History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Battle of Klock's Field
October 19, 1780
With a Description of the Raid of the Schoharie and Mohawk Valley by the Tories and Indians under Sir. John Johnson. Includes the Battle of Stone Arabia, by W. N. P. Dailey, D. D.
By Lou D. MacWethy. Published by Enterprise and News, St. Johnsville, NY 1930. Mr. MacWethy was the owner of the St. Johnsville Enterprise & News for many years. His granddaughter, Peg Davis, has permitted articles from the Enterprise and News to be used on the Fort Klock web site. Our sincere thanks!
Be VERY PATIENT, the maps are worth the wait!
Documentary Evidence Upsets Historical Accounts. Many Facts Never Published. Court Martial Proceedings Reveal Actual Fighting Ground to be Near Where Village Now Stands. Exhausted Troops Cause of Failure. No Good Grounds for Blaming Officers. (Republished from Issue of October 19, 1927.)
Any consideration of the true location of the battle of Klock's Field must take into consideration the available material left by those who actually were present and took part in the engagement. It should be apparent at once if any such data exists it should be accepted as conclusive for who is better equipped than the officers and men who were there on that day, October 19th, 1780. There are at least two sources from which a description of the battle may be obtained, one of the court-martial of General Robert Van Rensselaer and the pension papers of soldiers who were engaged in the conflict.
Actual Facts Not Accessible
From contemporary writings entered long after the period it seems evident that neither of these sources were open to the various historians. Campbell who wrote in about 1830 acknowledges his obligation to John Frey "Who is now standing on the brow of 100 years." Subsequent historians seem to have followed Campbell for the thread of their story and fallen back on their imagination for the warp and woof of their narrative, with the result that the whole story is both hazy and misleading and their conclusions not only erroneous but unjust to those concerned. However all historians from Campbell down to the present with but one exception (Fea) place the battle where it belongs. These include Campbell, Stone, Beers, Lossing, Simms, Reid and Greene. Fea alone is responsible for the error that the battle hovered around old Fort Klock, an error that readily took root because of the reverence entertained for the old fort. Fea adapted his theory to a statement made by Simms that there was a peninsula in the river adjacent to the battle ground on which according to Simms and subsequent writers, Sir John Johnson camped over night after the battle. This mythical peninsula being established it was only a step to transpose Klock's Island into a peninsula and bring the fording place down the river to a well known fording place across from the island, and there was the foundation for the erroneous battle grounds. All this however is the result of imaginative construction built on other construction, of the same character, without reference to documentary evidence which sweeps away the whole fabric and leaves not a shred of supporting evidence.
Clinton Papers Reveal Unpublished Truth
The Clinton papers published in 1902 containing all the correspondence leading up to the Battle of Klock's Field as well as the court martial six months later, contain all that is available of the actual happenings. From this an accurate description can be constructed, with ample supporting data, which in the case of all former historians has been denied. There is no hearsay in the testimony at the trial. The evidence was given by officers, guides, scouts and aides actually in the combat and present at the councils of the staff. They speak knowingly from an experience only six months past and from which they must have emerged with fresh memories. The letters passing between Governor Clinton and his officers in the field are of course indisputable evidence. From this evidence, and sweeping away all previously written histories, there emerges one startling fact.
Brigadier General Robert Van Rensselaer emerged from the court martial with a clear name and although condemned by Mohawk Valley residents generally, and by all subsequent historians, there was nothing in the testimony presented to warrant such condemnation.
This fact seems more important to the writer than the mistaken location of the battle field.
A mistaken location means but little in the affairs of men, but a stained name and character is important and far reaching in its results.
Popular Prejudice Dissolved
The writer of these lines went into the facts with a prejudiced mind. The written history of the conduct of Van Rensselaer seemed so sufficiently conclusive of either cowardice of treason that there seemed no room for doubt. Therefore if prejudice existed it was certainly not in favor of General Van Rensselaer. Careful study of the evidence seems to point entirely the other way and to place the general in an entirely new light.
First, General Van Rensselaer was helpless to do other than he did, and second the battle of Klock's Field was fought from a beginning on the flats in front of the residence of the late Sheldon Klock and carried as a running fight all along the flats from that point to West St. Johnsville where Sir John escaped over the river at the "common fording place" near the present Mindenville locks.
Third it was of more military importance than usually credited and was fought at the darkest period of the revolution.
Fourth, the temper and tenacity of the people of the Mohawk Valley never showed to better advantage than during the period subsequent to this battle. And it should be remembered that THEY NEVER GAVE UP THE LAND. Sir John Johnson succeeded but too well in his design to wipe out the physical possessions of the people of the valley, which he looked upon as his own principality, but he did not succeed in crushing out the spirit of the people. That was the one quality which both Sir John and Sir William before him failed to measure. They were as immovable as Gibraltar and only death itself could prevail and in that event there seemed to be another Mohawk Dutchman ready to step into the shoes of his predecessor and carry on. That one stubborn quality is the keystone on which our present prosperity rests, and no writer has been able to find words sufficiently strong to enforce that fact on the pages of history. The Mohawks Dutchman has never been truly analyzed and placed before the world clothed in that character which was his by right of inheritance,and also an environment which turned him in to one of the granite pillars on which the fate of a nation turned as it did especially in that fearful period after Oriskany and three years later after the scourge of the valley which ended at Klock's Field. That was the true beginning of the ear of growth which has followed down the years. Sporadic attempts were afterwards made, but the spirit of the invader was the one that was broken and the design of the Tories who sought to recover the land they loved was forever frustrated.
