Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume II, Page 66. Siege of Fort Stanwix.-- The invasion of New York, as devised in England, contemplated the movement of Burgoyne from Quebec by way of Lake Champlain and Ticonderoga, down the Hudson by Saratoga to Albany; and the descent of Col. Barry St. Ledger from Oswego, to the valley of the Mohawk, who, capturing Fort Stanwix, the reader will pardon me for not calling it Fort Schuyler, and other opposing fortifications in the valley, and desolating and sacking it, was to unite his victorious troops with those of Burgoyne on his route, and with him revel in the luxuries of Albany.

Moving through the Oneida Lake and up Wood Creek, St. Ledger's troops transported their cannon and munitions of war in boats, approaching Fort Stanwix in the latter part of July. Thomas Spencer, called a half blooded Oneida, an interpreter and great friend of the American cause, was on the alert and notified the frontier post of the enemy's approach, several days in advance of its arrival. The enemy was much delayed on Wood Creek, in removing heavy timber which the Americans had fallen across the stream, which gave Gansevoort's troops several days in which to get them better ready to receive them. The following, is copied from Lieut.-Col. Willet's account of the investiture of the fort. "On Saturday evening Aug. 2d, five battoes arrived with stores for the garrison. About the same time we discovered a number of fires a little better than a mile from the northwest of the fort. The stores were all got safe in, and the troops which were a guard to the bateaux, marched up. [This was part of a Massachusetts regiment under Lieut.-Col. Mellon from Fort Dayton.] The Captain of the bateaux and a few of his men, delaying their time about the boats, were fired on by a party of Indians, which killed one man and wounded two, the Captain himself was taken prisoner.

"Next morning the enemy appeared in the edge of the woods about a mile below the fort, where they took post, in order to invest it upon that quarter and to cut off the communication with the country from whence they sent in a flag, who told us of their great power, strength and determination, in such a manner as gave us reason to suppose they were not possessed of strength to take the fort. Our answer was, our determination to support it.

All day on Monday we were much annoyed by a sharp fire of musketry from the Indians and German riflemen [there was a company of the latter with St. Ledger], as our men were obliged to be exposed on the works, killed one man and wounded seven. The day after, the firing was not so heavy, and our men were under better cover; all the damage was one man killed by a rifle ball. This evening [Aug. 4] indicated something in contemplation by the enemy. The Indians were uncommonly noisy, they made most horrid yellings great part of the evening in the woods, hardly a mile from the fort. A few cannon shot were fired among them.

"Wednesday morning there was an unusual silence. We discovered some of the enemy marching along the edge of the woods downwards. About 11 o'clock three men got into the fort, who brought a letter from Gen. Herkimer, of the Tryon county militia, advising us that he was at Eriksa [Oriskany], eight miles off, with a part of his militia, and purposed to force his way to the fort for our relief. In order to render him what service we could, it was agreed that I should make a sally from the fort with 250 men, consisting of one half Gansevoort's and one half Massachusetts ditto, and one field piece, an iron three pounder."

The arrival of supplies and troops on the evening of the 2d, was most timely, and possibly saved the garrison from dire consequences. The obstructions on Wood creek caused the enemy a fortunate delay for the garrison. Col. Gansevoort and Lieut.-Col. Willet seem to have been the two right men in the right place. Lieut.-Col. Mellon may have been equally courageous, but probably less familiar with Indian warfare. The garrison consisted of 750 men, and St. Ledger led to its investment, an army of 1700, consisting of 700 British and German soldiers, including the Loyal regiments of Colonels John Butler and Sir John Johnson, in command of the latter officer, and 1000 Indians under the immediate command of Capt. Joseph Brant.

The troops under Col. Johnson, were principally refugees from the frontiers of New York, and were designated as Johnson's Greens, from the color of their coats, and butler's Rangers, enlisted especially for scouting or frontier service. Here is a figure of a cockade or small brass plate plowed up in Otsego county some years ago, an emblem worm upon the hat to distinguish Butler's from other Canadian troops.

