History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of Tryon County;
Border Warfare of New York,
During the Revolution.
By William W. Campbell
New York; Printed and Published by J. & J. Harper 1831
The Campaign of 1777 had long been a favorite one with the British ministers, and during the previous winter great preparations had been made for its successful prosecution. Should Sir Henry Clinton and Gen. Burgoyne, with the Southern and Northern armies, succeed in uniting at Albany, the Province of New York, cut off from all communication with the Eastern Provinces, must necessarily submit,and the way would be prepared for the speedy subjugation of all the others. Gen. Burgoyne, who had superseded Gen. Carleton, left Canada with 7500 well disciplined troops, and a large train of artillery, and accompanied by a numerous body of Canadians and Indians. On the 3d of July he arrived before Toconderoga, which was garrisoned by 3000 continental soldiers and militia under Gen. St. Clair. Finding themselves unable to maintain the fortress against a force so much superior, the American, on the night of the 5th, withdrew and retreated toward Fort Edward. The English immediately took possession of Ticonderoga, with a large quantity of provisions and military stores. The Americans were pursued and overtaken, and in several actions suffered severely. This fortress was an important one, and its surrender was a unfortunate as it was unexpected. Besides, Gen. Schuyler, who had the command of the American army, numbered little rising of 4000 men after all the troops of St. Clair were united with his own at Fort Edward. An army which, under equal circumstances, could present no barrier to the progress of the victorious army of Burgoyne. A general alarm spread throughout the country, and especially through New York, This alarm was increased in Tryon county, when, on the 15th of July, Thomas, one of the principal Oneida Sachems, who had just returned from Canada, where he had been present at an Indian council held at the Indian Castle of Cassassenny, gave the following account:
"Col. Claus invited strongly the Indians to join him in his expedition to Fort Schuyler, mentioning the number of his white men, and saying, that he has sent already a number of Indians with the army to Ticonderoga, and he is sure that Ticonderoga will be rendered to them and Claus. Repeated again thus: Ticonderoga is mine. This is true, you may depend on it, and not one gun shall be fired.
"The same is true with Fort Schuyler; I am sure, said Col. Claus, that when I come toward that Fort, and the commanding officer there shall see me, he shall also not fire one shot, and render the fort to me." The sachem, after relating this speech, added, "Now brothers, this which I related to you is the real truth, and I tell you further, for notice, that Sir John Johnson with his family, and Col. Claus with his family, are now in Oswego, with 700 Indians, and their number of white men are 400 regulars, and about 600 Tories, lying yet on an island on this side of Oswegatchie; therefore now is your time, brothers, to awake, and not to sleep longer; or on the contrary, it shall go with Fort Schuyler as it went already with Ticonderoga. Col. Butler is, as I heard, to arrive yesterday (being the 14th) from Niagara at Oswego, with his party, not knowing how strong in number, and shall immediately keep a council there with the Five Nations, (which are already called) and offer the hatchet to them to join him and strike the Americans."
Brothers, I therefore desire you to be spirited, and to encourage one another to march on in assistance of Fort Schuyler. Come up, and show yourselves as men, to defend and save your country before it is too late. Dispatch yourselves to clear the brush about the Fort, and send a party to cut trees in the Wood Creek to stop up the same.
Brothers! If you don't come soon without delay to assist this place, we cannot stay much longer on your side; for if you leave this Fort without succor, and the enemy shall get possession thereof, we shall suffer like you in your settlements, and shall be destroyed with you. We are suspicious that your enemies have engaged the Indians, and endeavor daily yet to strike and fight against you; and Gen. Schuyler refuses always that we shall take up arms in the country's behalf.
Brothers! I can assure you that as soon as Butler's speech at Oswego shall be over, they intend to march down the country immediately, till to Albany. You may judge yourselves if you don't try to resist we will be obliged to join them, or fly from our castles, as we cannot hinder them alone. We, the good friends of the country, are of opinion that if more force appears at Fort Schuyler the enemy will not move from Oswego to invade these frontiers: you may depend on it we are willing to help you if you will do some efforts too."
In the spring of 1776, Colonels Van Schaick and Dayton were sent into Tryon county with detachments of continental soldiers, and were stationed at Johnstown and German Flatts. Col. Dayton, stationed at the latter place, was ordered by Gen. Schuyler, in June of this year, to take post and erect a fortification at Fort Stanwix. The militia of the county were called out to assist him. This fort occupied a part of the site of the present village of Rome, in Oneida County; situated at the head of navigation of the Mohawk, and at the carrying place between that river and Wood Creek, from whence the boats passed to Oswego, it was a post of great importance to the western part of New York. The French, with their usual sagacity, when endeavoring to monopolize the Indian trade, had erected a fortification at this place. At the commencement of the war it appears to have gone to decay; a few families had settled there, forming the extreme western outpost of civilization, save the forts of Oswego and Niagara. The fort erected by Col. Dayton was called Fort Schuyler; in honor of Gen. Schuyler. It is designated by that name in most of the letters and official communications of the officers, including Gen. Schuyler himself. It has been confounded by some with Fort Schuyler, which was built in the French wars, near where Utica now stands, and named in honor of Col. Schuyler, the uncle of Gen. Schuyler. At the time of the revolution there was no fort at the latter place. There was a clear field which still retained the name of Fort Schuyler, as did the settlement west that of Fort Stanwix.
