This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 61

History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 61: 1777, August 6, Battle of Oriskany.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 786-830 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

Go back to: Chapter 60 | ahead to: Chapter 62

1777, Futile conference of Herkimer with Brant at Unadilla — Invasion of New York by British armies under General Burgoyne and Col. St. Leger — St. Leger moves from Oswego on Fort Stanwix which he invests, August 2 — Gen. Herkimer, at the head of the Tryon County Militia, marches to the relief of Fort — Mutinous conduct at Oriskany camp — Ambuscade and Battle of Oriskany, bloodiest conflict of the Revolution — Enemy flees, beaten after terrific five-hour fight — Willett's sortie from Fort Stanwix — Herkimer's army losses compel it to fall back down the River — General Herkimer mortally wounded — August 13, attack on the Schoharie Valley repulsed — Siege of Fort Stanwix, August 2-22 — Capt. Walter Butler, the notorious Tory, captured — General Herkimer dies August 17 — Han Yost Schuyler scares St. Leger's army into flight — August 22, Gen. Arnold's army raises siege of Fort Stanwix — Sketches of Herkimer, Gansevoort, Willett and Arnold — Diagnosis and medical description of Herkimer's case and wound by Dr. Albert Vander Veer.

In the winter of 1776-1777 and the spring of 1777 the British planned an invasion and conquest of New York, the key to the military defense of the Colonies. The campaign was the result of carefully laid plans of General John Burgoyne, who had long had it in mind. It followed, in part, the general route used in prior French invasion, in that the main British army, under Burgoyne, was to come down by the Lake Champlain route. Albany, as the key position of New York, was the objective. Burgoyne's invasion was to be supported by an army of over 1,200 British, Tories and Indians, which was to sweep the Mohawk Valley, while Captain McDonald, at the head of 150 Indians and Tories, was to ravage the Schoharie Valley. Both the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys were not only Whig strongholds, but they formed the chief granary of the Thirteen Colonies and source of a great part of food and other supplies for the American armies. In co-operation with these three converging movements, the British general, Sir Henry Clinton, was to move up the Hudson from New York against Albany. Here Burgoyne and Clinton were to join forces. Having conquered Albany, the chief patriot military center, and having split the Colonies in twain, the combined British armies were to proceed against the American forces in the other Colonies at their leisure.

Burgoyne was defeated. St. Leger was repulsed. McDonald was routed, and Clinton's expedition moved so slowly that it was a failure, although it forced the Highlands of the Hudson in one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the war.

As this campaign, in its entirety, formed the turning point of the Revolution and assured ultimate American independence, its importance as national and world history merits detailed mention. The Oriskany battle and the siege of Fort Stanwix are therefore described in the detail which the subject warrants. These two vital military events form some of the most interesting reading of all the history of the Revolution.

[Map: The Saratoga-Oriskany Campaign, 1777.]

* * * * *

[Painting: Joseph Brant.]

In the spring of 1777, at Unadilla, General Herkimer held a futile conference with his old friend, Joseph Brant, in an effort to secure his neutrality in the impending hostilities.

The following is from the papers in the possession of the Sammons family of Fonda, containing a statement made by Joseph Wagner (probably of Palatine) regarding the famous conference in the spring of 1777 between Herkimer with a party of Tryon County militia and Brant and his warriors, at Unadilla. Wagner was with Captain Fox's company in Colonel Klock's regiment of Palatine militia. Colonel Cox and Major Eisenlord are mentioned as also being in the force of 300 men under the command of General Herkimer. The party went to Cherry Valley, evidently by way of Fort Plain, where they stayed one week, "thence to Lake Otsego, now Cooperstown, where we remained one day and a night". From here Herkimer sent "an express" to Brant at Ockwago asking him to come to Unadilla for a conference. The Americans then marched to Unadilla, where they waited a week for the Indians to appear. Brant arrived with 500 warriors, "accompanied by Capt. A. Bull, William Johnson, son of Sir William Johnson by an Indian woman, and also an Indian chief". Wagner's statement continues: "Brant, having encamped, took 40 of his Indians and, together with Bull, Johnson and the chief, proceeded to where Herkimer had encamped. A circle was now formed by Herkimer, in which Brant with the chief and the other officers entered. A conversation having been entered into, Brant, for some reason or other, became irritated and sent his 40 Indians to their encampment, when they all at once fired off their rifles as a signal for battle. Before Brant left he agreed to meet Herkimer at 9 o'clock next morning in the same place. In the morning Gen. Herkimer called on me and informed me that he was about communicating something in confidence, which I must keep a perfect secret. He then told me that he had selected myself and three others to be present in the circle when Brant and those with him should arrive, that each was to choose and know his man, and, on a given signal, to fire on Brant and the three with him. Brant arrived, accompanied the same as the day before, when he addressed Gen. Herkimer, as follows: 'Hundred warriors with me, well-armed and ready for battle, you are in my power but, as we have been friends and neighbors, I will not take advantage. I will go back again and for the present you may rest assured that no hostilities will be committed by the Indians.' Herkimer made Brant a present of the dozen head of cattle he had brought along and Brant's warriors immediately killed them with spears and tomahawks." The statement continues: "It is very probable that Herkimer's object was to get Brant to take part in the war against Great Britain or, at least, during said war to remain neutral. But Brant informed him that it was now too late and the Indians would not remain neutral. Brant went west, joined St. Leger at Oswego and went with him to the siege of Fort Stanwix." Brant's irritation at the first day's conference arose from a dispute with and abuse by Colonel Cox.

Herkimer has been severely criticised by some historians for the foregoing order, but it was a dictate of common sense, made necessary by the dangers of border warfare with a barbarous race and was thoroughly justified.

* * * * *

With invasion of British armies threatening New York, the Tories were encouraged and the Whigs were depressed along the Schoharie River, as elsewhere in the Mohawk Valley. The following is a letter from the Schoharie Committee of Safety showing the state of affairs in that district, while Burgoyne was approaching the Hudson and St. Leger was heading for the Mohawk.

The reference to the "late advantage" concerns the fall of forts Ticonderoga and Independence, which fell into the hands of Gen. Burgoyne's advancing army.

"Schoharie Committee Chamber, July 17, '77.


"The late advantage gained over us by the enemy has such effect upon numbers here, that many steady friends to the State seem to draw back; our state, therefore, is deplorable, all our frontiers except those that are to take protection from the enemy, are gone, so that we are entirely open to the Indians and Tories, which we expect every hour to come to this settlement; part of our militia is at Ft. Edwards; the few that are here, many of them are unwilling to take up arms to defend themselves, as they are unable to stand against so great a number of declared enemies, who speak openly without any reserve. Therefore if your honors do not grant us immediate relief of about 500 men to help defend us, we must either fall prey to the enemy, or take protection also. For further particulars we refer to the bearer, Col. Willett, in whom we confide to give you a true account of our state and situation, and of the back settlements, as he is well acquainted with them. We beg your honors will be pleased to send us an answer by the bearer. We remain,

"Your honors most obd't servants,

"Johannes Ball, Chairman."

The following is a letter to the Albany Committee:

"Gentlemen: The great depression of spirits of the inhabitants of Schoharie give this Council much uneasiness, as it exposes them to the depredations of an enemy whom they otherwise despise. We hope that your committee will not be wanting to support the drooping spirits of these inhabitants; we have great reason to fear the breaking up of the settlement of Schoharie unless our exertions be seconded by your efforts. You well know that in such an event on the frontiers will not only be attended with infinite mischief to the inhabitants but will furnish cause for discouragement to the country in general. Every means should therefore be tried to prevent it."

In another letter the Chairman of the Albany Committee wrote to General Schuyler as follows:

"Hon. Sir: Col. Vrooman and two other gentlemen from Schoharie are now with us and represent the distress that part of the country is driven to. Threats they hourly receive; their persons and property are exposed to imminent danger; nearly one-half of the people heretofore well disposed have laid down their arms, and propose to side with the enemy. We therefore beg leave to suggest that one or two companies of continental troops be sent that way, which we suppose might bring the greater part to a sense of their duty."

