The Pictorial Field-Book
of The Revolution
by Benson J. Lossing
Volume I, Chapter 11
"A scream! 'tis but the panther's-naught
Breaks the calm sunshine there;
A thicket stirs! a deer has sought
From sight a closer lair;
Again upon the grass they droop,
Then bursts the well-known whoop on whoop,
Shrill, deafening on the air,
And onward from their ambush deep,
Like wolves, the savage warriors leap."
E are now upon an Indian battle-ground, in the bosom of the deep forest, where the cunning and ferocity of the savage had free exercise in the panther-like maneuvers of the ambuscade, and the unrestrained use of the hatchet and knife. Hitherto we have seen the red warriors subordinate, and comparatively ineffective in the conflicts we have considered, except in the battle at Lake George and in the massacre at the Cedars. We have seen their method of warfare wholly subverted by European tactics, and their fiery courage controlled by a policy unknown in their sanguinary battles, unsuited to their martial training, and unsatisfactory to their fierce natures when aroused by the flow of blood. But in the siege of Fort Schuyler, which we are about to chronicle, and particularly in the battle of Oriskany, which formed a part of the operations of that siege, the Indians, commanded by Brant, the most subtle and accomplished war chief of his time, formed the strong right arm of St. Leger, and were left free to fight according to the customs of their race.
In the spring of 1777, Colonel Peter Gansevoort(1) was appointed to the command of Fort Schuyler, and held that post in the summer of that year, when Burgoyne was making his victorious march toward Albany by way of Lake Champlain. The successful progress of the British commander greatly alarmed the people of the north, and those of Tryon county were particularly disturbed by intelligence that a descent
1 Peter Gansevoort was born in Albany, July 17th, 1749. He accompanied Montgomery into Canada in 1775, with the rank of major, and the next year he was appointed a colonel in the New York line, which commission he held when he defended Fort Schuyler against St. Leger. For his gallant defense of that post he received the thanks of Congress, and in 1781 was promoted to the rank of brigadier general by the state of New York. After the war he was for many years a military agent. He held several offices of trust, and was always esteemed for his bravery and judgment as a soldier, and for his fidelity, intelligence, and probity as a citizen. He died July 2d, 1812, aged 62 years.
upon them from Oswego might be expected. As early as June, a man from Canada, arrested as a spy, had disclosed the fact that a detachment of British troops, Canadians and Indians, was to penetrate the country by way of Oswego and the Mohawk, to join Burgoyne when he should reach Albany. This intelligence was soon after confirmed by Thomas Spencer, a friendly Oneida half-breed sachem, who was sent to Canada a secret emissary for information. He was present at a council where Colonel Claus,(1) a brother-in-law of Sir John Johnson, presided, and there he became acquainted with the general plans of Burgoyne. The Oneida further informed the inhabitants that Sir John Johnson and Colonel Claus, with their families, were then at Oswego in command of seven hundred Indians and four hundred regular troops; that there were six hundred Tories at Oswegatchie (Ogdensburgh) ready to join them; and that Colonel John Butler was to arrive at Oswego on the 14th of July, from Niagara, with Tories and Indians.
This information, instead of arousing the Whigs of the Mohawk Valley to prompt and efficient action, seemed to paralyze them with alarm. The timid were backward in preparing for the field, and the wavering, considering the patriot cause almost hopeless, became Loyalists, or, at best, passive Whigs. Fort Schuyler was still unfinished, and feebly garrisoned, and certain discomfiture seemed to await the patriots in that region. Colonel Gansevoort, however, was vigilant, active, and hopeful. He wrote spirited letters to General Schuyler, imploring aid, and that officer as urgently laid the condition of Tryon county before the Provincial Congress of New York, and also the General Congress. But it was then too late to expect succor from a distance, and the people of the Mohawk Valley were thrown upon their own feeble resources for defense. St. Leger and his Rangers, with the forces of Johnson, Claus, Butler, and Brant, mentioned by the Oneida chief, were already in motion, and on the 1st of August the enemy, one thousand seven hundred strong, came up Oneida Lake, and near the ruins of old Fort Newport prepared to invest Fort Schuyler. The Indians were led by Brant, and the whole beleaguering force, at the beginning of the march at Oswego Falls, was disposed in admirable order for the journey through the forest. The main body was led by the Indians, under Brant, in five columns, four hundred and sixty paces in front of the advanced guard. The Indians marched in single file, at large distances apart. Between the five columns and the rear-guard a file of Indians, ten paces apart, formed a line of communication. The advanced guard was one hundred paces in front of the main column, which was disposed in Indian file, the right and left flanks covered by a file of savages. The rear-guard was formed of regular troops. The advanced guard was composed of sixty marksmen, selected from the corps of Johnson's Royal Greens, and led by Captain Watts, a brother-in-law
1 Daniel Claus married the daughter of Sir William Johnson,
and was a man of considerable influence. Brant entertained for him sentiments
of the strongest personal hostility, although both were engaged in the same
cause, His wife died in Canada in 1801, and Brant, in the name of the Five
Nations, made a speech of condolence on her death. William Claus, deputy
superintendent of Indian affairs, was his son.-Sabine's Lives of the
2 This diagram, representing the order of march of the besieging force, is a reduced copy of an engraving in Stone's Life of Brant. The original drawing, beautifully colored, was found in the writing-desk of St. Leger, which he left behind when he fled from his camp before Fort Schuyler. The following is an explanation of the diagram: a a a a a, five columns of Indians in front, flanking the British flag; b, advanced guard; n, line of communication between the advanced guard and Indian columns; c c, d d, the left and right wings of the eighth and thirty-forth regiments (the thirty-fourth on the left side); e, rear-guard, f f, Indians on the right and left flanks; ii, line of communication.
of Sir John Johnson. Each corps was likewise furnished with practiced marksmen at short intervals, who were ordered to concentrate their strength upon any point that might be attacked. St. Leger, as appears from his private diary, was much annoyed on the way by the disposition of his Indian allies to proceed according to their own notions of expediency. They were averse to approaching the fort in a body, but the commander finally persuaded them to be governed by his directions, which, at Oswego, they had promised to obey, and (1777.) on the 2d of August Lieutenant Bird and Brant commenced the investment of the fort.