The last of April, 1777, Col. Gansevoort with the 3d regiment of the New York line of state troops, was ordered to Fort Schuyler. The fort was still unfinished, and the early part of the summer was spent in advancing the works. It was not even completed when afterward invested. The duties of the troops in consequence were extremely arduous.
The information as above given by the Oneida Sachem occasioned some alarm. It develops part of the original plan of the campaign. The forces destined against this fort were under the command of Gen. Barry St. Leger. Should he succeed in taking Fort Schuyler, he was to pass down the Mohawk valley to Johnstown, and to fortify himself there. From this place he could easily make a diversion in favor of Burgoyne, or aid in cutting off the retreat of the American army, as circumstances should render necessary. The rich Mohawk country would at the same time furnish provisions for his own and the other invading armies.
Secret information of their movements had been industriously circulated among all the disaffected inhabitants of Tryon County. Insinuations of an alarming nature were thrown out, and not without effect. The Indians, it was said, would ravage the whole intervening country. Many who had not before acted decidedly, now espoused the cause of the mother country, and in small parties stole away and went to the enemy.
A few days before the communication of the Sachem was made, the Committee had ordered out 200 militia to aid in garrisoning Fort Schuyler. A part only obeyed; on the 15th they ordered two companies of continental troops, stationed at different places in the county under their direction, to repair to the fort. They made various excuses, that they had been sent out as scouts, and were unfit for garrison duty, and refused to comply with the orders -- they afterward complied. Under these circumstances, on the 17th of July, Brig. Gen. Nicholas Herkimer published the following proclamation:
"Whereas, it appears certain that the enemy, of about 2000 strong, Christians and savages, are arrived at Oswego with the intention to invade our frontiers, I think it proper and most necessary for the defense of our country, and it shall be ordered by me as soon as the enemy approaches, that every male person, being in health, from 16 to 60 years of age, in this our county, shall, as in duty bound, repair immediately, with arms and accouterments, to the place to be appointed in my orders, and will then march to oppose the enemy with vigor, as true patriots, for the just defense of their country. And those that are above 60 years, or really unwell and incapable to march, shall then assemble also armed at the respective places where women and children will be gathered together in order for defense against the enemy, if attacked, as much as lies in their power. But concerning the disaffected, and who will not directly obey such orders, they shall be taken along with their arms, secured under guard to join the main body. And as such an invasion regards every friend to the country in general, but of this county in particular, to show his zeal and well affected spirit in actual defense of the same, all the members of the Committee, as well as all those who, by former commissions or otherwise, have been exempted from any other military duty, are requested to repair also when called, to such place as shall be appointed,and join to repulse our foes. Not doubting that the Almighty Power, upon our humble prayers and sincere trust in him, will then graciously succor our arms in battle, for our just cause, and victory cannot fail on our side."
On the 30th of July the Committee received the following letter from Thomas Spencer, dated Oneida, July 29th.
"At a meeting of the chiefs, they tell me that there is but four days remaining of the time set for the king's troops to come to fort Schuyler, and they think it likely they will be here sooner. The chiefs desire the commanding officers at Fort Schuyler not to make a Ticonderoga of it; but they hop you will be courageous. They desire Gen. Schuyler may have this with speed, and send a good army here; there is nothing to do at New York; we think there is men to be spared--we expect the road is stopped to the inhabitants by a party through the woods; we shall be surrounded as soon as they come. This may be our last advice, as these soldiers are part of those that are to held a treaty. Send this to the Committee--as soon as they receive it let the militia rise up and come to Fort Schuyler. Tomorrow we are going to the Three Rivers to the treaty. We expect to meet the warriors, and when we come there and declare we are for peace, we expect to be used with indifference and sent away. Let all the troops that come to Fort Schuyler take care on t eir march, as there is a party of Indians to stop the road below the Fort, about 80 or 100. We hear they are to bring their cannon up Fish Creek. We hear there is 1000 going to meet the enemy. We advise not--the army is too large for so few men to defend the Fort--we send a Belt of 8 rows to confirm the truth of what we say." Spencer added -- "It looks likely to me the troops are near -- hope all friends to liberty, and that love their families, will not be backward, but exert themselves, as one resolute blow would secure the friendship of the Six Nations, and almost free this part of the country from the incursions of the enemy."