A few days later Benjamin Bartholomew from Schoharie was admitted to the Council Chamber and informed the Council that a certain man from Schoharie was collecting a party in favor of the enemy, had dispirited the inhabitants, that the few resolutely affected were escaping from there privately. That body then drafted the following letter to Governor Clinton: "Sir: The Council have received advice that Captain ———— is collecting a force in Schoharie, and prevailed upon the inhabitants through fear to take part with him and even to take arms against us. They suggest to your excellency the propriety of sending WPP militia under the command of an active and intelligent officer who may fall upon the parties, arouse the spirits of our friends and give the Indians such an impression of our activity as will render them cautious of opposing us."

At this unsettled period when no forts had been erected in the settlements to which the timid might flee for safety, confusion for want of union was manifest among the most courageous.

Captain Jacob Ball, brother of Johannes Ball, raised a company of 63 royalists at the Beaver dam and in Duanesburg and went to Canada, accompanied by several relatives. George Mann, another Captain of Militia, on being ordered out with his company to oppose the enemy, openly declared himself friendly to the Royal power. Adam Crysler and his brother, with several other individuals of influence, residing in the southern part of Schoharie settlement, also sided with the Royalty.

The following notice was issued by Johannes Ball, Chairman of the Committee of Safety:

"Advertisement: This is to give notice to all persons that the Committee of Schoharie have resolved that nobody shall sell anything to disaffected persons, and especially to such persons as buy and send it to the Scotch settlements (on the Charlotte and Susquehanna rivers) and if any person does it, we shall seize it.

"By Order of the Committee.

Johannes Ball, Chairman."

Rumors of the projected invasion of New York, by British armies under Burgoyne, reached the patriots of our state and Valley early in 1777. While this news elated the Tories and depressed the faint-hearted neutral people, it roused the little band of patriot leaders to intensive efforts for the defense of the state and the repulse of the invaders.

With the necessity of increased diligence the Committee of Safety at Schenectady determined upon the establishment of a regular watch, and on April 13, 1777, the following resolution was therefore passed: "That all persons in this Town, above the Age of sixteen years, shall watch, and that their be a watch Established of One Officer & Eleven men, that such watch begins at 9 O Clock, in the Evening & Continues Till Daylight Next Morning, that the persons ordered to watch be warned by the Town Major Appointed for that Purpose, & that the said Town Major attends the watch Every Evening at Ten O Clock to see if they all Appear, & Take an Account of all persons not attending the watch, which List he is to give in to the Chairman of this Committee & such Person or Persons so Neglecting of if warned shall forfit a fine not Exceeding Twelve pence which shall be recovered by a Warrent of the Chairman of this Committee."

During the Revolutionary (1777) campaign by the British-Tory-Hessian-Indian army under General Burgoyne directed from Canada against Albany and the Hudson valley, a force of 1,200 under the British colonel, Barry St. Leger, attempted to conquer the Mohawk Valley and, effecting a junction with Burgoyne's men, sweep down the Hudson Valley to New York, thus splitting the Thirteen American Colonies in two. At Oriskany the decisive battle was fought which prevented this scheme.

In the summer of 1777 the intended invasion of the Mohawk Valley by St. Leger was seasonably announced to the Tryon County authorities by Thomas Spencer, an Oneida half-breed sachem, who had learned of it in Canada on a spying expedition. He reported that there were 700 Indians and 400 British regulars at Oswego, who were to be later joined by 600 Tories, for the invasion of the Valley to effect a junction with Burgoyne at Albany. For a time this startling news seemed to throw the Tryon County Whigs into a panic and many wavered in their Continental allegiance. The Valley Tories remaining took on new heart and activity. The militia rangers constantly scouted the frontier and the farmers went armed at their work.

Letters of John Jay and General Schuyler at this time sternly criticise the Tryon County Whigs for their panic-stricken condition and lack of self-reliance. Schuyler wrote that he had sent Colonel Van Schaick's and Colonel Wesson's regiments into Tryon County, and says further: "But if I may be allowed to judge of the temper of Gen. Herkimer and the committee of Tryon county, from their letters to me, nothing would satisfy them unless I march the whole army into that quarter. With deference to the better judgment of the Council of Safety, I cannot by any means think it prudent to bring on an open rupture with the savages at the present time. The inhabitants of Tryon County are already too much inclined to lay down their arms and take whatever terms the enemy may be pleased to afford them. Half the militia from this (Tryon) county and the neighboring state of Massachusetts we have been under the necessity of dismissing; but the whole should go." In the light of the truly heroic part the Mohawk Valley men played in the conflicts which followed, the opinion must prevail that General Schuyler did not read aright the temper of these militiamen. General Schuyler was a statesman and a progressive citizen but history has not yet definitely settled his status as a military commander.

A few days prior to the date of this letter written from Fort Edward, July 18, 1777, the county committee had been called upon to reinforce Fort Stanwix, or Fort Schuyler, as later called. Of the 200 militia ordered to muster and garrison this post, only a part responded. They had also ordered two companies of regular troops, stationed at different points in the county under their direction, to go to Fort Stanwix. These regulars made various excuses, among them that their duties as scouts unfitted them for garrison work, but they reluctantly complied.

Realizing that Tryon County must depend practically on its own men to resist this invasion, General Herkimer, on July 17, 1777, issued a proclamation announcing that 2,000 "Christians and savages" had assembled at Oswego for a descent upon the Mohawk Valley, and warning the entire population to be ready at a moment's notice to take the field in fighting order, the men from sixteen to sixty for active service and the aged and infirm to defend the women and children at points where they might gather for safety. Those who did not voluntarily muster for service when called upon were to be brought along by force. At this time many Valley men were fighting in the American armies elsewhere.

The Oneida chief, Thomas Spencer, warned the committee, on July 30, that the enemy would be upon Fort Stanwix in a few days. On August 2, Lieutenant-Colonel Mellon, of Colonel Wesson's regiment, arrived at the fort with two batteaux of provisions and ammunition and a reinforcement of 200 men, both sorely needed. As the last load of supplies was hurried into the stockade, the vanguard of St. Leger's army broke from the surrounding forest.

St. Leger came down on Fort Stanwix from Oswego by way of Oneida Lake and Wood Creek, boating his supplies in flat boats through those waterways. His progress was considerably delayed in Wood Creek by the tactics of the Americans, who had felled trees across that stream. This delay in the British advance was of vital value to Gansevoort's force at Fort Stanwix.

This advance party of the enemy was commanded by Lieutenant Bird and Joseph Brant. Colonel Gansevoort, commanding the fort, had 750 men, with six weeks' provisions and plenty of small arm ammunition, but not many cartridges for the cannon, there being only about nine per day for six weeks. The garrison had no flag when the enemy appeared, but a curious patchwork, conforming to the recent congressional regulations, soon waved over the fort. Shirts were cut up to form the white stripes, the red was supplied by pieces of scarlet cloth and the ground for the stars was made from a blue cloak. This is said to have been the earliest use of the Stars and Stripes in regular siege and battle. On August 3, St. Leger arrived in front of the fort with his entire force and demanded its surrender, sending in a pompous manifesto at the same time, both matters being treated with derision by Gansevoort and his men. Active hostilities at once began, several soldiers in the fort being killed by the enemy's gun fire on the first and second days.

At the news of St. Leger's investment of Fort Stanwix, General Herkimer summoned the militia to action. Not only the militia, but most of the members of the county committee took the field. The patriots concentrated at Fort Dayton to the number of over 800. This Tryon militia was composed almost entirely of farmers, some in uniform and others in homespun and buckskin.

Molly Brant, then at the Canajoharie Castle, warned St. Leger of Herkimer's intended advance. The non-combatants, women, children, aged and infirm, were gathered in the Valley forts during this movement. Forts Dayton, Herkimer, Plain, Paris, Johnstown, Hunter and the smaller posts held their quota of these defenseless ones. A few able-bodied men were probably assigned to each fort, in addition to the boys, old men and infirm, who were expected to aid in the defense. These posts were also the rendezvous of the militia of the neighborhood for the march to German Flats.

At Fort Dayton was a garrison consisting of part of Colonel Wesson's Massachusetts regiment. General Herkimer set out on his march, starting on August 4. The patriot Tryon County regiment followed the road on the north side of the river, passing through the clearings, which became more and more infrequent, and plunging into the dense forests. On account of the great number of wagons which were being convoyed, the little army was strung out for a distance of two miles or more. Most of these oxcarts were loaded with supplies and provisions for Fort Stanwix. The progress of these wagons along the narrow trail was difficult and the advance of the American militia was necessarily slow. The first night's camp was made west of Staring Creek, about twelve miles from Fort Dayton.