August 3d, soon after the arrival of St. Ledger at Fort Stanwix he issued a proclamation threatening terrible vengeance upon all who did not readily submit to his authority; but Col. Gansevoort took no notice of the paper, except to strengthen his position by all possible means. His approach had been heralded, and the tocsin of alarm sounded in the valley below, which completely aroused the citizens of Tryon county, and fired every patriotic heart. A call from Gen. Herkimer for the assembling of the militia, soon brought together at Fort Dayton from their widely separated homes, nearly 800 good men, and true, in fact the very elite of the county's reliable manhood. And as we may infer, the greater number of its four organized regiments of militia, and a portion of its battalion of "Minute Men," if that body of troops had actually been organized in the county, which it is believed had not been. When suggested nearly four weeks after, the other regiments were formed, George Herkimer was appointed its Colonel, and Samuel Campbell its Lieut. Col. Some changes were effected in the command of the Tryon County Militia in the next two years, but just what they were, in the absence of muster rolls, cannot be satisfactorily determined. Of the first Canajoharie regiment, when organized in August 1775, Nicholas Herkimer was its Colonel, and Ebenezer Cox, its Lieut. Col. When Col. Herkimer was promoted to Brigadier General, Cox became Colonel of the regiment. Mr. Campbell in his Tryon County, page 100, says that Lieut. Col. Campbell and Maj. Clyde, on whom the command of this regiment devolved, brought it off from the Oriskany battlefield. He has also given me to understand, that Lieut. Col. Campbell had previously been transferred from the field staff of the probably unformed regiment of "Minute Men," to that of Col. Cox. On the organization of the regiment, Clyde was appointed Captain of its first company. September 5, 1776, he was commissioned second Major of the regiment of Col. Cox; William Seeber, being its first Major, and thus were they situated at Oriskany, where Seeber was wounded in the back and died at his residence, 126 days after, near Fort Plain. We suppose that the other shattered regiments were cared for by their surviving superior officers, on this eventful day.

On his arrival at Fort Stanwix, St. Ledger mounted his handful of small cannon, mere pop guns for the purpose, and began the siege, surprised that its command was not at once surrendered to him, as he had all the way from Canada anticipated it would be. In the meantime, Gen. Herkimer having assembled what troops he could, moved forward, from Fort Dayton, to succor the fort. On the evening of Aug. 5th, Herkimer encamped at Whitestown. He had sent a message to Col. Gansevort, that he was on his way for his relief, and being near enough to hear a signal (within six miles), he would move forward on the morning of the 6th, when signaled by three cannon shots at the fort. The messengers had been delayed, the signal had not been given; but at this juncture Col. Cox and several other officers urged and immediate advance. In vain did their prudent commander urge the necessity of observing caution and less haste. In their blind zeal to break the restraint which held them, several of the boldest wiseacres told the general that some of his near relatives were in the camp of the enemy, and that he ought to be there too. Indeed, they went so far as to call him a coward to his face. In vain did he attempt to reason with his accusers; in vain did he urge them to await the expected signal at the fort, which would promise a concert of action. The prudent counsels of the brave DeKalb in the southern expedition, in which he fell, to Gen. Gates, whose northern laurels were so soon to become southern willows; were regarded with the same favor as were those of the generous hearted Herkimer, who said, as did the former: "March on, a few hours will tell us which are the brave!"

The army of Gen. Herkimer advanced, but not as some have stated, without even a flank guard. (Conrad Mowers, who was in the battle, with two brothers, assured a friend of the writer that three of that guard, in advance of the column, were cut off and slain or captured.) At the fatal Oriskany grounds, over a marshy ravine a dozen rods in width, a wagon road had been previously constructed upon a narrow, winding causeway: such as we call a "corduroy road." A number of those timbers were yet in place at the time of the centennial celebration of the battle. The enemy were apprised on the 5th of Aug. (The invaders at Fort Stanwix were notified of Gen. Herkimer's advance up the valley, by Molly Brant. See address of Samuel Earl, Esq., delivered at the centennial gathering, at Oriskany, Aug. 6, 1877.) of Herkimer's movement, and he possibly had reason to expect his path would be obstructed, but that he was appraised of the ambuscade I cannot believe. About 10 o'clock, A.M., when the baggage wagons were on the causeway, the enemy, who was concealed on both sides of the advancing column by a dense forest, closed around it, opening upon it a most deadly fire, amidst the horrid yells of a thousand savage throats. The regiment of Col. Visscher was in the rear of the baggage wagons, which, unfortunately, tended to prevent their crowding over the causeway to join Herkimer, only two or three companies, Capt. Jacob Gardiner's and Capt. John Davis', certainly, effecting the desirable result: the remainder of the regiment being taken at great disadvantage, was either slain or driven back, by overpowering numbers, down the river.

