The Battle of Fort Slongo
The Battle of Fort Slongo
During the American Revolution fighting-whaleboat raids launched from Connecticut against British military occupied Long Island and its Loyalist conspirators necessarily inspired coastal Forts Franklin, Setauket, St. George, Sag Harbor, and Slongo.
At Treadwell’s (or Threadwell’s) Neck on the north shore of the island in the contentious Long Island Sound, near Northport/Smithtown, a party of 150 Tory wood-cutters erected a frontier British military outpost on relatively steeply-sloped high ground around 1778. Called Fort Slongo, this was a stockaded redoubt concentrically composed of a blockhouse in the middle of a 50-foot square raised embankment behind a ditch-protected gun-mounting seven-foot wall of sharpened logs set perpendicularly into the ground and filled between with earth. All this was positioned in a larger clearing with some huts themselves surrounded by abattis, 18th C. wooden barbed-wire. It had a typical compliment of 80 - 140 men and was also a rallying point for the brutally oppressive Patriot-raiding Redcoats and Loyalists.
By October in 1781 General Sir Henry Clinton, just west in New York City, would be considering sending troops to relieve the siege of General Lord Cornwallis’ southern army at Yorktown, Virginia, by General George Washington’s Continental Army with our French allies. Yet, there were other reasons local pressure was unrelenting…
The famous Major Benjamin Tallmadge's spies continually reported upon British activity. He got the plans of the fort, including customary guards’ positioning, and eventually decided to take Ft. Slongo partly as retaliation to turncoat Benedict Arnold’s sacking of New London and Groton, including the massacre at hard-fought Fort Griswold, on the opposite shore in Connecticut. On the night of 2 October, 1781, under the tactical command of Major Lemuel Trescott, he embarked 50 dismounted troopers from his 2nd Continental Dragoons and as many men under Captain Richard and his company from the 5th Connecticut Infantry Regiment in whaleboats. Dragoon Sergeant Elijah Churchill was the ranking Non-Commissioned Officer. At about 9:00 PM they sailed south from Compo Point at the mouth of the Saugatuck River in Westport where the British had landed their Connecticut invasion force in 1777. The Americans landed their vessels in the early morning somewhere near Crab Meadow (possibly by Nathaniel Skidmore’s farm but possibly closer to Callahan Beach). Hiking through a ravine they assailed the fort before first light.
Tallmadge had expected his force to have to lure the enemy from their fortified position thru a diversionary tactic but Sgt. Churchill led a brave frontal assault. The attacking Patriots hit the fort with such shock that, regardless of some resistance, it fell within minutes. Four of the enemy were killed or mortally wounded before the garrison surrendered. Many of these Loyalists had apparently been at the local inn “carousing” the prior night and most got away in the darkness despite plans to cut off their escape. Trescott was victorious with no soldiers killed and only one wounded: bold Sgt. Churchill. None other than Washington himself, who later awarded Churchill the first Badge of Military Merit (the precursor to the Medal of Honor that devolved into today’s Purple Heart), said of him he “acted… a very conspicuous and singularly meritorious part; that at the head of… [the] …attack he not only acquitted himself with great gallantry, firmness, and address; but that the… success of the attack… proceeded in a considerable degree from his conduct and management..."
The block-house and two iron four-pounder cannon, that had an effective range of about 1,000 yards, were destroyed. 21 prisoners, a bronze three-pounder, 70 stand of arms, a fair amount of ammunition, clothes, and the fort’s colors were captured and taken back across The Sound by dawn.
Until recently there was a state sign at the intersection of route 25A & Bread and Cheese Hollow Rd. in the village now named Fort Salonga that read:
ONE MILE NORTH ON OCT. 3,
1781, MAJOR TRESCOTT AND A
FORCE FROM CONNECTICUT TOOK
BRITISH GARRISON AND LARGE
QUANTITIES OF PROVISIONS
What remains of the fort and battle are a two-foot high elevated square in the yard of a nice suburban home, some remembrances, and our independence…
...presuming we vote right in November.
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