On the morning of August 5, Herkimer and his men pushed on westward until they came to the ford opposite old Fort Stanwix, in present Utica, where they crossed to the south bank. The American force might have continued on the north side, but this would have necessitated the transportation of all the ox-carts across the river at Fort Stanwix, in the face of the enemy, and the Tryon County general judged this too hazardous a proceeding.

Herkimer's camp on that night (August 5) extended between the Oriskany Creek and Sauquoit Creek, upward of two miles through the forest. It was guarded on the west by Oriskany bluff and on the east by the Mohawk River. Three scouts were sent forward to inform Colonel Gansevoort of the approach of Herkimer's force. The discharge of three cannon at the fort was to be the signal of their arrival there and for Herkimer to advance upon the enemy while Gansevoort made a sortie against their camp. The scouts sent to Gansevoort by Herkimer were Helmer, Demuth and an unknown.

With the wisdom of an old frontier fighter, it was Herkimer's intention to stop at this point on the morning of August 6 and do some reconnoitering, while awaiting the expected signals.

St. Leger, aware of the patriot advance, had sent a detachment of Indians under Brant and Tories under Colonel Butler and Major Watts to meet them. Herkimer's subordinates were anxious to advance before the expected signal from the fort, and on the morning of August 6 became practically mutinous. His officers attacked him violently for the delay and Col. Cox and Isaac Paris denounced him as a coward and a Tory. Calmly the general told them that he considered himself charged with the care as well as the leadership of his men and did not wish to place them in a perilous position from which it would be impossible to extricate them; he added that those who were boasting loudest of their courage would be first to run in the face of the enemy, and finally satisfied the clamor of his officious subordinates by giving the order "Forward". With great shouting the undisciplined militia grasped their arms and rushed forward. Doubtless General Herkimer realized that his officers and men, or a considerable part of them, would have gone on without him, and hence he gave the order to advance.

The march had been over a road leading through unbroken woods, ever since the Americans had forded the Mohawk at Old Fort Schuyler. This forced the brigade to extend itself along a narrow road and left it open to attack from the dense woods on either side. Herkimer had been warned of an Indian ambush westward of Oriskany Creek and had done his best to prevent it.

About two miles west of the Oriskany the road led into a curving ravine with a marshy bottom, traversed by a causeway of logs and earth. Along this road the patriots were rushing hastily forward when a sudden, crashing volley of musketry smote the straggling American line and the enemy closed in on all sides, while the forest rang with shots and savage yells, and the shouts of officers struggling to restore order out of the confused files of militiamen.

In the smoke and turmoil General Herkimer, riding at the head of the column, with the Canajoharie district regiment in the van, ordered Colonel Cox to deploy the men in a battle line on the road, but, like true frontiersmen, they took to trees of their own accord. At this moment General Herkimer was shot through the lower leg by a bullet which killed his horse, and horse and rider sank to the earth. In the first fury of the onslaught the enemy cut off the baggage train and the rear battalion of Colonel Fisher (Visscher), which was driven back in a disorderly retreat, although Captain Gardinier's company and some others of Fisher's men succeeded in pushing forward and joining the American main body. The rest were pursued and badly cut up by the Indians. The 700 men left in the ravine were thrown into confusion and for a time seemed likely to be annihilated, as the slaughter was terrific. Although undisciplined and insubordinate, they were not panic-stricken and soon were fighting back effectively against the savage enemy.

[Painting: General Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany.]

When Herkimer fell, Dr. Petrie, surgeon of the German Flats regiment, was also severely wounded, but nevertheless he bound up the commander's injured leg as well as possible, while under heavy fire. Directing his saddle to be placed against the trunk of a large beech tree, General Herkimer had his men assist him to a seat thereon. He lit his pipe and calmly directed the battle while supporting himself on his saddle. The bullets whizzed all about him, but when he was begged by his officers to allow them to remove him to a safer place, he replied, "I will face the enemy."

After an hour of fighting, with the foe closing gradually in upon them, Captain Seeber, without orders, threw the remnant of his men into a circle, the better to repel the attacks of the enemy. This example was followed by other sections of Herkimer's little army, whose defense then became so effective that a detachment of the Royal Greens and Butler's Rangers attempted to break the American line by a fierce bayonet charge. In this wild melee old Valley neighbors fought, fired and stabbed in a deadly hand-to-hand combat. Then a sudden heavy thunderstorm broke upon the bloody forest filled with dead, dying and madly fighting men. The enemy retired and the Americans had a brief respite after two hours of deadly battle. Herkimer's men then took advantage of this to concentrate upon a better piece of ground, taking advantage of the rising ground (where the monument stands), which was somewhat protected by the swamps to the north and east and Bloody Gulch to the west. Another piece of tactics now adopted was to place two men behind a single tree to fire alternately, thus protecting each other from the savages, who, when a marksman was alone, rushed upon him and tomahawked him as soon as he had fired and before he could reload. Meanwhile the Indians, good for nothing at the point of the bayonet and being severely punished, were wavering.

The signal gun from Fort Stanwix now sounded gratefully upon the ears of the grimly-fighting farmers. Colonel Willett was assaulting St. Leger's camp. Here Brant tried an Indian trick of sending a company of Johnson's Greens disguised with American hats toward the patriots. Capt. Jacob Gardinier of Fisher's regiment was the first to detect the stratagem. To Lieut. Jacob Sammons, who thought them friends, said Gardinier: "Not so; don't you see them green coats?" They were hailed by Captain Gardinier, just at which moment one of his own men, seeing a friend, as he supposed, approaching, sprang forward and offered his hand, which was grasped and he was drawn into the advancing corps a prisoner. The American struggled to free himself, and Gardinier, jumping into the melee, killed the Tory captor with the blow of a spontoon. Instantly the captain was set upon by several of the enemy, one of whom he slew, and wounded another. Three of the foe now grappled with Gardinier and hurled him to the ground and held him there while one of the "Greens" pinioned his thigh to the ground with a bayonet. Another attempted to thrust a bayonet into his chest, but he caught it 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 his clubbed musket, brained one of the assailants who was holding down the fighting captain. The other two now turned upon Miller, when Gardinier, partly rising, snatched up his spear and killed one of them, who proved to be Captain McDonald of Johnson's Greens. In one of these terrible hand-to-hand fights Captain Watts was fearfully wounded and taken prisoner, and Captains Hare and Wilson of Johnson's Greens were killed.

This was one of the most terrific hand-to-hand battles recorded in history. Bayonets, clubbed guns, swords, pistols, tomahawks, war clubs, spears, fists, teeth and knives were used with murderous effect. In this fierce melee the Valley farmers had the advantage and killed and beat back their enemies, until the Indians sounded their call of retreat, "Ooonah, oonah", and slunk back into the forest. Thus deserted, the Tories fled, leaving the field in the possession of the Tryon County militia, whom only their own valor had saved from extermination. During the five hours of conflict 150 Americans had been killed. The wooded glen was littered with hundreds of wounded, dead and dying of both forces. The American wounded numbered probably 150, and prisoners about fifty. There were scarcely enough unwounded Americans left to carry off their wounded on litters hurriedly made from saplings and willow withes. The flower of the manhood of the Valley was killed at Oriskany and there was sorrow along the Mohawk in countless homes, which mourned some relative slain in this terrible combat.

The enemy retired in disorder from the field and left the Americans master of it at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The decimated regiments were, by their surviving commanders as far as practicable, hastily reorganized. The wounded, having been placed upon rude litters, the troops took up their mournful retrograde march, and encamped that night on the site of Old Fort Schuyler (now Utica), eight miles from the battle field. From this point General Herkimer and Capt. Jacob Seeber, and possibly one or two others of the wounded, were taken down the river in a boat to Fort Herkimer. At that place Captain Seeber was left with a broken leg, which was amputated and he bled to death. General Herkimer was taken to his home below Little Falls by a litter carried by four men in a six-mile march over Jacksonburgh Hill (Mt. Okwari). He died there ten days later, August 17, 1777. It is stated that Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell and Major Clyde brought off the shattered troops.

