History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne
and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger.
by William L. Stone.
Albany, NY, Joel Munsell. 1877.
Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne
and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger.
by William L. Stone.
Albany, NY, Joel Munsell. 1877.
PART II. CONTINUED
Second Part of Part II
The command of-Colonel Gansevoort now consisted of seven hundred and fifty men, all told, and upon examination it was ascertained that they had provisions for six weeks - with fixed ammunition enough for the small arms. But for the cannon they were lamentably deficient-having barely enough for nine rounds per diem during the period specified. A besieging army was before the fort, and its garrison was without a flag! But as necessity is the mother of invention, they were not long thus destitute. Stripes of white were cut from ammunition shirts ; blue from a camblet cloak captured from the enemy ; while the red was supplied from such odds and ends of clothes of that hue as were at hand.1 And, thus furnished, commenced the celebrated defence of Fort Schuyler.
<- Sir John Johnson.
Such was the condition of Fort Schuyler at the commencement of the memorable siege of 1777 - an event, with its attending circumstances, forming an important feature in the northern border warfare of the Revolution. Colonel St. Leger 2 himself arrived before the fort on the
1 Willett's Narrative.
2 It is difficult, from the books, to determine what was at that time the precise rank of St. Leger. He has usually been called a brigadier general. By some contemporary writers he was called Colonel St. Leger. But in General Burgoyne's despatches to Lord George Germaine, of August 20, 1777, he is repeatedly denominated Lieutenant Colonel St. Leger. He is also called Colonel St. Leger by Bissett. But he, nevertheless, signed his name as a brigadier general in a letter to Col. Gansevoort, on the 9th of August.
3d of August, with his whole force-a motley collection of British regulars, Hessian auxiliaries. New York loyalists, usually denominated Johnson's Greens, together with numbers of the Canadians, and the Indians under Thayendanegea. Sir John Johnson, and Colonels Claus and Butler, 1 were also engaged with him in the expedition. A flag was sent into the fort on the morning of that day, with a copy of a rather pompous proclamation from St. Leger, which, it was probably supposed, from its vaunting threats and lavish promises, might produce
1 At the breaking out of the war, John Butler was lieutenant colonel of a regiment of the Tryon county militia, of which Guy Johnson was the colonel and Jelles Fonda the major. Sir John had been commissioned a general after the decease of his father.
a strong impression upon the garrison. "The forces intrusted to my command are designed to act in concert, and upon a common principle, with the numerous armies and fleets which already display, in every quarter of America, the power, the justice, and, when properly sought, the mercy of the king." So commenced the proclamation. After denouncing " the unnatural rebellion" as having already been made the " foundation for the completest system of tyranny that ever God in his displeasure suffered for a time to be exercised over a forward and stubborn generation," and charging that " arbitrary imprisonment, confiscation of property, persecution and torture, unprecedented in the inquisitions of the Roman church, were among the palpable enormities that verified the affirmation"-and after denouncing "the profanation of religion," and other "shocking proceedings" of the civil authorities and committees in rebellion, the proclamation proceeded - " animated by these considerations , at the head of troops in the full powers of health, discipline, and valor; determined to strike where necessary, and anxious to spare when possible, I, by these presents, invite and exhort all persons in all places where the progress of this army may point, and by the blessing of God I will extend it far, to maintain such a conduct as may justify me in protecting their lands, habitations, and families." The object of his address was to hold forth security, and not depredation; he offered employment to those who would join his standard , security to the infirm and industrious, and payment in coin for all the supplies the people would bring to his camp. In conclusion, he said -" If, notwithstanding these endeavors and sincere inclinations to effect them, the frenzy of hostility should remain, I trust I shall stand acquitted in the eyes of God and men, in denouncing and executing the vengeance of the state against the willful outcasts. The messengers of justice and of wrath await them in the field, and devastation, famine, and every concomitant horror that a reluctant, but indispensable prosecution of military duty must occasion, will bar the way to their return."
