their escape, as it was very dark when the forts were taken. The forbearance and humanity shown by all the troops to the rebels after they became their conquerors, was astonishing; and savored of that benign temper which ever characterizes the army of Great Britain.
* This was a Polish nobleman, who entered the British service as a volunteer.