The loss of the enemy probably was as much as that of the Americans — 300 killed and wounded — and was the great underlying cause for their retreat from Fort Stanwix. The Senecas alone had forty warriors killed.

[Photo: Account Book of Major John Frey.]

* * * * *

Colonel Willett, on the way down the Valley to obtain relief from General Schuyler for the fort bearing his name, wrote a letter concerning the siege of Fort Stanwix and Colonel Willett's sortie against the enemy camp on the day of the battle of Oriskany. It was published in the Connecticut Courant, August 27, 1777, and is in part as follows:

"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 batteaux marched up. [This was part of a Massachusetts regiment under Lieut. Col. Mellon from Fort Dayton.] The Captain of the batteaux 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 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 [Tuesday, Aug. 5], 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.

[The batteaux guard, which brought into Fort Schuyler, the five boatloads of supplies were part of Col. Wesson's Massachusetts regiment from Fort Dayton, under command of Lieut. Col. Mellon. The German riflemen, referred to, composed a company of St. Leger's very mixed force of British valley Tories, Indians and these Germans.]

"Wednesday morning there was an unusual silence. We discovered some of the enemy marching along the edge of the wood 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 Eriska [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 men were instantly paraded and I ordered the following disposition to be made. [Here follows the arrangement of his troops and plan of march.] Nothing could be more fortunate than this enterprise. We totally routed two of the enemy's encampments, destroyed all the provisions that were in them, brought off upwards of 50 brass kettles and more than 100 blankets. [Two articles which were much needed.] With a quantity of muskets, tomahawks, spears, ammunition, clothing, deerskins, a variety of Indian affairs and five colors — the whole of which, on our return to the fort, were displayed on our flag-staff under the Continental flag. The Indians took chiefly to the woods, the rest of the troops then at the posts, to the river. The number of men lost by the enemy is uncertain, six lay dead in their encampment, two of which were Indians; several scattered about in the woods; but their greatest loss appeared to be in crossing the river, and no inconsiderable number upon the opposite shore. I was happy in preventing the men from scalping even the Indians, being desirous, if possible, to teach Indians humanity; but the men were much better employed, and kept in excellent order. We were out so long that a number of British regulars, accompanied by what Indians, etc., could be rallied, had marched down to a thicket on the other side of the river, about fifty yards from the road we were to cross on our return. Near this place I had ordered the field piece. The ambush was not quite formed when we discovered them, and gave them a well-directed fire. Here, especially, Maj. Bedlow with his field piece, did considerable execution. Here, also, the enemy were annoyed by a fire of several cannon from the fort, as they marched round to form the ambuscade. The enemy's fire was very wild, and although we were much exposed, did no execution at all. We brought in four prisoners, three of whom were wounded. * * * From these prisoners we received the first accounts of Gen. Herkimer's militia being ambuscaded on their march, and of the severe battle they had with them about two hours before, which gave us reason to think they had, for the present, given up their design of marching to the fort. I should not do justice to the officers and soldiers who were with me on this enterprise, if I was not, in most positive terms, to assure their countrymen that they, in general, behaved with the greatest gallantry on this occasion; and, next to the very kind and signal interposition of Divine Providence, which was powerfully manifested in their favor, it was undoubtedly owing to that noble intrepidity which discovered itself in this attack, and struck the enemy with such a panic as disenabled them from taking pains to direct their fire, that we had not one man killed or wounded. The officers, in general, behaved so well that it is hardly right to mention the names of any particular ones for their singular valor. But, so remarkably intrepid was Capt. Van Benscoten [he commanded the advance guard of 30 men] and so rapid was his attack, that it demands from me this testimony of his extraordinary spirit."

Among the effects taken from the enemy's camp were several bundles of papers and letters, which had been taken from General Herkimer's baggage wagons a few hours before, not yet opened, one of which was for Colonel Willett. There were also papers of Sir John Johnson, St. Leger and other officers of the enemy's camp, some of which were of service. Willett writes further: "That evening (August 8) it was agreed by the field officers that I should undertake with Lieut. Stockwell — who is a good woodsman — to endeavor to get down into the country and procure such force as would extirpate the miscreant band. After a severe march, of about 50 miles, through the wilderness, we in safety arrived at this place." [Fort Dayton, at present Herkimer].

The perilous journey of Colonel Willett and Lieutenant Stockwell is covered in more detail later in the relations concerning the Oriskany campaign and in extracts from "Willett's Narrative", published in Chapter 64.

It is somewhat difficult to understand why, when Willett started out from Fort Stanwix ostensibly to march to relief of General Herkimer's brigade, he should have gone no farther than the British camp. Had he ventured toward Oriskany he would probably have met disaster. The enemy had all the advantage in a forest fight against a marching column of troops, as was shown at Oriskany.

From the day of Oriskany until the enemy reached Oswego on their retreat a number of American prisoners were barbarously beaten and murdered by Tories and Indians. Committeeman Isaac Paris of Palatine and Robert Crouse of Minden were among these. Some of these victims were eaten by the Indians. These barbarities and thrilling incidents of the battle of Oriskany are given later in more detail.

Whether the action of Herkimer and his men at Oriskany is regarded as an actual defeat, a drawn battle or a practical victory, nevertheless the successful defense of Fort Stanwix was one of the main causes which contributed to Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga. It is to be doubted whether the St. Leger force would have been intimidated so easily had they not suffered severely at the hands of the Tryon County militia. In all the world story of armed conflict there is no more desperate or heroic fight recorded than that in the wooded glen of Oriskany.

In the valley homes was great mourning. For such a small population, the losses were almost overwhelming. In some families the male members were almost or even entirely wiped out in some instances. It was many a long weary year before the sorrow and suffering caused by the sacrifices at Oriskany had been forgotten in the valley of the Mohawk. For a century, tales of the Oriskany battle were told around the Mohawk Valley firesides.

The following letter from the chairman of the German Flats committee to the Albany committee, written three days after the battle, will be found of interest:

German Flats Committee Chamber.
August 9, 1777.

Gentlemen: Just arrived Capt. Demuth and John Adam Helmer, the bearer hereof, with an account that they arrived with some difficulty at Fort Schuyler, the 6th of the month, being sent there by Gen. Herkimer. Before he set out for the field of battle, he requested some assistance from the fort in order to make an effort to facilitate our march on the fort. Two hundred and six men were granted. They made a sally, encountered the enemy, killed many, destroyed the tents of the enemy and came off victorious to the fort. The commander (of the fort) desired them to acquaint us, and his superiors, that he is wanting assistance, and thinks to stand out so long that timely assistance could come to his relief.

Concerning the battle: On our side, all accounts agreed, that a number of the enemy is killed; the flower of our militia either killed or wounded, except 150, who stood the field and forced the enemy to retreat; the wounded were brought off by those brave men; the dead they left on the field for want of proper support. We will not take upon us to tell of the behavior of the rear. So far as we know, they took to flight the first firing. Gen. Herkimer is wounded; Col. Cox seemingly killed, and a great many officers are among the slain. We are surrounded by Tories, a party of 100 of whom are now on their march through the woods. We refer you for further information to the bearer. Major Watts of the enemy is killed. Joseph Brant, William Johnson, several Tories and a number of Indians.

Gentlemen, we pray you will send us succor. By the death of most part of our committee officers, the field officers and General being wounded, everything is out of order; the people entirely dispirited; our county at Esopus unrepresented, so that we can not hope to stand it any longer without your aid; we will not mention the shocking aspect our fields do show. Faithful to our country, we remain

Your sorrowful brethren,

The few members of this committee.
Peter J. Dygert, Chairman.

To the Chairman of the Committee of Albany.

Dygert was in error as to the death of Brant and also as to the march of the 100 Tories. Probably many rumors were rife in the valley immediately after Oriskany.

William Johnson was a half-breed Mohawk and a son of Sir William Johnson.

* * * * *

Everywhere in the Valley, immediately following the battle of Oriskany, there was despondency and foreboding. Doubtless certain intrepid patriots vowed to fight the invaders to the last but the considerable Tory element and the weak-kneed and disaffected combined to depress the general patriotic spirit.