About the time of the receipt of this letter several batteaux, guarded by one or two companies of batteauxmen, arrived from Schenectady with stores destined for Fort Schuyler. When the letter was laid before the Committee, a question arose whether the militia should be ordered out immediately, or whether they should wait the arrival of troops who would undoubtedly be sent by Gen. Schuyler. The necessity of guarding more effectually the batteaux was urged. The former course was adopted, and means were taken for assembling as many of the militia as possible. Their own firesides were to be invaded; the time for exertion had come -- a time which they ought to have anticipated,and for which, from the ample notice they had received, they ought to have made the best possible preparations. They were determined, however, to atone for their neglect. The fears excited by the previous losses had considerably subsided, and Gen. Herkimer soon found himself at the head of 800 men; most of the Committee were among the number, as officers of volunteers. Little order was observed on their march, and those precautions so necessary to guard against surprise were too much neglected. This was the less excusable as they had been apprised of the ambuscade of the Indians. Spencer, who had joined the troops, insisted on keeping out flanking parties. In this he was seconded by several of the officers. Gen. Herkimer himself was of this opinion; but in consequence of some remarks made by some of the inferior officers, imputing cowardice to him, he directed them to advance with all possible dispatch. If any excuse can be offered, it must arise from the fact, that they had learned, that the fort was invested, and were fearful it might be surrendered before their arrival. The distance most of the troops marched, was between fifty and sixty miles, through woods and over miserable roads. Flanking parties, traveling through woods, and crossing streams and marshes, would necessarily retard the progress of the main body, should they only keep pace with them.
Gen. St. Leger left Oswego, about the time before mentioned, for Fort Schuyler, with about 1700 men. On the 28th of July he sent forward Lieut. Bird, with 60 or 70 men to reconnoiter and to ascertain the situation of the fort. Under date of July 31st, St. Leger wrote to him the following letter.
"I have received yours of the 30th. If they are strongly posted risk nothing, as by both parties (yours and Hare's) joined, an investiture may be easily made, till my arrival, which will be some time tomorrow, with my artillery, the 34th and King's Regiment, with the Hessian riflement, and the whole corps of Indians. The rest of the army is led by Sir John, and will be up the day afterward. Yours, very faithfully, Barry St. Leger, Brig. General.
On the 2d of August Lieut. Bird wrote to Gen. St. Leger, and the following is the conclusion. "Twelve Massesaugers came up two or three hours after my departure. These, with the scout of fifteen, I had the hour to mention to you in my last, are sufficient to invest fort Sltanwix, if you honor me so far as not to order to the contrary."
Under the same date St. Leger returned the following answer:
"I this instant received your letter containing the account of your operations since you were detached, which I with great pleasure tell you have been sensible and spirited; your resolution of investing fort Stanwix is perfectly right; and to enable you to do it with greater effect, I have detached Joseph (Brant) and his corps of Indians to reinforce you. You will observe that I will have nothing but an investiture made, and in case the enemy, observing the discretion and judgment with which it is made, should offer to capitulate, you are to tell them that you are sure I am well disposed to listen to them: this is not to take any honor out of a young soldier's hands, but by the presence of the troops to prevent the barbarity and carnage which will ever obtain where Indians make so superior a part of the detachment; I shall move from hence at eleven o'clock, and be early in the afternoon at the entrance of the creek.
I am, sir, you most obt. and humble ser't. Barry St. Leger. Nine Mile Point, Aug. 2, 1777.
On the 3d of August, Gen. St. Leger arrived before the fort; he soon found that the garrison had no disposition to surrender. Col. Gansevoort had anticipated his approach, and with his brave soldiers where determined to defend their post to the last. Soon after St. Leger published the following proclamation.
"By Barry St. Leger, commander in chief of a chosen body of troops from the Grand Army, as well as an extensive corps of Indian allies from all the Nations, &c. &c.
"The forces entrusted to my command are designed to act in concert, and upon a common principle with the numerous armies and fleets which already display, in every quarter of America, the power, the justice, and when properly sought, the mercy of the king. The cause in which the British armies are thus exerted, applies to the most affecting interests of the human heart; and the military servants of the crown, as first called forth for the sole purpose of restoring the rights of the constitution, now combine with love of their county and duty to their Sovereign, the other extensive incitements which spring from a due sense of the general privileges of mankind. To the eyes and ears of the temperate part of the public, and to the hearts of suffering thousands in the Provinces, be the melancholy appeal, whether the present unnatural Rebellion has not been made a foundation for the completest system of Tyranny, that ever God in his displeasure suffered for a time to be exercised over a forward and stubborn generation.
"Arbitrary imprisonment, confiscation of property, persecution and torture unprecedented in the inquisitions of the Romish Church, are among the palpable enormities that verify the affirmation. These are inflicted by assemblies and committees, who dare to profess themselves friends to liberty, upon the most quiet subjects, without distinction of age of sex, for the sole crime, often for the sole suspicion, of having adhered in principle to the government under which they were born, and to which, by every tie divine and human, they owe allegiance. To consummate these shocking proceedings, the profanation of religion is added to the most profligate prostitution of common reason; the consciences of man are set at naught, and multitudes are compelled not only to bear arms, but also to swear subjection to an usurpation they abhor.
"Animated by these considerations; at the head of troops in the full powers of health, discipline, and valor; determined to strike where necessary, and anxious to spare where possible, I, by these present, invite and exhort all persons in all places where the progress of this army may point, and by the blessing of God I will extend it far, to maintain such a conduct as may justify me in protecting their lands, habitations, and families. The intention of this address is to hold forth security and not depredation to the country.
