[August 19, 2016] I stood on the grounds of one of the many battlefields of the American Revolutionary War just yesterday and not knowing it until a friend told me. I was at Liberty State Park (east of lower Manhattan across the Hudson River) in Jersey City at the site of the Raid at Paulus Hook. Honestly, I’d never heard of it despite having studied some of the battles of the war.
Being at a historical site did provide me the motivation to study up on it a little on the battle and several things jumped out as important. The raid consisted of a small contingent of 300 men led by Major Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee (by the way, who gives these guys such nicknames?). If something could go wrong on the raid, it mostly did; the timing was off and they started late, half of the men got lost along the march, and the pontoon boats supporting his escape departed without his raiding force.
Through luck – we sometimes call it the fog of war – the British troops mistook the Patriots for their Hessian mercenaries until they reached the fort’s gate. Fortunate for Lee his men were able to overpower the British soldiers but failed to sufficiently destroy the structure or the cannons because daylight was approaching. The fort remained in British hands until the end of the war.
There were a number of outcomes that affected the new United States, its war with the British Empire, and later the U.S. Civil War. The northern New Jersey shore area across from what is present day Manhattan was the scene of constant skirmishes and major battles.
- It raised the hopes of Patriots because it was a success and strengthened their resolve when things weren’t going that well.
- Major Lee was charged with “reckless endangerment” of his men leading to a court martial. He was not only exonerated but awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.
- The Raid at Paulus Hook and other forts in the area convinced British General Sir Henry Clinton, commander of British forces, to abandon all hope of destroying the Patriots around New York.
- Lee had nine children, one was Robert E. Lee who would become the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the U.S. Civil War.
The raid at Paulus Hook was certainly a daring raid requiring great junior leadership, bravery, and élan. Major Lee made it all come together and successfully carried out the raid despite all the obstacles. Today, we honor those who fought at Paulus Hook, New Jersey during the American Revolution.
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