Within four days after Oriskany, an enemy raid in the Schoharie Valley threatened to cut off the remnant of American military forces in the Upper and Middle Mohawk Valley. This invasion of the Schoharie Valley by Captain McDonald, at the head of 150 Tories and Indians, was all part of Burgoyne's well-concerted plan of campaign. McDonald's force was defeated, on August 13th, by a force of cavalry and militia of probably only half the number of the enemy.

Capt. McDonald with 150 Indians and Tories invaded the Schoharie valley at Brakabeen on August 10, 1777, four days after the battle of Oriskany. The valley was then in a defenseless condition and Col. John Harper, the famous Schoharie patriot, rode to Albany for aid in repelling this irruption of the enemy. He was followed by two hostile Indians, whom he compelled to fly at the points of his pistols. Harper reached Albany, August 12; 28 cavalrymen were dispatched back to the Schoharie country with Col. Harper. After a ride from Albany of 45 miles the cavalrymen, joined by the Schoharie militia under Col. Harper, met the enemy at the house of Adam Crysler, near the upper end of Vroomanland [Vroomansland?], near a place called "The Flockey," August 13, 1777. A few shots and a charge by the cavalry made the invaders fly in disorder. David Wirt, lieutenant of the cavalry, was killed and he was the first patriot to fall in the Schoharie country. Two privates were wounded — one named Rose, mortally. Some 20 Schoharie Tories joined the enemy on their retreat to Niagara. This is known as the "Battle at the Flockey," the name meaning "the swamp" or swampy ground, and was the first Revolutionary action in the Schoharie valley.

The following concerning the Schoharie raid of August, 1777, is from "Schoharie Valley Lore," by Ellsworth Vrooman:

"In August, 1777, Captain McDonald, a Scotchman who, before the Revolution, had lived on the Charlotte River, and was now a Tory leader with the rank of captain in Johnson's Royal Greens, was making his way with a body of 150 Tories and Indians, from the upper or southern part of the Schoharie Valley down through the settlements, devastating everything in his path, and intending to meet Burgoyne at Albany, coming from Lake Champlain, St. Leger coming down the Mohawk and Clinton, who was to come up the Hudson from New York. With McDonald, was Lieut. Adam Crysler, a Tory from Vrooman Land. The raiders reached Schoharie River at Breakabeen, Sunday, August 10th. Information of their coming was conveyed to Middleburgh, about nine miles distant, by Henry Hager, a man then over seventy years old, an ardent American patriot whose sons were then all in the American service. The fort at Middleburgh was not yet built. A small party of home militia was at the stone dwelling house of Johannes Becker. Deeming their number too small to resist successfully without assistance yet determined to do all they could, they at once began to barricade their doors and windows and sent to Albany for immediate help. Not an hour was to be lost as McDonald's forces might come at any time. Col. John Harper, who arrived Monday afternoon to consult with Col. Vrooman, the secretary of the local (Schoharie) Committee of Safety, started at once for Albany. A small body of about 28 cavalry, under command of Capt. James Degolier, a Frenchman, was granted him. The party, conducted by Col. Harper and riding a good part of the night, arrived at Schoharie early Wednesday morning. At the brick tavern, standing north of Fox's Creek at the fork of the roads leading to Albany and to Schenectady, they arrested David Ogeonda, a notorious Indian, who had just come to the tavern from McDonald's with the expectation of meeting a band of Tories there. Ogeonda, a short time before, had attempted to take the life of Chairman Ball, of the Schoharie Committee of Safety, and he had also followed Col. Harper for some distance, on his late trip to Albany for help. Together with Ogeonda, they arrested a few of the most active Tories, found at the tavern, and started with their prisoners for Middleburgh. The cavalry was heartily received by the little band of anxious waiting militiamen, the prisoners were placed in confinement, the horses rested and the men refreshed. After resting a few hours, it was thought best to go and meet McDonald's party, drawn up in front of Lieut. Crysler's house, which was situated on a knoll at the upper end of Vrooman's Land. A few shots were exchanged when the bugler of Degolier's cavalry sounded the charge and, with a shout, the troops dashed among the Tories and Indians. A panic among McDonald's forces ensued and they fled up the river. They were pursued only a short distance as it was nearly dark and the ground was unfavorable for cavalry, as both men and horses were tired from their long ride from Albany and there was great danger from ambush. What the losses were from McDonald's party are unknown. The American loss was three. David Wirt of the cavalry, was killed, being the first man that fell in Schoharie defending the principles of free government. Two privates were wounded, one Rose, mortally, who died three days later. After the engagement, McDonald's party, being so completely demoralized, retreated up the river, through Breakabeen over to the Susquehanna and thence on the way to Niagara. At this time, twenty or more active Tories went off with McDonald and thus the methodically planned invasion of the Schoharie Valley was defeated. Upon that day the walls of the old Stone Fort resounded to the martial tread of forces in the great struggle for independence."

McDonald's defeat was a very vital factor in the victorious Saratoga-Oriskany campaign.

* * * * *

After Oriskany, Schenectady presented a no less gloomy picture than the rest of the Valley. "We are sorry", wrote Reinier Mynderse in behalf of the Committee to General Schuyler, on August 5, "to be under the Necessiry of informing you of the disagreeable Situation of our Affairs in this place at present. The inhabitants in General seem much dejected. Since the Loss of Tyconderoga many of them who formerly seemed warm in the Interest of the Country are now quite cool, or rather inclined to the other side. We believe this change of Sentiment in many of them to be greatly owing to the bad counsel and advice, they daily receive from disaffected Persons who begin to be pretty numerous amongst us. We are unable to take any measures to prevent their spreading Influence, or any thing else for want of a few Troops to support us. A few days ago we issued a warrant to impress a number of waggons to go and relieve those who have been a considerable time in the Service, but the Constables returned without getting one for want of force to put the warrant into execution. We beg you will take our case into consideration, and if you can spare them, send about sixty men with good Officer to remain with us some time."

On August 3 the forces under St. Leger, proceeding in accordance with the formulated plan, arrived before Fort Stanwix. Rumor that Fort Stanwix was under siege seems to have reached Schenectady even before the siege actually commenced, for Colonel Goose Van Schaick writing from Schenectady to General Schuyler, on the fourth, mentions it as "a common report". Van Schaick, with "near one hundred Continental troops, men and boys", was at the time on his way to German Flats, where, under Nicholas Herkimer, the Tryon County militia had gathered, and was endeavoring to prevail upon members of the Schenectady militia to join the expedition as volunteers; without avail, however, for "I find to my great surprise", he adds in the same letter, "that not a man will go with me, either from this place or Schoharie." A few men from the Schenectady section, however, accompanied Van Schaick. One of them was Jan Van Eps, a thirteen-year old boy of present Hoffmans.

The Schenectady and Schoharie militia would not accompany Col. Van Schaick because they claimed their forces were needed for home defense. Had they joined Van Schaick in full force and thus formed part of Herkimer's army, St. Leger would have been crushed in spite of Brant's ambuscade at Oriskany.

The Tories in the vicinity of Schenectady had seized upon the cooling of the patriotic spirit as an opportunity to renew their activities. On August 10 it was reported to the Committee of Safety that a number of them had actually "disarmed some of the inhabitants that were on guard and that they had assembled to the number of 300".

The remaining militia were already under orders from General Schuyler to join the main army, but on the report of the Tory raid it was immediately resolved by the Committee "that they be detained in Town, and that a Watch of 25 Men be kept up Day and Night".

The report that another raid was imminent was brought to the Committee on the next day, and in the afternoon Jacob Schermerhorn, who had been sent out on scout duty, reported to the Board "That on the 10th inst at Night (the Tories) lay at the House of a Thoms Morall and in the Morning went to one Nicholas Van Patten". A detail of Continental troops, who were in town, under Captain Childs and a number of the militia under Major Swits were immediately dispatched for the capture of the Tories, and on the twelfth turned over to the Committee eleven prisoners who had been taken with their arms and accoutrements.

