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.
Third part of part II
Such a conflict as this could not be continued long; and the Indians, perceiving with what ardor the Provincials maintained the fight, and finding their own numbers sadly diminished, now raised the retreating cry of "Oonah!" and fled in every direction, under the shouts and hurrahs of the surviving Provincials and a shower of bullets. Finding, moreover, from the firing at the fort, that, their presence was necessary elsewhere, the Greens and Rangers now retreated precipitately, leaving the victorious militia of Tryon county masters of the field.1
Thus ended one of the severest, and, for the numbers engaged, one of the most bloody battles of the Revolutionary war. Though victorious, the loss of the Provincials was very heavy, and Tryon county long had reason to mourn that day. Colonel Paris was taken prisoner by the enemy, and afterward murdered by the Indians. Several other prisoners were also killed by the savages, after they bad been brought into Colonel Butler's quarters, and, as it was said, by the colonel's own tacit consent, if not permission in terms. But the general character of that officer forbids the imputation.2
1 It is an extraordinary fact, that every historian who has written of the battle of Oriskany, has recorded it as a defeat of the Provincials, from Marshall and Ramsay down, to say nothing or the British chroniclers. Such was also the author's impression until he undertook the present investigation. Captain Brant himself, in conversation with Samuel Woodruff, Esq., admitted that they were the victors, and all the written statements which the author has been able to procure from the survivors of the battle, bear the same testimony.
2 The late Doctor Moses Younglove of Hudson, Columbia county, was the surgeon of General Herkimer's brigade. He was taken prisoner in this battle by a sergeant of Sir John Johnson's regiment. After his release he made a deposition setting forth many grievous barbarities committed, both by the Indians and tories, upon the prisoners who fell into their hands that day. They were cruelly tortured, several of them murdered; and, as the doctor had reason to believe, some of them were subsequently taken to an island in Lake Ontario, and eaten. This is scarcely to be believed.
Major John Frey, of Colonel Knock's regiment, was likewise wounded and taken, and to show the more than savage fury burning in the bosoms of the men brought into conflict on this occasion, the disgraceful fact may be added, that his own brother, who was in the British service, attempted to take his life after he had arrived in Butler's camp. The major saw his brother approaching in a menacing manner, and called out - " Brother, do not kill me! Do you not know me?" But the infuriated brother rushed forward, and the major was only saved by the interposition of others.1 The whole number of the Provincial militia killed was two hundred, exclusive of wounded and lost as prisoners. Such, at least, was the American report. The British statements claimed that four hundred of the Americans were killed, and two hundred taken prisoners.3
Retaining possession of the field, the survivors immediately set themselves at work in constructing rude litters, upon which to bear off the wounded. Between forty and fifty of these, among whom was the commanding general, were removed in this manner. The brave old
1 MS. statement of Jacob Timmerman, in the author's possession.
2 " On the 5th I learned, from discovering parties on the Mohawk river, that a body of one thousand militia were on their march to raise the siege. On the confirmation of this news, I moved a large body of Indians, with some troops, the same night, to lay in ambuscade for them on their march. They fell into it. The completest victory was obtained. Above four hundred lay dead on the field, amongst the number of whom were almost all the principal-movers of rebellion in that country." - Letter of Colonel St. Leger to General Burgoyne, Aug. 11, 1777.
man, notwithstanding the imprudence of the morning-imprudence in allowing a premature movement at the dictation of his subordinates-had nobly vindicated his character for courage during the day. Though wounded, as we have seen, in the onset, he had borne himself during the six hours of conflict, under the most trying circumstances, with a degree of fortitude and composure worthy of all admiration. Nor was his example without effect in sustaining his troops amid the perils by which they were environed. At one time during the battle, while sitting upon his saddle raised upon a little hillock, being advised to select a less exposed situation, he replied -"I will face the enemy." Thus, " surrounded by a few men, he continued to issue his orders with firmness. In this situation, and in the heat of the onslaught, he deliberately took his tinder-box from his pocket, lit his pipe, and smoked with great composure." 1 At the moment the soldiers were placing him on the litter, while adjusting blankets to the poles, three Indians approached, and were instantly shot down by the unerring rifles of three of the militia. These were the last shots fired in that battle.2
1 Campbell. An officer, who was in the general staff at the battle of Leipzig, has related to the author a very similar incident in the conduct of old Blucher. He was not wounded ; but he sat upon a hillock, issuing his orders and smoking his pipe, while the cannon balls were ploughing up the earth about him.
2 Narrative of Jacob Sammons, MS. The officers of the Tryon county militia killed or wounded in this battle were as follows:-In Colonel Frederick Visscher's regiment, Captains John Davis and Samuel Pettingill, killed, Major Blauvelt and Lieut. Groat taken prisoners and never heard of afterwards; Captain Jacob Gardenier and Lieut. Samuel Gardenier wounded. In Colonel Jacob Knock's regiment, Major John Eisenlord, and Major Van Sluyck, and Captain Andrew Dillenback, killed ; Captains Christopher Fox and John Breadbeg, wounded ; Brigade Major John Frey, wounded and taken prisoner. In Colonel Peter Bellinger's regiment, Major Enos Klepsattle, Captain Frederic Helmer, and Lieut. Petrie, were killed. Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Bellinger and Henry Walradt were taken prisoners. In Colonel Ebenezer Cox's regiment, Colonel Cox and Lieut. Col. Hunt were killed.; Captains Henry Diefendorf, and Robert Crouse, and Jacob Bowman, killed. Captain Jacob Seeber and Lieut. William Seeber mortally wounded. The surgeon, Moses Younglove, was taken prisoner. Among the volunteers not belonging to the militia, who were killed, were Isaac Paris (then a member of the legislature), Samuel Billington, John Dygert, and Jacob Snell, members of the committee of safety. There was likewise a Captain Graves who fell, but to which regiment he belonged the author has not ascertained.
