According to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation,
This is a four-part look at these important theaters in the war and New York’s vital role in our Nation’s Founding Struggle
By Kathleen L. Maher
Where modern day Elmira, NY is now situated, an Indian village by the name of New Town set the stage for an important battle in the American Revolution. Set on the Chemung River near Pennsylvania’s border, Newtown/Elmira is fringed by hills on the West and East, and it is along one of these hills to the East that General Sullivan staved off an ambush from the Iroquois leader Joseph Brant and British commander Colonel John Butler.
The Six Nations, four of whom had pledged their loyalty to the crown, had been attacking the settlers of south-central New York for years, trying to drive them out of their log homes and farmsteads. The Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca and Onondaga tribes supplied the British from this fertile area, and General John Sullivan’s orders from Washington were to drive them out.
In August 29, 1779, Sullivan and 5,000 Continentals from New York, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania had amassed on the shore of Chemung River on New Town’s northeast side. Rumors of an impending ambush roused the Patriot forces to clash with British and Iroquois warriors at the base of what is now called Sullivan’s Hill.
The casualties were not high but the lasting effect of the battle of Newtown was the disbanding of the Six Nations—the Iroquois were scattered, their villages burned, and their supplies were decimated. Washington instructed Sullivan to pursue the enemy all the way to Forts Niagara and Oswego, but Sullivan failed to accomplish these orders.
The British had lost their bread bowl, and a fierce ally in the war.
A plaque on the memorial site at Sullivan's Monument reads: The soldiers in Sullivan's army were surprised to find cultivated fields and beautiful orchards. Following the war many returned to settle here. Some historians contend that opening the Indian lands for settlement was General George Washington's ultimate purpose for Sullivan's expeditions.
"The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more."
General George Washington