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The Highland Passes of the Hudson-George Clinton
in Command of the Forts—His Measures for Defense-Generals Greene and Knox Examine the State of the Forts — Their Report - The General Command of the Hudson Offered to Arnold-Declined by him-Given to Putnam-Appointment of Dr. Craik in the Medical Department-Expedition Planned against Fort Independence – But Relinquished—Washington Shists his Camp to Middlebrook-State of his Army-General Howe Crosses into the Jerseys—Position of the Two Armies at Middlebrook and behind the Raritan-Correspondence between Washington and Colonel Reed.
HE Highland passes of the Hudson,
always objects of anxious thought to Washington, were especially so at this
juncture. General McDougall still commanded at Peekskill, and General George Clinton, who resided at New Windsor, had command of the Highland forts. The latter, at the earnest request of the New York Con
Defenses of tbe budson
vention, had received from Congress the command of brigadier-general in the Continental army. “My precarious state of health and want of military knowledge,''writes he," would have rather induced me to have led a more retired life than that of the army, had I been consulted on the occasion ; but as, early in the present contest, I laid it down as a maxim not to refuse my best, though poor services, to my country in any way they should think proper to employ me, I cannot refuse the honor done
the present appointment.”* He was perfectly sincere in what he said. George Clinton was one of the soldiers of the Revolution who served from a sense of duty, not from military inclination or a thirst for glory. A long career of public service in various capacities illustrated his modest worth and devoted patriotism.
When the “unhappy affair of Peekskill” had alarmed the Convention of New York for the safety of the forts on the Highlands, Clinton, authorized by that body, had ordered out part of the militia of Orange, Dutchess, and Westchester counties, without waiting for Washington's approbation of the measure. He had strengthened, also, with anchors and cables, the chain drawn across the river at Fort Montgomery. “Had the Convention suffered me to have paid my whole attention to this business,
* Clinton to Washington.
” writes he to Washington (18th April), “it would have been nearly completed by this time.”
A few days later came word that several transports were anchored at Dobbs Ferry in the Tappan Sea. It might be intended to divert attention from a movement towards the Delaware ; or to make incursions into the country back of Morristown, seize on the passes through the mountains, and cut off the communication between the army and the Hudson. To frustrate such a design, Washington ordered Clinton to post as good a number of troops from his garrison as he could spare, on the mountains west of the river.
In the month of May, he writes to General McDougall : “The imperfect state of the fortifications of Fort Montgomery gives me great uneasiness, because I think, from a concurrence of circumstances, that it begins to look as if the enemy intended to turn their view towards the North River instead of the Delaware. I therefore desire that General George Clinton and yourself will fall upon every measure to put the fortifications in such a state that they may at least resist a sudden attack, and keep the enemy employed till reinGreene Ordered to the bigblands
forcements may arrive. If the North River is their object, they cannot accomplish it unless they withdraw their forces from the Jerseys, and that they cannot do unknown to us.”
On the 12th of May, General Greene received instructions from Washington to proceed to the Highlands, and examine the state and condition of the forts, especially Fort Montgomery : the probability of an attack by water, the practicability of an approach by land; where and how this could be effected, and the eminences whence the forts could be annoyed. This done, and the opinions of the general officers present having been consulted, he was to give such orders and make such disposition of the troops as might appear necessary for the greater security of the passes by land and water. When reconnoitering the Highlands in the preceding year, Washington had remarked a wild and rugged pass on the western side of the Hudson round Bull Hill, a rocky, forest-clad mountain, forming an advance rampart at the entrance to Peekskill Bay. This pass,” he observed, " should also be attended to, lest the enemy by a coup de main should possess themselves of it, before a sufficient force could be assembled to oppose them.” Subsequent events will illustrate, though unfortunately, the sagacity and foresight of this particular instruction.
General Knox was associated with General Greene in this visit of inspection. They examined the river and the passes of the Highlands in company with Generals McDougall, George Clinton, and Anthony Wayne. The latter, recently promoted to the rank of brigadier, had just returned from Ticonderoga. The five generals made a joint report to Washington, in which they recommended the completion of the obstructions in the river already commenced. These consisted of a boom, or heavy iron chain, across the river from Fort Montgomery to Anthony's Nose, with cables stretched in front to break the force of any ship under way, before she could strike it. The boom was to be protected by the guns of two ships and two row galleys stationed just above it, and by batteries on shore. This, it was deemed, would be sufficient to prevent the enemy's ships from ascending the river. If these obstructions could be rendered effective, they did not think the enemy would attempt to operate by land, "the passes through the Highlands being so exceedingly difficult."
The general command of the Hudson, from the number of troops to be assembled there, and the variety of points to be guarded, was one of the most important in the service, and required an officer of consummate energy, ac