The garrison, under Colonel Gansevoort, consisted of seven hundred and fifty men. In July, Colonel Marinus Willett, an active and judicious officer, had joined the garrison with his regiment, and, on the very day when Bird commenced the investiture of the fort, Lieutenant-colonel Mellon, of Colonel Wesson's(1) regiment, arrived with two hundred men, and two bateaux laden with provisions and military stores. With this timely addition, the garrison had sufficient provision for six weeks, and a plentiful supply of ammunition for small arms. But for their cannon, their most important means of defense, they had only about four hundred rounds, or nine cartridges for each piece a day for that length of time. The garrison was also without a flag when the enemy appeared, but their pride and ingenuity soon supplied one in conformity to the pattern adopted by the Continental Congress. Shirts were cut up to form the white stripes, bits of scarlet cloth were joined for the red, and the blue ground for the stars was composed of a cloth cloak belonging to Captain Abraham Swartwout, of Dutchess county, who was then in the fort.(2) Before sunset the curious mosaic-work standard, as precious to the beleaguered garrison as the most beautifully-wrought flag of silk and needle-work, was floating over one of the bastions.
On the 3d, Colonel St. Leger arrived before the fort with his whole force. It was a motley collection of British regulars, a few Hessians and Canadians, well-armed Tories, and troops of warriors from the various tribes of the Six Nations, except the Oneidas, who were faithful to their agreement to remain neutral. St. Leger dispatched an officer, bearing a. flag, to the fort, immediately after his arrival, with a copy of a pompous manifesto which he had sent among the people, conceived very much in the vein of the one issued by Burgoyne from Crown Point, a few weeks before. He magnified the power, clemency, and justice of the king, and charged the General Congress, and other assemblies, committees, &c., with cruelty in the form of "arbitrary imprisonment, confiscation of property, persecution and torture, unprecedented in the inquisitions of the Romish Church." He also denounced the patriot civil authorities every where as guilty of "the profanation of religion," and of" shocking proceedings" of almost every shade of darkness. He then exhorted the people who were disposed to do right, to remember that he was" at the head of troops in the full power of health, discipline, and valor, determined to strike when necessary and anxious to spare when possible," and tempted them with offers of employment if they would join his standard, security to the infirm and industrious, and payment in coin for all supplies for his army that might be brought into his camp. "If, notwithstanding these endeavors and sincere intentions to effect them," he said, in conclusion, "the phrensy of hostility should remain, I trust
1 The name of this officer is variously spelled in the books-Weston,
Wesson, and Wessen. At the close of an autograph letter of his among Gates's
Papers (vol. x.), in the New York Historical Society, it is written Wesson,
and, presuming that he spelled his own name correctly, I give that orthography.
It will be remembered that Colonel Wesson and his regiment were active participators
in the battles of Bemis's Heights, a few weeks later than the time in question.
2 It was in Captain Swartwout's company, while at Poughkeepsie, that Samuel Geake, an emissary of Sir Henry Clinton, enlisted, in the character of a recruit, insinuated himself into the good graces of the officers at Fort Schuyler, and acquired much valuable information respecting the means, designs, and expectations of the Americans. He was suspected, arrested, tried by court-martial as a spy, and was condemned to death. He was spared, however, as a witness against Major Hammell, another recreant American, who had accompanied him to Poughkeepsie, and who was under arrest at that time. Geake confessed that he was employed for the purpose of which he was accused. He said that Major Hammell (who had been taken prisoner ,by the British) had espoused the cause of the enemy, and was promised a colonelcy in the British army, and that he (Geake) was to receive the commission of lieutenant as soon as he should return to New York from Fort Schuyler.
I shall stand acquitted in the eyes of God and man 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." The patriot people who received the manifesto treated it with derision, and the little garrison, which had already counted the cost of a siege, and determined upon a defense of the fort, laughed at its threats, and regarded its offer of bribes with scorn.
The siege commenced on the 4th. A few bombs were thrown into the fort, (August 1777.) and the Indians, concealed behind trees and bushes, wounded several men who were employed in raising the parapets. Similar annoyances occurred on the 5th, and toward evening the Indians spread out through the woods, encircled the fort, and, by hideous yells through the night, attempted to intimidate the garrison. St. Leger, confident of success, sent a dispatch to Burgoyne at this juncture, expressing his assurance that Fort Schuyler would be in his possession directly, and the hope that they would speedily meet as victors at Albany. Let us leave the besiegers and besieged a moment, and ride down to Oriskany, eight miles eastward of Fort Schuyler, where a terrible episode in the siege occurred.
I left Rome (site of Fort Schuyler) at about two o'clock, in an open light wagon, for Oriskany.(1) The day was very warm; the road, although nearly level, was excessively stony, and when I arrived at the village I was almost overcome by the heat and fatigue. Desirous of reaching Utica that evening, I stayed at the village only long enough to procure a competent guide to the battle-ground. Mr. George Graham, a resident of the village (who was one of the committee of arrangements for the celebration held upon the battle-ground, on thc anniversary of the event, in 1844), kindly accompanied me to the spot, and pointed out the various localities which were identified on the occasion referred to by many (August 6.) old men who were present, some of whom were in the battle. The locality is about two miles west of the canal landing in the village, and in the midst of a beautiful agricultural country. Let us consult the history while on our way thither, and then we shall better understand our "topographical survey."