The loss of the enemy in this engagement was equally, if not more severe, than that of the Americans. The Greens and Rangers of Sir John Johnson and Colonel Butler must have suffered badly, although no returns were given in the contemporaneous accounts. Major Watts was severely wounded and left on the field, as was supposed, among the slain. His death was reported by Colonel Willett, in his letter to Governor Trumbull, and by other authorities. But such was not the fact. Reviving from faintness produced by loss of blood, some hours after the action, he succeeded in crawling to a brook, where, by slaking his thirst, he was preserved from speedy death, and in the course of two or three days was found by "some Indian scouts, and brought into St. Leger's camp. 1 But the Indians were the most roughly handled, they having lost nearly one hundred warriors, several of whom were sachems in great favor. Frederick. Sammons, who had been detached upon a distant scout previous to the battle, returning some days
1 This statement respecting Major Watts was derived from the late Mr. John Watts, of New York, his brother. As mentioned in the text, St. Leger, in his official report, did not state the number of his own killed and wounded. Colonel Butler, however, wrote to Sir Guy Carleton - " Of the New Yorkers, Captain M'Donald was killed, Captain Watts dangerously wounded, and one subaltern. Of the Rangers, Captains Wilson and Hare killed, and one private wounded. The Indians suffered much, having thirty-three killed and twenty-nine wounded; the Senecas lost seventeen, among whom were several of their chief warriors, and had sixteen wounded. During the whole action the Indians showed the greatest zeal -for his majesty's cause, and had they not been a little too precipitate, scarcely a rebel of the party would have escaped. Most of the leading rebels are cut off in the action, so that any farther attempts from that quarter are not to be expected. Captain Watts, of the Royal New Yorkers, whose many amiable qualities deserved a better fate, lay wounded in three places upon the field two days before he was found." - Parliamentary Register.
" Major Watts was wounded through the leg by a ball, and in the neck by a thrust from a bayonet which passed through the back of the windpipe, and occasioned such an effusion of blood as to induce not only him but his captors to suppose (after leading him two or three miles) that he must die in consequence. He begged his captors to kill him ; they refused and left him by the side of a stream (Oriskany creek) under the shade of a bridge, where he was found two days subsequently, covered with fly-blows, but still alive. He was borne by some Indians to Schenectady where he remained (after losing his leg) until sufficiently recovered to bear a voyage to England."-Mrs. Bonney's Legacy of Historical Gleanings, vol. I, p. 69. "Major Watts," says his grand nephew, Gen. J. Watts De Peyster, in a letter to the author, died in elegant retirement surrounded by a noble family of equally brave sons." The sash taken from him is still in possession of the Sander's family.
afterward, crossed the battlefield, where, he says-"I beheld the most shocking sight I had ever witnessed. The Indians and white men were mingled with one another, just as they had been left when death had first completed his work. Many bodies had also been torn to pieces by wild beasts." 1
It has been affirmed that the Indians were persuaded to join in this battle only with great difficulty, and not until they had been induced to sacrifice their reason to their appetites. It was very manifest that during the action many of them were intoxicated. The consequence was, that they suffered more severely than ever before. 2 According to the narrative of Mary Jemison, the Indians (at least the Senecas), were deceived into the campaign. " They were sent for to see the British whip the rebels. They were told that they were not wanted to fight, but merely to sit down, smoke their pipes, and look on. The Senecas went to a man ; but, contrary to their expectation, instead of smoking and looking on, they were obliged to fight for their lives ; and in the end of the battle were completely beaten, with a great loss of killed and wounded." 3
The whole Indian force was led by Thayendanegea in person-"the great captain of the Six Nations," as he was then called- and as the Cayugas had now likewise joined the Mohawks in alliance with the arms of England
1 MS. narrative of Frederick Sammons, in the author's possession.
2 Journal of General Lincoln.
3 Life of Mary Jemison.
-the Onondagas adopting a doubtful policy, but always, in fact, acting against the Provincials - he must have had a large force in the field. Of the Senecas alone thirty-six were killed and a great number wounded. Captain Brant was accustomed, long years afterward, to speak of the sufferings of his " poor Mohawks" in that battle. Indeed, the severity with which they were handled on that occasion, rendered them morose and intractable during the remainder of the campaign, and the unhappy prisoners were the first to minister with their blood to their resentment.1" Our town," says Mary Jemison, " exhibited a scene of real sorrow and distress when our warriors returned and recounted their misfortunes, and stated the real loss they had sustained in the engagement. The mourning was excessive, and was expressed by the most doleful yells, shrieks, and howlings, and by inimitable gesticulations."
It was unfortunate that General Herkimer formed his
1 In Mr. Samuel Woodruff's memoranda of his conversations with Brant, it Is noted as the admission of the latter, that " he and his Mohawks were compelled to flee in a dispersed condition through the woods, all suffering from fatigue and hunger before they arrived at a place of safety. Their retreat began at nightfall. They were pursued by a body of Oneidas, who fought with General Herkimer. The night was dark and lowery. Exhausted by the labors of the day, and fearful he might be overtaken by the pursuing Oneidas, Brant ascended a branching tree, and planting himself in the crotch of it, waited somewhat impatiently for daylight," There is evidently somewhat of error in this statement. The field of battle was not more than five miles from St. Leger's entrenchments, and the battle was ended at two o'clock P.M. Judge W. probably confounded this battle with another-perhaps that of the Chemung.
line of march with so little judgment that, when attacked, his men were in no situation to support each other, and more unfortunate still, that he marched at all, so long before he could expect to hear the concerted signal for the diversion to be made in his favor by the sortie of Colonel Willett. The heavy rain storm, moreover, which caused a suspension of the battle, had likewise the effect of delaying the sally for nearly an hour. It was made, however, as soon as it was practicable, and was not only completely successful, but was conducted with such ability and spirit by the gallant officer to whom it was confided, as to win for him the applause of the foe himself. 1 In addition to the two hundred men detailed for this service, under Colonel Willett's command, as before stated, fifty more were added to guard the light iron three pounder already mentioned. With these troops, and this his only piece of mounted ordnance, Colonel Willett lost not a moment, after the cessation of the rain, in making the sally. The enemy's sentinels being directly in sight of the fort, the most rapid movements were necessary. The sentinels were driven in, and his advanced guard attacked, before he had time to form his troops. Sir John Johnson, whose regiment was not more than two hundred yards distant from the advanced guard, it being very warm, was in his tent, divested of his coat at the moment, and had not time to put it on before his camp was assailed. Such, moreover, were the celerity of Willett's movement and the impetuosity
