Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Rumblings in the Valley....Pt. 2
The Story of the Campaign of 1777 and the Battle of Oriskany
Johnson, Butler and Brant came back to the valley to play prominent roles in the Campaign of 1777 when the British planned an invasion of New York. If they managed this, they could separate the New England colonies from those of the Middle Atlantic and South, effectively ending a short-lived “revolution”. To do this, the main force under General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne would come down the Hudson via Lake Champlain from Canada, with a second force under General William Howe to move north from New York City. A third under Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger would drive east from Oswego by way of the Mohawk Valley.
The three armies planned to unite in Albany, thereby controlling the state’s strategic waterways and the adjoining land areas. Since the waterways were important trade routes, the growing success of the Patriot middle class farmers and merchants could be brought under control and in service to the Crown once more.
The plan, though sounding good on paper, never worked. Howe failed to receive orders to move north, and instead sailed for Philadelphia. Burgoyne advanced as far south as Saratoga (Schuylerville) where his army was eventually routed, and he was captured.
However, in the Mohawk Valley phase of the campaign, Sir John Johnson (Sir William’s son) was second in command to St. Leger, Colonel John Butler headed the Loyalist militia, and Joseph Brant lead the Iroquois tribes, save for the Oneidas, who’d sided with the Patriots. They also found the entrance into the valley unexpectedly blocked—by Ft. Stanwix, built by the British during the French and Indian War. With the foresight of General Philip Schuyler of Albany, the Patriots repaired this strategic outpost after the French threat had ended. Colonel Peter Gansevoort, also of Albany, then commanded the garrison.
News of the invading army spread like a brush fire throughout the Valley and alarmed the frontier settlements. General Nicholas Herkimer summoned all males between the ages of 16 and 60 to assemble at Ft. Dayton (what was to become the community of Herkimer) to raise the siege of Ft. Stanwix. As the most prominent Patriot in the Valley, Herkimer directed the Tryon County Militia.
Herkimer and his militiamen, (about 800) marched to relieve Ft. Stanwix, never suspecting their fate. It struck on the morning of August 6, 1777 at a marshy ravine south of the Mohawk and just west of Oriskany, N.Y. (between present-day Utica and Rome, N.Y.)
Molly Brant, Mohawk wife of Sir William Johnson had sent a message to her brother Chief Joseph Brant, who led St. Leger’s Indian contingent, with the exact date that Herkimer and his men would set out to relieve Ft. Stanwix. It might be interesting to discover just how this information got into Molly’s hands.
The fierce battle raged throughout the day in a pastoral setting called Bloody Creek (Oriskany Creek), as ill-prepared, mostly German farmers faced Indians, Loyalist militia, British and Hessian soldiers. In the beginning of the encounter, Herkimer was shot in the leg, but seated on a log and with sword drawn, continued to direct and encourage his men who faced over a thousand of the enemy. In proportion to the numbers engaged, no other battle of the Revolution exceeded the casualties at Oriskany.
But Herkimer and his men held the line.
Eleven days later, General Herkimer died of gangrene after his leg was amputated. Fond of Scripture, the General listened as his devoted wife Maria remained at his side to read the Psalms daily before he passed away.
British plans to march though the valley had failed. The Patriots from the Mohawk Valley were free to join the forces opposing Burgoyne. The Battle of Oriskany was a turning point in the Campaign of 1777 and the War for Independence. ~ Pat Iacuzzi