As soon as St. Leger's approach up Oneida Lake was known to General Herkimer, he summoned the militia of Tryon county to the succor of the garrison at Fort Schuyler. The timidity which seemed to have abated the fire of the Whigs, when the first intimations of the invasion were given by the Canada spy and the Oneida sachem, now disappeared, when the threatened danger was at their doors, and the call of Herkimer was responded to with alacrity, not only by the militia, but most of the members of the Tryon county committee entered the field as officers or volunteers. They rendezvoused at Fort Dayton, on the German Flats, and, on the day when the Indians encircled the fort, Herkimer was near Oriskany with more than eight hundred men, eager to face the enemy. He (August 5.) sent a messenger to Gansevoort, informing him of his approach, and requesting him to apprise him of the arrival of his courier by discharging three guns in rapid succession, which he knew would be heard at Oriskany. But the messenger did not arrive until near noon the next day. Herkimer was brave, but cautious, and determined to halt there until he should receive re-enforcements or hear the signal guns from the fort. His officers, influenced by the impatience of their men to press on toward the fort, were opposed to delay. Herkimer, self-relying, was firm. Harsh words ensued, and two of his colonels, Cox and Paris, more impertinent than generous, denounced the old man as a coward and a Tory. This bitter taunt sank deep into his heart, but his duty governed his feelings, and he calmly replied, "I am placed over you as a father and guardian, and shall not lead you into difficulties from which I may not be able to extricate you." But they persisted in their demands for an immediate advance, and continued their ungenerous taunts. Stung by imputations
1 Oriskany is a little village about eight miles west of Utica, at the junction of the Oriskany Creek with the Mohawk. The Erie Canal and the rail-road both pass through it, and the establishment of woolen factories there promises growth and prosperity to the pleasant town.
of cowardice, Herkimer at length yielded, and gave the word to "March on!" at the same time telling those who boasted loudest of their courage that they would be the first to run un seeing the enemy.
St. Leger had intelligence of the advance of Herkimer, and detached a division of Johnson's Greens, under Major Watts, Colonel Butler with his Rangers, and Brant with a strong body of Indians. to intercept him, and prevent an attack upon his intrenchments. Before the arrival of Herkimer's messenger, Gansevoort had observed the silence of the enemy's camp, and also the movement of a portion of his troops along the margin of a wood down the river. The arrival of the courier dispelled all doubts as to the destination of the detachment, and the signal guns were immediately fired. Herkimer had informed Gansevoort, by the messenger, that he intended, on hearing the signals, to cut his way to the fort through the circumvallating camp of the enemy, and requested him to make a sortie at the same time. This was done as soon as the arrangement could be made, and a detachment of two hundred men, consisting of portions of Gansevoort's and Wesson's regiments, was detailed for the purpose, who took with them an iron three pounder. Fifty men were also added, to protect the cannon, and to act otherwise as circumstances might require. The enterprise was intrusted to Colonel Marinus Willet, (1) who, by quick and judicious movements and daring courage, with his small force, accomplished wonders in a few hours. Rain was falling copiously while preparations for the sortie were in progress, but the moment it ceased Willet sallied out and fell furiously upon that portion of the camp occupied by Sir John Johnson and his Royal Greens, a detachment of whom, as we have seen,
1 Marinus Willett was born at Jamaica, Long Island, July 31st (O.S.), 1740. He was the youngest of six sons of Edward Willett, a Queen's county farmer. He was early imbued with a military spirit, and joined the army, under Abercrombie, as a lieutenant in Colonel Delancy's regiment, in 1758. He was in the disastrous battle at Ticonderoga, and accompanied Bradstreet in his expedition against Fort Frontenac. Exposure in the wilderness injured his health, and he was confined by sickness in the newly-erected Fort Stanwix until the end of the campaign. Willett early espoused the republican cause when British aggression aroused resistance here. When the British troops in the New York garrison were ordered to Boston, after the skirmish at Lexington, they attempted, in addition to their own, to carry off a large quantity of spare arms. Willett resolved to prevent it, and, though opposed by the mayor and other Whigs, he captured the baggage-wagons containing them, and took them back to the city. These arms were afterward used by the first regiment raised by the state of New York. He was appointed second captain of a company in Colonel M'Dougal's regiment, and accompanied Montgomery in his northern expedition. He was placed in command of St. John's, and held that post until January, 1776. He was that year appointed lieutenant colonel, and, at the opening of the campaign of 1777, placed in command of Fort Constitution, on the Hudson. In May he was ordered to Fort Stanwix, or Schuyler, where he performed signal services, as noticed in the text. He was left in command of the fort, and remained there until the summer of 1778 when he joined the army under Washington, and was at the battle of Monmouth. He accompanied Sullivan in his campaign against the Indians in 1779, and was actively engaged in the Mohawk Valley in 1780, 1781, and 1782. In 1792 he was sent by Washington to treat with the Creek Indians at the south; and the same year he was appointed a brigadier general in the army intended to act against the Northwestern Indians. He declined the appointment, for he was opposed to the expedition. He was for some time sheriff of New York, and was elected mayor of the city in 1807. He was chosen elector of President and Vice president in 1824, and was made president of the Electoral College. He died in New York, August 23d, 1830, in the 91st year of his age.
had been sent to oppose the approach of Herkimer. The advanced guard, unable to withstand the impetuosity of the attack, were driven in; and so suddenly was Sir John's camp assailed, that he was not allowed time to put on his coat. He endeavored to bring his troops into order, but they fled in dismay. The Indian encampment was then assaulted, and in a few moments the savages, too, were scattered. Sir John and his troops fled across the river. to the temporary camp of St. Leger, and the Indians buried themselves in the deep forest near. No less than twenty-one wagon-loads of spoil, consisting of clothing, blankets, stores, camp equipage, five British standards, the baggage of Sir John, with all his papers, and those of other officers, containing every kind of information necessary to the garrison, were captured. Having secured their prize, Willett and his party returned to the fort without the loss of a man. The five British colors were raised in full view of the enemy, upon the flag-staff, beneath the uncouth American standard, and the whole garrison, mounting the parapets, made the forest ring with three loud cheers. This chivalrous exploit was duly noticed by Congress, and an elegant sword was presented to Colonel Willett in the name of the United States.
