Friday, July 25, 2014

Studying the American Revolution in New Jersey

On our recent trip to New York City, I wanted to sneak a little history in.  Since the kids had recently been reviewing the American Revolution and New York/New Jersey is full of Revolutionary War history I began searching.  Turns out just down the road from our hotel was the historic Fort Lee in Edgewater, NJ along the Hudson River just before the George Washington Bridge..

Originally named Fort Constitution, General Washington ordered General Mercer to use all available troops to erect a fort on the West side of the Hudson River.  It started in July 1776.  A second fort was being built directly across the river, named Fort Washington.

These twin forts were intended to protect the lower Hudson from British warships. At first efforts were concentrated close to the water level near Burditt's Landing.  Later, fortifications were added atop the bluff under the supervision of Joseph Philips, Battalion Commander of the New Jersey State Militia.  The Bourdette's ferry service was taken over by the Army, and Peter Bourdette was forced to vacate his house; although as a patriot he considered it no sacrifice and offered the work of his slaves to General Mercer's construction efforts.  At the end of September 1776, Fort Constitution was renamed Fort Lee, for General Charles Lee of the Continental Army.  George Washington used the stone Bourdette house for his headquarters when he passed time at Fort Lee. At this stage of the war the ferry operated as a supply line and the only link between Forts Lee and Washington.
The Battle of Fort Lee on November 20, 1776 marked the successful invasion of New Jersey by British and Hessian forces and the subsequent general retreat of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Peter Bourdette's sixteen year-old son, also named Peter, provided assistance by direct use of the landing. During the week leading up to the evacuation of Fort Lee he rowed back and forth across the river gathering information for General Washington on the anticipated movements of the British forces. Well after dark on the night before the battle for New York at Fort Washington, George Washington was rowed from Burdett's Landing to the middle of the Hudson River for a strategy session with his senior officers in charge of New York, who rowed to meet him.  On November 16, 1776 George Washington witnessed the battle for New York from across the river on the bluff of Fort Lee, above Burdett's Landing.
Fort Lee was rendered defenseless after Continental Army troops holding Fort Washington were defeated and captured on November 16, 1776. The Royal Navy controlled the Hudson River. General William Howe ordered Charles Cornwallis to "clear the rebel troops from New Jersey without a major engagement, and to do it quickly before the weather changed."  The force included Hessian units commanded by Colonel Carl von Donop. The invasion of New Jersey began the night of November 19–20, when 5,000 British troops ferried across the Hudson on barges and began landing near New Dock Landing (present-day Alpine). George Washington and Nathanael Greene quickly ordered the evacuation of the fort on the morning of November 20, 1776.
The soldiers then began a hasty retreat west, crossing the Hackensack River at New Bridge Landing. It was during Washington's retreat (beginning along a road which is now Main Street) that Thomas Paine composed his pamphlet, "The American Crisis", which began with the recognized phrase, "These are the times that try men's souls".
I was expecting an actual fort to be standing on the grounds.  But it turns out, even a replica fort was not in the works because the original location is now a parking garage and a road.  So instead they have replicas set up around this park to show a little of what life was like at this fort.

There is a nice little museum that not only talks about this Fort, but also artifacts and information about the Revolutionary War.

Exhibit on clothing worn at that time.

Medical practices

Use of rose water.

Tools and Livery items
Flags from American History

Soldiers uniforms
Information on rations that were given when the men could get regular rations.
Items that were recovered from the area.

Learning about the battle layout
Housing layout

Actual artifacts from this site.

Walking along the Hudson River and seeing where the barricade walls were put up.
Ammunition storage.
Looking over the battery wall.

Soldier housing

Garden style the troops used for food.

The museum was very interesting.  The site, a bit of a disappointment to us.  I would definitely recommend a visit if you have not done a tour of a Revolutionary War area before.  We did learn a lot from the Museum.

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