Friday, November 23, 2012

B.A.R. Fort Lee Retreat to Victory!

Good day everyone!

Well now that Thanksgiving is over I figured I’d give my AAR of the recent Fort Lee Retreat to Victory! 

Even though we are a New York Regiment, I am one of the few members who reside in New Jersey.  I often worked in Fort Lee as a contractor in my college years but never knew the story of what took place here.  This small city on the heights above the Hudson River tells a bigger story than just urban sprawl.  It was here that the great retreat started across New Jersey that eventually led to the banks of the Delaware River and Washington’s crossing.    
Fort Lee was designed to defend the Hudson River from British use by creating a field of cannon fire from above.  Together with Fort Washington on the Manhattan side, the American’s goal was to stop any British ships from heading north.  This was a sound plan until things began to deteriorate for the Americans.  Repeated losses at in New York caused the evacuation of most of the troops with only Fort Washington remaining.  The hope was that this fort would be able to withstand attacks and continue to serve its Hudson protecting service.

HMS Phoenix, Roebuck and Tartar, accompanied by two smaller vessels, forcing their way through a cheval-de-frise on the Hudson River with the Forts Washington and Lee and several batteries on both sides. The painting is a copy by Thomas Mitchell after the original rendering of the subject, a scene from the American Revolutionary War, by Dominic Serres the Elder.

On November 16, 1776 Fort Washington fell with most of its garrison captured. This was a major blow to the American cause as it rendered Fort Lee rather defenseless.    Three days later on the 19th of November, Washington evacuates Fort Lee as the British land roughly 5,000 troops nearby.  And so begins the famous chase across New Jersey.  We will see how that ends!
I showed up to Fort Lee Historic Park and met with other members of the 5th New York.  We ran into many friends that day from the other Regiments, some even as far away as Rhode Island!  We were there, the 2nd NY, the 3rd New Jersey, the RI boys, the 4th Battalion NJ Volunteers, I want to say the 22nd Regiment  Of foot?  Buff facings on red coats.  I also want to say Butler’s rangers as well as a handful of other Loyalists. There were also a few members of what looked like the 23rd Welch Fusiliers and even some Hessians!  Always a pleasure to see the Hessians.   

Photo by Gary Vorwald

We talked with the public all day and did musket firing demonstrations and drills. A beautiful museum complemented the grounds.  Inside the visitor’s center were demonstrations and tables set up representing all walks of life during the revolutionary war.  Even George Washington’s map makers were there showing their skills in fine form.  Lamb’s Artillery was on hand and fired a 3 pounder, an 8 inch mortar, an 18 pounder, and 32 pounder cannons!   It was an excellent demonstration.  Mott’s Artillery repeated the firing the next day.  It is always a good show by the artilleryman.

By noon all of the regiments, Crown and Rebel alike, gathered and proceeded to march to the memorial in Fort Lee.  Dignitaries gave speeches and we all let off a massive brigade volley under B.A.R. commander Mark Hurwitz.  It was a spectacular volley!   Upon completion of ceremonies we had cider and donuts and headed back to the Historic Park for battle preparations!
As the bell chimed 3 o’clock the Americans formed up and decided it would behoove us to recapture our blockhouse from those pesky Brits and Tories.  Onward!
We advanced in line and at first a company of Loyalists came to meet us. Skirmishers were sent out on both sides as the general advance took place.  Shots fired and eventually when in range the Companies began volley fire.   Firing by sections gave a great show to the audience as the battle progressed and even with British reinforcements the Americans pushed them back into the blockhouse.   It was here they shut themselves in and we surrounded the building awaiting their surrender.

Photo by Gary Vorwald

The problem arose when they refused!   Luckily a soldier produced a grenade in an attempt to bust them out of the blockhouse!  Unfortunately for the Americans they also were waiting with a bucket of water and spilled it out on our grenadier!   A tough nut to crack!  With some cunning thought, an American solider placed his hat on a stick and stuck it towards the window in an attempt to distract the green coats while we infiltrated the bottom floor. 

Photo by Gary Vorwald

It was at this point I was shot in the shoulder and put out of commission! I do not know the outcome but was dragged away by another member of my regiment.
Sunday was smaller than Saturday but the 5th had a good turnout and Mott’s artillery stole the show with their cannonade.
Overall the event was a smashing success and a blast for the public and reenactors alike.  This B.A.R. event was my first time here and most certainly won’t be my last!  The 5th New York Regiment would like to thank all of the other Regiments and groups that attended this fine event and the B.A.R. for a stellar day!

Courtesy of the Fort Lee Historical Society

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