General Herkimer, in the mean while, had moved from the mills, at the mouth of Oriskany Creek, toward the fort, entirely unconscious of the ambuscade that, in a deep ravine two miles distant, awaited his approach. The morning was dark, sultry, and lowering. His troops, composed chiefly of the militia regiments of Colonels Cox, Paris, Visscher, and Klock, were quite undisciplined, and their order of march was irregular and without precaution. The contentions of the morning had delayed their advance until about nine o'clock, and the hard feelings that existed between the commander and some of his officers caused a degree of insubordination which proved fatal in its consequences. Brant and his Tory associates
1 This sketch was made from the eastern side of the ravine, looking west. The marsh in the bottom or the ravine, mentioned in the text, is partially drained by a rivulet. When I visited the spot (August, 1848), many logs of the old causeway were still visible, and afforded a crossing-place for cattle. These logs are seen in the picture. The road on the left is the present highway between Oriskany and Rome. The barn stands upon the western side of the ravine, and along the high ground upon which it is situated, and crossing the road southeasterly, the ambush was placed. The hottest of the battle occurred upon the high plain between the ravine in the foreground and another beyond the most distant trees in the picture. The hills seen in the extreme distance, on the right, are those upon the north side of the Mohawk. The frame-work in the ravine is the remains of the scaffolding erected for the speakers at the celebration alluded to, in 1844. The chief speakers on the occasion were John A. Dix and Senator Dickinson, and the audience
had learned from their scouts the exact route the patriots had taken, and arranged an ambuscade accordingly. A deep ravine crossed the path of Herkimer in a north and south direction, extending from the high grounds on the south to the river, and curved toward the east in a semicircular form. The bottom of this ravine was marshy, and the road crossed it by means of a causeway of earth and logs. On each side of the ravine the ground was nearly level, and heavily timbered. A thick growth of under wood, particularly along the margin of the ravine, favored concealment. It was upon the high ground on the western side of this ravine that the ambush of the Tories and Indians was laid, in such a manner that the causeway was surrounded by them, as by a circle, leaving only a small segment open where the road entered. Unsuspicious of the proximity of the enemy, the whole body of provincials, except the rear-guard, composed of Visscher's regiment, descended into the ravine, followed by the baggage-wagons. Brant gave a signal, and in an instant the circle closed, the war-hoop was sounded, and spear, and hatchet, and deadly rifle-ball fell upon the patriots like hail from the clouds that hovered over them. The rear-guard, in fulfillment of Herkimer's prediction, instantly fled, and left their companions in the ravine to their fate. They were pursued by the Indians, and probably suffered more, in their cowardly flight, than if they had boldly aided their environed companions in arms.
This sudden onslaught produced great confusion in the patriot ranks, but they soon recovered, and fought with the courage and skill of veteran troops. The slaughter, however, was dreadful. Herkimer was severely wounded at the commencement of the action, and Colonel Cox and Captain Van Slyk were killed at the first fire. A musket-ball passed through and killed the horse of the general, and shattered his own leg just below the knee. With perfect composure and cool courage, he ordered the saddle to be taken from his slaughtered horse and placed against a large beech. tree near. Seated there, with his men falling like autumn foliage, and the bullets of the enemy, like driving sleet, whistling around him, the intrepid general calmly gave his orders, and thus nobly rebuked the slanderers who called him a coward.(1)
For nearly an hour the fierce action continued, and by slow degrees the enemy was closing in upon the republicans. The latter then made an admirable change in their method of repulsion. They formed themselves into circles, and thus met the enemy at all points. Their fire became so destructive in this way, that the Johnson Greens and a portion of Butler's Tories attempted a bayonet charge. This was promptly met by the patriots, and the ba.ttle assumed the terrible form of a death-struggle in close personal contact. They
"Fought eye to eye, and hand to hand,
Alas! 'twas but to die;
In vain the rifle's deadly flash
Scorch'd eagle plume and wampum sash;
The hatchet hiss'd on high,
And down they fell in crimson heaps,
Like the ripe corn the sickle reaps."
At this moment a heavy thunder-peal broke over the forest, and the rain came down in such
was estimated at 15,000 people. The scaffold was erected
upon the spot, as nearly as it could bedefined,
where General Herkimer fell. In the middle of the field beyond the scaffold,
in the lightest part near the tree, toward the barn, is seen a dark spot.
It marks the site, now indicated by a cavity, where the beach-tree stood
under which Herkimer sat and delivered his orders. Avarice cut the tree
down about eight years ago, and then uprooted the stump to make room for
a more precious hill of potatoes. This view is about two miles west of Oriskany,
on the north side of the main road. Arrow-heads, bullets, bayonets, tomahawks,
pipes, &c., ar" still found there by the cultivator. The bowl of
an earthen pipe was shown to me by a resident upon the ground (whose house
is seen in the distance, beyond the barn), which he had plowed up the day
before. He had several other relics of the battle, but would not part with
any. The above is a drawing of the pipe-bowl.
1 It is related that, during the hottest of the action, the general, seated upon his saddle, quietly took his tinder-box from his pocket, lighted his pipe, and smoked as composedly as if seated at his own fire-side.
torrents that the combatants ceased their strife, and sought shelter beneath the trees. It was during this heavy shower that Willett made his preparations at the fort for the successful sortie just noticed; and, as soon as the rain subsided, he fell upon Johnson's camp, and the battle was renewed at Oriskany.
During the lull in the conflict, both parties viewed the ground, and made new arrangements for attack and defense. It had been observed by the patriots that the Indians, as soon as they saw a gun fired by a provincial behind a tree, would rush forward and tomahawk him before he could reload. To meet such an exigency in the renewed conflict, two men stood together behind a tree, and, while one fired, the other awaited the approach of the savage with his tomahawk, and felled him with his bullet. The provincials had also made choice of more advantageous ground, and, soon after the renewal of the fight, so destructive was their fire that the Indians began to give way. Major Watts came up with a detachment of Johnson's Greens to support them, but the presence of these men, mostly refugees from the Mohawk, made the patriots more furious, and mutual resentments, as the parties faced and recognized each other, seemed to give new strength to their arms. They leaped upon each other with the fierceness of tigers, and fought hand to hand and foot to foot with bayonets and knives. It was a terrible struggle, and exhibited the peculiar cruelty and brutality which distinguishes civil war.