This is a rather long beginning but the facts are so many and the misconceptions so frequent that only by careful preparation and deep study can the true story ever be told and the supporting facts marshaled into a comprehensive group.
Subject Has Three Phases
To the writer of this article the story falls into three distinct groups. The injustice to General Van Rensselaer; the location of the battle, and the actual happenings during that battle. In taking up the subject of General Van Rensselaer we naturally lead up to the battle itself.
Sir John Johnson's Invasions
The immediate cause of the battle of Klock's Field was the invasion of the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys by Sir John Johnson, Brant the Mohawk chieftain and Walter Butler the Tory. Their previous depredations that same year and their participation in the battle of Oriskany in August, 1777 and their butcheries at cherry Valley November 10th, 1778 were sufficient motivate to arouse the keenest apprehensions. Governor George Clinton was in Albany on October 18th just returned from Poughkeepsie and finds the country in a very precarious condition. In a letter to General Washington he reports information of the enemy (yesterday morning) at both Ballston and in the Schoharie Valley. Which reports he says "are now confirmed" that they have destroyed all of that valuable (Schoharie) settlement. Their number of one division is reported at 600 and the other division is uncertain." He states that he yesterday morning ordered General Van Rensselaer with some troops to Schenectady with orders to make proper discoveries and if his force should appear competent to march and intercept them. The governor says he has ordered out the whole militia and will proceed to Schenectady in person. However there are reports from General Schuyler that in Saratoga the enemy is destroying and burning in White Creek in Charlotte county to the north, that Fort Edward was evacuated and that the Levies were returning to their homes insisting that their term of enlistment had expired.
Army Gathered at Schenectady
In the meantime a letter from General Van Rensselaer dated, Schenectady, October 18, A.M. announcing that in an hour or two he would have between 6 & 700 men and that fifteen head of cattle had been embargoed intended for Fort Schuyler and that 6 had been killed averaging about 200 lbs. of beef each. He says he has been disappointed in the horses and wagons promised but will move to Fort Hunter immediately and "Take such measures as circumstances will admit to intercept the enemies' retreat."
March Without Food or Horses
From subsequent events this is shown to be a trifle more assuring than the facts warranted. He expected men in an hour or two, but he really had no men at the moment and as a matter of fact his men were part of them on the way from Albany under Col. Whiting consisting of Albany county Militia and the balance were at Niskayuna under Col. Van Alstyne and made a march across country to Sir William Johnson's old place about 19 miles according to an estimate of William Harper scout. It further developed at the subsequent court martial that the troops were not gathered at Schenectady until the night of the 17th and according to William Harper (a hostile witness against the General) were not fed until 8:00 in the morning of the 18th and that two cattle only were killed. Also that the meat was not cooked before starting. John Lansing, aide to the general testifies (and is not contradicted) that the bread had not arrived when they left Schenectady between 9:00 and 10:00 o'clock. They marched as far as Sir William Johnson's old place on the Mohawk that day and were there joined by Col. Van Alstyne's partial regiment from Niskayuna. They arrived there after dark a march of 16 miles. To move but 16 miles in a day from between 9-10 o'clock in the morning until dark in these days of good roads and fast transportation would seem ridiculous, but we should try and place ourselves in the period. Disappointed in horses and wagons promised by the people of Schenectady and probably unfilled because there were no such means obtainable the army with it uncooked meat and empty bread wagon moved on foot over roads which were described as very bad and in the testimony of Dr. Samson Dyckman "The Gen. informed him the enemy were some distance ahead and that he expected his troops would soon fall in with them; that the road over Checktinunda hill was very bad, miry and deep, which impeded the march; that they arrived at Fort Hunter at about 12 (midnight)". Lansing testifies that at Johnson's it being then dark a council was held and scouts sent forward. Chughtenunda hill is described as covered with woods and being very dark, it was thought advisable to wait moonrise." (Note A). Evidently the lesson of the ambuscade at Oriskany three years before was not lost on the council.
Uncertain of Enemy's Movements
It is well also to remember that up to that time General Van Rensselaer had no means of knowing the number of men opposed, nor the direction they would take. He was on the south side of the river. Johnson might have been ahead. Reports of two divisions also must have troubled him for in that event he would be greatly outnumbered and probably annihilated. A general is just as responsible for the safety of his men as for the protection of the terrain over which he is given command. Therefor arriving at Fort Hunter the creek was crossed by means of the "Scow and the Waggons" (Lansing Test.) But this did not end the day for Lansing says they marched on as far as Van Epps (Fultonville) where they halted for an hour. Here the general wrote to Col. Du Bois at Fort Plain and to Col. Brown at Stone Arabia notifying these men of his approach. Here too he received the first definite information of the enemy that they were encamped on both sides of the river at Anthony's Nose. This must have caused the officers no little concern because it would indicate a junction of the two divisions and therefore a greatly superior force. Taking into consideration the fact that his men had plodded all day from Schenectady and all night besides one would be inclined to give pause to further advance were he afflicted with the temerity afterwards ascribed to General Van Rensselaer. But the order was given to proceed and the weary army dragged on its tiresome way watching the break of dawn as they crept towards the Noses and another possible ambuscade. It is reasonable to suppose that Brant's Indians were as capable scouts as any possessed by Van Rensselaer and that accordingly if the latter knew the whereabouts of Sir John he in turn knew all about his pursuers with the advantage always on the side of the pursued.
