Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Orderly Book of Sir John Johnson
During the Oriskany Campaign
Annotated by Wm. L. Stone
With an Historical Introduction illustrating the Life of Johnson by J. Watts De Peyster, and Some Tracings from the Foot-Prints of the Tories, or Loyalists in America by T. R. Myers.
Joel Munsell, 1882


IN December, 1776, Burgoyne, dissatisfied with his subordinate position under Carleton, concocted with the British Ministry a plan for the Campaign of 1777. An army, admirably appointed and under his command, was to proceed to Albany, by way of Lakes Champlain and George; while another large force, under Sir William Howe, was to advance up the Hudson in order to cut off communication between the Northern and Southern Colonies, in the expectation that each section, being left to itself, would be subdued with little difficulty. Contemporaneously with the descent of Burgoyne upon Northern New York, Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, with the Loyalists and Indians under Sir John Johnson and Joseph Brant respectively, was dispatched by that general from Montreal by the way of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to Oswego. From that post, St. Leger, availing himself of Oneida Lake and Wood Creek, was to penetrate the country to the Mohawk river, with a view of forming a junction from that direction with Burgoyne on the latter's arrival at Albany. As is well known, the progress of Colonel St. Leger was stopped at Fort Stanwix ; the advance of Arnold, despatched by Schuyler, compelling him to raise the siege of that Fort and retreat into Canada-a circumstance which left Schuyler and, later, Gates, free to concentrate the American forces in opposition to the advancing army of Burgoyne.

Conversing in the fall of 1880, with the late Rev. Marinus Willett* of Port Chester, N. Y., a grandson of Colonel Marinus Willett, of Fort Stanwix fame, he mentioned to me that he was the possessor, of a manuscript Orderly Book kept by an officer of Sir John Johnson during his campaign against Fort Stanwix in 1777 -one of the Orderly Books captured by his grandfather in his memorable sortie from Fort

* For sketches of Rev. Marinus Willett, and Col. Marinus Willett, see appendices Nos. I and II.

Stanwix against the camp of Sir John Johnson. The facts of this sortie (which, it will be remembered, took place while the battle of Oriskany was in progress), are told by Col. Willett in his Narrative in these words-which, as the book has now become exceedingly rare, we quote :

"Col. Willett lost not a moment in sallying forth from the gate of the fort. As the enemy's sentries were directly in sight of the fort, his movements were necessarily very rapid. The enemy's sentries were driven in, and their advanced guard attacked, before they had time to form the troops. Sir John Johnson, whose regiment was not two hundred yards distant from the advanced guard, and who, himself, it being very warm, was in his tent with his coat off, had not time to put it on before his camp was forced. So sudden and rapid was the attack, that the enemy had not time to form so as to make any opposition to the torrent that poured in upon them. Flight, therefore, was their only resource. Adjoining the camp of Sir John Johnson was that of the Indians. This, also, was soon taken ; so that a very few minutes put Col. Willett in possession of both these encampments. Sir John with his troops took to the river, and the Indians fled into the woods. The troops under Col. Willett had fair firing at the enemy while they were crossing the river. The quantity of camp equipage, clothing, blankets and stores, which Col. Willett found in the two camps, rendered it necessary to hasten a messenger to the fort and have the wagons sent, seven of which were stored in the fort with horses." These wagons were each three times loaded, while Col. Willett and his men remained in the camps of the enemy. Among other articles, they found five British flags ; 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 which could be desired.'"

Mr. Willett agreed with me that the contents of the Orderly Book should be put into permanent form to provide against its loss by fire or other casualties ; and he thereupon kindly loaned it to me to copy and publish in the Magazine of American History. The Orderly Book was accordingly printed in that valuable publication in the March and April numbers for 1881, though

*For an account of this sortie from the British standpoint, see Appendix No. III.

with but very few annotations, as neither space nor time permitted extended notes.

This Orderly Book is of great value in several particulars. It shows, the intimate relation which existed between the campaign of Gen. Burgoyne and the expedition of Col. Barry St. Leger-as, for example, the order given at Lachine on the 20th of June, that the officers under St. Leger and Johnson should send their baggage to Albany in the train of Burgoyne; it establishes the exact number of men engaged in the expedition by the quantity of rations issued and the boats required, by which we find that instead of St. Leger having (as has always been believed) 1700 men, he had barely 950, Indians included; it states the names of the detachments from the different regiments which formed the expedition, by which we learn, among other items, that Sir John Johnson's regiment never, in a single instance, in this Orderly Book, although elsewhere invariably known as such, is called "The Royal Greens;" it affords the means of knowing the true rank held by different officers-as, for example, "Major" Watts is never spoken of save as "Captain ;" it elucidates a mooted question as to the rank of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, who was made an acting Brig. Gen. on this occasion; and it develops the fact that possibly a part, at least, of St. Leger's troops joined the army of General Burgoyne, after that officer and Sir John had retreated into Canada, the laughingstock of their Indian allies. These, as well as many other instances, will make apparent the value of the Orderly Book to the student of our Revolutionary annals.

There is another feature of this Orderly Book which has, I think, a touching significance. I allude to the character of the Paroles and Countersigns. A glance at them shows that they are, in many instances, the names of towns in Ireland, Scotland and England-the homes, undoubtedly, of many of the troops composing this Expedition ; and there can be no question that those having in charge the selection of the Paroles and Countersigns for each day, took special pains to designate those towns which would remind their men of the loved ones they had left behind. Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. This action, on the part of the officers, very likely arose from policy as well as sentiment; for one can well imagine that the names of their homes would vividly bring to the minds of the soldiers those who across the broad Atlantic were watching for reports of their progress and valor - thus presenting them with a constant as well as an additional incentive to do well. Some of the Countersigns, moreover, such as "Cork," "Limerick" and "Kinsale" would naturally bring to the minds of the men of the 8th or King's Regiment of Foot, the fact that their own Regiment was present under William the III, at the besieging of those places-a circumstance which, in itself, would be an incentive to great deeds.

The Orderly Book is written in many different handwritings, some so bad as to be nearly indecipherable- not from the lapse of time, for the book is exceedingly well preserved in its parchment cover - but from the fact that some of the writers evidently spelled by sound, and were obliged, amid the fatigues of camp life, to take down hurriedly the words of the commanding officer. Indeed, the wonder is that, under such circumstances, anything was written that could be at all deciphered. It should be further stated that while the general spelling and the names of towns and places have been corrected, the variations in spelling of the proper names of persons have been in nearly all cases preserved. It will also be noticed that the last order is dated at "Oswego Falls," the 31st of July, 1777, two days previous to the advance of St. Leger's army appearing before the walls of Fort Stanwix, and six days before the battle of Oriskany.

Before closing, I desire to acknowledge the kind assistance which has been given me, in the way of suggestions, by my old College mates and friends, Mr. Franklin Burdge of New York city, the accomplished author of "Simon Boerum;" Mr. Edward F. de Lancey, the scholarly editor of "Jones's History of New York during the Revolutionary War;" General John Watts de Peyster, the brilliant military critic ; and General Horatio Rogers of Providence, R. I., who is now engaged in annotating the Manuscript Journal of Lieutenant Hadden of the Royal Artillery, kept by him while an artillery officer in Canada and under Burgoyne. General Rogers brings to his task a comprehensive knowledge of his subject, great conscientiousness, and powers of thorough research-traits which cannot fail to make his work, when published, an invaluable contribution to our Revolutionary history.


Jersey City Heights, N. J.,
May, 1882.

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home