A firing was now heard in the direction of the fort. It was the attack of Willett upon the enemy's camp. Colonel Butler instantly conceived a stratagem, and was nearly successful in its execution. He so changed the dress of a detachment of Johnson's Greens, that they appeared like American troops. These were made to approach from the direction of the fort, and were at first (as intended by Butler) mistaken by the patriots for a re-enforcement from the garrison. But the quick eye of Captain Gardinier, an officer who performed deeds of great valor on that memorable day, discovered their real character, and, ordering his men to fall upon these pretended friends, they were soon scattered in confusion. The Indians, finding their ranks greatly thinned, and the provincials still undismayed, raised the loud retreating cry, Oonak! Oonak! and fled in all directions. The panic was communicated to the Tories and Canadians, and the whole force of the enemy retreated in confusion, pursued by the provincials with shouts of victory. Thus, after a conflict of six hours, ended the battle of Oriskany, the bloodiest encounter, in proportion to the numbers engaged, that occurred during the war. Neither party could claim a decided victory. Both had suffered dreadfully. The patriots remained masters of the field, but they did not accomplish the design of the expedition, the relief of the garrison at Fort Schuyler. Their wounded, nearly fifty in number, were carried from the field on litters, and among them was General Herkimer, who was taken to his residence below the Little Falls, on the Mohawk, where he died ten days afterward. The manner and circumstances of his death will be noticed in the relation of my visit to his mansion, which is still standing.
The loss in this battle seems not to have been officially given on either side. St. Leger, in a letter to Burgoyne, dated August 11th, five days after the battle, says, "Above four (1777.) hundred [patriots] lay dead on the field, among the number of whom were almost all of the principal movers of the rebellion in that county." The enemy also claimed to have taken two hundred prisoners. Dr. Thatcher, in his Military Journal (page 89), records the loss of the Americans at "one hundred and sixty killed, and a great number wounded." This is the number stated by Gordon and other cotemporary writers. The Indians lost about seventy, among whom were several chiefs.(1) Major Watts was badly wounded, and left for dead upon the field. He revived from the faintness produced by loss of blood, crawled to a brook and quenched his thirst, and there remained until he was found, nearly three days afterward, by an Indian scout, and taken into St. Leger's camp. There were many deeds
1 Gordon and others relate that, in the course of the battle, a portion of the Indians became impressed with the belief that there was a coalition between Johnson's and Herkimer's men to destroy them, and that, toward the close of the conflict, the savages killed many of the Tories. "It is thought," says Gordon (???[blurred] 237), "that near as many of Sir John's Tory party were killed by the Indians as by the militia."
of personal courage exhibited in that battle, which, according to the military ethics of ales, benevolent age, would entitle the actors to the crown of laurel, the applause of multitudes, and the panegyric of the historian. But the picture is so revolting to the eye of Christian benevolence, and so repugnant to the nobler feelings of brotherhood, which are now happily impressing their benignant features upon society, that it is far better to draw the curtain of silence before it, and plead for the warriors, in extenuation, the dreadful necessity that impelled them to deeds so shocking to humanity. It is high time that the practice of pampering a depraved public taste by giving the horrid details of slaughter in battle, and of investing with glory, as models for imitation, those who fight most furiously and slay most profusely, should fall into desuetude. These details are not essential elements of history. They contain no useful lesson, no seed of philosophy worthy of germination, no real benefit for the understanding or the heart.(1) Thus far I have avoided such recitals, and I shall do so through the whole work before me. Neither pen nor pencil shall intentionally contribute one thought for a panegyric on war or its abettors. The student of our Revolution, while he may justly rejoice at the vast and invaluable blessings which followed that event, should be taught to lament rather than admire the dreadful instrumentalities that were necessarily employed. He may thus be taught without lessening the veneration which he ought to feel for those who periled life arid fortune in defense of the liberty we now enjoy. Let us turn from these better contemplations to the more unpleasant task of tracing out the succeeding events of the siege of Fort Schuyler.
So completely was the garrison still environed by the besieging force, after the battle at Oriskany, that no correct intelligence of that event could reach them. St. Leger took ad. vantage of this circumstance, and, by false representations of victory for himself, the total discomfiture of the provincials, and the victorious advance of Burgoyne, endeavored to bring the garrison to surrender. Colonel Billenger and Major Frey were made prisoners, and on the evening of the battle they were forced to write a letter to Colonel Gansevoort, which contained many misrepresentations, and a recommendation to cease resistance. St. Leger's adjutant general, Colonel John Butler, delivered the letter to Gansevoort, and at the same time communicated a verbal demand of surrender from his commander. Gansevoort refused an answer to a verbal summons, unless made by St. Leger himself. On the next morning, Colonel Butler and two other officers approached the fort with a white flag, and asked permission to enter as bearers of a message to the commander. The request was granted; they were conducted, blind-folded, within the fortress, and received by Gansevoort in his dining-room, which was lighted with candles, the windows being closed. Colonels Willett and Mellen were present, and the messengers of St. Leger were politely received. Major Ancram, one of them, more fluent in speech than the others, made known the wishes of St. Leger. He spoke of the humanity of his feelings, and his desire to prevent further bloodshed. He assured Gansevoort that it was with much difficulty the Indians were restrained from massacre, and that the only salvation of the garrison was an immediate surrender of the fort and all the public stores. The officers and soldiers would be allowed to retain their baggage and other private property, and their personal safety should be guarantied. He expressed a hope that these honorable terms would be immediately complied with, for, if they were not, it would be out of St. Leger's power to renew the proposition. The Indians, he remarked, were ready and eager to march down the country and destroy the inhabitants, and they were reminded that the total destruction of Herkimer's relief corps, and the fact that Burgoyne had possession of Albany, extinguished all hope of succor for the garrison.
1 An example in an account of the battle in question, given in Stone's Life of Brant, may be cited as an illustration. A Captain Dillenback was assailed by three of Johnson's Greens. "This officer," says the biographer, "had declared he would not be taken alive, and be 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. 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." It is the last clause which is chiefly objectionable, for therein the historian, not content with recording the bloody act (justified by the law of self-preservation), lauds it as a deed worthy of the highest praise.