* * * * *

A letter of Col. Claus, written from St. Leger's camp, shows the desire of the Tryon county Tories to murder and pilfer the homes of their old neighbors after the Oriskany battle: "Sir John Johnson proposed (while siege of Fort Stanwix was still being prosecuted) to march down the country with about 200 men, and I intended joining him with a sufficient body of Indians, but the Brigadier (St. Leger) said he could not spare the men, and disapproved of it. The inhabitants in general were ready (as we afterward learned) to submit and come in. A flag was sent to invite the inhabitants to submit and be forgiven, and assurance given to prevent the Indians from being outrageous; but the commanding officers of the German Flats (Fort Dayton) hearing of it seized the flag, consisting of Ensign Butler of the Eighth Regiment, ten soldiers and three Indians, and took them up as spies. A few days after, Gen. Arnold, coming with some cannon and a reinforcement, made the inhabitants return to their obedience." Simms says Claus's opinion that the Tryon county settlers were ready to submit was a delusion.

St. Leger now made new demands for surrender on Gansevoort, who was ignorant of the result of the effort of Herkimer's men, but who replied that he would defend the fort to the last extremity. Siege operations were renewed with increasing vigor but the British artillery was too light to be effective. It was feared the garrison might be starved into a surrender if not relieved, and accordingly on the night of the 10th of August, Col. Willett and Maj. Stockwell set out to pass the enemy's lines and rally the support of the county militia with whom Willett was deservedly popular.

General Schuyler had already dispatched a force for the relief of Fort Stanwix, under command of General Benedict Arnold. Willett and Stockwell met Arnold's detachment marching up the Mohawk.

[Photo: Page from Marshall's History of the United States with notes by C. P. Yates concerning the battle of Oriskany.]

St. Leger issued manifestos to the people of Tryon county signed by Sir John Johnson and Cols. Butler and Claus, in which he hoped by threats of Indian barbarities to induce Col. Gansevoort to surrender. In trying to circulate this document down the valley, Walter Butler was arrested by Col. Wesson at present Mohawk, near Fort Dayton, tried as a spy before Gen. Arnold, and convicted but was saved from death by the intercession of American officers who knew him. Butler was sent to Albany and imprisoned. Gen. Arnold issued a stirring proclamation calculated to neutralize the effect of the Tory manifesto in the valley.

The address issued by Arnold at Fort Dayton, to counteract the Tory proclamation, was well calculated to awe the timid and give courage to the wavering Whigs. The prestige of his name gave great weight to it. He prefaced it with a flourish of his title and position as follows: "By the Honorable Benedict Arnold, Esq., general and commander-in-chief of the army of the United States of America on the Mohawk River."

He denounced a certain Barry St. Leger "a leader of a banditti of robbers, murderers and traitors, composed of savages of America and more savage Britons," and denounced him as a seducer of the ignorant and unthinking from the cause of freedom and as threatening ruin and destruction to the people. He then offered a free pardon to all who had joined him or upheld him, "whether savages, Germans, Americans or Britons" provided they laid down their arms and made oath of allegiance to the United States within three days. But if they persisted in their "wicked courses" and "were determined to draw on themselves the just vengeance of Heaven and their exasperated country, they must expect no mercy from either."

St. Leger ran forward his trenches to within 150 yards of the fort, but the accurate firing of the garrison prevented a nearer approach. His weak artillery had little effect. The defenders, utterly ignorant of any relief approaching, began to be apprehensive and some suggested surrender. Gansevoort stoutly maintained he would defend the fort to the last extremity and would then try to cut his way out at night. This proved unnecessary as, on the 22d of August, to the surprise and mystification of the fort's defenders, the enemy suddenly broke camp and vanished.

This was the result of the celebrated ruse adopted by Arnold who had captured an eccentric Tory, in company with Butler. His name was Han Yost Schuyler and his sentence of death was remitted if he should carry out Arnold's instructions. Schuyler's brother was retained as hostage for his behavior. Bullets were fired through Schuyler's coat and he was sent on his mission, while arrangements were made with an Oneida Indian to reach St. Leger at the same time. Both arrived at short intervals and told an extravagant story of the force on the way to raise the siege. When questioned closely as to the numbers of the provincials marching up the valley the tale-bearers merely pointed to the leaves on the trees. The effect of this story upon the Tory force and particularly upon the Indians can be imagined after the losses they had suffered. The retreat, to Oneida lake and Oswego, was begun at once and, disgusted by the conduct of the campaign, the Indians, stripped, robbed and even murdered their late allies. Schuyler next day deserted from the retreating enemy, and returned to Fort Stanwix where he told his story and was received with lively demonstrations of joy. Gansevoort sent a party after the flying enemy, which returned with a number of prisoners, a large quantity of spoil, and St. Leger's desk and private papers.

This Hanyost Schuyler story has been denied by certain historians, but the diary of William Colbraith, a soldier, written during the siege of Fort Stanwix, gives it practically as here written.

General Arnold sent out from Fort Dayton to Fort Stanwix, after Schuyler's departure, a force of 900 soldiers. At the Oriskany battleground they were compelled to make a wide detour on account of the terrible stench from the battlefield. Many gruesome sights came to the soldiers' notice, mention of which is added later. Burials of the bodies had been contemplated but could not be carried out, as the officers feared for the health of the soldiers. At Fort Stanwix, Arnold's arrival was greeted with a salute of artillery and great cheering and demonstrations on the part of the garrison. In all probability, had the enemy not run, they would have been soundly beaten by Arnold's and Gansevoort's men, cut up and disheartened as the British force was by their encounter with Herkimer and his Mohawk valley men at Oriskany. Arnold's force undoubtedly contained several hundred of the Tryon county militia who had fought on that famous field two weeks before. Gen. Arnold and his regiment shortly thereafter turned back and marched down the valley to Cohoes where he joined the American army gathered to oppose Burgoyne at the mouth of the Mohawk. His intrepid valor and immense aid, in the subsequent battles of Stillwater, which wiped out the British army, are well known. It is said that a number of the Tryon County militia accompanied him, as volunteers, on his return march.

* * * * *

After the Oriskany battle, Schuyler retreated to the Mohawk and fortified Van Schaick's and Haver's island at the mouth of that stream where it empties into the Hudson. Schuyler ordered the grain in his own fields at Saratoga to be burned, in his retreat, to prevent the enemy reaping it. The following is taken from Lossing [i.e., Benson John Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution Vol. 1]:

"That seemed to be the most eligible point [the islands at the Mohawk's mouth] at which to make a stand in defense of Albany against the approaches of the enemy from the north and from the west. At that time there were no bridges across the Hudson or the Mohawk, and both streams were too deep to be fordable except in seasons of extreme drought. There was a ferry across the Mohawk, five miles above the falls (defended by the left wing under Gen. Arnold), and another across the Hudson at Half Moon Point or Waterford. The 'sprouts' of the Mohawk, between the islands, were usually fordable; and as Burgoyne would not, of course, cross the Hudson or attempt the ferry upon the Mohawk, where a few resolute men could successfully oppose him, his path was of necessity directly across the mouth of the river. Fortifications were accordingly thrown up on the islands and upon the mainland, faint traces of which are still visible."

August 6, 1777, occurred the battle of Oriskany. On August 22, St. Leger and his force fled from before Fort Stanwix. August 16, the New Hampshire militia, under Stark, beat the enemy at Bennington township, in present New York State (not Bennington, Vermont). Gen. Schuyler's army of the north began to be greatly reinforced about this time when Gen. Gates superseded him. On September 19 occurred the first battle of Bemis Heights, which was a virtual defeat for the British. On October 7, 1777, Burgoyne was decisively beaten, close to the scene of the first engagement, and started to fall back. On October 17, the British army surrendered to the American force. Over 2,000 of the 6,000 captives were German mercenaries.

Burgoyne's surrender is said to have been somewhat hastened by an American cannon ball which crossed his breakfast table during a council of the British officers.

The battles of Bemis Heights are sometimes referred to as the battles of Stillwater, because they were fought in the township of Stillwater, present Saratoga County.

The battle of Oriskany was not fought at Oriskany creek but two miles westward. Probably "Oriskany" was the name of the region about the mouth of the Oriskany creek. Regional names were common with the Indians and white pioneers. "Canajoharie" is a large example.

A contemporary account of the Oriskany battle is appended. This was published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post, August 19 and 21, 1777, and is reprinted from that very interesting volume [by Frank Moore], "Diary of the American Revolution:"

"Aug. 7: — Yesterday, about nine o'clock, an engagement ensued between a part of the militia of Tryon county, under the command of General Herkimer, and a party of savages, Tories and regulars, a short distance from Fort Stanwix. It lasted till three o 'clock in the afternoon, when the British thought proper to retire, leaving General Herkimer master of the field. Unluckily, however, the General and some valuable officers got wounded or killed in the beginning. But this did in nowise intimidate the ardor of the men, and the general, although he had two wounds, did not leave the field till the action was over. He seated himself on a log, with his sword drawn, animating his men.