Scouting in Early Days.
Harper testifies that at this junction the general sent him forward with another man and that they reconnoitered Anthony's Nose where the enemy had their camp and reported back with all possible dispatch and found the general advanced to Gardner's flats about 1/2 miles above Fort Hunter. This was 12 o'clock or after, that the general moved forward to Van Epps and ordered letters written to DuBois and Brown and that they were given in charge of Lt. William Wallace (Note B). Here is an unheralded "Message to Garcia" in which the performance was fraught with danger.
Proceeding cautiously (still according to William Harper) the little army moved forward sending out advance guards and feeling the way. That the deponent with Major McKinstrey were sent out in advance and came to the place where the enemy had encamped and found them drawn up on the other side of the river. That the road was very bad and that they waited a full hour for the army to come up. This is not to be wondered at. Testimony on all sides and from all witnesses indicated that the army moved slowly forward towards Fort Plain or Rensselaer as it was referred to by many. Even with good roads an army on foot and well nigh without food or sleep would have hard work to cover the same distance in the same time.
Col. DuBois Introduced
We now take up the thread of the story introducing Colonel DuBois, commandant at Fort Plain with Col. Harper and a detachment of Indians and Col. Samuel Clyde of Cherry Valley with a detachment of Campbell's men of the Tryon County Militia, all told about 300 men. They appear to have been cognizant of the approach of Van Rensselaer and we assume that Lt. Wallace had been successful in his ride through the enemy's lines. They were aware that Sir John had moved north on Stone Arabia and that Col. John Brown and 40 of his men had been slain in a vain attempt to stop the invaders. Col. Harper had moved his men across the river and then on information that he was too late had recrossed the river and boiling with wrath rushed to General Van Rensselaer and demanded an immediate attack. On Col. Harper's fiery testimony most of the charges against Van Rensselaer are built up. One can hardly see where Van Rensselaer is to blame, when the condition of his plodding army is taken into consideration. Col. Brown's men as well as Sir John's had the advantage of a night's rest. The former could sally from the fort with fresh troops and the latter had the advantage of greater mobility for he lived off the country. Defeating Col. Brown he put to the torch some 40 homes in Stone Arabia but not before he had loaded himself with such provisions as forty frugal householders would naturally gather and store by October. There was no food problem there. On the other hand the straggling and exhausted army of Albany militiamen were in no such favor. They were slowly dragging themselves towards Fort Plain. Testimony shows that DuBois and Van Rensselaer went to the fort to dinner. This is held as proof that Van Rensselaer was negligent, but no breath of blame is ever breathed against Col. DuBois who proposed the dinner. The facts revealed by the testimony are that this was in the interim while the plodding army was coming up and that it took nearly all the afternoon to get them as far as Walrath's ferry and across the river where they finally mobilized at 4:00 in the afternoon and prepared to again march on the heels of the flying Sir John then but an hour ahead. (Note C).
The Enemy Revealed
Here for the first time Gen. Van Rensselaer was enlightened as to the course of Sir John and the number of his force. Previously he had no means of knowing the intended route of the enemy and indeed reports conflicted. Some indicated that he was heading for Johnstown by way of Stone Arabia and thence north, others that he was headed west. At this point John Lansing testifies that the troops stopped (before crossing) and cooked some food it "being the first time since leaving Schenectady." He also mentions the difficulty in getting the troops over the fording place, they being "much dispirited on account of Brown's defeat, which was generally known among them."
Here then for the first time actual contact was imminent. The enemy were ahead and their presence manifest by burning buildings. The pursuing army was mobilized in three columns and at this point we introduced a letter dictated by Gen. Van Rensselaer and taken by Lansing his aide.
Proof of Number of Men Engaged
Sir: The enemy are by the best intelligence I can collect and from their burnings about a mile in advance of my brigade. I have about 900 men including about 50 (?) Indians. I shall pursue with as much dispatch as is consistent with the safety to the troops under my command. I am, your excellency's obedient servant.
A deserter who arrived this afternoon advises that the enemy's force does not exceed 500 men.
Mohawk river about 2 miles above Fort Rensselaer, north side of the river one half after five P. M.
This is the letter referred to by Aide Lansing and is from Van Rensselaer although not signed. It shows conclusively the number of men engaged as the General should be the best qualified to know the number of his troops. Various historians have placed the number all the way from 500 to 15,000 men. The letter of the general however, disposes for all time these conjectures. (Clinton papers Vol. VI. pp. 220).
The Plan of Action
The various witnesses at the court martial agree as to the plan of action and the disposition of the troops. They were divided into three columns and hurried forward to close with the enemy. DuBois on the right or north with the levies and Tryon county militia. Van Rensselaer with Col. Whiting of the Albany militia in the center and Van Alstyne's and Col. Cuyler's Albany militia on the left or near the river under command of Col. Cuyler.
This information was found impractical and the left was broken into smaller parties. In this general formation they pressed forward on the long chase. Burnings and occasional rifle shots advised them of the enemy. They arrived at Fox's mills only to find that settlement in flames with the church and one residence spared. They pressed on through the smoke and growing dusk and came at last to the rise overlooking the present site of St. Johnsville where looking down on the flats fronting Col. Klock's house they discovered the enemy drawn up and ready for the fray.