This manifesto, however, produced no effect, then or afterward. The siege had been anticipated, and the brave garrison, officers and men, had counted the cost and determined to defend the fortress to the last. Accordingly, hostilities commenced actively on the morning of the following day. The Indians, concealing them-selves behind clumps of shrubbery and stumps of trees, annoyed the men who were employed in raising the parapets not a little with their rifles. Several were wounded, and it was found necessary immediately to station sharp-shooters at suitable points, to watch opportunities, and fire in return. The 5th was spent in much the same manner, with the addition of the throwing of a few shells by the enemy - several of which fell within the fort, and some in the barracks. " On the evening of this day, soon after it was dark, the Indians, who were at least one thousand in number, spread themselves through the woods, completely encircling the fort, and commenced a terrible yelling, which was continued at intervals the greater part of the night."
Having thus commenced his operations, 1 Colonel St. Leger found means of conveying the intelligence to General Burgoyne - not for a moment anticipating the distressing circumstances in which the northern commander-in-chief already found himself involved, though but mid-way in the career of victory. Harassed incessantly by the foes he had vanquished, unable to obtain supplies, except by sending back for them to Fort George, in which service his troops were already greatly fatigued; not one-third of his horses arrived from Canada, the roads excessively bad, and rendered all but impassable by a deluge of rain; with only four days of provisions on hand, the vaunting general, who had boasted in the British capital that, with ten thousand men, he could march through the whole rebel country at pleasure, already found himself in an unenviable situation. But on learning the advance of Lt. Col. St. Leger, he instantly and justly considered that a rapid movement forward, at this critical juncture, would be of the utmost importance. If the retreating Americans should proceed up the Mohawk with a view of relieving Fort Schuyler, in the event of St. Leger's success against that place they would place themselves between two fires , or perhaps Burgoyne supposed that were such a movement to be made on the part of the Americans, he might yet throw his army between them and Albany, and thus compel them either to stand a general engagement or to strike off to the right, and by recrossing the Hudson higher up, secure
1 Willett's Narrative.
a retreat into New England. If, on the other hand, the Americans should abandon Fort Schuyler to its fate, and themselves fall back upon Albany, he argued that the Mohawk country would of course be entirely laid open to him, his junction with St. Leger established, and the combined army be at liberty to select its future line of operation. But his supplies were inadequate to such an extensive operation, and his army was too weak to allow him to keep up such a chain of posts as would enable him to bring them up daily from the depot at Lake George. With a view, therefore, of obtaining immediate relief, and of opening a new source of supply, especially of cattle, from the upper settlements of New England, the expedition to Bennington, the place of deposit of provisions for the provincial forces, was planned, and committed to a detachment of the Brunswicker troops, under Colonel Baum, for execution. The signal failure of this expedition was calculated still farther both to embarrass and depress the invaders , while the brilliant success of the militia under General Stark on that occasion, proving, as it had done, that neither English nor German troops were invincible, revived the drooping spirits of the disheartened, reinspired the people with confidence of ultimate success; and was the source of universal exultation.
The progress of events brings us back to the lower valley of the Mohawk. No sooner was the advance of St. Leger upon Fort Schuyler known to the committee and officers of Tryon county, than General Herkimer, in conformity with the proclamation heretofore cited, summoned the militia of his command to the field, for the purpose of marching to the succor of the garrison. Notwithstanding the despondency that had prevailed in the early part of the summer, the call was nobly responded to, not only by the militia, but by the gentlemen of the county, and most of the members of the committee, who entered the field either as officers or private volunteers. The fears so generally and so recently indulged seemed all to have vanished with the arrival of the invader, and the general soon found himself at the head of between eight hundred and a thousand men, all eager for action and impatient of delay. Their place of rendezvous was at Fort Dayton (German Flats), in the upper section of the Mohawk valley - and the most beautiful. The regiments were those of Colonels Klock, Visscher, Cox, and one or two others, augmented by volunteers and volunteer officers, who were pushing forward as though determined at all hazards to redeem the character of the county. Indeed, their proceedings were by far too impetuous, since they hurried forward in their march without order or precaution, without adequate flanking parties, and without reconnoitering the ground over which they were to pass. They moved from Fort Dayton on the 4th, and on the 5th reached the neighborhood of Oriskany,1 where they encamped. From this point, an express 2 was sent forward by General Herkimer
1 Probably the site of Whitestown. One of the MS. narratives in the author's possession says they crossed the river at old Fort Schuyler (now Utica).