1 London Universal Magazine, 1782.
of the attack, that Sir John could not bring his troops into order, and their only resource was in flight. The Indian encampment was next to that of Sir John, and in turn was carried with equal rapidity. The larger portion of the Indians, and a detachment from the regiment of Sir John, were, at the very moment of this unexpected assault upon their quarters, engaged in the battle of Oriskany. Those who were left behind now betook "themselves-Sir John and his men to the river-and the Indians to their natural shelter, the woods - the troops of Colonel Willett firing briskly upon them in their flight. The amount of spoil found in the enemy's camp was so great, that Willett was obliged to send hastily to the fort for wagons to convey it away. Seven of these vehicles were three times loaded and discharged in the fort, while the brave little Provincial band held possession of the encampments. Among the spoils thus captured, consisting of camp equipage, clothing, blankets, stores, etc., were five British standards, the baggage of Sir John Johnson, with all his papers, the baggage of a number of other officers, with memoranda, journals, and orderly books, containing all the information desirable on the part of the besieged. 1 While Colonel Willett
1 " Among other things taken from the enemy, were several bundles of papers, and a parcel of letters belonging to our garrison, which they had taken from our militia, but not yet opened. Here I found one letter for myself: there were likewise papers belonging to Sir John Johnson, and several others of the enemy's officers, with letters to and from General St. Leger, the commander. These letters have been of some service to us." - Colonel Wiilett's letter to Governor Trumbull.
was returning to the fort. Colonel St. Leger, who was on the opposite side of the river, attempted a movement to intercept him. Willett's position, however, enabled him to form his troops so as to give the enemy a full fire in front, while at the same time he was enfiladed by the fire of a small field-piece. The distance was not more than sixty yards between them, and although St. Leger was not backward in returning the fire, his aim was nevertheless so wild as to be entirely without effect. The assailants returned into the fortress in triumph without having lost a man - the British flags were hoisted on the flag-staff under the American-and the men, ascending the parapets, gave three as hearty cheers as were ever shouted by the same number of voices. Among the prisoners brought off by the victors, was Lieutenant Singleton, of Sir John Johnson's regiment. Several Indians were found dead in their camp, and others I were killed in crossing the river. The loss of the enemy, particularly in stores and baggage, was great, while the affair itself was of still more importance, from the new spirit of patriotic enthusiasm with which it inspired the ; little garrison. 1 For this chivalrous exploit congress passed a resolution of thanks, and directed the commissary general of military stores to procure an elegant sword, and present the same to Colonel Willett in the name of the United States.
1 In the account of the sortie, the author has adopted almost the very language of the brave colonel himself, in his Narrative. As he led the affair, and was of course the best qualified to describe it, the author could do no better than take his own words. In tracing the progress of the siege, it will be often necessary to draw from the same indisputable source.
General Herkimer did not long survive the battle. He was conveyed to his own house 1 near the Mohawk river, a few miles below the Little falls , where his leg, which had been shattered five or six inches below the knee, was amputated about ten days after the battle, by a young French surgeon in the army of General Arnold, and contrary to the advice of the general's own medical adviser, the late Dr. Petrie. But the operation was unskilfully performed, 2 and it was found impossible by his attendants to stanch the blood. Colonel Willett called to see the general soon after the operation. He was sitting up in his bed, with a pipe in his mouth, smoking, and talking in excellent spirits. He died the night following that visit. His friend, Colonel John Roff, was present at the amputation, and affirmed that he bore the operation with uncommon fortitude. He was likewise with him at the time of his death. The blood continuing to flow-there being no physician in immediate attendance-and being himself satisfied that the time of his departure was nigh, the veteran directed the Holy Bible to be brought to him. He then opened it and read, in the presence of those who surrounded his bed, with all the composure which it was possible for any man to exhibit, the thirty-eighth psalm-applying it to his own situation.3 He soon afterward expired , and it
1 Yet standing, 1837. See Benton's Herk. Co., 151.
2 Col. Roff's statement - MS. in possession of the author.
3 Statement of Colonel John Roff (Roof), a god-son of General Herkimer, and who was in the action, to the author's father. The father of Colonel John Roof (Johannis Roof) held a captain's commission in the militia, and, with his son, was in the battle of Oriskany. He was a prominent man in his day, and it is not a little singular that, up to this time, he has never received the recognition to which he is entitled. Johannis Roof came over from Germany in 1758, and being a man of enterprise and of means, he was, soon after his arrival in this country, given the charge of the carrying-place at Fort Stanwix , and afterwards - such was his industry and integrity - was made storekeeper and inn-keeper at that fort. He traded quite extensively with the Indians, furnishing supplies to the garrison, etc. When finally driven thence, he sold his buildings to the United States, but before he was paid for them, they were burned (by order of the government) to prevent the tories from taking possession. Nor, by the way, did he ever obtain (owing to his papers being destroyed by the burning of the Patent-office) compensation. After the destruction of his buildings, he settled at Canajoharie-expecting to return to Fort Stanwix (Rome), after peace was established - but the garrison being withdrawn, he remained at Canajoharie, and soon after bought up a large tract of land at that place, laid it out in streets and village lots, and erected a store-house, combining there-with a hotel (vide Stone's Brant, vol. II, p. 411, note), for the accommodation of the travelling public and those desiring to settle in the vicinity. - For many years Canajoharie was known as Roof's village.-Letter from grandson of Johannis Roof (Dr. F.H. Roof, of Rhinebeck, N. Y.), to the author, June 11th, 1877.