"To those, whose spirit and principle may induce to partake the glorious task of redeeming their countrymen form dungeons, and reestablishing the blessings of legal government, I offer encouragement and employment, and upon the first intelligence of their associations, I will find means to assist their undertakings. The domestic, the industrious, the infirm, and even the timid inhabitants, I am desirous to protect, provided they remain quietly at their houses -- that they do not suffer their bridges or roads to be broken up, no by any other acts, directly or indirectly endeavor to obstruct the operations of the King's troops, or supply or assist those of the enemy. Every species of provisions brought to my camp will be paid for at an equitable rate, and in solid coin.
"If, notwithstanding these endeavors, and sincere inclinations to effect them, the frenzy of hostility should remain, I trust I shall stand acquitted in the eyes of God and men, 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. (Signed) BARRY ST. LEGER. By Order of the Commander in Chief, WILL. OSB. HAMILTON, Secretary
How well the threats and promises set forth in the foregoing letters and proclamation were fulfilled, will appear in the sequel.
Learning that Gen. Herkimer was approaching to the relief of the garrison, and not being disposed to receive him in his camp, St. Leger detached a body of Indians and Tories under Brant and Col. Butler to watch his approach, and to intercept, if possible, his march. The surrounding country afforded every facility for the practice of the Indian mode of warfare. In the deep recesses of its forests they were secure from observation, and to them they could retreat in case they were defeated. Finding that the militia approached, in a very careless manner, Butler determined to attack them by surprise. He selected a place well fitted for such an attack. A few miles from the fort there was a deep ravine sweeping toward the east in a semicircular form, and having a northern and southern direction. The bottom of this ravine was marshy, and the road along which the militia were marching crossed it by means of a log causeway. The ground thus partly enclosed by the ravine was elevated and level. Along the road, on each side on this height of land, Butler disposed his men.
About ten o'clock on the morning of the 6th of August, the Tryon County Militia arrived at this place without any suspicions of danger. The dark foliage of the forest trees, with a thick growth of underbrush, entirely concealed the enemy from their view. The advanced guard, with about two-thirds of the whole force, had gained the elevated ground, the baggage wagons had descended into the ravine -- col. Fisher's regiment was still on the east side -- when the Indians arose, and with a dreadful yell poured a destructive fire upon them. The advanced guard was entirely cut off. Those who survived the first fire were immediately cut down with the tomahawk. The horror of the scene was increased by the personal appearance of the savages who were almost naked and painted in a most hideous manner. They ran down each side, keeping up a constant fire, and untied at the causeway; thus dividing the militia into tow bodies. The rear regiment, after a feeble resistance, fled in confusion, and were pursued by the Indians. They suffered more severely than they would have done had they stood their ground, or advanced to the support of the main body in front.
The latter course would have been attended with great loss, but might probably have been effected. The forward division had no alternative but to fight. Facing out in every direction, they sought shelter behind the trees and returned the fire of the enemy with spirit. In the beginning of the battle the Indians, whenever they saw that a gun was fired from behind a tree, rushed up and tomahawked the person thus firing before he had time to reload his gun. * To counteract this, two men were ordered to station themselves behind one tree, the one reserving his fire until the Indian ran up. In this way the Indians were made to suffer severely in return. The fighting had continued for some time, and the Indians had begun to give way, when Major Watson, a brother-in-law of Sir John Johnson, brought up a reinforcement, consisting of a detachment of Johnson' Greens. The blood of the Germans boiled with indignation at the sight of these men. Many of the Greens were personally known to them. They had fled their country, and were now returned in arms to subdue it. Their presence under any circumstances would have kindled up the resentment of these militia; but coming up as they now did, in aid of a retreating foe, called into exercise the most bitter feelings of hostility. They fired upon them as they advanced,and then rushing from behind their covers, attacked them with their bayonets, and those who had none, with the butt end of their muskets -- "rage supplies arms." This contest was maintained, hand to hand, for nearly half an hour. The Greens made a manful resistance, but were finally obliged to give way before the dreadful fury of their assailants, with the loss of 30 killed upon the spot where they first entered. Major Watson was wounded and taken prisoner, though afterward left upon the field.
* "Again. Let me recall, gentlemen, to your recollection, that bloody field in which Herkimer fell. There was found the Indian and the white man born on the banks of the Mohawk, their left hand clenched in each other's hair, the right grasping in a gripe of death, the knife plunged in each other's bosom; thus they lay frowning. " Governor Morris's Address before the New York Historical Society.
In this assault Col. Cox is said to have been killed; possessing an athletic frame, with a daring spirit, he mingled in the thickest of the fight. His voice could be distinctly heard, as he cheered on his men or issued his orders, amid the clashing of arms and the yells of the contending savages.