2 Adam Helmer accompanied by two other men.
to apprise Colonel Gansevoort of his approach, and to concert measures of cooperation. The arrival of the express at the fort was to be announced by three successive discharges of cannon, the report of which, it was supposed, would be distinctly heard at Oriskany - only eight miles distant. Delays, however, intervened, so that the messengers did not reach the fort until ten or eleven o'clock on the following morning; previous to which the camp of the enemy being uncommonly silent, a portion of their troops had been observed by the garrison to be moving along the edge of the woods down the river, in the direction of the Oriskany creek. 1 The concerted signals were immediately fired, 2 and as the proposition of Herkimer was to force a passage to the fort, arrangements were immediately made by Colonel Gansevoort to effect a diversion of the enemy's attention, by making a sally from the fort upon the hostile camp, for which purpose two hundred men were detailed, consisting one-half of Gansevoort's, and one-half of the Massachusetts troops, and one field-piece - an iron three pounder. The execution of the enterprise was entrusted to Colonel Willett.3
It appears that on the morning of that day, which was
1 Letter of Colonel Willett to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut.
2 MS. of Captain Henry Seeber, in the author's possession. See, also, Willett's Narrative.
3 Willett's letter to Governor Trumbull. The officers serving in this detachment were Captain Van Benschoten and Lieutenant Stockwell, who led the advance guard; Captain Allen (of Massachusetts), Bleecker, Johnson, and Swartwout, Lieutenant Diefendorf, Conyne, Bogardus, M'Clenner, and Ball; Ensign Chase, Bailey, Lewis, Dennison, Magee, and Arnent. The rear guard was commanded by Major Badlam.
the 6th of August, General Herkimer had misgivings as to the propriety of advancing any farther without first receiving reinforcements. His officers, however, were eager to press forward. A consultation was held, in which some of the officers manifested much impatience at any delay, while the general still urged them to remain where they were until reinforcements could come up, or at least until the signal of a sortie should be received from the fort. High words ensued, during which Colonels Cox and Paris, and many others, denounced their commander as a tory and coward. The brave old man calmly replied that he considered himself placed over them as a father, and that it was not his wish to lead them into any difficulty from which he could not extricate them. Burning, as they now seemed, to meet the enemy, he told them roundly that they would run at his first appearance. 1 But his remonstrances were unavailing. Their clamor increased, and their reproaches were repeated, until, stung by imputations of cowardice and a want of fidelity to the cause, 2 and somewhat irritated withal, the general immediately gave the order- " March on ! " 3 The words were no sooner heard than the troops gave a shout, and moved, or rather rushed forward. They marched in files of two deep, preceded by an advanced guard and keeping flanks upon each side.4
1 Travels of President Dwight, vol. in, p. 192.
2 MS. statement of George Walter, in possession of the author, also of Henry Seeber.
3 Statement of Adam Miller, in possession of the author.
4 It has been charged by most writers that even these ordinary precautions were not observed. Miller and Walter, however, both assert the fact.
