Nighttime Surprise: Bayonet Assault at Stony Point, July 16, 1779

Portrait of Anthony Wayne in military uniform, with his hand on a piece of paper
Anthony Wayne / George Graham / Mezzotint on paper, 1796 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

This post originally appeared JUly 16, 2010

Anthony Wayne was one of those men who truly proved his mettle during wartime.

Among his memorable accomplishments was a victory that resulted from a most severe learning experience. In September 1777, Wayne's troops were bivouacked at Paoli, Pennsylvania, and fell victim to a well-executed nighttime bayonet assault.

In his history of the American Revolution, Patriot Battles, Michael Stephenson writes, “Of Wayne's 1,500 men, 13 percent (200) were killed and another 7 percent (100) wounded. . . . This was a most shocking inversion of the usual ratio of killed to wounded; in most battles it was about three wounded to every man killed.”

This lesson was not lost on Wayne; after suffering the horrors of the attack, he tucked away the strategy and saved it for another day and another place. When he finally brought the tactic out of his playbook it was July 16, 1779; the place was the British fort at Stony Point, New York, on the Hudson River. With stealth, Wayne's men approached the fort, under command to attack with bayonets only. The assault was precise and deadly, beginning in the late hours of July 15; the fort belonged to the Americans by early morning of July 16. Wayne had made up for the tragic duping at Paoli.

Wayne served with distinction in the American Revolution; after Stony Point he participated in the surrender at Yorktown and the removal of the British from Georgia. During George Washington's presidency, Wayne was made commander-in-chief of the new American army, during which tenure he fought and later negotiated peace with Indians of the Northwest Territory. This achievement is signified in Wayne’s portrait by George Graham, in which a peace pipe can be seen in the background; the papers on the table in the foreground are likely intended to be the treaty of peace signed at Fort Greeneville in 1795.


For further reading: Michael Stephenson, Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).