may well be questioned whether the annals of man furnish a more striking example of Christian heroism-calm, deliberate, and firm in the hour of death-than is presented in this remarkable instance. Of the early history of General Herkimer but little is known. It has already been stated that his family was one of the first of the Germans who planted themselves in the Mohawk valley. And the massive stone mansion, yet standing at German Flats, bespeaks its early opulence. He was an uneducated man - with, if possible, less skill in letters, even than General Putnam, which is saying much. But he was, nevertheless, a man strong and vigorous understanding-destitute of some of the essential requisites of generalship, but of the most cool and dauntless courage. These traits were all strikingly disclosed in the brief and bloody expedition to) Oriskany. But he must have been well acquainted with that most important of all books-the Bible. Nor could the most learned biblical scholar, lay or clerical, have selected a portion of the sacred Scriptures more exactly appropriate to the situation of the dying soldier, than that to which he himself spontaneously turned. If Socrates died like a philosopher, and Rousseau like an unbelieving sentimentalist, General Herkimer died like a Christian hero. Congress passed a resolution requesting the governor and council of New York to erect a monument at the expense of the United States, to the memory of this brave man, of the value of five hundred dollars. This resolution was transmitted to the governor of New York, George Clinton, in a letter from which the following passage is quoted : " Every mark of distinction shown to the memory of such illustrious men as offer up their lives for the liberty and happiness of their country, reflects real honor on those who pay the tribute ; and by holding up to others the prospect of fame and immortality, will animate them to tread in the same path." Governor Clinton thus wrote to the committee of Tryon county on the occasion : " Enclosed you have a letter and resolves of congress, for erecting a monument to the memory of your late gallant general. While with you I lament the cause, I am impressed with a due sense of the great and justly merited honor the continent has, in this instance, paid to the memory of that brave man." Such were the feelings of respect for the services and memory of the deceased entertained by the great men of that day. Sixty years have since rolled away, and the journal of congress is the only monument, and the resolution itself the only inscription, which as yet testify the gratitude of the republic to General Nicholas Herkimer.
Though in fact defeated at Oriskany, the enemy claimed, as we have seen, a victory. In one sense, it is true, the achievement was theirs. They had prevented the advance of the Americans to the. succor of the fort; and on their retreat the Americans were unable to pursue. Still the field was won, and retained by them. 1 Availing himself of his questionable success, however, and well knowing that days must probably elapse before the garrison could become apprised of the whole circumstances of the engagement and its issue, St. Leger lost no time in endeavoring, by false representations, to press the besieged to a capitulation. On the same night of the battle, therefore, at nine o'clock. Colonel Bellinger and Major Frey, being in St. Leger's camp as prisoners
1 It was alleged, in some of the contemporaneous accounts, that the forces engaged with Herkimer were ordered back in consequence of the sortie of Willett. That circumstance, however, does not alter the essential facts of the case. The victory was the same.
were compelled to address a note to Colonel Gansevoort, greatly exaggerating the disasters of the day, and strongly urging a surrender. In this letter they spoke of the defeat at Oriskany, of the impossibility of receiving any farther succor from below - of the formidable force of St. Leger, together with his train of artillery-announced the probable fact that Burgoyne and his army were then before Albany, and stated that longer resistance would only result in " inevitable ruin and destruction." The letter was transmitted to Colonel Gansevoort by St. Leger's adjutant-general, Colonel Butler, who, in delivering it, made a verbal demand of surrender. Colonel Gansevoort replied that he would give no answer to a verbal summons, unless delivered by Colonel St. Leger himself, but at the mouth of his cannon.
On the following day a white flag approached the garrison, with a request that Colonel Butler, and two other officers, might be admitted into the fort as bearers of a message to the commanding officer. Permission being granted, those officers were conducted blindfolded into the fort, and received by Colonel Gansevoort in his dining-room. The windows of the room were shut, and candles lighted ; a table was also spread, upon which were placed some slight refreshments, Colonels Willett and Mellen were present at the interview, together with as many of the American officers as could be accommodated in the quarters of their commander. After the officers were seated and the wine had been passed around. Major Ancrom, one of the messengers, addressed Colonel Gansevoort in substance as follows:
" I am directed by Colonel St. Leger, the officer commanding the army now investing this garrison, to inform the commandant that the colonel has, with much difficulty, prevailed upon the Indians to agree, that if the garrison, without farther resistance, shall be delivered up, with the public stores belonging to it, to the investing army, the officers and soldiers shall have all their baggage and private property secured to them. And in order that the garrison may have a sufficient pledge to this effect. Colonel Butler accompanies me to assure them, that not a hair of the head of any one of them shall be hurt." (Here turning to Colonel Butler, he said, "That, I think, was the expression they made use of, was it not ?"-to which the colonel answered, " Yes.") "I am likewise directed to remind the commandant, that the defeat of General Herkimer must deprive the garrison of all hopes of relief, especially as General Burgoyne is now in Albany ; so that, sooner or later, the fort must fall into our hands. Colonel St. Leger, from an earnest desire to prevent farther bloodshed, hopes these terms will not be refused ; as in this case it will be out of his power to make them again. It was with great difficulty that the Indians consented to the present arrangement, as it will deprive them of that plunder which they always calculate upon on similar occasions. Should, then, the present terms be rejected, it will be out of the power of the colonel to restrain the Indians, who are very numerous and exasperated, not only from plundering the property, but of destroying the lives, probably, of the greater part of the garrison. Indeed, the Indians are so exceedingly provoked and mortified by the losses they have sustained in the late actions, having had several of their favorite chiefs killed, that they threaten- and the colonel, if the present arrangements should not be entered into, will not be able to prevent them from executing their threats - to march down the country, and destroy the settlement, with its inhabitants. In this case, not only men, but women and children, will experience the sad effects of their vengeance. These considerations, it is ardently hoped, will produce a proper effect, and induce the commandant, by complying with the terms now offered, to save himself from future regret, when it will be too late."
This singular oration was of course delivered extemporaneously, as also was the following reply by Colonel Willett, with the approbation of Colonel Gansevoort: " Do I understand you, sir ? I think you say, that you come from a British colonel, who is commander of the army that invests this fort , and by your uniform, you appear to be an officer in the British service. You have made a long speech on the occasion of your visit, which, stripped of all its superfluities, amounts to this -that you come from a British colonel, to the commander of this garrison, to tell him, that if he does not deliver up the garrison into the hands of your colonel he will send his Indians to murder our women and children. You will please to reflect, sir, that their blood will be on your head, not on ours. We are doing our duty ; this garrison is committed to our charge, and we will take care of it. After you get out of it, you may turn round and look at its outside, but never expect to come in again, unless you come a prisoner. I consider the message you have brought, a degrading one for a British officer to send, and by no means reputable for a British officer to carry. For my own part, I declare, before I would consent to deliver this garrison to such a murdering set as your army, by your own account, consists of, I would suffer my body to be filled with splinters, and set on fire, as you know has at times been practiced, by such hordes of women and children killers as belong to your army."
