That truism could be applied to the Chevaux de Frise. The devices would fail and yet the revolutionaries would spend more precious time and money creating more of them. It was as if the romance of the name had over powered their common sense.
Chevaux de Frise translates from French as "Horses of the Frisians". According to Wikipedia, the Frisians, having few cavalry, created a line of spikes to act as anti-cavalry obstacles in warfare. The term came to be used for any spiked obstacle, such as broken glass embedded in mortar on the top of a wall.
|Chevaux de Frise - anti-cavalry|
|Chevaux de Frise - submerged beneath surface of river|
In late 1776 and early 1777, the Campbells who were not guarding the Highland passes were undoubtedly involved in the building of the Chevaux de Frise at New Windsor. They could have been cutting down trees or hauling them in crude sleighs over the snow-packed road to New Windsor. The spears needed to be shaped and the point fastened to the end. The crates needed to be constructed and the lower sections tarred so they could be floated to their destinations. Huge amounts of stones needed to be stockpiled for the eventual sinking of the crates. And finally, the dangerous job of positioning of the chevaux de frise on the river bed required ropes, pulleys, and anchors.
This was no small or unimportant enterprise. Their construction had been endorsed by Washington and the power brokers of New York State. General George Clinton took this so seriously that he located himself at New Windsor rather than at Fort Montgomery or Ramapo.
The magnitude of the endeavor is realized when one views a recovered spear of a Chevaux de Frise in the Museum at George Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh (which has a no photography policy). The log is mammoth in diameter (much bigger than the one from Fort Mifflin shown below). And most of the spears needed to be at least 40 feet long. Even in pristine North America such large trees were at a premium. We know this because Congress passed a law protecting all trees that were large enough for ships’ masts. At least 300 of these large spears were needed for the Chevaux de Frise.
The frames supporting the spears and holding the ballast of stones were the size of barges. They were described as having “a floor of logs 40 foot by 45 foot....with sides so high as to hold stones enough to sink it.” Most of the work was being done at New Windsor and it is very likely that the Campbells who were not on command in the Highlands were employed in this endeavor.
|Chevaux de Frise tips at Fort Mifflin - These were recovered from the Delaware River.|
|Chevaux de Frise tips in museum at Fort Mifflin.|
|Plum Point looking at Pollepel Island|
|Battery named after Captain Machin, the engineer on this project.|
|Bannerman's Castle ruins on Pollepel Island|
Even after this failure the continental army did not give up on the concept of Chevaux de Frise. They blamed the incomplete state of the obstruction. Work to complete it was quickly authorized. They also beefed up Machin's Battery, the fortification that overlooked the obstruction.
Samuel Crawford, who served in both Hasbroucks and McClaughry's militias (as did the Campbells), states in his pension that in November and December of 1777 he was "engaged in building forts at a place in the county of Orange [it was Ulster County in 1777] on said North River called Nichol's Point and was quartered in a barn belonging to one Leonard Nichols where he spent Christmas day." Nichols (Nicoll's) Point was another name for Plum Point.
Another veteran from Hanover Precinct (the precinct of most of the Campbells), John McMichael, describes in his pension how he was ordered for the "purpose of erecting a fortification at Nicol's Point near New Windsor" in November of 1777.
Lt Colonel Hardenburg of Hasbrouck's militia confirms this service by his regiment in a 1778 letter to Governor Clinton complaining of the burden placed on his men. He wrote: "I think our Regt.is heavy loaded with military Dutys, by what our Neighbours are. Remember, after the Reduction of fort Montgomry, when Esopus was consumed, where was Collo. Pawlings & Snyders Regt. they were not To be Seen. Remember the Six weeks Service in Nov'r Last at Nickols's Point — where was Pawlings & Snyders Regts., Even Orange County militia which were Equilly ordered in that Service with us, but did not attend, when our Regt. attended in full."