About one o'clock Adam Helmer, who had been sent by Gen. Herkimer with a letter to Col. Gansevoort, announcing his approach, arrived at the fort. At 2 o'clock Lieut. Col. Willet, with 207 men, sallied from the fort for the purpose of making a diversion in favor of Gen. Herkimer, and attacked the camp of the enemy. This engagement lasted about an hour, when the enemy were driven off with considerable loss. Col. Willet having thrown out flanking parties, and ascertained that the retreat was not feigned, order his men to take as much of the spoil as they could remove, and to destroy the remainder. On their return to the fort, above the landing, and near where the old French fort stood, a party of 200 regular troops appeared, and prepared to give battle. A smart fire of musketry, aided by the cannon from the fort, soon obliged them to retreat, when Willet returned into the fort with his spoil, and without the loss of a single man. A part of that spoil was placed upon the walls of the fortress, where it waved in triumph in sight of the vanquished enemy.
This timely and well conducted sally was attended with complete success. A shower of rain had already caused the enemy to slacken their fire, when finding by reports that their camp was attacked and taken, they withdrew and left the militia in possession of the field.
Few battles have been fought at a greater disadvantage than was that of Oriskany on the part of the Americans. After recovering from the confusion of the first attack, they found themselves without ammunition save that in their car-touch boxes. Their baggage wagons were in possession of the enemy. The weather was warm, and surrounded by the enemy, they could get no water. In this state they defended themselves against a far superior force for five or six hours. The sever remarks which have been made upon the militia engaged in this battle are certainly not warranted. They had been imprudent, but they were brave, and in this kind of fight, skillful.
The American lost in killed nearly 200,and about as many wounded and prisoner; they carried off between 40 and 50 of their wounded. They encamped the first night upon the ground were old Fort Schuyler was built.
Among the wounded was Gen. Herkimer. Early in the action his leg was fractured by a musket ball. The leg was amputated a few days after; but in consequence of the unfavorable state of the weather, and want of skill in his surgeons, mortification ensued,and occasioned his death. On receiving his wound, his horse having been killed, he directed his saddle to be placed upon a little hillock of earth and rested himself upon it. Being advised to choose a place where he would be less exposed,he replied -- "I will face the enemy." Surrounded by a few men he continued to issue his orders with firmness. In this situation, and in the heat of the battle, he very deliberately took from his pocket his tinder box and lit his pipe, which he smoked with great composure. He was certainly to blame for not using greater caution on his march, but the coolness and intrepidity which he exhibited when he found himself ambuscaded, aided materially to restoring order and in inspiring his men with courage. His loss was deeply lamented by his friends and by the inhabitants of Tryon County. The Continental Congress, in October following, directed that a monument should be erected to his memory, of the value of five hundred dollars.
In a letter accompanying the resolution, the Congress said: "Every mark of distinction shown to the memory of such illustrious men as offer up their lives for the liberty and happiness of this country, reflects real honor on those who pay the grateful tribute; and by holding up to others the prospect of fame and immortality, will animate them to tread in their same path.
Governor George Clinton,who forwarded the letter and resolution to the Tryon County Committee, added:
"Enclosed you have a copy of a letter and resolves of Congress for erecting a monument to the memory of your late gallant General. While with you I lament the causes, I am impressed with a due sense of the great and justly merited honor the continent has, in this instance, paid to the memory of that brave man." We regret to state that no monument has ever been erected to his memory in pursuance of that or any other resolve.
Tryon County suffered dreadfully in this battle; Col. Cox, Majors Eisinlord, Klepsattle, and Van Slyck were killed, as was also Thomas Spencer, the Indian interpreter.
John Frey, major of Brigade, with Col. Bellenger, were taken prisoners. Most of the inferior officers were either killed or taken. The County was filled with morning. The enemy sustained a severe loss likewise. The Indians according to their own statements lost in killed nearly 100 warriors. More than 30 of the Seneca tribe alone were killed. The loss of the regulars and Tories is not known, but in the contest with Herkimer and Willet must have been nearly or quite a hundred.
The following extracts are from a statement made by the state Council of Safety on the 15th of August, to the delegates of the Province in General Congress.
"If it is not inconsistent with the general interest, we would most earnestly wish for one or two regiments of riflemen, who would be very useful in our woody country, and whose very name would serve to intimidate the savages. Would the circumstances admit of our drawing our whole force to a point, and were the passes to the southward secured by a sufficient number of troops. Exclusive of our militia, we should not have thought it necessary to call in any aid form the neighboring states; but at present, attacked on every side, we stand in need of more assistance than we have, from present appearances, reason to hope for."
The same report thus alludes to the late transaction in Tryon County.
"By the papers enclosed you will find that our troops and militia have behaved with becoming spirit in Tryon county; but as it is out of our power to support them, we fear that the county must fall into the hands of the enemy; in which case, by means of the Indians who will then be wholly in their power, they may ravage all that part of this State, which lies to the westward of Hudson's river, as well as the frontiers of New Jersey and Pennsylvania."
After reviewing the general state of the Province, and remarking that in many places the disaffected had gained the ascendancy, and compelled the Whigs to side with them, they added with true Spartan spirit -- "We are resolved, if we do fall, to fall as becomes brave men."