Inasmuch as all agree on this point the position of the enemy may as well be given from the collective testimony. Over on the river bank probably near the present railroad trestle was Sir John Johnson's Rangers of Greens. In the center the regulars and on the north resting some 150 yards in advance and forming a wedge towards our troops were the Indians. These were the rear guard of the enemy and our advance guard (Col. Harper's Indians) came in contact with them at 200 yards in Klock's Orchard. One witness says they were in Phelan's orchard but all the rest say Klock's orchard which stood on the flats in front of Col. Klock's home (now Mrs. Sheldon Klock's) or between the house and the river. The matter of location as described by the various witnesses favors Klock's orchard. Phelan's orchard was a matter of perhaps three or four hundred yards further west or in front of the present residence of Herman Leavitt. (Note D).
Before describing the battle of Klock's field let us turn to the other side and trace the movements of Sir John Johnson and his little army of picked troops including Johnson's famous Greens and the Mohawk Indians under Joseph Brant.
As remarked by Dailey there was no military reason for the invasion. The motives back of the expedition were revenge. When Sir William Johnson died he left to his son a vast domain which was swept away in the events which so swiftly followed in his death. Deprived of what he sincerely believed to be his birthright he seethed with jealousy whenever he thought of others occupying what he believed to be his by every right of inheritance. The same may be said of the Butlers and his brother-in-law Clause. Joseph Brant who as a fifteen year old boy had fought at Lake George in defense of the land of the Mohawks, had witnessed the death of that grand old Sachem of the Mohawks, King Hendrick at that time had gradually come up by degrees to outstrip all the other leaders of the tribe until now he was the recognized chief of wandering tribes. He knew the beautiful Mohawk Valley where at Indian Castle he had grown to manhood. He had imbibed the Christian faith from the lips of Domni John Jacob Ehle and others; he had witnessed the councils of the great men of the tribe, Hendrick, Little Abraham, Nickus (possibly his father), Seth, Annanias and others of the three clans. On his broad shoulders had finally fallen the mantle of leadership but his inheritance had been swept away in the maelstrom of civil war and his tribe were wanderers on the face of the earth. Of all the leaders he had the most reason to be bitter against the inhabitants, and of all the leaders he was perhaps the most humane. The army was composed of men who were actuated by the same motives which occupied the leaders.
Now just a brief picture of the state of the country at the time these two little armies faced each other at Klock's Field. On the one side the Continentals fighting for hearth and home. On the other the invaders determined to punish the stubborn rebels who had driven them away and occupied their land. They had engaged at Oriskany and both had suffered. Then had come the Clinton-Sullivan raid. How this had punished them can be learned from the lips of Mary Jamison whose book is well worth reading. The wise old Col. Klock had remarked previous to that campaign, "If we do that (raid the Indian country), the Indians will take a terrible revenge." How well he knew his Indians is shown in the sequel. All the Iroquois country was destroyed in 1779. Starving Indians and their women and children had flocked about Fort Niagara through the previous winter. Washington had driven his takes into the far frontiers of the Indian country. Revenge was the paramount aim of both British and Indians. Repeatedly they had struck during the fateful year of 1780 and the Mohawk valley had run red with blood and the night had been illuminated by the burning homes and barns of the luckless inhabitants. Col. Klock was right. They were taking their terrible revenge. The Mohawk valley was the Flanders field of the Revolution. Men, woman and children had fallen under musket fire and the terrible tomahawk. Yet they were not satisfied. Blood lust called for more and so the stage was set for the last act of the bloody drama.
Gathering his forces Sir John struck straight across country for the headwaters of the Susquehanna. Here he made camp on the night of October 16th and prepared for his dash down the Schoharie and up the Mohawk. His plans carried successfully and his attack was swift and unexpected.
On the morning of the 17th he attacked the upper fort and swept down the Schoharie Valley. Sweeping down that valley he failed to capture any of the three forts but did succeed in destroying and pillaging the deserted homes of that beautiful valley. Too weak to repel the invaders the few troops contented themselves with holding the forts and protecting the lives of the refugees, while they were compelled to witness the devouring flames which spelled famine and suffering for the fast coming winter. That night Sir John camped between Schohaire and Fort Hunter. The next day, the 18th they moved on to Fort Hunter burning and destroying and while the news had reached Albany and pursuit was instituted he moved up the river and camped at the Noses. In the meantime he had divided his troops sending one party murdering and burning into the interior to swing around and join him at Stone Arabia. This junction took place the next forenoon (the 19th) and here the battle of Stone Arabia was fought. The details of that fight are taken from the Classis of Montgomery, written Rev. W. N. P. Dailey.
Battle of Stone Arabia
Inasmuch as the Battle of Klock's Field is coming to the fore in memorial celebration, perhaps it were well to get the background, or backfire of the Battle of Stone Arabia which took place October 19, 1780 in the forenoon of the same day. Sir John Johnson, Joseph Brant and Walter Butler, were determined to devastate the homes and kill off the settlers of the Mohawk Valley because of their loss of property and anger at the independence secured. In the early part of 1776 Johnson was arrested by General Schuyler to whom he gave promise of neutrality, thus securing he parole. But Ananias Johnson broke his parole and when Schuyler sent Col. Dayton to arrest him he fled to Canada with his savage and Tory hirelings. Most writers condemn Sir John but in the same breath heap high praise on Sir. William, his father. One must recall in explaining Sir John Johnson's cowardly conduct that as a son of the Indian commissioner he was accustomed to see the savages bringing in the scalps of the French and Algonquins to his father's dwelling at Fort Johnson and depart with their trinkets of reward. Much more he saw of the life at Fort Johnson in those days that did not give him any needed lessons of strong moral character. Returning in May, 1780 to Johnson Hall, perhaps for papers or silver cached at the time of his flight to Canada he began his work of revenge, attacking Caughnawagha and Tribes Hill and other settlements. Col. Guy Johnson and Cornplanter had also joined them. In all, there were about 2,000 followers of Johnson. Finally they divided forces, Johnson on the north side and Brant and Butler on the south side. German Flatts, Palatine, Harpersville were harassed. In July Brant and his fellow savages, some six hundred, cut off intercourse between Fort Herkimer and Fort Schuyler. On August 2, Canajoharie was attacked. In September Brant was in the Schoharie Valley with Johnson and Cornplanter. They attacked the fort at Middleburgh but were repulsed. They burned the home of Jelles Fonda at Palatine, said to have cost $6,500. Fonda was absent and Mrs. Fonda escaped to Schenectady on foot. On October 19, 1780 a force was sent to attack Fort Paris, located about a mile north of Stone Arabia.
