Fort Montgomery reenacts bloody 1777 battle this Saturday

During the Revolutionary War, both sides knew that whoever controlled navigation on the Hudson River controlled the outcome of the conflict. To prevent British naval vessels from sailing further upriver on the Hudson with men and supplies, the Americans placed obstacles across it: first a chevaux-de-frise (an arrangement of logs sunk underwater), intended to sink British ships, and then a giant chain stretched across the Hudson River, its western end guarded by the strategically located Fort Montgomery.

On October 6, 1777, in a furious battle for control of the river, British, Loyalist American and Hessian forces attacked Fort Montgomery and nearby Fort Clinton. The defending American patriots were outnumbered three-to-one, but fought bravely until more than half of them were killed, wounded or captured. By the time the battle was over, the assaulting forces had dismantled the chain across the Hudson. (The later Great Chain at West Point had a more successful ending.)

Although the battle at Forts Montgomery and Clinton was considered a loss for American forces, it did delay the British from sailing up the Hudson River in time to relieve general John Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga, where, without reinforcements, he was forced to surrender ten days later.

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The battle at Forts Montgomery and Clinton will be commemorated 235 years later (to the day) this Saturday, October 6 on Twin Forts Day at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site. Reenactors will portray the American Continentals and militia as well as the British, their German allies and the Loyalist Americans. A full day of events at the site will allow the visitor to experience living history, culminating in seeing the reenactment of the desperate battle on the actual battlefield of Fort Montgomery.

The reenactors will camp on the 14-acre grounds overnight, waking in character within the ruins of the Fort. According to Peter Cutul, who puts together the interpretive programming at the site, a large turnout of reenactors from several regiments in the region is expected. The reenactors will be spread throughout the Fort during the day, divided into American, British and ally camps, and each individual regiment will conduct living history demonstrations, providing visitors a sense of what it was like to cook in the Fort, or do guard duty. At 4 p.m., all the regiments will come together to reenact the brutal battle.

The camps will open at 10 a.m. with military drills that will continue throughout the day, along with military music demonstrations and artillery firings, including some from “George,” the Fort’s 32-pound cannon. A guided tour begins at the museum at 11 a.m., followed by children’s musket drill at noon (and again at 2 p.m.). Cutul says that the children’s drill will involve a costumed interpreter showing kids the basic commands that a Revolutionary war soldier had to learn, including how to march, and how to handle the loading and firing of a wooden musket.

Visitors can see stone foundations of barracks and the eroded walls of the North Redoubt, where the outnumbered American patriots defended their fort. The museum on-site showcases original artifacts and weapons that were dug up from the ruins at Fort Montgomery, as well as large-scale models of the Fort and the attack. Many of the artifacts dug up at Fort Montgomery reveal the everyday details of life: small shards of pottery or utilitarian objects. Perhaps the most poignant of these is a small silver-and-enameled button that reads “Liberty.” This tiny token of a real person’s life – perhaps torn off a uniform sleeve in battle, or maybe its threads just loosened during a routine, everyday task – is a touching reminder of why these men were at the Fort in the first place, and of the price that they paid for it.

The only remnant of Fort Clinton today is the ruins of the outer redoubt where the Trailside Museum and Bear Mountain Zoo are now located, says Cutul. A half-mile hiking trail from Fort Montgomery will take the interested visitor to a suspension footbridge that crosses the Popolopen Creek, where in 1777 a pontoon bridge connected Fort Montgomery with Fort Clinton. Interpretive signs now mark the site.

Food and beverages will be available on Twin Forts Day for purchase from a vendor. Admission to the event is free, but donations are suggested and appreciated. Although the site has limited parking available, the lot will fill quickly, and visitors are advised to follow signs on Route 9W to the nearby off-site parking lot a quarter-mile north, where a shuttle bus will transport visitors back and forth throughout the day. A shuttle will also be available to make pickups in the town of Fort Montgomery and at Bear Mountain as well, although details weren’t confirmed as of presstime. For more information, call (845) 446-2134, or visit the websites listed below.

Twin Forts Day at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site will take place on Saturday, October 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The reenactment of the battle will begin at 4 p.m. The Fort is located at 690 Route 9W in Fort Montgomery, just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Admission to Twin Forts Day is free, but donations are suggested. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Parking is available at nearby off-site parking with shuttle buses providing transport. Signs on Route 9W mark the way. For more information, call (845) 446-2134 or visit www.palisadesparksconservancy.org/historic/18 or www.nysparks.com/historic-sites/28/details.aspx.

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