Facing a surprise British counterassault in the bitter cold and with a snowstorm approaching, American commander Major General William Heath and his army of 6,000 abandon their siege on Fort Independence, in Bronx County, New York, on this day in 1777.
Acting on orders from General George Washington, General Heath and his men had begun their assault on Fort Independence 11 days earlier on January 18, 1777. General Washington, who was under British attack in nearby New Jersey, believed that a successful assault on Fort Independence would force the British to divert troops from New Jersey to defend the outpost, located just outside British-controlled Manhattan between the Post Roads to Boston and Albany.
On January 25, a torrential rainstorm overflowed the Bronx River and muddied the battlefield, making troop movement nearly impossible for the Patriots. A British counterassault and the pending snowstorm forced General Heath to admit defeat, and he ordered his troops to retreat on January 29, 1777.
Fort Independence was first built by the Patriots in 1776 and then burned by them as they retreated from New York City. The British partially rebuilt the fort when they took control later in the year. The fort endured the Patriots’ attack in 1777, but was destroyed again as the British left in 1779 . The city park that now exists on the site memorializes the fort on its front gates, as well as in its name.
Also on this day in 1777, Washington placed Major General Israel Putnam in command of all Patriot troops in New York, charging them with defense of the city and its water routes.