The Battle of Fort Slongo, Oct. 1780

Photo by Michael Kleen

George Washington personally awarded a Badge of Military Merit to a soldier wounded in the attack on Fort Slongo, making him the first recipient of what became known as the Purple Heart.

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The Battle of Fort Slongo (aka Salonga) was fought on October 3, 1781 between American patriot forces commanded by Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge and British forces defending Fort Salonga on Long Island, New York during the American Revolutionary War. The Americans were successful in capturing the fort and all its supplies.

In the fall of 1781, the Continental Army was eager to strike a blow against British-occupied Long Island. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge chose 50 men from Cpt. Richards’ company and 50 dismounted dragoons commanded by Cpt. Edgar to make an attack on the lightly garrisoned Fort Slongo. Maj. Trescott volunteered to lead the attack. The fort’s commander, Maj. Vanalstine, had gone to New York City and was not present at the battle.

Each force had a different mission. Edgar’s men would assault the garrison, while Richards’ men would surround it and make sure no one escaped. A picked group of ten dragoons led the attack, followed by Maj. Trescott and Cpt. Edgar and the remaining dragoons. The assault began at 3am and was over quickly. The Patriots captured 21 men and one brass cannon, while only sustaining one casualty.

For his actions at Fort Slongo, General George Washington personally awarded Sgt. Elijah Churchill a Badge of Military Merit, the forerunner of the Purple Heart. Churchill was the first of only three soldiers to receive this prestigious award for bravery in combat.

Fought between Great Britain and her Thirteen American Colonies from 1775 to 1883, the Revolutionary War led to a Declaration of Independence and the formation of the United States of America in 1776. The Thirteen Colonies won their independence, at the cost of an estimated 158,000 British, American, French, German, Spanish, and American Indian lives. It was a dynamic and surprisingly international conflict.

The site of Fort Slongo has changed quite a bit over the past 238 years. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1982, but nothing has been done to commemorate the location aside from a small historical sign donated by the Ft. Salonga Association. The woods across the street from the modern shopping center was a swamp Benjamin Tallmadge and his men used to approach the fort (which was located near modern-day British Colony Road).

The Battle of Fort Slongo sign is located off Fort Salonga Road, just east of the intersection with Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, at GPS coordinates 40.91244, -73.29963 in Fort Salonga, New York. Ample parking is available in the strip mall parking lot directly adjacent to the sign.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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