Having, by ten o'clock, proceeded rapidly forward to the distance of only two or three miles,1 the guards, both front and flanks, were suddenly shot down, the forest rang with the war whoops of a savage foe, and in an instant the greater part of the division found itself in the midst of a formidable ambuscade. Colonel St. Leger, it appeared, having heard of the advance of General Herkimer, in order to prevent an attack in his entrenchments, had detached a division of Sir John Johnson's regiment of Greens, under Sir John's brother-in-law, Major Watts, Colonel Butler with his rangers, and Joseph Brant with a strong body of Indians, to intercept his approach.2 With true Indian sagacity, Thayendanegea had selected a position admirably fitted for his purpose, which was, to draw the Americans, whom he well knew to be approaching in no very good military array, (into an ambuscade. The locality favored his design.3
1 The battle ground is about two miles west of Oriskany, and six from Whitesborough.
2 In every account of this battle which has fallen under the author's observation, excepting that of Colonel Willett, Sir John Johnson is made the British commander at this battle. He was not in it at all, as will appear a few pages forward. Even the cautious and inquisitive President Dwight falls into error, and carries it through his whole account.
3 "The country presented ample opportunities for such a stratagem ; and its advantages were not neglected. The ambush was set about two miles from Fort Stanwix, where a primitive corduroy road was the sole method of traversing a swampy hollow or ravine, drained by a little affluent of that stream. This road was completely commanded by heights on either hand covered with dense woods, in which Sir John Johnson stationed his marksmen, both whites and savages. It was as handsome a trap as that which Hermann or Arminius set for the Legions of Verus in the Teutoberger forest, eighteen centuries previous-an ambush which determined the fate of Roman progress into the free German land, just as the issue of Oriskany, reversing the case, checked the progress of the British into the free German flatlands of the Mohawk."-Gen. J. Watts De Peyster, in His. Mag., New Series, vol. v, No. I.
There was a deep ravine crossing the path which Herkimer with his undisciplined array was traversing, " sweeping toward the east in a semi-circular form, and bearing a northern and southern direction. The bottom of this ravine was marshy, and the road crossed it by means of a causeway. The ground, thus partly enclosed by the ravine, was elevated and level. The ambuscade was laid upon the high ground west of the ravine."1
The enemy had disposed himself adroitly, in a circle, leaving only a narrow segment open for the admission of the ill starred Provincials on their approach. The stratagem was successful. Unconscious of the presence of the foe, Herkimer, with his whole army excepting the rear-guard, composed of Colonel Visscher's regiment, found himself encompassed at the first fire-the enemy closing up the gap at the instant of making himself known. By thus early completing the circle, the baggage and ammunition wagons, which had just descended into the ravine, were cut off and separated from the main body, as also was the regiment of Colonel Visscher, yet on the eastern side of the ravine, which, as their general had predicted, instantly and ingloriously fled, leaving their companions to their fate.
1 Campbell's Annals.
They were pursued, however, by a portion of the Indians, and suffered more severely, probably, than they would have done, had they stood by their fellows in the hour of need, either to conquer or to fall. 1
Being thrown into irretrievable disorder by the suddenness of the surprise and the destructiveness of the fire, which was close and brisk from every side, the division was for a time threatened with annihilation. At every opportunity the savages, concealed behind the trunks of trees, darted forward with knife and tomahawk to ensure the destruction of those who fell; and many and fierce were the conflicts that ensued hand to hand. The veteran Herkimer fell, wounded, in the early part of the action-a musket ball having passed through and killed his horse, and shattered his own leg just below the knee. 2 The general was placed upon his saddle, however,
1 Believing, as stated in a preceding note, that my father's account of this battle is the most reliable of any extant, I have preferred to keep the text as much as possible intact. I cannot, however, refrain from saying, in this connection, that I think the imputation of cowardice in regard to Col. Visscher's regiment is hardly, justified in view of all the circumstances. Perhaps no body of men were as ready and anxious to perform their duty as were the patriotic members of Col. Visscher's regiment. It must be remembered that it was composed of farmers who had never seen service, and it is scarcely to be wondered at that when they saw themselves cut off, flanked, fired upon by an unseen foe accompanied by most hideous yells, they were panic-stricken, and did not wheel into line in the dense woods and fire upon enemies immediately in range of friends. Neither could the voice of their brave commander have been heard under the circumstances any more than as if they had been in the cave of the winds. It is strange, too, that Col. Visscher's regiment should have suffered as they did, had it given danger such a wide berth , for the fact is undisputed that a very large proportion of the regiment was either killed or wounded.