Colonel Willett observes in his narrative, whence these facts are drawn, that in the delivery he looked the British major full in the face ; and that he spoke with emphasis is not doubted. The sentiments contained in this reply were received with universal applause by the Provincial officers, who, far from being intimidated by the threats of the messengers, were at once impressed with the idea that such pressing efforts to induce a capitulation could only be the effect of doubt, on the part of the enemy himself, of his ability either to sustain the siege or carry the works by assault. Before the interview was closed, Major Ancrom requested that an English surgeon, who was with him, might be permitted to visit the British wounded in the garrison, which request was granted. Major Ancrom also proposed an armistice for three days, which was likewise agreed to by Colonel Gansevoort-the more readily, probably, because of his scanty supply of ammunition.
On the 9th of August, Colonel Gansevoort having refused to recognize any verbal messages from the British commander. Colonel St. Leger transmitted the substance of Major Ancrom's speech in the form of a letter - protesting that no indignity was intended by the delivery of such a message - a message that had been insisted upon categorically by the Indians-and formally renewing the summons of a surrender-adding, that the Indians were becoming exceedingly impatient, and if the proposition should be rejected, the refusal would be attended with very fatal consequences, not only to the garrison, but to the whole country of the Mohawk river.
The reply of Colonel Gansevoort was written with soldierly brevity, in the following words:
TO COL. ST. LEGER.
" Fort Schuyler, Aug. 9th, 1777.
" SIR : " Your letter of this day's date I have received, in answer to which I say, that it is my determined resolution, with the forces under my command, to defend this fort to the last extremity, in behalf of the United American States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies.
" I have the honor to be, sir,
"Your most ob't humble serv't,
" PETER GANSEVOORT,
" Col. commanding Fort Schuyler.
" Gen. Barry St. Leger."1
1 Copied, by the author, from the original draft, found among the Gansevoort papers.
Failing in these attempts to induce a surrender, the besiegers, four days afterward, had recourse to another expedient. It was the issuing of an appeal to the inhabitants of Tryon county, signed by Sir John Johnson, Colonel Claus, and Colonel John Butler, similar in its tenor to the verbal and written messages of St. Leger to Colonel Gansevoort. The appeal commenced with strong protestations of a desire for the restoration of peace, with a promise of pardon, and oblivion for the past, notwithstanding the many and great injuries the signers had received, upon a proper submission by the people. They, too, were threatened with the ravages of a victorious army, and the resentment of the Indians for the losses they had sustained at Oriskany, in the event of rejecting this appeal. In regard to the garrison of Fort Schuyler, its longer resistance was pronounced " mulish obstinacy," and the people of the Mohawk valley were urged to send up a deputation of their principal men, to oblige the garrison to do at once what they must be forced to do soon - surrender. If they did not surrender, the threat was again repeated that every soul would be put to death by the Indians.1 Messengers were despatched with this document into Tryon county, but to no good purpose ; while, as will soon appear, some of those messengers were involved in serious difficulty by their errand.
But if Colonel Willet's success in the brilliant execution
1 I have found this document only in The Remembrancer for 1777, page 451.
of the sortie on the 6th, entitled him, as it unquestionably did, to the commendations he received, a still more perilous enterprise, undertaken by him a few days afterward, was thought, alike by friends and foes, to entitle him to still greater applause. The artillery of the besiegers was not sufficiently heavy to make any impression upon the works, and there was every probability that the garrison might hold out until succors should be obtained, could their situation be made known. Col. Willett was not only well acquainted, but exceedingly popular, in Tryon county ; and it was supposed that, should he show himself personally among the militia of that district, notwithstanding the extent of their suffering in the late expedition, he might yet rally a force sufficient to raise the siege. The bold project was therefore conceived by him of passing by night, in company with another officer, through the enemy's works, and, regardless of the danger from the prowling savages, making his way through some forty or fifty miles of sunken morasses and pathless woods, in order to raise the county and bring relief.1 Selecting Major Stockwell for his companion, Colonel Willett undertook the expedition on the loth, and left the fort at ten o'clock that night, each armed with nothing but a spear, and provided only with a small supply of crackers and cheese, a small canteen of spirits, and in all other respects unincumbered, even by a blanket. Having escaped from the sally-port, they crept upon their hands and knees along the edge of a morass to the river,
1 British Universal Magazine.
which they crossed by crawling over upon a log, and succeeded in getting off unperceived by the sentinels of the enemy, although passing very near to them. Their first advance was into a deep-tangled forest in which, enveloped in thick darkness, they lost their direction, and found it impossible to proceed. While in this state of uncertainty, the barking of a dog added little to their comfort, inasmuch as it apprised them that they were not far from a new Indian encampment, formed subsequent to the sortie a few days before. They were, therefore, compelled to stand perfectly still for several hours, and until the morning star appeared to guide their way. Striking first in a northern direction for several miles, and then eastwardly, they traced a zig-zag course, occasionally adopting the Indian method of concealing their trail by walking in the channels of streams, and by stepping on stones along the river's edge. In this way they travelled the whole of the ensuing day without making a single halt. On the approach of night they dared not to strike a light, but lay down to sleep, interlocked in each other's arms. Pursuing their journey on the 12th, their little stock of provisions being exhausted, they fed upon raspberries and blackberries, of which they found an abundance in an opening occasioned by a windfall. Thus refreshed, they pushed forward with renewed vigor and at an accelerated pace, and arrived at Fort Dayton at three o'clock in the afternoon.1
1 " So successful was Col. Willett in all his movements, that the Indians, believing him to be possessed of supernatural power, gave to him the name of the Devil." - Campbell.
The colonel and his friend received a hearty welcome from Colonel Weston, whose regiment was then in charge at Fort Dayton, and from whom he obtained the agreeable intelligence that, on learning the news of General Herkimer's disaster. General Schuyler had ordered Generals Arnold and Lamed, with the Massachusetts brigade, to march to the relief of Colonel Gansevoort. Colonel Willett thereupon took horse immediately for Albany to meet General Arnold, who was to command the expedition ; and in four days afterward accompanied Arnold back to Fort Dayton, where the troops were assembling. The first New York regiment had been added to the brigade of General Lamed, who was yet in the rear, bringing up the heavy baggage and stores.