Who made up this army of concealed foes? It seems to be a well established fact that Sir John Johnson was in command of the forces in this enterprise, assisted by Colonels Butler and Claus, and Captain Brant. The white officers were in command of the white troops, consisting mainly of Johnson's, Greens and Butlers Rangers, 400 or 500 in number; while under Brant's direction were nearly 1,000 Indian Warriors, the latter foeman to be dreaded at all times, and especially so in this civil war. After the repulse and retreat of Col. Visscher's men, the enemy numbered nearly two to one of Herkimer's command. As the Seneca warriors were there represented in much greater numbers than were either of the other three waring nations, it is reasonable to conclude that, although no history has mentioned the fact, the three distinguished chiefs of the nation, Kayingwaurto, Cornplanter and Red Jacket were there also, to lead on their braves.

(The Bones of Red Jacket.-- This distinguished warrior was a Seneca Chief, and was born near Buffalo, NY in 1751. In the Revolution he fought under the British standard, and was one of the most active and daring men of his nation. At the council held at Fort Stanwix in 1784, at which were assembled the principal chiefs of the Six Nations, to meet the commissioners appointed by the General Government for that especial purpose, with whom were Gov. George Clinton, General Lafayette and many other noted men of that day, Red Jacket made an eloquent speech, in behalf of his people, against the sale of their lands, which our country was willing to buy, although she could claim them under the plea of conquest. The sale of the lands of which they claimed an ownership, was, however, made, and a treaty of peace and amity was ratified. The lands of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras,who had rendered services in our interest or remained neutral during the contest, were made an exception in the transfer,and their rights were secured to them.

Red Jacket possessed native talents of a high order, and had also learned wisdom in the school of experience, and when our next war came on with England, he was arrayed for active service under our stars and stripes, although then over 60 years of age, and in an action near Lake George, Aug. 13, 1812, he distinguished himself for his bravery and noble daring. In the latter part of his life, however, his love of liquor so increased as greatly to impair his manhood; as was the case with many of the most celebrated Indians of his time, Cornplanter being a noted exception, and he died a drunkard, January 20, 1830, at the age of 79 years. He was interred among the dead of his nation, in the burying ground at the Buffalo Creek Reservation.

Hugh Cameron, Esq., a member of the Lacrosse, Wisconsin, bar, a native of Livingston county, who read law in Buffalo, assured the writer, in an interview at Rochester, that in the year 1850, three Indians came into his office at the latter place, in a somewhat excited condition, to seek his counsel. One was Moses Stephenson, for whom he had before transacted some business, and the others were familiarly known as the "Two Guns", step sons of Red Jacket. Neither of the two latter could speak English, and, as their comrade could, he did the talking. Divining from their countenances that they considered their visit one of some consequence, Mr. Cameron asked Moses the nature of his errand.

Straightening up with no little assumed dignity, he replied, "That crazy lumberman Hotchkill Copeway, and educated Chippewa, has desecrated the grave of Red Jacket and stolen his bones; hoping to illustrate the subject of his lectures with the scull of the great chieftain, we have come to see how we can by law get possession of those bones."

He was told what process of law would restore them to his kindred by replevin, and Moses carefully translated to his comrades this question and its answer, and they all looked serious and disappointed.

"Moses," asked Mr. Cameron, "do you know where those bones now are?"

"Yes," he replied, "they are stored in a building in Front street, in Buffalo."

"Then," said their adviser, "you had better not wait for a process of law, but get possession of them by force, in as quiet a manner as possible." Moses interpreted this to his comrades,and all three gave an approving guttural grunt.

Moses next inquired how they should proceed to obtain such possession.

Said Mr. Cameron: "Go as quietly as possible and get into the building, and if necessary, break open the door to do it, and when the skeleton is obtained, be out of town with it as quickly as possible.

This last advice having been interpreted to the Two Guns, all three of the Indians gave a very loud grunt of approval, with a look of very serious earnestness, and away they went. They lost no time in forcing an entrance into the building, got their coveted treasure, and with it hastened their steps to the Cattaragus Reservation, where, it is believed, the bones are still in the keeping of some of Red Jacket's descendants.)