The plan of these satanic fiends was not only to kill every man capable of bearing arms, but to show mercy toward none, women or children or aged and to pillage and destroy homes and barns and stock. The war was practically over in the rest of the country but this Johnson-Brant-Butler trio, were bent on scourging the fair valley of the Mohawk. Oriskany had decimated the homes of the valley but these British scions were not satisfied till they had completed the task of annihilation.
Gov. Clinton hurried from Kingston to Fort George and joining other forces at Ticonderoga, pushed on to Crown Point but arrived too late to capture Sir John. Brant made a feint attack on Fort Schuyler in the summer of 1780. General Van Renssellaer hastened to the relief of Fort Schuyler and Brant back tracked and in August mercilessly fell on the Canajoharie settlement. Troops, insufficient were sent from Albany to protect the settlements. An extra session of the New York Legislature authorized Gov. Clinton to order out the militia in numbers great enough to stop these murderous tactics. Brigadier General James Clinton took command to the troops at Albany while the brigades of Generals Ten Broeck and Van Rensselaer furnished the forces.
Col. Brown was at Fort Paris, two and a half miles north from the Mohawk near near Stone Arabia. On the night of October 18 Johnson's forces were just above the Nose and on the 19th he crossed the river to the north at Keder's Rift, near Sprakers Basin.
On October 18 Caughnawagha was in flames. Van Rensselaer was in camp on a hill near Stanton Place in what is now the town of Florida. Word reached him that the fort was to be attacked next morning. It is said that he ordered Col. Brown to attack in front at nine o'clock in the morning while his forces and those of Col. DuBois would attack in the rear at the same time. His fellow officers were opposed to leaving the fort at that hour, but he had the order of his superior. Gen VanRensselaer and marched out. Again he was ill advised by those who pretended to know and led his detachment into a narrow road near Fort Keyser where they were ambuscaded. This was two miles from Fort Paris. Thirty of the men were killed and scalped; after being stripped of their clothing, the bodies were interred in a trench near a great boulder -- now suitably marked. Later the body of Col. Brown was re-interred some where in the Stone Arabia Reformed Church buying ground and in 1836, a monument was erected in the cemetery.
The smoke of the battle was seen and its noise heard by Van Rensselaer's forces on the other side of the river, but no attempt was made to cross. Capt. McKean begged his commander to let him cross and take with him St. Louis, commander of the Oneidas, but was refused. Indeed they started to cross but were recalled and while Brown and his men lay weltering in their blood and the wounded were escaping back to Fort Paris, Van Rensselaer ordered a halt and went off to Fort Plain to dine with Gov. Clinton (Note F) returning at four in the afternoon -- six hours after the battle and began to cross the river. Capt. Duncan of Johnson's forces while visiting in Schenectady, after the war said that all preparations were made for surrender when they were hard pressed after the Battle of Klock's Field but General Van Rensselaer gave them no opportunity to capitulate. Washington wrote the Continental Congress, "it is thought that this invasion (of the Mohawk valley was made by Sir John Johnson) upon the supposition that Arnold's treachery was successful." Did Johnson know at that time that Arnold had failed? Or did Col. Brown know of this added infamy of his former commander and consistent enemy, Benedict Arnold?
Col. John Brown's Command July 14 to October 19, 1780
Undoubtedly many of these men took part in the defense of the settlements and some of them were killed in the Battle of Stone Arabia. Only commanding officers are given, with personnel of force:
The total force was 381 men of whom Capt. Ely and 28 men were killed along with Col. Brown on October 19, 1780, one wounded and one taken prisoner. Those killed were:
Capt. Foord's company may have been stationed in the Schoharie valley at the Middle Fort, under command of Major Woolsey. Capt. Ely's command was at Fort Paris and Capt. Warner's company may have been left here after the battle.
Besides these Berkshire men there were Capt. John Kasselman's Tryon County Rangers and Capt. John Zelley's company at Fort Keyser. In the Tryon county rangers under Capt. Kasselman were Lt. John Empie, Ensign George Gittman and twenty odd privates. The second regiment, Tryon county, was commanded by Col. Jacob Klock.
One incident lately discovered should be added to the above. So complete was the destruction of that place that only three sets of family papers have survived and among them the papers of Ludwig Nellis who resided at the ancestral home of William Nellis, the pioneer. This house was fired but a Negro slave who had taken to a tree rather than to Fort Paris where the others had gone, descended the tree and extinguished the flames after the marauders had left. The destruction of that place was almost complete.