During Willett's brief absence to Albany an incident occurred in the neighborhood of Fort Dayton, showing that if he had been active in his attempts to bring succors to the fort, the enemy, on the other hand, had not been idle. About two miles above Fort Dayton resided a Mr. Shoemaker, a disaffected gentleman, who had been in his majesty's commission of the peace. Having heard of a clandestine meeting of tories at the house of that gentleman. Colonel Weston despatched a detachment of troops thither, which came upon the assemblage by surprise, and took them all prisoners. Among them was Lieutenant Walter N. Butler, from St. Leger's army, who, with fourteen white soldiers and the same number of Indians, 1 had
1 The Remembrancer for 1777, page 395.
visited the German Flats secretly, with the appeal of Sir John Johnson, Claus, and the elder Butler, referred to in a preceding page, for the purpose of persuading the timid and disaffected inhabitants to abandon the Provincial cause, and enroll themselves with the king's army before Fort Schuyler. Butler was in the midst of his harangue to the meeting at the moment of the unwelcome surprise. General Arnold ordered a court-martial, and caused him to be tried as a spy. 1 Of this tribunal Colonel Willett officiated as judge advocate. The lieutenant was convicted, and received sentence of death, but at the intercession of a number of officers, who had known him while a student at law in Albany, his life was spared by a reprieve. He was, however, removed to Albany and closely imprisoned until the spring of the Following year. When General the Marquis de Lafayette assumed the command of the Northern department, the friends of the Butler family, in consequence, as it was alleged, of his ill-health, interceded for a mitigated form of imprisonment. He was then removed to a private house and kept under guard, but shortly afterward effected his escape - owing, it was reported, to treachery - and was subsequently distinguished as one of the severest scourges of the beautiful valley which had given him birth.
The address of Johnson, Claus, and Butler, having been thus introduced among the people of the county,
1 The Remembrancer states that Butler came " on a truce to the inhabitants of the county." But if he did bear a flag, it could be no protection for such a mission -as it was not.
Arnold issued a proclamation from Fort Dayton for the purpose of counteracting its influence. It was couched in severe language in regard to St. Leger and his heterogeneous army - denounced those of the people who might be seduced by his arts to enroll themselves under the banner of the king-but promised pardon to all, whether Americans, savages, Germans, or Britons, who might return to duty to the states.
Meantime Colonel St. Leger was pushing his operations before the fort with considerable vigor. Every effort to intimidate the garrison having failed, and the commander exhibiting an unsubmitting spirit, St. Leger " commenced approaching by sap, and had formed two parallels, the second of which brought him near the edge of the glacis, but the fire of musketry from the covert way rendered his farther progress very difficult. 1" The fire of his ordnance producing no effect, his only means of annoying the garrison was by throwing shells; but these proved of so little consequence as to afford a discouraging prospect of success. Having advanced, however, within one hundred and fifty yards, it is not to be denied that some uneasiness began to be manifested within the garrison. Ignorant of the fate of Colonel Willett and Major Stockwell, and entirely cut off from all communication from without, their provisions daily exhausting, and having no certain prospect of relief, some of the officers commenced speaking in whispers of the expediency of saving the garrison from a reenactment
1 Willett's Narrative.
of the Fort William Henry tragedy, by acceding to St. Leger's proffered terms of capitulation. Not so the commander. After weighing well the circumstances of the case, he came to the deliberate resolve, in the event of obtaining no succor from without, when his provisions were about exhausted, to make a sally at night, and cut his way through the encampment of the besiegers, or perish in the attempt.
Fortunately, the necessity of executing the bold determination did not arrive. The siege had continued until the 22d of August, when suddenly, without any cause within the knowledge of the garrison, the besiegers broke up their encampment, and retired in such haste and confusion as to leave their tents, together with a great part of their artillery, camp equipage, and baggage behind. What was the motive for this unexpected flight of a vaunting and all but victorious foe, was a problem they were unable to solve within the garrison, although their joy was not, on that account, the less at their deliverance. It subsequently appeared that the panic which produced this welcome and unexpected change in the situation of the garrison, was caused by a ruse-de-guerre, practiced upon the forces of St. Leger by General Arnold, who had been waiting at Fort Dayton several days for the arrival of reinforcements and supplies.1 But having heard that St. Leger
1" I wrote you, the 21st instant, from German Flats, that from the best intelligence I could procure of the enemy's strength, it was much superior to ours, at the same time I inclosed you a copy of the resolutions of a council of war, and requested you to send me a reinforcement of one thousand light troops."-Letter of Arnold to Gen. Gates, Aug. 23, 1777.-"I have been retarded by the badness of the roads, waiting for some baggage, and ammunition, and for the militia, who did not turn out with that spirit which I expected. They are now joining me in great numbers. A few days will relieve you."- MS. letter from Arnold to Col. Gansevoort, Aug. 11, 1777.
had made his approaches to within a short distance of the fort, Arnold, on the 22d of August, determined at all events to push forward and hazard a battle, rather than see the garrison fall a sacrifice.1 With this view, on the morning of the 23d, he resumed his march for Fort Schuyler, and had proceeded ten miles of the distance from Fort Dayton when he was met by an express from Colonel Gansevoort, with the gratifying intelligence that the siege had been raised. The cause of this sudden movement was yet as great a mystery to the colonel and his garrison, as was the flight of the host of Ben-hadad from before Samaria to the king of Israel, when the Syrian monarch heard the supernatural sound of chariots, and the noise of horses, in the days of Elisha the prophet. Arnold was, of course, less in the dark. The circumstances were these :
Among the party of Tories and Indians captured at Shoemaker's under Lieutenant Butler, was a singular being named Hon-Yost Schuyler. His place of residence was near the Little falls, where his mother and a brother named Nicholas, were then residing. Hon-Yost Schuyler was one of the coarsest and most ignorant