But to return to Fort Schuyler; St. Leger, availaing himself of this disastrous battle, endeavoured by strong representations of Inidna cruetly, to obtain immediate possession of the fort. Major Frey, who was wounded, and Col. Bellenger, both prisoners, threatened probably with the treatment which some fohter received, on the evening of the battle wrote to Col. Gansevoort the following letter:
o'clock P.M. -- Camp before Fort Stanwix 6th August, 1777.
"It is with concern we are to acquaint you that this was the fatal day in which the succors, which were intended for your relief, have been attacked and defeated with great loss of numbers killed, wounded, and taken prisoners. Our regard for your safety and lives, and our sincere advice to you is, if you will avoid inevitable ruin and destruction, to surrender the fort you pretend to defend against a formidable body of troops and a good train of artillery, which we are witnesses of: when at the same time you have no farther support or relief to expect. We are sorry to inform you that most of the principal officers were killed, to wit -- Gen. Herkimer, Colonels Cox, Seeber, Isaac Paris, Captain Graves, and many others, too tedious to mention. The British army from Canada being now perhaps before Albany, the possession of which place of course includes the conquest of the Mohawk river and this fort."
The following endorsement is on the back of this letter. "Gen. St. Leger, on the day of the date of this letter, made a verbal summons of the fort by his Adjutant General and Colonel Butler, and who then handed this letter; when Colonel Gansevoort refused any answer to a verbal summons, unless made by Gen. St. Leger himself, but at the mouth of his cannon," -- a written summons was the result. This demand was repeated on the 8th, when the Adjutant Gen. and Col. Butler were led blindfolded into the presence of the gallant commanders, Gansevoort and Willet. To the promises and threats of Butler they replied, that it would only be another Fort William Henry scene, and that they would not surrender it, and especially upon a verbal summons.
On the 9th St. Leger wrote Col. Gansevoort the following letter:
"Agreeably to your wishes, I have the honor to give you on paper the message of yesterday; though I cannot conceive, explicit and humane as it was, how it could admit of more than one construction. After the defeat of the reinforcement, and the fate of all your principal leaders, on which naturally you built your hopes, and having the strongest reason, from verbal intelligence, and the matter continued in the letters that fell into my hands, and knowing thoroughly the situation of Gen. Burgoyne's army, to be confident that you are without resource; in my fears and tenderness for your personal safety from the hands of the Indians, enraged for the loss of some of their principal and most favorite leaders, I called to council the chiefs of all the nations, and after having used every method that humanity could suggest to soften their minds, and lead them patiently t bear their own losses, by reflecting on the irretrievable misfortune of their enemy, I at last labored the point my humanity wished for: which the chiefs assured me of the next morning, after a consultation with each nation that evening at their fire places. Their answer, in its fullest extent, they insisted should be carried by Col. Butler; which he has given you in the most categorical manner. You are well acquainted that Indians never send messages without accompanying them with menaces on noncompliance, that a civilized enemy would never think of doing. You may rest assured, therefore, that no insult was meat to be offered to your situation by the kings' servants in the message they peremptorily demanded to be carried by Col. Butler; I am now to repeat what has been told you by my adjutant general. -- "That provided you deliver up your garrison, with everything as it stood at the moment the first message was sent, your people shall be treated with every attention that a humane and generous enemy can give.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient and humble servant,
Barry St. Leger,
Brigadier General of his Majesty's forces
Camp before Fort Stanwix, Aug. 9th, 1777.
"P. S. I expect an immediate answer, as the Indians are extremely impatient: and if this proposal is rejected, I am afraid it will be attended with very fatal consequences, not only to you and your garrison, but the whole country down the Mohawk river, such consequences as would be very repugnant to my sentiments of humanity, but after this, entirely out of my power to prevent."
Colonel Gansevoort returned the following laconic answer:
"In answer to your letter of this day's date, I have only to say that it is my determined resolution, with the forces under my command, to defend this Fort at every hazard to the last extremity, in behalf of the United American States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obt. and hum. ser't.
Col. Commanding Fort Stanwix."
St. Leger threw up several redoubts, but his artillery was not sufficient to make any impression upon the fort. "The siege continued until the 22d of August, 1777, when St. Leger had advanced to within one hundred and fifty yards of the fort. Ignorant of the fate of Col. Willet, his second in command, who with Lieutenant Stockwell had undertaken a hazardous enterprise to procure relief for the garrison, his provisions daily exhausting, some of his officers anxious to accept the proffered protection of St. Leger from the fury of the savages by making a timely surrender, all communication with the fort cut off by the besiegers, and having no certain prospect of relief, Gansevoort, who knew not how to yield when he was guarding his country's honor and safety, had adopted the desperate resolution, in case no reinforcement should arrive before his provisions were reduced to a few days' supply, (after distributing them among his men) to head the brave remnant of his garrison, and fight his way at night through the enemy, or perish in the attempt. Those who knew him best, knew how well he dared to execute his resolves."