"About one o'clock, Colonel Gansevoort having received information of General Herkimer's march, sent out Lieutenant-Colonel Willett, with two hundred men, to attack an encampment of the British, and thereby facilitate General Herkimer's march. In this the colonel succeeded, for after an engagement of an hour he had completely routed the enemy and taken one captain and four privates. The baggage taken was very considerable, such as money, bear skins, officers' baggage and camp equipage; one of the soldiers had for his share a scarlet coat, trimmed with gold lace to the full, and three laced hats. When Colonel Willett returned to the fort, he discovered two hundred regulars in full march to attack him. He immediately ordered his men to prepare for battle, and, having a field piece with him, Captain Savage so directed its fire as to play in concert with one out of the fort; these, with a brisk fire from his small arms, soon made these heroes scamper off with great loss. Colonel Willett then marched with his booty into the fort, having not a single man killed or wounded.

"General St. Leger, who commands the enemy's force in that quarter, soon after sent in a flag to demand the delivery of the fort, offering that the garrison should march out with their baggage, and not be molested by the savages; that, if this was not complied with, he would not answer for the conduct of the Indians, if the garrison fell into their hands; that General Burgoyne was in possession of Albany. Colonel Gansevoort, after animadverting on the barbarity and disgraceful conduct of the British officers, in suffering women and children to be butchered as they had done, informed the flag that he was resolved to defend the fort to the last, and that he would never give it up so long as there was a man left to defend it."

* * * * *

There were a few Oneidas with the provincials in the Oriskany battle, among whom was the Indian interpreter, Spencer, who was killed. The Indians of the enemy suffered severely, being put forward early in the fight. The Senecas alone lost over 60 in killed and wounded, while the Mohawks and other tribes suffered severely. The fire of the patriots was fully as deadly against the Tories, their captains, McDonough, Wilson and Hare, lying dead on the field, with scores of men in Tory uniforms scattered around them. The great loss of the Indians has been made a pretext by English writers to justify the cruelties inflicted by them on their prisoners. Says the "Life of Mary Jemison" [i.e., A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison] (the white woman), page 88:

"Previous to the battle of Fort Stanwix, the British sent for the Indians (Senecas) to come and see them whip the rebels; and at the same time stated that they did not wish to have them fight, but wanted to have them just sit down, smoke their pipes and look on. Our Indians went to a man, but contrary to their expectations, instead of smoking and looking on, they were obliged to fight for their lives and, in the end, were completely beaten, with a great loss in killed and wounded. Our Indians alone had 36 killed and a great number wounded. Our town (Little Beard's Town) exhibited a scene of real sorrow and distress, when our warriors returned and recounted their misfortunes, and stated the real loss they had sustained in the engagement. The mourning was excessive, and was expressed by the most doleful yells, shrieks and howlings, and by inimitable gesticulations."

It was hoped, by surviving friends in the valley below, that the troops advancing under Gen. Arnold to raise the siege of Fort Stanwix would be able to perform the melancholy task of burying the remains of our fallen soldiery at Oriskany. But, as over two weeks of excessively warm weather had transpired — it being then the 23d or 24th of August — decomposition had so rapidly taken place that the stench was intolerable, making it necessary for the health of the troops to give the field as wide a berth as possible. So said James Williamson, who was a soldier under Arnold and who was on duty at Fort Stanwix. As the relieving American army force under Gen. Arnold approached Oriskany, evidences of its bloody onslaught greeted them. Here are some things which were noticed by Nicholas Stoner, a young musician in Col. Livingston's regiment, and copied from Simms's "Trappers:" Near the mouth of the Oriskany creek a gun was found standing against a tree with a pair of boots hanging on it, while in the creek near, in a state bordering on putrefaction, lay their supposed owner. In the grass, a little way from the shore, lay a well dressed man without hat or coat, who, it was supposed, had made his way there to obtain drink. A black silk handkerchief encircled his head. John Clark, a sergeant, loosened it but its hair adhered to it on its removal, and he left it. He, however, took from his feet a pair of silver shoe buckles. His legs were so swollen that a pair of deerskin breeches were rent from top to bottom. On their way nine dead bodies lay across the road, disposed in regular order, as was imagined by the Indians after their death. The stench was so great that the Americans could not discharge the last debt due their heroic countrymen, and their bones were soon after bleaching on the ground. A little farther on an Indian was seen hanging to the limb of a tree. He was suspended by the traces of a harness, but by whom was unknown. Such were some of the scenes, a mile or two away, but, where the carnage had been greatest, they had to make as wide a circuit as possible. Not an American killed in that battle was ever buried.

* * * * *

[Photo: Oriskany Battlefield.]

The visitor to the Oriskany battlefield can readily see the position of the Americans. They were ambuscaded in the ravine to the east, across which a corduroy road ran at the time of the battle. The American militiamen fought their way to and held the low plateau, bounded on the east by the ravine, on the north (where the monument stands) by the swampy flats, and on the west by Bloody Gulch, where some terrific fighting took place. Only on the south was the position exposed.

* * * * *

Scalping was done to some extent by the American troops, but was not prompted by the hope of reward, as in the case of the Indians and Tories. "Scalps for the Canadian market" proved source of revenue to the Indians, who took them to Montreal and redeemed them for cash, receiving payment for those of men, women and children alike. Lossing gives the following account of this diabolical practice:

"The methods used by the Indians in scalping is probably not generally known. I was told by Mr. Dievendorff [who was scalped as a boy in Doxtader's Currytown 1781 raid and survived to an old age] that the scalping knife was a weapon, not unlike in appearance the bowie knife of the present day. The victim was usually stunned or killed by a blow from a tomahawk. Sometimes only a portion of the scalp (as was the case with Mr. Dieverdorff) was taken from the crown and the back part of the head, and more frequently the whole scalp was removed. With the dexterity of a surgeon, the Indian placed the point of his knife at the roots of the hair on the forehead and made a circular incision around the head. If the hair was short he would raise a lappet of the skin, take hold with his teeth, and tear it instantly from the skull. If long, such as the hair of females, he would twist it around his hand, and, by a sudden jerk, bare the skull. The scalps were then tanned with the air on, and often marked in such a manner that the owners could tell when and where they were severally obtained, and whether they belonged to men or women. When Major Rogers, in 1759, destroyed the chief village of the St. Francis Indians, he found there a vast quantity of scalps, many of them comically painted with heiroglyphics. They were all stretched on small hoops."

A remarkable phase of this unspeakable practice, is that a large number of valley people who were scalped, recovered and lived to an old age. This was due to the hurried way in which many of the Indian attacks were made, so that the victims were stunned and not killed.

Col. John Butler had charge of the traffic in scalps with the Indians, during the Oriskany campaign, and probably later, Simms [in Frontiersmen of New York] says "the usual bounty, after a time, was $8 for all except those of officers and committeemen, which commanded from $10 to $20."

* * * * *

In the fall of 1777, as previously mentioned, three American forts were built in the Schoharie Valley. These became known as the Upper, Middle and Lower Schoharie forts. Vrooman's "Schoharie Valley Lore" says of these:

"It became evident that the Indians had allied firmly to the British, and no promise, threat, or prevention could gain their assistance or neutrality. The Valley, lying open to invasion, it was thought expedient to build fortifications, in which the settlers might seek protection, as there were no forts or fortifications in the Valley, although there were some strongly built dwelling houses, in which those nearby could gather for mutual protection and defense. In the fall of 1777, the people united and palisaded with oak the old Stone Church and the residence of Johannes Becker at Weirstown, now Middleburgh, and the residence of John Feeck of Vrooman's Land."

[Photo: Oriskany Battlefield Monument.]

The winter of 1777-1778 was a severe one, owing to the lack of supplies, the main army suffering incredible hardships. The large force at Albany consisted of eastern militiamen and local companies which had fought at Saratoga and which were held in readiness to defend the borderland. The Schoharie Valley furnished this Army of the North with a large amount of supplies. A few broken companies were sent into the Schoharie Valley to winter. The Schoharie militia was employed as guards and scouts to detect the enemy and to arrest those who proved to be in sympathy with the Crown.

