Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



ST. LEGER set out from Oswego with an army of seventeen hundred men, including Brant's Indians. In advance of the main army marched five columns of Indians in single file. Back of these ; were Indians walking ten paces apart, and forming a line of communication with the advance-guard of the army. This, in turn, was a hundred paces ahead of the main line. A hundred paces from the right and left flanks moved large guards of Indians, while the rear-guard was of regular troops. In addition to these precautions a small detachment of soldiers and Indians, under Lieutenant Bird, were sent a day or two in advance of the army. From this lieutenant's diary we learn that he had a great deal of trouble with the Indians, who are always the most independent of soldiers. For instance, on Tuesday he marched two miles, and no Indians coming up, he halted. After two hours, sixteen Senecas appeared. He moved on and waited again, when seventy or eighty more Indians came up.

Bird suggested marching forward, but they had stolen two oxen from the drove of the main army and must stop to feast on them. On Wednesday morning he waited till six for the Indians, but they did not come ; so he set off without them. Thursday a number of savages were again with Lieutenant Bird. On Friday they declined to proceed farther. Bird called a council of the chiefs and told them that he was ordered to go near the fort, and if they would not go with him he and his men would go without them. Some of the Indians consented to go, but the Senecas grumbled that Lieutenant Bird had promised to take their advice. That officer answered that he had meant to follow their advice only as to fighting in the woods, and that he had told them before that his plans were to invest the fort and prevent the Americans from building any obstruction in Wood Creek. He said, however, as he had promised to be advised by them, that he would wait till morning and then certainly they would march. They seemed to assent to this, but they in reality, like most Indians, stood in dread of the guns of the fort. On the following morning they absolutely refused to move, with the exception of a Mohawk and one other Indian. Bird stated the case in a letter to his commanding officer, and expressed his willingness to invest the fort at any rate. St. Leger answered ordering him to do so; and detached Brant and his forces to aid in the investment. He also instructed Bird that, in case the enemy should wish to surrender, the lieutenant was not to conclude matters, but to tell them that he was sure his commander would listen favorably to such overtures. "This," he said, "is not to take any honor out of a young soldier's hands, but, by the presence of the troops, to prevent the barbarity and carnage which will ever obtain where Indians make so superior a part of a detachment."

Brant and Lieutenant Bird made the investment just as the garrison had secured the additional provisions as we have seen. The main army came up on the following day. A flag was immediately sent to the fort with high-sounding proclamations, a kind of harmless artillery with which officers sometimes try to frighten a garrison into submission. It produced no effect, however, on the men in Fort Stanwix, and the siege was immediately begun.

Every stump and shrub was alive with Indians. The men who were employed in raising the parapets were much annoyed by their fire. Sharp-shooters took every opportunity to return it. The next day the enemy fired shells into the fort, and on the following evening Brant's Indians, numbering about a thousand, spread themselves in the woods encircling the fort, and kept up a most frightful yelling during the main part of the night. This probably was for the same purpose as St. Leger's proclamation.

Meantime no sooner was the dreaded army really upon them than the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley began to find courage. General Herkimer summoned the militia, who responded nobly, and set out to assist the garrison at the fort. He marched to Oriskany. From here he sent an express to Colonel Gansevoort announcing his approach. General Herkimer now began to have misgivings as to whether he ought to advance farther without reinforcement. In a consultation some of the officers, impatient to proceed, used high words, and called their general a Tory and a coward. The old man calmly answered that he considered himself placed over them as a father, and that he did not wish to lead them into trouble which he could not get them out of. He predicted that they would be ready to run when they should see the enemy. The officers persisted, however, and Herkimer at last became irritated, and cried " March on !" His troops gave a shout of joy and rushed forward.

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