The Great Chain
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Constitution Island Fortifications

West Point Fortifications


The Great Chain 

Hudson River

Marsh


 Sources and Author's Note  
 

 
The key element of the West Point/Constitution Island fortifications was the "Great Chain" affixed across the river as of 30 April 1778.   Ships which successfully negotiated the bend in the river would still confront the chain barrier, which was expected to bring them to a dead stop, thus facilitating engagement by batteries on the river banks. 

The West Point chain was forged at Sterling Ironworks in Warwick, NY.  It was approximately 500 yards in length, composed of two foot long, 2.25" thick iron links, each of which weighed 114 pounds. 


Links of the original West Point Chain displayed at Trophy Point.  See Bic pen at left of center front link for scale.

The entire chain weighed in at 65 tons and required 40 men four days to install.  The chain floated on rafts assembled from 4 16' sharpened logs, anchored between Constitution Island and West Point. 

A log boom was also constructed, but after early problems with rot, the boom was apparently kept on shore and only deployed when British attack was thought to be likely.

View from Ft. Arnold looking toward east anchor point of Chain on Constitution Island.

How imposing a barrier the chain actually was remains a subject of debate.  In the course of his correspondence with the British, Benedict Arnold (perhaps not the most trustworthy source) claimed that a well-loaded ship could break the chain.  More recent research suggests that the chain would indeed have been vulnerable to a loaded sloop or frigate.  The British chose not to risk a ship to make the attempt, however.

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