Col. Willet and Lieut. Stockwell left the fort by night, and having eluded the enemy, passed down the Mohawk country for the purpose of again assembling the militia for its relief. It is one among the many instances of personal courage, which were exhibited upon this frontier, by that intrepid soldier, Col. Willet. So successful was he in all his movements, that the Indians, believe him to be possessed of supernatural powers, gave to him the name of "the Devil."
Gen. Schuyler, who from the beginning had felt a great anxiety as to the event of this siege, knowing how disastrous it would be, should the fort be taken, on the news of the defeat of Gen. Herkimer, dispatched Gens. Learned and Arnold, with a brigade of men to its relief. Under date of August 10th, Albany, he wrote Col. Gansevoort the following letter:
"Dear Colonel -- A body of troops left this yesterday,and others are following to raise the siege of Fort Schuyler. Every body here believes you will defend it to the last, and I strictly enjoin you so to do.
"Gen. Burgoyne is at Fort Edwards, -- our army at Stillwater -- great reinforcements coming from the eastward, and we trust all will be well, and that the enemy will be repulsed."
Gen. Arnold, with about 900 light troops, leaving behind all the heavy baggage, advanced some distance before Gen. Learned -- and on the 22d of August, addressed the following letter to Col. Gansevoort, dated at German Flatts:
"Dear Colonel -- I wrote you the 19th, that I should be with you in a few days; since which, your express is arrived,and informs me you are in high spirits, and no apprehensions at present. I have been retarded by the badness of the roads, waiting for some baggage and ammunition wagons, and for the militia, who did not at first turn out with that spirit I expected; they are now joining me in great numbers; a few days will relieve you; be under no kind of apprehension, -- I know the strength of the enemy and how to deal with them. Enclosed are several letters and papers which will announce to you a signal victory gained by Gen. Stark over the enemy; you will accept my congratulatory compliments on the occasion. Howe, with the shattered remnant of his army, are now on shipboard. The last date was the 4th August; he was in the Gulf stream becalmed. Burgoyne I hear this minute is retreating to Ty. I make no doubt our army, which is near fifteen thousand, will cut off his retreat.
Adieu, and believe me to be, dear Colonel, yours sincerely, B. ARNOLD."
From this place, a few days before, Gen. Arnold sent forward Hanyost Schuyler, a refugee, to the camp of St. Leger. He had given him his liberty, on condition that he would announce his approach, and make an exaggerated statement of his forces. He retained his brother as an hostage.
In the camp of St. Leger all was confusion. The Indians, disappointed in obtaining plunder, and enraged on account of their losses, could scarcely be restrained. They supposed that in the action they had fired across and killed each other. The confusion was greatly increased by the arrival of Schuyler. On being questioned as to the number of troops approaching, he answered -- he knew not, but they were as numerous as the leaves upon the forest trees. The Indians refused to remain any longer. All the arts of their leaders were unavailing. On the 22d of August, St. Leger retried in great confusion, leaving the camp with a great part of his baggage. The Indians plundered from their friends in the retreat, and it is said raised a shout, that the Americans were coming, and then amused themselves in witnessing the terror it occasioned. St. Leger has been accused by his subaltern officers of a want of energy. He is said to have been in a state of intoxication, during most of the time his forces lay before the fort.
Thus ended the siege of Fort Schuyler, and a campaign, which, at the commencement, threatened the valley of the Mohawk with conquest and devastation.
On the 24th of August, Gen. Arnold arrived, to the great joy of the garrison.
The fury and cruelty of the Indians and Tories may be learned from the following affidavit, the original of which is now in the office of the Secretary of State. The high standing of Dr. Younglove, who died a few years since in the city of Hudson, is a sufficient voucher for its truth. The compiler has seen several persons to whom the same facts were communicated by him in his lifetime.
"Moses Younglove, (see Appendix--Note E) Surgeon of General Herkimer's brigade of militia, deposeth and saith, that being in the battle of said militia above Oriskany on the 6th of August last, toward the close of said battle, he surrendered himself a prisoner to a savage, who immediately gave him up to a sergeant of Sir John Johnson's regiment; soon after which, a Lieutenant in the Indian department came up in the company with several other Tories, when said Mr. Grinnis by name, drew his tomahawk at his deponent, and with deal of persuasion was hardly prevailed on to spare his life. He then plundered him of his watch, buckles, spurs, &c., and other Tories following his example, stripped him almost naked with a great many threats,while they were stripping and massacring prisoners on every side. That this deponent, on being brought before Mr. Butler, sen. who demanded of him what he was fighting for; to which his deponent answered, "he fought for the liberty that God and nature gave him,and to defend himself and dearest connexions from the massacre of savages." To which Butler replied, "you are a damned impudent rebel;" and so saying immediately turned to the savages; encouraging them to kill him, and if they did not, the deponent and the other prisoners should be hanged on a gallows then preparing. That several prisoners were then taken forward toward the enemy's head quarters with frequent scenes of horror and massacre, in which Tories were actives as well as savages; and in particular one Davis, formerly known in Tryon County on the Mohawk river. That Lieut. Singleton, of Sir John Johnson's regiment being, wounded, entreated the savages to kill the prisoner, which they accordingly did, as nigh as this deponent can judge, about six or seven.