This speech, made up of falsehood, persuasion, and threats, excited the indignation of the patriot officers, and Colonel Willett, with the approbation of Colonel Gansevoort, promptly and properly replied. I give his words, as contained in his narrative. They were delivered with emphasis, while he looked the officer, he says, full in the face: "Do I understand you, sir? I think you say that you came 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 commandant 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 upon your heads, not upon 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 consents 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."
These words expressed the sentiments of the garrison, and the officers very justly concluded that Burgoyne could not be at Albany, and the Tryon county militia all slain or dispersed, else such a solicitude on the part of the enemy for an immediate surrender, on such favorable conditions, would not be exhibited. The manner of the messengers and the tenor of their discourse made the besieged feel stronger, and more resolved to defend their post.
On the 9th, St. Leger sent a written demand for a surrender, which contained the (August, 1777.) substance of Major Ancram's speech. Gansevoort immediately replied, in writing, " Sir, your letter of this date I have received, in answer to which I say, that it is my determined resolution, with the force under my command, to defend this fort to the last extremity, in behalf of the United States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies." This prompt and bold stand was unexpected to the British commander. His "cannon had not the least effect upon the sod-work of the fort," and his "royals had only the power of teazing.'" He therefore commenced approaching the fort by
1 Letter of St. Leger to Burgoyne, dated Oswego, August
2 DESCRIPTION OF THE ENGRAVING.-A, Fort Schuyler; b, southwest bastion, three guns; i, northwest bastion, four guns; d, northeast bastion, three guns; e, southeast bastion, four guns; g, laboratory; h h h, barracks; I, horn-works begun; K, covered way; L L, glacis; M, sally-port; N, officers' quarters; O O, Willett's attack. The figures refer to the redoubts, batteries, &c., of the enemy. 1, a battery of three guns; 2, bomb battery, four mortars; 3, bomb battery of three guns; 4 4 4, redoubts to cover the batteries; 5, line of approaches, 66, British encampment; 7, Loyalists; 8, Indians; 9, ruins of Fort Newport.
"sapping to such a distance that the rampart might be brought within their portices, at the same time all materials were preparing to run a mine under the most formidable bastion.(1)"
In the mean while an address to the people of Tryon county, signed by Johnson, Claus, and Butler, was issued, strongly protesting their desire for peace, promising pardon and protection to all that should submit, and threatening all the horrors of Indian cruelty if they resisted. They called upon the principal men of the valley to come up and oblige the garrison at Fort Schuyler to do at once what they would be forced to do finally-surrender. This document was sent by messengers through Tryon county, but it effected little else than get the messengers themselves into trouble.(2) The siege, in the mean while, was steadily, but feebly, continued. The garrison, fearing that re-enforcements for the enemy might arrive, or that the siege might continue until their own provisions and ammunition should fail, resolved to communicate with General Schuyler, then at Stillwater, and implore succor. Colonel Willett volunteered to be the messenger, and on a very stormy night, when shower (August 10, 1777.) after shower came down furiously, he and Lieutenant Stockwell left the fort by the sally-port at ten o'clock, each armed with a spear, and crept upon their hands and knees along a morass to the river. They crossed it upon a log, and were soon beyond the line of drowsy sentinels. It was very dark, their path-way was in a thick and tangled wood, and they soon lost their way. The barking of a dog apprised them of their proximity to an Indian camp, and for hours they stood still, fearing to advance or retreat. The clouds broke away toward dawn, and the morning star in the east, like the light of hope, revealed to them their desired course. They then pushed on in a zigzag way, and, like the Indians, sometimes traversed the bed of a stream, to foil pursuers that might be upon their trail. They reached the German Flats in safety, and, mounting fleet horses, hurried down the valley to the head quarters of General Schuyler, who had already heard of the defeat of Herkimer, (August 13.) and was devising means for the succor of the garrison at Fort Schuyler.
St. Leger continued the siege. He advanced, by parallels, within one hundred and fifty yards of the fort, and the garrison, ignorant of the fate of Willett and Stockwell, or the relief that was preparing for them below, began to feel uneasy. Their ammunition and provisions being much reduced in quantity, some hinted an opinion to their commander that a surrender would be humane policy. Gansevoort's stout and hopeful heart would not yield admission to such an idea, and he informed the garrison that he had resolved, in case succor should not appear before their supplies were exhausted, to sally out at night and cut his way through the enemy's camp. Suddenly, and mysteriously to the garrison, the besiegers broke up their camp, and. fled so precipitately from before the fort that they left (August 22.) their tents, artillery, and camp equipage behind them.
The mystery was soon solved. We have already noticed the appeal of General Schuyler to his troops at the mouth of the Mohawk, and the readiness with which Arnold and several hundred men volunteered to march to the relief of Gansevoort. These troops consisted chiefly of the Massachusetts brigade of General Learned. They marched immediately, under the general command.of Arnold, and were joined by the first New York regiment, under Colonel Livingston. On the 20th, Arnold and a portion of the troops arrived at Fort Dayton, where he intended to wait for the remainder, under Learned, to arrive; but, hearing of the near approaches of St. Leger to Fort Schuyler, he resolved to push forward, and hazard a battle before it should be too late. He knew that his small force was too inconsiderable to warrant a regular engagement, and he conceived several stratagems to supply his deficiency of strength. One, which proved successful, was adopted. Among the Tory prisoners who were taken with Walter Butler was a coarse, unlettered, half idiot named Hon-Yost
1 Letter of St. Leger to Burgoyne, dated Oswego, August
2 Walter N. Butler, a son of Colonel John Butler, and afterward one of the most brutal of the Tory leaders, with fourteen white soldiers and the same number of Indians, appeared at the German Flats, at the house of a Tory named Shoemaker. Colonel Wesson was then in command of a small fortification there, called Fort Dayton, and he sent a party to arrest Butler and his associates. They succeeded, and Butler was tried and condemned as a spy, but was afterward sent a prisoner to Albany, under a reprieve.
