Congress Rewarded a Revolutionary War Engineer for His Role in Taking Stony Point in July 1779
The British captured Stony Point, New York, on the western side of the Hudson River, and Verplanck’s Point directly across the river to the east on 1 June 1779. Possession of the forts brought a key part of the river under enemy control and threatened the American position less than 15 miles to the north at West Point. After reinforcing Stony Point, the British commander regarded it as a "little Gibraltar."
Recognizing the danger, General George Washington planned a daring surprise assault. On the night of 15-16 July, Lt. Col. Francois de Fleury, an Engineer in command of a battalion in the 1st Regiment of BG Anthony Wayne’s Corps of Light Infantry, led one of two simultaneous attacks on Stony Point. In the hour after midnight, the 29-year-old de Fleury single-handedly struck the colors of the British 17th Regiment of Foot. Invaders and defenders engaged in furious hand-to-hand combat. The whole encounter was brief. At two in the morning, General Wayne triumphantly wrote Washington: "The fort and garrison . . . are ours. Our officers and men behaved like men who are determined to be free."
Washington abandoned the fort a few days later for lack of resources. The British quickly reoccupied the site, making it stronger than ever. But reinforcements never arrived, so they gave up the position for good in October. Stony Point was a timely boost to American morale. It was, according to one historian, "a successful attack upon British regulars in a fortified position, with the bayonet alone, . . . an achievement unparalleled up to that time." It also marked the last major battle of the war in the north.
In recognition of their bold, decisive action at Stony Point, Congress awarded a gold medal to Wayne and silver medals to de Fleury and Major John Stewart, who commanded a battalion in the 2nd Regiment of Wayne’s Corps. Congress noted that de Fleury and Stewart "exhibited a bright example to their brother soldiers, and merit in a particular manner the approbation and acknowledgment of the United States." De Fleury, one of several French engineers to volunteer for service in the Continental Army, was the only foreigner so honored during the Revolutionary War.
Today the Army Engineer Association awards replicas of the de Fleury medal to individuals who have provided significant contributions to Army engineering. Bronze and silver medals recognize service to the Engineer Regiment. The gold medal recognizes "boldness, courage, and commitment to a strong national defense." On the front are inscribed in Latin – "A memorial and reward of courage and boldness." On the reverse – "Fortifications, marshes, enemies overcome."
* * *