1 Letters above cited from Arnold to Gen. Gates.- Vide Remembrancer, 1777, Page 444.
men in the valley, appearing scarce half removed from idiocy , and yet there was no small share of shrewdness in his character. Living upon the extreme border of civilization, his associations had been more with the Indians than the whites ; and tradition avers that they regarded him with that mysterious reverence and awe with which they are inspired by fools and lunatics. Thus situated and thus constituted, Hon-Yost had partially attached himself to the royalist cause, though probably, like the cow-boys of West Chester, he really cared little which party he served or plundered ; and had he been the captor of the unfortunate Andre, would have balanced probabilities as to the best way of turning the prize to account. Be these things, however, as they may, Hon-Yost was captured, with Walter Butler, and, like him, was tried for his life, adjudged guilty, and condemned to death. His mother and brother, hearing of his situation, hastened to Fort Dayton, and implored General Arnold to spare his life. The old woman strongly resembled the gipsey in her character, and the eloquence and pathos with which she pleaded for the life of her son, were long remembered in the unwritten history of the Mohawk valley. Arnold was for a time inexorable, and the woman became almost frantic with grief and passion on account of her wayward son. Nicholas, likewise, exerted himself to the utmost in behalf of his brother. At length General Arnold proposed terms upon which his life should be spared. The conditions were, that Hon-Yost should hasten to Fort Schuyler, and so alarm the camp of St. Leger as to induce him to raise the seige and fly. The convict-traitor gladly accepted the proposition, and his mother offered herself as a hostage for the faithful performance of his commission. Arnold, however, declined receiving the woman as a hostage, preferring and insisting that Nicholas should be retained for that purpose. To this the latter readily assented, declaring that he was perfectly willing to pledge his life that Hon-Yost would fulfil his engagements to the utmost. Nicholas was, therefore, placed in confinement, while Hon-Yost departed for the camp of Colonel St. Leger - having made an arrangement with one of the Oneida Indians, friendly to the Americans, to aid him in the enterprise. Before his departure several shots were fired through Schuyler's clothes, that he might appear to have had a narrow escape ; and the Oneida Indian, by taking a circuitous route to Fort Schuyler, was to fall into the enemy's camp from another direction, and aid Hon-Yost in creating the panic desired. The emissary first presented himself among the Indians, who were in a very suitable state of mind to be wrought upon by exactly such a personage. They had been moody and dissatisfied ever since the battle of Oriskany - neither the success nor the plunder promised them had been won, and they had previously received some vague and indefinite intelligence respecting the approach of Arnold. They had likewise just been holding a pow-wow, or were actually convened in one, for the purpose of consulting the Manito touching the dubious enterprise in which they were engaged, when Hon-Yost arrived. Knowing their character well he communicated his intelligence to them in the most mysterious and imposing manner. Pointing to his riddled garments, he proved to them how narrow had been his escape from the approaching army of the rebels. When asked the number of the troops that Arnold was leading against them, he shook his head mysteriously, and pointed upward to the leaves of the trees. The reports spread rapidly through the camps, and reaching the ears of the commander, Hon-Yost 1 was sent for to the tent of St. Leger himself. Here he was interrogated, and gave information that General Arnold, with two thousand men, was so near that he would be upon them within twenty-four hours. He gave St. Leger a pitiable narrative of his captivity, trial, and condemnation to the gallows. It* was while on his way to execution, as he alleged, that, finding himself not very closely guarded, he took an opportunity to effect his escape-thinking, at the worst, that he could only die, and it would be as well to be shot as hanged. A shower of bullets had indeed been let fly at him, but fortunately had only wounded his clothes, as the general might see. 2 Meantime the Oneida messenger arrived with a belt, and confirmed to the Indians all that Schuyler had said, adding, that the Americans had no desire to injure the Indians, and were intent only upon attacking the British troops and rangers. While making his way to the camp of the besiegers, the ingenious Oneida had fallen in with some
1 Johannes Justus, Dutch for John Joost, pronounced Hon-Yost.
2 Remembrancer, for 1777 - p. 447-448.
two or three straggling Indians of his acquaintance, to whom he communicated his business, and whose assistance in furthering the design he engaged. These sagacious fellows dropped into the Indian camp at different points, and threw out alarming suggestions - shaking their heads mysteriously, and insinuating that a bird had brought them intelligence of great moment. 1 They spoke of warriors in great numbers advancing rapidly upon them, and used every indirect method of infusing a panic into the minds of the listeners who gathered abound them. The Indians presently began to give signs of decamping, and St. Leger assayed in vain to reassure them. He convened a council of their chiefs, hoping that by the influence of Sir John Johnson, and Colonels Claus and Butler, he should be able to retain them. Other reports, of a yet more terrifying tendency, getting afloat, not only among the Indians but in the other camp, the former declared that " the powwow said they must go ;" and a portion of them took their departure before the council broke up. The result was a general and precipitate flight. It has been stated, that in the commencement of the retreat the Indians made themselves merry at the expense of their white allies, by raising a shout that the Americans were upon them, and then laughing at the groundless terror thus created. 1 According to the account derived by Gordon from the Rev. Mr. Kirkland, an altercation took place between Colonel St. Leger and Sir John Johnson, the former reproaching
1 Travels of President Dwight, vol. in, p. 195-197.
the latter with the defection of the Indians, while the baronet charged his commander with but an indifferent prosecution of the siege. It was in the gray of twilight, when a couple of sachems, standing upon a little eminence not far in the rear, and overhearing the interchange of sharp words between them, put an end I to the unpleasant colloquy by raising the shout - " they are coming ! - they are coming ! " Both St. Leger and Sir John recommenced their retreat with all possible expedition upon hearing such an alarm. Their troops were equally nimble of foot on the occasion, throwing away their knapsacks and arms, and disencumbering themselves of every hindrance to the quick-step ; while the Indians, enjoying the panic and confusion, repeated the joke by the way until they arrived at the Oneida lake. It is believed, however, that it was not the Americans alone of whom St. Leger began to stand in fear, being quite as apprehensive of danger from his own dusky allies as he was of the approaching army of Arnold. There is British authority for stating that the Indians actually plundered several of the boats belonging to their own army , robbing the officers of whatsoever they liked. Within a few miles of the camp, they first I stripped off the arms, and afterward murdered, with their own bayonets, all those British, German, and American soldiers who were separated from the main body. 1
1 British Universal Magazine. Indeed, St. Leger's report of this disastrous retreat, addressed to General Burgoyne from Oswego, on the 27th of August, corresponds very closely with the American accounts whence the present narrative has been drawn. He states that the Indians fell treacherously upon their friends, and became more formidable than the enemy they had to expect. He leaves no room, however, to suppose that there was any difficulty between Sir John Johnson and himself- calling him " his gallant coadjutor," etc., and commending his exertions to induce the Indians again to meet the enemy, as also those of Colonels Claus and Butler.