Schuyler, a nephew of General Herkimer, who, with his mother and brother, lived neal Little Falls. He was tried and condemned to death. His mother hastened to Fort Dayton and pleaded for his life. For a time Arnold was inexorable, but finally consented to spare him, on condition that he should go to Fort Schuyler and endeavor so to alarm St. Leger, by representations of the great number of Americans that were approaching, as to induce him to raise the siege. Hon-Yost readily agreed to perform the duty, for, in reality, his political creed was so chameleon-like, that it would assume any required hue, according to circumstances. His mother offered herself as a hostage for his faithfulness, but Arnold chose his brother Nicholas as security. The latter was placed in confinement, and Hon-Yost, with a friendly Oneida, who promised to aid him, departed for Fort Schuyler.
Arnold, having issued a proclamation(1) from Fort Dayton to counteract the address of Johnson, Claus, and Butler, marched ten miles onward toward Fort Stanwix. There (August 23, 1777.) he received a communication from Colonel Gansevoort, announcing that the siege had suddenly been raised, and that the enemy had fled, in great haste, toward Wood Creek; why, he could not imagine. Arnold perceived that Hon-Yost had been faithful. He and the Indian had managed the affair adroitly, and the charge of idiotcy against Hon-Yost was wiped out forever. Before leaving Fort Dayton, he had several bullets shot through his coat, and, with these evidences of a "terrible engagement with the enemy," he appeared among the Indians of St. Leger's camp, many of whom knew him personally. He ran into their midst almost out of breath, and apparently much frightened. He told them that the Americans were approaching in great numbers, and that he had barely escaped with his life. His bullet-riddled coat confirmed the story. When they inquired the number of the Americans, he pointed to the leaves on the trees, and shook his head mysteriously. The Indians were greatly agitated. They had been decoyed into their present situation, and had been moody and uneasy since the battle of Oriskany. At the moment of Hon-Yost's arrival they were engaged in a religious observance-a consultation, through their prophet, of Manitou, or the Great Spirit, to supplicate his guidance and protection. The council of chiefs at the pow-wow at once resolved upon flight, and told St. Leger so. He sent for and questioned Hon-Yost, who told him that Arnold, with two thousand men, would be upon him in twenty-four hours. At that moment, according to arrangement, the friendly Oneida, who had taken a circuitous route, approached the camp from another direction, with a belt. On his way he met two or three straggling Indians of his tribe, who joined him, and they all confirmed the story of Hon-Yost. They pretended that a bird had brought them the news that the valley below was swarming with warriors. One said that the army of Burgoyne was cut to pieces, and another told St. Leger that Arnold had three thousand men near. They shook their heads mysteriously when questioned about numbers by thc Indians, and pointed, like Hon-Yost, upward to the leaves. The savages, now thoroughly alarmed, prepared to flee. St. Leger tried every means, by offers of bribes and promises, to induce them to remain, but the panic, and suspicion of foul play, had determined them to go. He tried to make them drunk, but they refused to drink. He then besought them to take the rear of his army in retreating; this they refused, and indignantly said, "You mean to sacrifice us. When you marched down, you said there would be no fighting for us Indians; we might go down and smoke our pipes; whereas numbers of our warriors have been killed, and you mean
1 The address of Arnold was well calculated to awe the timid and give courage to the wavering Whigs. The prestige of his name gave great weight to it. He prefaced it with a flourish of his title and position, as follows: "By the Honorable Benedict Arnold, Esq., general and commander-in-chief of the army of the United States of America on the Mohawk River." He denominated a certain Barry St. Leger" a leader of a banditti of robbers, murderers, and traitors, composed of savages of America and more savage Britons," and denounced him as a seducer of the ignorant and unthinking from the cause of freedom, and as threatening ruin and destruction to the people. He then offered a free pardon to all who had joined him or upheld him, "whether savages, Germans, Americans, or Britons," provided they laid down their arms and made oath of allegiance to the United States within three days. But if they persisted in their" wicked course," and" were determined to draw on themselves the just vengeance of Heaven and their exasperated country, they must expect no mercy from either."
(August 23, 1777.) to sacrifice us also.(1)" The council broke up, and the Indians fled. The panic was communicated to the rest of the camp, and in a few hours the beleaguering army were flying in terror toward their boats on Oneida Lake. Hon-Yost accompanied them in their flight as far as Wood Creek, where he managed to desert. He found his way back to the fort that night, and was the first to communicate to Colonel Gansevoort the intelligence of Arnold's approach.(2) The Indians, it is said, made themselves merry at the precipitate flight of the whites(3) who threw away their arms and knapsacks, so that nothing should impede their progress. The savages also gratified their passion for murder and plunder by killing many of their retreating allies on the borders of the lake, and stripping them of every article of value. They also plundered them of their boats, and, according to St. Leger, " became more formidable than the enemy they had to expect.(4)" Half starved and naked, the whites of the scattered army made their way to Oswego, and, with St. Leger, went down Ontario to Canada.
Colonel Gansevoort, on the retreat of St. Leger, sent a dispatch to Arnold, acquainting him with the fact. That general sent forward nine hundred men, with directions (August 25.) to attempt to overtake the fugitives, and the next day reached the fort himself. Gansevoort had already sent out a detachment to harass the flying enemy, and several prisoners were brought in, with a large quantity of spoil, among which was the escritoire, or writing-desk, of St. Leger, containing his private papers. Colonel Willett was left in command of the garrison at the fort, and Arnold and his men marched back to the main army (then at Stillwater, under Gates, who had superseded Schuyler), to perform valiant service in the battle that soon afterward occurred on Bemis's Heights. Thus ended the siege of Fort Schuyler,(5) in the progress of which the courage, endurance, and skill of the Americans, every where so remarkable in the Revolution, were fully displayed.(6)
1 Mary Jemison, whose narrative we have referred to, says
that the Indians (at least the Senecas) were greatly deceived. They were
sent for to "see the British whip the rebels." They were told.
that they were not wanted to fight, but might sit down and smoke their pipes,
and look quietly on. With this impression, the Seneca warriors accompanied
the expedition, and, as we have seen, suffered great loss.