Leaving the scene of Stone Arabia and leisurely burning and destroying as he went, Sir John at nightfall found himself at last compelled to fight. Van Rensselaer had caught up. This brings us to the final act.
The Battle of Klock's Field
Here overlooking the flats the final plan was put in action and the troops moved forward to engage the enemy in the following formation. Van Rensselaer in the center with Col. Whiting; Col. Cuyler on the left near the river with Col. Van Alstyne's troops as well as his own. Col. Harper with his fellow Indians was in advance of the center and fired the first shots. This brought on a general fusillade on the part of the militia especially those on the left who were strung out from 150 to 200 yards in the rear of the center and firing irregularly and over each other's heads. Sir John moved forward with his rangers along the river and thrust at his enemies and immediately threw them into confusion. (Note D). Sir John's men were trained and seasoned and fired in the regulation platoon style of the period. The militia under Cuyler were greatly confused and broken and the line shattered. This looked bad and the officers were detailed to straighten them. Lansing who was to go to the right was diverted to the left where he helped rally the troops as did also Van Alstyne, Cuyler and the general himself. There is an omission here in the testimony and one is led to believe that Sir John only used his troops in thrust formation to relieve the balance who apparently fell back as we find shortly after that Van Rensselaer was occupying the orchard in front of Klock's home.
In the meantime the brunt of the battle was fought on the right by the levies and Tryon county militia under DuBois. DuBois was supported by Col. Clyde of the Tryon county militia composed of Col. Campbell's regiment. DuBois found the Indians under Brant threatening and their fire holding up Col. Whiting in the center. He thereupon ordered two companies to "raise the summit of the hill and fire upon the enemy in flank, which broke them and they ran off." This allowed Whiting to advance and hold the orchard at Klock's house. DuBois then marched on until he gained the flank of the enemy's main body." It began to grow dark and he discovered he had got to the enemy's rear, that thereupon he faced his men about and marched his men down to the enemy undiscovered, that he gave orders for firing platoons from right to left when the enemy broke and ran. That he advanced and continued firing upon the enemy until he discovered a firing on the rear of his left."
So far we have the action described in the words of Col. DuBois.
Applying this description to the lay of the ground as it exists today we find the colonel after dislodging Brant's Indians moving forward rapidly along the flank of the enemy who during this time were falling back up the river. He probably thrust forward along what is now our main Street, watching the enemy as they crowded towards the ford at Upper St. Johnsville. Finding himself in their rear he reformed and moved down on them firing regularly. It was dark and confusing, a condition not improved by the heavy smoke of the burning buildings. As he was well down on the flats towards the enemy he heard firing to his left and rear which was Col. Clyde and his militia as will appear from his own story. When DuBois found himself a target between our forces and the enemy he naturally withdrew and returned down the valley to General Van Rensselaer to see what had become of the left wing. He found that about all that had been done was to restore some semblance of order and rally the men and hold the ground already gained. It was then too dark to distinguish friend from foe and the order to cease firing had been given.
Col. Clyde's Story
Now for Colonel Clyde and his Tryon county men (Note E). Col. Clyde it will be remembered was of the right or north wing. Col. Clyde:
"That the deponent was not informed of the disposition of the other troops as he marched immediately in the woods on the hill. That the troops marched about four miles, and got above Col. Klock's; that he then heard a firing near Klock's house but continued their march with a design to outflank their enemy. That finding that the right had got above the enemy, two or three platoons of levies and militia were detached (by Mr. Benschoten) from the rear to attack a body of the enemy who were posited 'about 100 rods above Klocks.' That the detachment fired six or seven platoons when the enemy fled and the detachment returned to their post. That the right was then ordered to halt until Col. DuBois waited on the General for orders. That it was then so dark that it was difficult to enter into action with safety. That he observed a cross fire from the right from the 'low lands' which he supposed to come from the enemy but was later informed by Col. DuBois came from our own troops. They remained in that situation for about half and hour, that the enemy could just be discerned and part of them were heard crossing the river; that the daylight was then in and the troops received orders to march and proceeded towards Klock's house, where they halted a short space of time. That hearing the groanings of a man who lay wounded on the field of action he detached six men to bring him in. That these men and some others brought in the artillery wagons and artillery which had been deserted by the enemy. (Note F). That it was agreed between deponent and Mr. (Major) Benschoten that they should remain on the ground and that later they received orders from Col. DuBois to remain on the ground near Klocks.
Thus ended the battle of Klock's field. The enemy escaped over the river and the next morning was out of sight and thus eluded their pursuers. They eventually returned to Canada via Oswego. Sir John Johnson received a bullet in the leg and lost his baggage and some prisoners. There is no record of casualties and it is not believed many men were lost. However, there is reason to believe the enemy lost some men who were hastily buried and their remains were dug up when the Union Mills built their addition on New street.
After the battle the Albany troops dropped back towards Fox's mills and this is given as proof of Gen. Van Rensselaer's unwillingness to prosecute the pursuit. But DuBois says it was his proposal. In any event it was the obvious thing to do because the provision wagons were at Fort Plain. Napoleon said "an army travel on its stomach" and it is evident that the little band of militia and levies were sadly in need of refreshment.
After a long march of two days and a night it was time to think of the men. Sir John was over the river and his army borken. It was impossible to drag the tired men further without food and rest. What more natural than to secure high ground and move food and army together.