Thus were the threats of savage vengeance sent by Colonel St. Leger to the garrison, in some degree wreaked upon his own army. Hon-Yost Schuyler accompanied the flying host to the estuary of Wood creek, where he deserted, threading his way back to Fort Schuyler the same evening - imparting to Colonel Gansevoort his first information of the advance of Arnold. 1 From Fort Schuyler, Hon-Yost proceeded back to the German Flats. On presenting himself at Fort Dayton, his brother was discharged, to the inexpressible joy of his mother and their relatives. But he proved a tory in grain, and embraced the first opportunity subsequently presented, which was in October, of running away to the enemy, with several of his neighbors, and attaching, himself to the forces of Sir John Johnson.2
Immediately on the receipt of Colonel Gansevoort's despatch announcing St. Leger's retreat, General Arnold pushed forward a detachment of nine hundred men, with directions, if possible, to overtake the fugitives, and render their flight still more disastrous. On the day following, Arnold himself arrived at the fort, where he was
1 Letter of Colonel Gansevoort to General Arnold.
2 After the close of the contest, Hon-Yost returned to the Mohawk valley, and resided there until his death - which event occurred about twenty years since.
received with a salute of artillery and the cheers of the brave garrison. He, of course, found that Gansevoort had anticipated his design of harassing the rear of the flying enemy, and had brought in several prisoners, together with large quantities of spoil.1 So great was their panic, and such the precipitancy of their flight, that they left their tents standing, their provisions, artillery, ammunition, their entire camp equipage, and large quantities of other articles enhancing the value of the booty. 2 Thus ended the siege of Fort Schuyler, or Fort Stanwix, as the public have always preferred calling it. St. Leger hastened with his scattered forces back to Oswego, and thence to Montreal. From that post he proceeded to Lake Champlain, passing up the same to Ticonderoga, for the purpose of joining the army of Burgoyne. Finding that the enemy had evacuated the country between the fort and Lake Ontario, and that the post could be in no immediate danger from that direction. Colonel Gansevoort took the opportunity of visiting his friends at Albany, and at the seat of the state government, then just organized at Kingston. His reception was most cordial, as appears not only from contemporaneous accounts, but from the following modest address to his fellow-soldiers of the garrison, on his return to resume his command :
" I should be wanting in justice to you, if I did not
1 Letter of Arnold to General Gates, Aug. 24, 1777.
2 Among other articles Was the escritoire of St. Leger himself, containing his private papers, several of which have been used by the author in writing this and the preceding chapters.
give some testimony of your good conduct during the time you have been in this garrison, and especially while we were besieged by the enemy. Believe me, that I am impressed with a proper sense of the behavior by which you have done essential service to your country, and acquired immortal honor to yourselves. Nothing can equal the pleasure I have experienced since my absence, in hearing and receiving the public approbation of our country for our services, which is, and must be, to every soldier, a full and ample compensation for the same. Permit me to congratulate you upon the success of the American arms, both to the southward and northward. Every day terminates with victory to America, and I make not the least doubt, but in this campaign we shall effectually establish the Independence of the United States, and thereby secure to ourselves the rights and liberties for which we have so nobly stood forth." 1
As an evidence of the value placed upon the services of the colonel in the defence of Fort Schuyler, he was shortly afterward promoted in the state line to the rank of brigadier general, while his gallantry was farther rewarded by a colonel's commission from congress in the army of the United States.2 On leaving his regiment, its officers
1 Copied by the author from the original manuscript. It was filed away among the colonel's papers, with the following inscription : - "A laconic address to my fellow officers and soldiers after our success at Fort Stanwix."
2 There seems to have been something peculiar and special in this commission. In a letter which Colonel Gansevoort wrote jointly to William Duer and Gouverneur Morris, a copy of which is preserved among his papers, he observes: "Congress have done me the honor of appointing me colonel commander of Fort Schuyler. I should esteem it as a favor if you would inform me whether I am to receive any pay for that commission, other than as colonel of the third regiment of New Yorkers; and if not, I should be glad if you would endeavor to get something allowed me, as my present pay will not reimburse my table liquors, which you may well conceive to be something considerable as commanding officer. I am not solicitous to make money by my commission ; but I could wish not to sink by it, as I am obliged to do now. The commission which congress has sent me as commandant of Fort Schuyler, subjects me as much to the command of my superior officers, as any former one. If that was the intention of congress, the appointment is nugatory. If not, I wish congress to alter the commission."
presented him with an affectionate letter of congratulation on his promotion, mingled with an expression of their regret at the loss to the regiment of " so worthy a patron." To which the colonel returned an appropriate letter of thanks. 1 The people of Tryon county were of
1 The following is a copy of the address referred to in the text; " Honored Sir : From a just sense of that conduct which has hitherto been so conspicuously shown to advance the third New York regiment to honor and public notice, we congratulate you that those characteristics which so eminently point out the gentleman and soldier, have by your personal bravery been deservedly noticed by our bleeding country. Although we rejoice at your promotion, yet we cannot but regret the loss of so worthy a patron. That the prosperity which has crowned your conduct with victory may still be continued, is the sincere wish and prayer of, honored sir, your most obedient and very humble servants." It was signed by twenty-six officers. Colonel Gansevoort replied as follows :- " Gentlemen: Your polite address on my promotion merits my sincere thanks. Gratitude, I hope, shall never be wanting in me to the third N. Y. regiment, who have, by their firmness and discipline, been the chief authors of my promotion. Therefore, gentlemen, please accept my warmest wishes for the prosperity of the corps, that all their virtuous endeavors in the defence of their bleeding country may be crowned with honor and success, which will always be the earnest prayer of, gentlemen, your most obliged, humble servant."
course rejoiced, that the blow, directed, as the enemy supposed, with unerring certainty against them, had been averted. They had suffered severely in the campaign, but there were enough of her sons yet left to swell the ranks of General Gates not a little, and they pressed ardently to join his standard, although circumstances did not then require them long to remain in the field.
In October following, when Sir Henry Clinton was ascending the Hudson for the purpose either of succoring, or of cooperating with, Burgoyne, Colonel Gansevoort was ordered to Albany by General Gates, to take command of the large force then concentrating at that place. Happily, there was no occasion to test his prowess in his new and temporary command.
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