2 Hon-Yost made his way back to Fort Dayton, to the great joy of his friends. He afterward fled from the valley with his family and fourteen Tory associates, and joined Sir John Johnson. After the war he returned to the valley, where he remained until his death in 1818.
3 Gordon (ii., 240), on the verbal authority of the Rev. Mr. Kirkland, who was at Fort Schuyler, relates that St. Leger, while standing on the border of a morass alone with Sir John Johnson, reproached the latter with being the cause of the disaffection of the Indians. High words and mutual criminations followed. Two chiefs, standing near, overheard the quarrel, and put an end to it by shouting, "They are coming! they are coming!" Both officers, terribly alarmed, plunged into the morass. This was the signal for the general retreat of the whole army. Such was their haste, that they left their tents, baggage, and artillery behind, and the bombardier was left asleep in the bomb battery! When he awoke he found himself alone, the sole representative in camp of the besieging army. The Indians continued their cry, at intervals, "They are coming! they are coming!" behind the fleeing Tories, and thus amused themselves all the way to Oneida Lake.
4 Letter of St. Leger to Burgoyne, August 27th, 1777.
5 Fort Schuyler was destroyed by fire and flood in 1781, and was never rebuilt.
6 Before the fort was invested by St. Leger, the Indians, in small parties, annoyed the garrison, and frequently attacked individuals when away from their dwellings. On one occasion they fired upon three little girls who were out gathering blackberries. Two were killed and scalped, but the third escaped. The remarkable adventure of Captain Gregg is worthy of notice. He was a soldier of the garrison of Fort Schuyler, and went out one day to shoot pigeons, with two of his soldiers, and a boy named Wilson (who became an ensign in the army at the age of eighteen, and conducted the surrender of the British standards at Yorktown). Fearing the Indians, the boy was sent back. They had not proceeded far before some savages in ambush shot all three down, scalped them, and made off. The captain, though badly wounded, was not killed. His two soldiers, however, were lifeless, and, laying his bleeding head upon the body of one of them, he expected soon to die. His dog had accompanied him, and, in great agitation, whined, licked his wounds, and otherwise manifested his grief and attachment. He told the dog to go for help, and the animal, as if endowed with reason, at once obeyed. He ran about a mile, and found two men fishing. By piteous moans he induced them to follow him to his wounded master. The captain was carried to the fort, a.nd, after suffering much, was restored to health. "He was a most frightful spectacle," says Dr. Thacher, from whose journal (page 144) this account is taken. "The whole of his scalp was removed; in two places on the forepart of his head the tomahawk had penetrated the skull; there was a wound on his back with the same instrument, besides a wound in his side, and another through his arm with a musket-ball,"
On my return to Oriskany village, after visiting the battle-ground, I learned that Mr. Nellis, who was engaged in that conflict, was still living at Whitesborough, three miles eastward. I had dismissed the vehicle that conveyed me from Rome to Oriskany, intending to proceed to Utica from the latter place upon a canal packet. I felt a desire to visit the old veteran, and yet was anxious to reach Utica that evening. While deliberating concerning the matter, a constable from Whitesborough rode up to the hotel in a light wagon, executed his business in haste, and kindly offered me a seat on his return. I gladly placed myself in his custody. He said his errand to Oriskany was in search of a thief, and I have no doubt the people of Whitesborough gave him credit for success, for my "fatigue dress" and soiled "Panama" made me appear more like a prowler than a tourist. Mr. Nellis was not at home, so my visit was fruitless, except in the pleasure derived from a view of the beautiful village, as we rode in from the westward. It lies upon a plain, encircled by the arms of the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River.
At sunset, after partially satisfying a long-suffering appetite from a table at a restorer, on the verge of the canal, where dainty guests should eat with closed eyes and unwavering faith in the purity of the viands and the propel' proportions of flies and butter, I embarked for Utica, six miles eastward. It was the close of a calm, sultry day, and peculiarly grateful (August 20, 1848.)was the evening breeze that fanned us as we glided along upon that tiny river, through cultivated fields and pleasant woodlands.
"Sweet to the pensive is departing day,
When only one small cloud, so still and thin,
So thoroughly imbued with amber light,
And so transparent that it seems a spot
Of brighter sky, beyond the furthest mount,
Hangs o'er the hidden orb; or where a few
Long, narrow stripes of denser, darker grain,
At each end sharpened to a needle's point,
With golden borders, sometimes straight and smooth,
And sometimes crinkling like the lightning's stream,
A half hour's space above the mountain lie."
This quiet scene was soon exchanged for the bustle and noise of the busy town, and, before the twilight had fairly faded I was jolted over the paved streets of Utica. There I spent some thirty hours with some friends. The city has no noteworthy reminiscences of the Revolution, except the single fact that the army, under Herkimer, crossed the Mohawk at old Fort Schuyler (then a fortress in ruins), while on his way to Oriskany, and the general interest which belongs to it as that portion of Tryon county which was consecrated by the presence and the prowess of the patriots. It is a pleasant and thriving city, upon the southern slope of the Mohawk Valley. Like all other towns in Western New York, it is young and vigorous, and every feature glows with the beauty of youth and health.
I left Utica at noon by rail-road, arrived at Little Falls, twenty miles eastward, at one o'clock, and at two started in a light wagon for Fort Herkimer, or Mohawk, on the German Flats. The driver and guide was a courteous young man, but totally deaf. I never practiced pantomime with better success, for my companion, intelligent, and apparently well versed in all the local history of the region, easily comprehended my awkward manipulations, and answered my mute inquiries promptly and clearly.
The upper valley of the Mohawk, which narrows to a deep, rocky ravine at Little Falls, has, within a few miles of its lower extremity, a rich and fertile alluvial plain on each side of the river, known as the German Flats, so called in consequence of being first settled and cultivated by German families. The settlement was originally called Burnet's Field, (1720) from the circumstance that the patent had been granted by Governor Burnet. The patent comprehended the plain and slopes westward of the junction of West Canada Creek and the Mohawk River, and included about ten miles of the valley east and west.
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