This was one of the most severely contested battles, and one of the most important in its results of any fought during the whole war. Here the Whigs of Tryon county met their (but recently) Tory neighbors in deadly strife; nor was this the worst feature in the conflict, for here were relatives of close affinity, and life long friends, now separated politically, warring with the fury of demons for the mastery, the one party to protect their families and homes from threatened destruction; the other, maddened by having been compelled to leave their homes, although from their own choice of sides in this new game of chance, now determined to chastise and subjugate their former neighbors, and possess, as they yet believed they would, their farms, confiscated for their benefit. There was also a class of adventurers, any of whom single men, in the corps of Johnson and Butler, who were induced to go to Canada, with the assurance that their reward would certainly be a good, well cultivated, farm. Such was the individual outlook of the contest, while on its result seemed to hang the possible success of Burgoyne's mission, and the future progress of the war.

The Battle-- Let us take a birds eye view of this American victory, purchased at so great a price of gore and death. Who was Gen. Herkimer, their commander? I answer without fear of just contradiction, he was, in that defile, the right man in the right place. Years before, he had seen service under Sir William Johnson,and was familiar with the Indian mode of warfare; and although not as well versed in military tactics as one whose life had been spent in a military camp; yet for determined bravery, for coolness in danger, and for a common sense view of surrounding circumstances, there was no man his rival, if indeed, he peer, in the whole brigade. Early in that terrific onslaught, a musket ball shattered his leg and killed his horse. Evincing little concern for his own personal safety, he had his saddle placed at the roots of a tree against which he could lean, and there he gave his orders which put his men in the best attitude for defense, as he would have done if seated where danger did not fill the very atmosphere. Like most men of German blood, he was fond of smoking, and taking from his pocket a tinder-box, with his pocket knife and a flint arrow head carried for that purpose, he lighted his pipe and indulged this favorite pastime, while issuing necessary commands. When it was suggested to him to be removed to a place of less danger, he replied in true Spartan courage: "No, I will here face the enemy!"

In the early part of the action the Indians seemed to do the most of the fighting; the reason for their being seen the most, was, first because of their great preponderance over their white allies, and another their cupidity to obtain scalps, and for them a reward; which caused some of them to expose their persons to the unerring ball of an American rifle. Col. Stone's Life of Brant., vol. 1, page 227, says that St. Ledger did not pay for American scalps I have understood that all of the English officers were opposed to this nefarious practice, but it was extensively done, and Col. John Butler was the Canadian agent for doing it. Discovering that when one of his men, as they stood singly behind trees discharging his gun, and Indian would run up and kill him with a tomahawk before he could reload; the commander ordered tow men to a tree, one to shoot the exposed Indian while running as he expected, easily to secure a scalp. This ruse soon taught the Indians better manners, and placed that part of their occupation with Othello's. When the Indians seemed to be getting the worst of the fight, Capt. Stephen Watts, a spirited young officer and brother-in-law of Sir John Johnson, and who commanded a company in his regiment, brought up a reinforcement of Johnson's Greens. (Campbell's Annals, p. 80.) The very sight of these Tryon county loyalists, so well known and remembered by the patriotic defenders of the soil, fired their blood to fever heat; and such a hand to hand fight ensued as never recorded in American civilized warfare. Yes, at the sight of those green coats, Herkimer's men not only fired upon them, but without waiting under the temporary shelter of trees to reload their rifles, they rushed upon them with bayonets and clubbed muskets, in some instances to close a death struggle, knife in hand. In this, and similar melees between the Provincials and the Greens and Butler's Rangers, many fell on both sides. The former had formed themselves into circles the better to resist their foes, and were repelling their attacks with unflinching firmness; when, after the battle had raged for an hour, the sky became overcast, the artillery of heaven began to play, a terrible rain storm followed, and for the next hour the fight ceased, the enemy withdrawing from the field.