As to the oft repeated assertion that Gen. Van Rensselaer gave orders to march at moonrise there is no evidence in the entire testimony to support this. He said they would move in the morning. He saw the need of rest as his troops were spent. This was apparent in the evening engagement. The best and in fact the only real fighting was done by Col. DuBois' men who were fresh from the garrison at Fort Plain. They fought well and even recklessly flinging themselves at the enemy with a zeal that carried them ahead of the line in range of their won rifles. Only darkness ended the struggle which was the common custom of that time.
As to crossing the river there is no doubt left after perusing the testimony. Willet says they crossed the river, DuBois, Lansing, Clyde and even the General himself says they crossed. Where is then the oft told tale of Sir John camping on a peninsula? No such place is mentioned, and no such formation existed in the river. The enemy went over the river pell mell, using the darkness and a rear guard as a screen. Some went into deep water but others (Harper) crossed at the "fording place in common use." That was at the present Mindenville locks or near there and was a ford used until the building of the barge canal in 1912.
As battles go it wasn't much of a fight. It is the story of a stern chase which as all sea faring men know is a long one. It is a story of toil and danger and physical exhaustion. The reason we could not capture Sir Johnson was because human endurance could not stand the strain. The Albany militia had reached the limit of endurance and the last four mile spurt over rough terrain after two days and a night on the march was more than they could stand. Like a spent wave they fell away to a thin edge and crumpled up in confusion. The right wing did the fighting. There was Col. DuBois, Col. Clyde and Majors McKinstrie and Benschoten, (Note G) all fighters. DuBois of the regular army leaves a proud record. Clyde was a Lt. Colonel at Oriskany and succeeded the fiery Col. Cox when the rifles in that carnage brought him low. Clyde knew the ground about Col. Klock's home. He was a Cherry Valley man and well known in the valley.
As to the charge of cowardice against General Van Rensselaer there is nothing to support it. Governor George Clinton was on the way here and the next day joined the troops at Herkimer. He had every opportunity of knowing the facts and in his report censures no one. At the trial Col. Clyde, our own man says he "could discover no want of personal bravery in accused."
The charges against Van Rensselaer were dismissed and in fact the evidence of all the witnesses went to show he was not to blame. The principal source of the charges came from the Harpers, who were no doubt ably supported by residents of the valley whose terrible losses enraged them to the point where a victim was demanded. But they were victims of circumstances and not military perfedility. The temper of the people is well established in times like this. Herkimer was abused for his cowardice and even driven against better judgment into the shambles at Oriskany because of the taunts of his accusers. Harper rages because the general did not hurry his troops. And yet the officers who were detailed to expedite the crossing, state they did the best they could. The men were reluctant, tired, hungry and discouraged. They knew of the defeat at Stone Arabia and knew their own homes in Albany county were threatened. Their hearts were not in the effort as was the division under DuBois in which Tryon county men were engaged.
It would be interesting to know where our own men were in this battle. Thus far only a guess can be made for they were not ordered out until the 23rd when Col. Klock was ordered to call out the Tryon county militia and Col. Bellinger was directed to send 20 men to Fort Dayton and a like number to Fort Herkimer.
Undoubtedly our men were defending garrisons at Fort Hess, Fort Nellis, Fort Klock, Col. Klock's house, Zimmerman's at St. Johnsville and Fort House and Fort Hill at West St. Johnsville. At time like this the inhabitants fled to the nearest refuge and the men stood guard. One would like to know more about the movements of our own men but there seems to be no written record. Perhaps the pension papers will some day give up the story. We know from the pension papers of Nicholas Yerdon of Minden that he was there and also from the papers of Samuel Van Ater (Alter) that he was present as a scout in Campbell's regiment. The latter denounces Van Rensselaer for allowing the enemy to escape.
A glance at the valley at this time on the close of that October day reveals a sickening sight. The bright October sun cast its rays on a scene of desolation. Burned buildings and smoking grain stacks everywhere. The patient toil of years wiped away at one blow. Winter coming on and no food. No shelter. No live stock. Nothing but bare hands and a courageous spirit. How the few remaining buildings must have been taxed for living space. Hospitality in this time of stress was the key note on which a new country was to vibrate. Remember that this was the third invasion within the year. In the spring (May) German Flats had been destroyed and Minden had suffered from Brant's raiders in August and now the destruction of the rich Schoharie and Mohawk valley settlements in October in the face of winter and with the harvest of the year wiped away. No wonder the people were discouraged but we find the kindling of a spirit of determination in the proclamation by Congress for December 7th to be observed as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer. This was the darkest period of war in the Mohawk valley. Some of our boys were becoming convinced of a lost cause and deserting to the enemy, thereby bringing added sorrow to their relatives. Col. Klock was thus brought down in disgrace over the desertion of his own son and others were in like straits. Somehow they went through the winter, God only knows how and the dawn of another year brought hope and eventually peace and it was time. The last battle was fought at Johnstown the year after October 25th and a well aimed bullet ended the career of the vicious Col. Walter Butler on West Canada Creek four days later. Thus was removed one of the worst influences against the valley. Peace finally dawned and the valley became the center of an activity which was to reach into every part of the nation. Here was the beginning of that agricultural and industrial growth which marks the American nation for its progress. Wheat from the grain fields of the Mohawk Valley went to western New York, thence to Ohio and to the great plains of the west. Cheese makers from the Mohawk valley carried their secrets in like manner. The weavers and spinners in flax and wool spread their art to the north, south, east and west. Our iron workers taught the art to others who carried on. Our stone masons and stone cutters sent workmen far and wide and as evidence of their skill as creators of enduring masonry look at the old stone buildings standing today, the canal locks, and other splendid specimens. The people of the Mohawk valley were not prolific writers and much of their doings have been lost, but they were workers and creators and the fruits of their efforts have had a guiding influence in shaping the destiny of a nation and they have set one example which can be well emblazoned in the hall of fame -- the lesson of tenacity and sacrifice and loyalty which is the very keystone of national character.