2 Walton's MS. account.
against the trunk of a tree for his support, and thus continued to order the battle. Colonel Cox, and Captains Davis and Van Sluyck, were severally killed near the commencement of the engagement; and the slaughter of their broken ranks, from the rifles of the tories and the spears and tomahawks of the Indians, was dreadful. But even in this deplorable situation the wounded general, his men dropping like leaves around him, and the forest resounding with the horrid yells of the savages, ringing high and wild over the din of battle, behaved with most perfect firmness and composure. The action had lasted about forty-five minutes in great disorder, before the Provincials formed themselves into circles in order to repel the attacks of the enemy, who were concentrating, and closing in upon them from all sides.1 From this moment the resistance of the Provincials was more effective, and the enemy attempted to charge with the bayonet. The firing ceased for a time, excepting the scattering discharges of musketry from the Indians, and as the bayonets crossed, the contest became a death struggle, hand to hand and foot to foot. Never, however, did brave men stand a charge with more dauntless courage, and the enemy for the moment seemed to recoil -just at the instant when the work of death was arrested by a heavy shower of rain, which suddenly broke upon the combatants with great fury. The storm raged for upward of an hour, during which time the enemy sought such
1 The first movement of this kind was made by Jacob Seeber, without orders, according to the narrative of Henry Seeber.
shelter as might be found among the trees at a respectful distance ; for they had already suffered severely, not! withstanding the advantages in their favor.1
During this suspension of the battle, both parties had time to look about, and make such new dispositions as they pleased for attack and defence, on renewing the murderous conflict. The Provincials, under the direction of their general, were so fortunate as to take possession of an advantageous piece of ground, upon which his men formed themselves into a circle, and as the shower broke away, awaited the movements of the enemy. In the early part of the battle, the Indians, whenever they saw a gun fired by a militia-man from behind a tree, rushed upon and tomahawked him before he could reload. In order to counteract this mode of warfare, two men were stationed behind a single tree, one only to fire at a time-the other reserving his fire until the Indians ran up as before.2 The fight was presently renewed, and by the new arrangement, and the cool execution done by the fire of the militia forming the main circle, the Indians were made to suffer severely ; so much
1 " At this crisis of the day, when a dropping or drizzling rain of death, was covering the narrow field with dead and wounded, the crash and horror of the battle were suspended by the fierce tumult of a thunder-storm of tropical violence - as fierce as that which broke upon the battle-field of Chantilly, on the first of September, 1862, converting the afternoon into night, amidst whose charm another republican hero, Kearny, passed like Herkimer from earthly fame to eternal glory, offering up his great life for the rights of man and for freedom."- Gen. J. Watts De Peyster.
2 Campbell's Annals.
so that they began to give way, when Major Watts 1 came up with a reinforcement, consisting of another detachment of Johnson's Greens. 12 These men were mostly loyalists who had fled from Tryon county, now returned in arms against their former neighbors. As no quarrels are so-bitter as those of families, so no wars are so cruel and passionate as those called civil. Many of the Provincials and Greens were known to each other ; and as they advanced so near as to afford opportunities of mutual recognition, the contest became, if possible, more of a death struggle than before. Mutual resentments, and feelings of hate and revenge, raged in their bosoms. The Provincials fired upon them as they advanced, and then, springing like chafed tigers from their covers, attacked them with their bayonets and the butts of their muskets, or both parties in closer contact throttled each other and drew their knives ; stabbing, and sometimes literally dying in one another's embrace.