During the suspension of hostilities, both parties so far as they could, laid their plans for an improved deal, when the conflict should be renewed. The Americans embraced the opportunity to select a position on better ground; and again the battle opened by the near approach of the stealthy Indians, but the coolness of the Americans made him cautious. On the reappearance of the Greens and Rangers, terrible fighting again ensured,and after it had waged with alternate success for a time, the preconcerted signal of three guns came booming down the valley, proving that Lieut. John Demoot, Adam Helmer, and another person, messengers sent by Herkimer, had by a wide circuit reached the fort in safety. The Americans well knew what it meant, and when they heard it followed by other reports, they could imagine what scene was being enacted at the enemy's camp. Sir John's forces also augured that it meant no good for them; but whether it was from an arrival of troops from Gen. Schuyler's army or a sally from the fort, they could not determine. They however made it a pretext for a ruse, and in the disguise of American hats, a body of the loyal troops coming from the direction of the fort rushed up to the circle of the provincials without firing, under the pretense of being friends. Capt. Jacob Gardinier, of Visscher's regiment, one of the most efficient men on the ground, was the first to detect the stratagem. To. Lieut. Jacob Sammons, of Capt. John Davis' company, who thought them friends, said Gardinier: not so, don't you see them green coats? They were hailed by Capt. G., just at which moment one of his own men seeing a friend as he supposed approaching, sprang forward and proffered his hand; which was grasped and he was drawn into the advancing corps a prisoner. He did not yield without a struggle, however, and his Captain watching the movement spray forward and with a spontoon dealt a fatal blow to the captor which liberated his man. (Stone's Brant, Vol. I pp. 238, 39. The writer was well acquainted with William Gardinier, to whom this narrative is accredited, as also with martin, a son of Capt. Gardinier, and with Rynier, a son of Capt. Gardinier's brother Samuel, who too, was severely wounded at Oriskany, from which he recovered. They corroborated the statement of Col. Stone, relating other incidents of the battle.)

Instantly the Captain was set upon by several of the foe, one of whom he slew, wounding another. Three of the Greens now sprang upon and threw him down, and held him there, pinioned by a bayonet through each thigh, while the third attempted to thrust a bayonet into his breast. This bayonet he seized and jerked its owner down upon his body, where he held him as a protection, until Adam Miller, one of his own men, came to his rescue and, with a clubbed musket, brained one of the assailants who held him down. The other tow now turned upon Miller, when the Captain, partly rising, snatched his spear and quick as thought planted it in the body of his last assailant, who fell and expired. He proved to be Capt. McDonald of Johnson's Greens, and is believed to have been the invader of the Schoharie settlements a short time before. In one of those terrible hand to hand fights, Capt. Watts was dreadfully wounded and became a prisoner, and Captains Hare and Wilson, of Johnson's Greens, were killed.

In another of those fearful onslaughts, as is correctly mentioned by Col. Stone and corroborated to the writer, three of Johnson's Greens attempted to capture Capt. Andrew Dillenbeck. (Capt. Dillenbeck, a native of Palatine, married a Miss Fink, by whom he had one son, a namesake. The Capt. was about 25 years old at the time of his death. Capt. John Zielley married Capt. Dillenbeck's widow for his second wife, by whom he had a daughter who married Adam Vrooman. Andrew Dillenbeck, Jr., had tow sons, John and Andrew, who, in 1880, were still living.) He had said just before, to his friends, that he would not be made a prisoner by his old neighbors, and he was not. One of them seized his gun, but he wrenched it from his grasp, clubbed it, and felled him to the ground. The gun chanced to be loaded, and with it he shot the second and thrust the third through with a bayonet; but, in the moment of his victory, another of the enemy shot him down and he immediately expired. Like Captain Gardinier, and Col. Cox, and many others there engaged, he was a strong and powerful frame, rendered such by hardships from childhood. As the reader may well suppose, such men could not be conquered.

But, as already stated, in the midst of these desperate struggles for the mastery, the sound of cannon came booming down the valley. The Indians were the first to take the hint that their presence was needed at the camp, and witnessing the indomitable courage of the Provincials, and smarting for their own losses, they were the first to show the white feather, and shouting the significant "Oonah! Oonah!" responded in every direction, a word which indicated a retreat, they nearly all precipitately fled, amid the shouts of the Americans, and a shower of bullets were exposed. As the firing at the fort continued, the dismayed Refugees, with a silent peccavie, soon followed their allies, stealing away and leaving Herkimer's men victors of the battle field. It was a glorious triumph, but alas! at what a fearful cost: it threw the whole valley into mourning.

While the Americans are collecting their wounded (for they could not linger to collect their widely scattered dead and bury them), and preparing litters on which to bear them from the field, it is our opinion that if any of the baggage wagons could have been turned homeward for use, the enemy had removed of killed all the horses, let us follow the vanquished to their own camp, and see what is enacting there.

The Sortie

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