The blood of Mohawk Valley frontiersmen flows in every walk of life in this county. Characteristics of their early forebears will crop up again and again but one thing will never be found among these descendants. No parlor reds, not even pinks will be found. No apologists, no internationalists, no Bolsheviks. The iron hell of despotism sunk too deep in the soul of the Palatiner to ever become entirely erased. They fought hard for their property and their rights and they have passed that inheritance down to the present generation. Mohawk valley stock is synonymous with Americanism as it was known in the beginning and as long as traces are found we may rest assured of at least a remainder of the original flavor when men were willing as subscribed to the famous declaration of independence at Palatine Church in its simple but effective language wherein they solemnly resolved to be "Free or Die." (Tryon County Committee May 21, 1775).
Note A -- The order to march at moonrise is given as the basis of charges against General Van Rensselaer by all subsequent historians who confuse the order of the night before with an alleged order to fall on the enemy at moonrise after the battle of Klock's Field. No such order was issued. After the battle the men were ordered back to Fox's to meet the food train which was ordered up from Fort Plain. The orders were to march in the morning. The only order to wait for the moonrise was at Johnson's old place the other side of Chuctanunda hill (opposite Fort Johnson) on the night of October 18.
Note B -- William Wallace was Lieutenant in the Reg. Army. He is mentioned twice in Simms' "Trappers of New York," once as bringing in the unconscious Nick Stoner at the battle of Saratoga and again as an interpreter at Johnstown. This tombstone in the Johnstown cemetery reads:
Lieut. Wm. Wallace
A Soldier of The
Died Feb. 25, 1837,
Aged 91 Years
He fought at Bemis Heights Oct 7, 1777, Johnstown October 25, 1781
and after the latter battle carried dispatches through the British lines to General Schuyler at Albany."
Note C -- The general is guilty of a psychological error. In leaving his men at this juncture. They needed encouragement and the general's presence would have been felt. Washington's influence with his men rested largely on his policy of sharing everything with his men. Col. DuBois and the General were regular army men and no doubt gave no thought to the effect of their example. But there seems no good reason to blame one and not blame the other. The incident is rather trivial and hardly sufficient to warrant criticism.
Note D -- In no place in the testimony is other than Col. Klock's or Klock's house mentioned. Col. Clyde and old acquaintance says plainly Col. Klock's house. A letter form H. B. Livingston from Johnstown dated only "Johnstown 1:00 o'clock," presumably in response to an order from Governor Clinton to hurry to the valley says: "We set out immediately for Col. Klock's." Then too the testimony of all the witnesses as to the battle taking place on the "flats" precludes the possibility of the battle being fought before Fort Klock. There is no room in front of Old Fort Klock for two regiments to operate between the house and the river, no orchard possible unless in the river and no possibility of being mistaken by so many witnesses all of whom knew Fort Klock and none of whom mentioned Fort Klock in their testimony. Besides all this it was too far to suppose the fight could have extended from Fort Klock to the ford at Mindenville.
Further than that see Simms' Story of the episode at Fort Nellis when the British were passing that place. For Nellis is west of Fort Klock. The British could not pass Fort Nellis if the engagement had occurred at Fort Klock.
Note D -- All historians introduce breastworks as a part of Sir John's defense. There is no mention of breastworks in the testimony. It was open fighting with Sir John straining every nerve to get to the fording place and across the river. The facts indicate that there was no time for digging in and no disposition to do so.
Note F -- A return of ordinance and stories taken from the British army commanded by Sir John Johnson. Fort Rensselaer, Oct 19, 1790.
1 Piece Brass Ordinance 3 pd. with Emplm'ts Comp; 23 rounds, Rout Shot fix'd; 10 do Canister; 1 Quadrant; 2 powder measures; 1 hand saw; 1 4 pd wt; 1 half do; 1 Quarter do; 1 scale beam; 1 mallet and set; 20 fuses; 1 Seane marlin; 2 port fires; 1 cole chisel; 1 augur; 1 Seane Quick Match; 100 wt corn powder; 1 drudging box.
Jo. Driskill, Lt. Artillery.
The above disposes of the story of the ordinance and is an official report. No mention is made of prisoners. However in the Sammons Papers ("Story of Old Fort Plain") by Nelson Greene, pp. 371) Thomas Sammons says Johnson Lost 100 men in killed and taken prisoners.
Note E -- Col. Samuel Clyde was a Cherry Valley man, a Lt. Colonel in the Tryon county Militia, later a Colonel. He was engaged in the battle of Oriskany. His family was at Cherry Valley at the time of the massacre but escaped by hiding in the woods. Col Clyde commanded at Fort Plain in 1783 when Washington visited that post. He was a member of the Assembly in 1777-78 and sheriff in 1785-89.
Note F -- Error. Clinton's correspondence shows he did not reach Fonda until the night of the 19th.
Note G -- Scott's History of Fort Stanwix and Oriskany mentions Benschoten for conspicuous bravery in defense of Fort Stanwix.
Copyright © 2000. Mrs. Margaret Davis. 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.