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1779

Anthony Wayne launches risky attack against British forces

On this day in 1779, American Brigadier General Anthony Wayne launches a coup de main against British fortifications at Stony Point, New York, on the orders of General George Washington. He earns the moniker “Mad” Anthony Wayne for the ensuing maneuver.

The British fort on the cliffs at Stony Point overlooking the Hudson River threatened West Point, which was only 12 miles upriver. Wayne, at the head of 1,200 light infantry, successfully assaulted what the British believed was an impregnable position, losing only 15 killed and 83 wounded while the British lost 94 killed and wounded and 472 captured. Remarkably, the attack took place under cover of darkness, employed only bayonets as weaponry and lasted a mere 30 minutes. Two days later, Wayne, now dubbed “mad” for his enthusiastic and successful undertaking of a mission that had seemed doomed to failure, destroyed the fortifications and evacuated the area. Congress rewarded Wayne’s efforts with a medal.

Much of Wayne’s ensuing career involved divesting Native Americans of their land. Following the victory at Yorktown, Wayne traveled to Georgia, where he negotiated treaties with the Creeks and Cherokees. They paid dearly in land for their decision to side with the British, and Georgia paid Wayne in land—giving him a large plantation—for his efforts on their behalf. In 1794, President George Washington called upon Wayne to bring the ongoing violence with British-backed Indians in the Northwest Territory to a close. Wayne was victorious at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near what is now Toledo, Ohio, and gained much of what would become Ohio and Indiana for the U.S. in the Treaty of Greenville.

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