Two-hundred and thirty-six years ago, on June 16, 1779, American troops under General “Mad Anthony” Wayne captured Stony Point, New York, with the British losing more than 600 captured or killed.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1745, Wayne was educated as a surveyor, served in the state legislature from 1774–1780, and adopted a military career at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. His fiery personality earned him the nickname of “Mad Anthony.”
He raised a militia unit in 1775 and became a colonel in the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment in 1776, participating in the unsuccessful invasion of Canada, where he aided Benedict Arnold. He led a successful rear-guard action at the Battle of Trois-Rivieres and then the distressed forces at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York.
He was promoted to brigadier general in 1777, and later commanded the Pennsylvania Line at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown. After winter quarters at Valley Forge, he led the attack at the Battle of Monmouth, where his troops were pinned down by the British. But he held out until reinforcements were sent by General George Washington.
The highlight of Wayne’s military career was his victory at Stony Point, New York. In July 1779, Washington appointed him to command the Corps of Light Infantry, a temporary unit of four regimental companies from all the regiments in the Army.
On July 16, 1779, in a bayonet night attack that lasted 30 minutes, three columns of light infantry, with the main charge led by Wayne, stormed British fortifications at Stony Point, a cliffside redoubt commanding the Hudson River.
Wayne’s success provided a boost to the Army’s morale. Congress awarded him a medal for the victory and, in Virginia, he went on to earn a reputation as a bold commander, leading Lafayette’s advance forces in a bayonet charge against the British after stepping into a trap set by General Cornwallis.
After the British surrendered at Yorktown he went further south and severed the British alliance with the Indian tribes in Georgia. He then negotiated peace treaties with the Creek and Cherokee tribes, for which Georgia gave him a large rice plantation. Wayne was promoted to major general in 1783.
He moved to Georgia and was a delegate to the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1788. He served a year in Congress as a U.S. Representative of Georgia in 1791, but lost his seat during a debate over his residency qualifications and declined to run for re-election.
Wayne died of complications from gout in 1796. Legend has it that many bones were lost along the road that encompasses much of modern U.S. Route 322, and that every January 1, Wayne’s birthday, his ghost wanders the highway in search of his lost bones.