Memorial Day at Fishkill Supply Depot occurs as threats loom

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Call them the first U.S. veterans — although they did not stay veterans for long, dying before their war ended and the country they fought to create existed.

They died of battle wounds or disease and injury in the American Revolution, their bodies consigned to a burial ground in the Fishkill Supply Depot, a vast Continental Army base just beyond present-day Philipstown. For years, few — if anyone — remembered them, as land around their graves got paved over in shopping malls and real estate ventures.

But on Monday, Memorial Day, a holiday established decades after the men (and perhaps women) of the War for Independence gave their all, they were remembered, their unmarked graves hallowed by a gun volley from the 5th New York Regiment of re-enactors, remarks from elected officials, and the attendance of 50 to 60 modern civilians.

Members of the 5th NY Regiment of re-enactors fire a volley in salute over the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers at the Fishkill Supply Depot. 
Members of the 5th NY Regiment of re-enactors fire a volley in salute over the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers at the Fishkill Supply Depot.

The Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot (FOFSD) sponsored the May 26 event and wants to ensure that the dead and their last bivouac are respected. But some 230 years after they perished, those who confronted the army of an empire face a new peril from development.

“This is the most sacred soil in our country,” said Bill Sandy, an archaeologist who excavated the graveyard in 2007, proving rumors of a military cemetery to be true. “We have hundreds, perhaps a thousand buried here.” Sandy said that of all the sites he has worked on, “this place is at the top, No. 1 by far” in significance. Unfortunately, he said, 20 years or more ago, in commercial development along Route 9, some depot Revolutionary War dead “had their graves trashed. We’re not going to stand for it anymore.”

“The nameless dead here wait for us to protect them” and the FOFSD also “is trying to protect the remaining vestiges” of the entire depot, added Lance Ashworth, the organization’s president, a West Point graduate who served as an Army captain. Beyond the graveyard, “there are countless other acres,” Ashworth said. “This area is a time capsule of the Revolution. We can rewrite history” by studying its role in fielding an army and how “it carried the day,” he said. As well as marshalling men and materiel, the depot played a key role in blocking British movements in the Hudson Valley.

Stretching from southernmost Dutchess County (near the present border with Putnam County) to approximately Route 52 in Fishkill, the supply depot covered at least 80 acres, a major hub for training and pre- and post-deployment activity, as well as stockpiling of food, weapons, and the nuts-and-bolts of war from 1776-83. Not far away, down the Albany Post Road (now Route 9) from the supply depot, Revolutionary Army encampments and strategic outposts covered parts of current Cold Spring and Philipstown.

The eagle of the 5th NY spreads its wings on Memorial Day at the Fishkill Supply Depot.
The eagle of the 5th NY spreads its wings on Memorial Day at the Fishkill Supply Depot.

According to Ashworth, the depot “was like a military city during the Revolution.” It contained barracks, stores, officers’ headquarters, craft and smith’s shops, hospitals and the graveyard, which lies next to Route 9, just north of a Mexican restaurant and south of a Snook Road gas station-car wash. The Van Wyck homestead, a colonial house used as a Revolutionary War command post, stands at Snook Road and Route 9, its yard a verdant respite above speeding Route 9 vehicles and I-84.

The troops at the depot often lacked sufficient food, clothing and blankets, other supplies, and pay, and at least one officer died as a result: A freshly identified grave holds the remains of Capt. Zachariah Beal, a New Hampshire man killed trying to stop a mutiny by malcontented and apparently drunken soldiers.

Ashworth observed that the hardships of Valley Forge lasted a winter, but those at the supply depot endured seven years. “Multiply the misery of Valley Forge by seven — that’s what we have here,” he said.

Sandy told that the depot rang with voices in three languages, French and German as well as English. Some soldiers, French Canadians, enlisted during an ill-fated American attempt to win Canada. Others were German-speaking settlers from beyond New York. There likewise were African-Americans, “both free blacks and enslaved blacks, in our army” at Fishkill, said Sandy. He mentioned an officer who with his African-American troops defeated British forces until he was slain near Fishkill, his body carried to the supply depot and interred.

A Revolutionary War-style oven provides sustenance for participants in the Memorial Day commemoration at the Fishkill Supply Depot. 
A Revolutionary War-style oven provides sustenance for participants in the Memorial Day commemoration at the Fishkill Supply Depot.

“We have an awful lot to learn from the veterans buried here who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we have today,” said State Sen. Terry Gipson, during the ceremony. “We’ve got to find a way to see that it gets the recognition and support it deserves. I will remain dedicated to doing everything I can.”

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the depot nonetheless is not a national or state park and is largely privately owned. A sign near Snook Road — a stone’s throw from the soldiers’ graves — advertises acreage suitable for commercial development, although across Route 9 defunct structures at the Dutchess Mall still stand empty.

Ashworth said after the ceremony that FOFSD would like to buy the available property and regularly speaks with the owner. However, he noted, “the fact he’s now trying to sell the land” brings new danger that “heightens our anxiety.”

Photos by L.S. Armstrong

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

3 replies on “Elected Officials and Public Honor Forgotten Revolutionary War Dead”

  1. What a beautiful article recognizing not only those who fought to give us our country as we know it now, but also those who fight to have them remembered for the ultimate sacrifice that they gave. I went to last years’ memorial service given by the Friends of Fishkill Supply Depot and was astonished by how much I didn’t know about our history and the heroes buried there who fought for us to be our own country. There aren’t very many people who played a more important role in our country’s beginning than these. I learned so much at the re-enactment and memorial service and wish more people would learn what is happening there. Maybe it could become a requirement for our schools to have our students attend this site, honor those who are buried there, and see a re-enactment of those times. God bless those who fought for our freedom and God bless those who are trying to keep their memories alive. I applaud the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot for their constant hard work and agree with Bill Sandy that this is some of the most sacred land in this country.

  2. Thank you Marsha. While it may seem stupid to claim one site as most sacred in our nation, my words meant per acre, and I will do the math: 900 soldiers/acre x 235 years = 1 place that must be saved.

    By the way, the great Col. Greene, who led his black Rhode Island soldiers to victory over the world’s top army, had his mutilated corpse buried in a local churchyard. But where are his soldiers buried? An educated guess is here at the FSD Soldiers’ Cemetery.

    Visit the Van Wyck House on Route 9 (home of the Fishkill Historical Society) to see Gen. Putnam’s HQ and learn more. Also check the new issue of the DAR’s magazine American Spirit for more on Fishkill. And in November, buy Marilyn Johnson’s new book Lives in Ruins for a great read about FSD!

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