Isaac Paris, Esq., was also taken the same road without receiving from them
any remarkable insult except stripping, until some Tories came up who kicked
and abused him, after which the savages, thinking him a notable offender,
murdered him barbarously. That those of the prisoners who were delivered up
to the provost guards, were kept without victuals for many days, and had neither
clothes, blankets, shelter, nor fire, while the guards were ordered not to
use any violence in protecting the prisoners from the savages, who came every
day in large companies with knives, feeling of the prisoners, to know who
were fattest. That they dragged one of the prisoners out of the guard with
the most lamentable cries; tortured him for a long time, and this deponent
was informed by both Tories and Indians, that they ate him, as appears they
did another on an island in Lake Ontario, by bones found there nearly picked,
just after they had crossed the lake with the prisoners. That the prisoners
who were not delivered up, were murdered in considerable numbers from day
to day round the camp, some of them so night that their shrieks were heard.
That Capt. Martin, of the batteaux-men, was delivered to the Indians at Oswego,
on pretense of his having kept back some useful intelligence. That this deponent
during his imprisonment, and his fellows, were kept almost starved for provisions,and
what they drew, were of the the worst kind, such as spoiled flour, biscuit
full of maggots and moldy, and no soap allowed, or other method of keeping
clean, and were insulted, struck, &c. without mercy by the guards, without
any provocation given. That this deponent was informed by several sergeants
orderly on Gen. St. Leger, that twenty dollars were offered in general orders
for every American scalp. MOSES YOUNGLOVE
Chairman of Albany Committee."
Col. Gansevoort, in a letter under date of July 29th, confirms the statement, that St. Leger had offered twenty dollars for every American scalp. Small parties of Indians were then lurking around. -- A few days before, he adds, a firing was heard in the woods about five hundred yards from the fort. On sallying out, it was found that the Indians had fired upon three young girls who were engaged picking berries. Two of them were killed and scalped, and the third made her escape wounded by two balls shot through her shoulder. The foregoing statements need no comment. The men who employed such instruments, and who stimulated them by promises and rewards, have received the just execration of an indignant people. I shall leave it to the reader to compare their conduct with their professions.
The retreat of St. Leger, with the success of the American arms at Bennington, restored hope and animation. Tryon County, smiling through her tears, obeyed with alacrity the call to reinforce Gen. Gates in the month of September following. Her militia mounted on horseback, some without saddles, others without bridles, sallied forth. If as uncouth in appearance, they were equally as zealous, as the Knight of La Mancha. Large reinforcements of eastern militia having come on, the Tryon County militia were directed to return home before the surrender. The splendid victory over Burgoyne at Saratoga, with the surrender of his whole army, produced feelings of joy in the bosom of the Americans, as deep and pervading, as had been those of their despondency. Counting upon that success, many a hope was entertained, and many a prayer put up, that a speedy termination would be put to the unhappy war in which they were engaged.
It is not our province to inquire into the policy or propriety of the change of commanders of the northern army. Gen. Schuyler (See Appendix--Note G.) was always a favorite with the inhabitants of New York. Those few survivors, who have come down to us, the relics of his day, still cherish his name in grateful remembrance. Tryon County owed much to this vigilance and attention. He rejoiced with her when she rejoiced, and wept with her when she wept. Alive to her exposed situation, he was always ready to afford relief, so far as it could be done consistently. The following is the conclusion of one of his letters to the Committee on this subject, under date of July the 4th, 1777.
"In entreat you to keep up the spirits of the people; encourage them to step forth with alacrity whenever they may be called upon, and our enemies will be baffled in their attempts, and do not suppose that the United States of America will not afford you protection; I am sure, I have always beenr eady and willing to afford every protection, in my power, and hiterto it has been effectual, for no mischief worth mentioning has as yet been perpetrated in any part of your country, and you may deptend upon it that upon no necessary occasion will you be left without proper support. May God keep you in his protection, is the sincere wish of, Gentlemen, Your friend and humble servant. PHILIP SCHUYLER."
The Baroness De Reidesell, whose husband acted a conspicuous part under Burgoyne, bears the following testimony to his cararacter, which I trust I shall be excused for inserting -- After the surrender of Burgoyne, she was invited by Gen. Schuyler to spend soem time in his family; Gen. Burgoyne was also a guest.
"Some days after this we arrived at Albany, where we so often wished ourselves; but we did nto enter it, as we expected we should, victors; we were received by the good Gen. Schuyler, his wife and daughters, not as enemies, but kind friends, and they treated us with the most marked attention and politeness, as they did Gen. Burgoyne, whohad caused Gen. Schuyler's beaurifully finished house to be burnt. In fact, they behaved like persons of exalted minds, who determined to bury all recollections of their own injuries in the contemplation of our misfortunes." Gen. Burgoyne was struck with Gen. Schuyler's generosity,and said to him, "you show me great kindness, although I have done you much injury." -- "that was the fate of war," replied the brave man, "let us say no more about it."
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