At length a firing was heard in the distance from the fort, a sound as welcome to the Provincials as it was astounding to the enemy. Availing themselves of the hint, however, a ruse de- guerre was attempted by Colonel Butler, which had well-nigh proved fatal. It was the sending, suddenly, from the direction of the fort, a detachment of the Greens disguised as American troops,
1 Brother of the late venerable John Watts, of New York.
2 Campbell. The enemy, as on the march from Oswego, had posted a line of sentinels at short distances from each other, extending from St. Leger's intrenchments to the scene of action; so that communications could be interchanged rapidly and at pleasure.
in the expectation that they might be received as a timely reinforcement from the garrison. Lieutenant Jacob Sammons was the first to descry their approach, in the direction of a body of men commanded by Captain Jacob Gardenier - an officer who, during that memorable day, performed prodigies of valor. Perceiving that their hats were American, Sammons informed Captain Gardenier that succors from the fort were coming up. The quick eye of the captain detected the ruse, and he replied - " Not so : they are enemies ; don't you see their green coats ! " 1 They continued to advance until hailed by Gardenier, at which moment one of his own soldiers, observing an acquaintance, and supposing him a friend, ran to meet him, and presented his hand. It was grasped, but with no friendly gripe, as the credulous fellow was dragged into the opposing line informed that he was a prisoner. He did-not yield without a struggle; during which Gardenier, watching the action and the result, sprang forward, and with a blow from his spear levelled the captor to the dust and liberated his man. 2 Others of the foe instantly set upon him, of whom he slew the second and wounded a third. Three of the disguised Greens now sprang upon him, and one of his spurs becoming entangled in their clothes, he was thrown to the ground. Still contending, however, with almost super-human
1 Manuscript narrative of William Gardenier, in the possession of the author.
strength, both of his thighs were transfixed to the earth by the bayonets of two of his assailants, while the third presented a bayonet to his breast, as if to thrust him through. Seizing this bayonet with his left hind, by a sudden wrench he brought its "owner down upon himself, where he held him as a shield against the arms of the others, until one of his own men, Adam Miller, observing the struggle, flew to his rescue. As the assailants turned upon their new adversary, Gardenier rose upon his seat; and although his hand was severely lacerated by grasping the bayonet which had been drawn through it, he seized his spear lying by his side, and quick as lightning planted it to the barb in the side of the assailant with whom he had been clenched. The man fell and expired - proving to be Lieutenant McDonald, one of the loyalist officers from Tryon county, All this transpired in far less time than is necessarily occupied by the relation. While engaged in the struggle, some of his own men called out to Gardenier-"for God's sake, captain, you are killing your own men ! " He replied-"they are not our men-they are the enemy - fire away ! " A deadly fire from the Provincials ensued, during which about thirty of the Greens fell slain, and many Indian warriors. The parties once more rushed upon each other with bayonet and spear, grappling and fighting with terrible' fury, while the shattering of shafts and the clashing of steel mingled with every dread sound of war and death, and the savage yells, more hideous than all, presented a scene which can be more easily imagined than described. 1 The unparalleled fortitude and bravery of Captain Gardenier infused fresh spirits into his men, some of whom enacted wonders of valor likewise; It happened during the melee, in which the contending parties were mingled in great contusion that three of Johnson's Greens rushed within the circle of the Provincials, and attempted to make prisoner of a Captain Dillenback. This officer had declared he would never be taken alive, and he was not. One of his three assailants seized his gun, but he suddenly wrenched it from him, and felled him with the butt. He shot the second dead, and thrust the third through with his bayonet. 2 But in the moment of his triumph -at an exploit of which even the mighty Hector, or either of the sons of Zeruiah might have been proud, a ball laid this brave man low in the dust.
1 MS. of William Gardenier. It was in reference to these individual deeds of prowess, that the eloquent Gouverneur Morris thus spoke in his address before the New York Historical Society:-"Let me recall, gentlemen, to your recollection, that bloody field in which Herkimer fell. There was found the Indian and the white man born on the banks of the Mohawk, their left hand clenched in each other's hair, the right grasping in a grasp of death, the knife plunged in each other's bosom ; thus they lay frowning."
2 George Walter relates this incident, in his narrative, in the possession of the author. Walter was himself a witness of the fact, while lying wounded with two balls, by the side of General Herkimer.
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