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The Battle of Paulus Hook

August 19, 1779 in Weehawken, New Jersey

American Forces Commanded by
Maj. Henry Lee
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
300 2 3 7
British Forces Commanded by
Maj. William Sutherland
Strength Killed & Wounded Missing / Captured
250 50 158 captured +
7 to 9 officers
Conclusion: American Victory

Paulus Hook was a fortification held by the British at what is now Jersey City, where the old canal entered the Hudson, just north of Ellis Island. It has since been backfilled and developed. Originally a small peninsula surrounded by marsh, it connected the mainland by a causeway, and was the main landing point before the war for travelers going into Bergen County from New York City. The British Navy protected it and its position did not allow the Americans to try and hold it before the British arrival. The causeway could be crossed only at low tide. Paulus Hook became a thorn in the side of the Whigs of the Hackensack Valley. Constantly, Loyalist patrolled and raided into Bergen County, pillaging, foraging and capturing people.

Finally, in 1779, Maj. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, who lead a corps of light dragoons, decided to capture it, following the success of the capture of Stony Point, in New York just below West Point, which had been taken by the British. Lee had a minor part in that assault. In August, Lee gathered intelligence from the local militia about Paulus Hook, and sent Capt. Allen McLane to reconnoiter the area. It was necessary to make a night assault during low tide. Timing was critical.

On August 8, at 4:00 P.M., Lee, with 400 infantry and a troop of dismounted dragoons started from New Bridge (Hackensack), on a march of 14 miles through the woods to make an attack upon the fort at Paulus Hook. He detached patrols of horse to watch the communication with the North River and stationed parties of infantry at different roads leading to Paulus Hook. At Union Hill, he filed into the woods where by the guide's timidity, or treachery, the march was prolonged to 3 hours before gaining the right road. The same night Col. Van Boskirk left Paulus Hook with a force of 130 men to make a raid upon the English neighborhood. Fortunately, the two parties did not meet.

On August 19, Lee and his men reached Prior's Mill at 3:00 A.M. At 3:30 A.M., they reached the ditch at the intersection of Newark avenue and Warren street. The tide was rising, but Lt. ?? Rudolph found the canal fordable. Led by Lt. ?? McCallister and Rudolph, the troops pushed through and soon gained possession of the outer fort. Maj. Sutherland, who was in command of the fort, retired into a small redoubt with a few officers and 40 Hessians. It was nearly daylight and Lee had no time to dislodge them. He had intended to burn the barracks, but on finding sick soldiers, women and children in them he refrained. He retreated, carrying with him 159 prisoners, officers and men he lost 2 men killed, and had 3 men wounded.

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Capt. ?? Forsyth was ordered to Prior's Mill to collect such men as were most fit for action and take a position on Bergen Heights to cover the retreat. This position was in the woods near Bergen and Sip Avenues, said to be about the site occupied by Dr. Hornblower's house.Hornblower's grandmother was then a little girl, Anna Merselis, and that morning in looking for a cow, she came upon Lee's soldiers, who detained her while they waited, to prevent her carrying any report of their presence to possible enemies. The troops remained there until messengers had been sent to ascertain if the boats that Lee had arranged to have in waiting for him at Dow's Ferry were there. He had intended to cross the Hackensack and by the Belleville Turnpike reach the high ground east of the Passaic, and thus return to New Bridge; but the boats had been removed to Newark, and Lee with ruined ammunition and tired men, encumbered with prisoners, was obliged to return by a route liable to be interrupted by troops from New York.

With undaunted courage and wise precautions the brave troops started on the return march of 14 miles to New Bridge; at "Weehock" Capt. ?? Catlett came up with 50 men and good ammunition. At Fort Lee road, Col. ?? Ball met him with 200 fresh men, and Lee and his men safely reached New Bridge about 1:00 P.M. The English were greatly annoyed and the Americans exceedingly jubilant over the affair.

In a letter to Congress Gen. George Washington said: "The Major displayed a remarkable degree of prudence, address and bravery upon this occasion, which does the highest honor to himself and to all the officers and men under his command. The situation of the fort rendered the attempt critical and the success brilliant."

On September 24, Congress passed the following resolutions respecting the affair: "Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to His Excellency Gen. Washington for ordering with so much wisdom, the late' attack on the enemy's fort and work at Powles Hook. " Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to Maj. Gen. Lord Stirling for the judicious. measures taken by him to forward the enterprise and to secure the retreat of the party.

"Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to Maj. Lee for the remarkable prudence, address and bravery displayed by him on the occasion; and that they approve the humanity shown in circumstances prompting to severity as honorable to the arms of the United States, and correspondent to the noble principles on which they were assumed.

"Resolved, That Congress entertain a high sense of the discipline, fortitude, and spirit manifested by the officers and soldiers under the command of Maj. Lee in the march, action and retreat, and while with singular satisfaction they acknowledge the merit of these gallant Men, they feel an additional pleasure of considering them a part of an army in which very many brave officers and soldiers have proved, by their cheerful performance of every duty under every difficulty, that they ardently wish to give the truly glorious examples they now receive.

"Resolved, That Congress justly appreciates the military caution so happily combined with daring activity by Lts. McCollister and Rudolph in leading on theforlorn hope.

"Resolved, That a medal of gold emblematical of this affair be struck, under the direction of the Board of Treasury, and presented to Maj. Lee.

"Resolved, That the brevet and the pay and subsistence of Captain be given to Lts. McCallister and Rudolph respectively."

Congress also placed in the' hands of Lee $15,000 to be distributed among the soldiers engaged in the attack. On one side of the medal awarded to Lee is a bust of the hero, with the words "Henrico Lee, Legionis Equit Praefecto" Comitia Americana. The American Congress to Henry Lee, Colonel of Cavalry." On the reverse, "Non Obstantib fluminibus vallis astutia et virtute bellica parva manu hostes vicit victosq armis humanitate devinxit. In mem. pugn. ad Paulus Hook, die XIX August, 1779." "Notwithstanding rivers and entrenchments, he with a small band conquered the foe by warlike skill and prowess and firmly bound by his humanity those who had been conquered by his arms. In memory of the conflict at Paulus Hook, nineteenth of August, 1779."

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