The turn of events, in 1777, with the American victory at Saratoga and the flight of the British from Fort Stanwix, had a most heartening effect on the patriots in the entire country and particularly in this exposed frontier of the Mohawk River and its tributary, the Schoharie. The patriots now worked to organize for still stronger offensive and defensive measures. The Valley Tories, who had at first been emboldened by Burgoyne's approach and the slaughter at Oriskany, now sought cover. They either professed allegiance to Congress, to escape imprisonment, or hid or fled to Canada. The year 1777, which had opened with such dark forebodings for the cause of American liberty, closed with the brightest prospects for American independence — due to the valor of American soldiers on the fields of Oriskany, Bennington and Saratoga.

The Tories were never again so strong in the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys as they had been, between the bloody battle of Oriskany, on August 6, and the relief of Fort Stanwix, on August 23, 1777. In view of the later battles of Bemis Heights (Saratoga), the conflicts and events which took place in the Mohawk Valley, in those eventful days, must be regarded as forming the decisive period in the decisive campaign and the decisive military success of the American armies during the Revolution. With the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys cleared of the enemy the doom of Burgoyne and his army was surely sealed.

* * * * *

Undoubtedly the leading patriot in the Valley in the early years of the Revolution (1775, 1776, 1777) was Nicholas Herkimer, a resident of the Canajoharie district and in command of the Tryon County militia and of the forces at Oriskany. His father, Johan Jost Herkimer, had emigrated from the Palatinate about 1720 and settled on the Burnetsfield patent. At Fort Herkimer he established a trading place and later built a strong stone house which was stockaded and became the fort bearing his name. Johan Jost Herkimer, legend says, was a man of mighty strength among a population of men of muscle. He knew the English and Indian languages, as well as his native German, and acted as interpreter between the English and Indians. He was concerned in the erection of Fort Stanwix and became a man of considerable property and died in 1775 at Fort Herkimer.

Nicholas Herkimer moved from "Kouari", or "Herkimer's", on or before 1754, when he had a house in the Fall Hill section at about the location of his later brick residence, built in 1764. The Timerman deed to lands in the river section of the present town of Manheim shows that "Hon. Nikol Herkimer" had a house standing opposite the western limit of the Timerman patent. Herkimer had, doubtless, purchased land or had it given him by his father and erected a house, probably frame or of logs, prior to 1754. This house is several times mentioned, between 1754 and 1764, the date of the erection of the present brick General Herkimer home.

In May, 1760, Johan Jost Herkimer conveyed to his eldest son, Nicholas, 500 acres of land consisting of parts of the Fall Hill, Lindsay and Livingston patents. The consideration expressed in the deed is the love of the father for his son. Nicholas Herkimer built his brick house in 1764, at which time it was considered the finest residence in the Valley west of Johnson Hall. Samuel Fuller, the architect of Schenectady, was its designer and builder.

[Photo: General Herkimer Home, 1764.]

While living at Fall Hill Captain Herkimer commanded Fort Herkimer post during the two attacks of the French war, he then being a lieutenant of militia. His commission for this rank is now in the possession of the collections of the General Herkimer Home, while his brigadier-general's commission, from the New York Provincial Congress, hangs on the walls of a Fort Plain house. He was a member of the Tryon County Committee of Safety from Canajoharie district and colonel of the militia of that district, and colonel-in-chief of the county. In 1776 he was made a brigadier-general. He is described by one who saw him as a large, square built Dutchman and, contrary to many accounts which represent him as an old man at the time of the battle, family figures give his age at forty-nine, and family tradition has it that he was then a sturdy, vigorous man, all of which is borne out by Oriskany events. Herkimer was a close friend of Brant and probably of other Mohawks, and was possibly the most influential Whig figure of the time in Tryon County. He served as chairman pro tem of the committee of safety and some of its papers and letters extant are signed by him. He seems to have been a man of sound sense, wise counsel and quick and effective action. His prestige was dimmed by the Tory action of his brother, Han Yost Herkimer, who was a militia colonel but ran away to Canada. Of his other brothers, only Capt. George Herkimer, an ardent Whig and scout officer, and, probably, Hendrick, or Henry Herkimer, were with him at Oriskany, although other brothers were patriots with the exception of Han Yost.

Undoubtedly Herkimer's strong Whig attitude and military ability had great effect in upholding the cause of independence in the county, particularly among the "Mohawk Dutch". His first wife was a sister of Peter S. Tygert, and his second wife a daughter of the same. He left no children. General Herkimer left an estate of 1,900 acres of land, and willed his brother, George Herkimer, 500 acres and his homestead, where the latter was living in 1783, when General Washington made his tour through the Valley when he stopped here. The general in his will signed his name Nicholas "Herckheimer", although he varied it at other times. When Herkimer's leg was amputated two neighborhood boys buried it in the garden, and shortly after the General said to one of them: "I guess you boys will have to take that leg up and bury it with me, for I am going to follow it." Colonel Willett called to see Herkimer soon after the operation and found him sitting up in bed and smoking his pipe. His strength failed toward night and, calling his family to his chamber, he read composedly the thirty-eighth Psalm, closed the book, sank back upon his pillow and expired. The last three stanzas of this Psalm read as follows:

They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is.

Forsake me not, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me.

Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.

The General Herkimer Home is now the property of the State and is now (1925) managed by the Herkimer Home Commission, composed of members of Valley chapters of the D. A. R. and representative local citizens. Many of the commission are descended from Revolutionary soldiers who fought with Herkimer at Oriskany.

Located amid a beautiful landscape, with the flatlands stretching away to the river and lofty Fall Hill in the background, the General Herkimer Home in Danube, is a fine example of the Colonial Mohawk Valley houses. Built of brick and finely finished, it is a monument to the solidity of character of the valley's early settlers. It, in connection with the monument and the Herkimer family burial plot, has been, a number of times, the scene of patriotic gatherings. Here is located the first of the markers, which were put in position in the summer of 1912, to show the route of the valley militia in its march to the field of Oriskany.

Capt. George Herkimer succeeded to the ownership of the house and its farm and, on his death, it passed to his son, Hon. John Herkimer, who occupied it until about 1815, when it passed out of the Herkimer family. Lossing, in 1848, writing of this place, says: "After breakfast I rode down to Danube, to visit the residence of General Herkimer while living and the old Castle church, near the dwelling place of Brant in the Revolution. It was a pleasant ride along the tow path between the canal and river. Herkimer's residence is about two and a half miles below Little Falls, near the canal, and in full view of the traveler upon the railroad, half a mile distant. It is a substantial brick edifice, was erected in 1764, and was a splendid mansion for the time and place. It is now owned by Daniel Conner, a farmer, who is `modernizing' it, when I was there, by building a long, fashionable piazza in front, in place of the [former] small old porch, or stoop. He was also 'improving' some of the rooms within. The one in which General Herkimer died (on the right of the front entrance) and also the one, on the opposite side of the passage, are left precisely as they were when the general occupied the house; and Mr. Conner has the good taste and patriotism to preserve them so. These rooms are handsomely wainscoted with white pine, wrought into neat moldings and panels, and the casements of the deep windows are of the same material and in the same style. Mr. Conner has carefully preserved the great lock of the front door of the 'castle' — for castle it really was in strength and appointments against Indian assaults. It is sixteen inches long and ten wide. Close to the house is a subterranean room, built of heavy masonry and arched, which the general used as a magazine for stores belonging to the Tryon County militia. It is still used as a storeroom but with more pacific intentions. The family burying ground is upon a knoll a few rods southeast of the mansion, and there rest the remains of the gallant soldier, as secluded and forgotten as if they were of 'common mold'. Seventy years ago the Continental Congress, grateful for his services, resolved to erect a monument to his memory of the value of five hundred dollars; but the stone that may yet be reared is still in the quarry, and the patriot inscription to declare its intent and the soldier's worth is not yet conceived. Until 1847 no stone identified his grave. Then a plain marble slab was set up with the name of the hero upon it; and when I visited it (1848), it was overgrown with weeds and brambles. It was erected by his grandnephew, Warren Herkimer." Warren Herkimer was a son of Joseph Herkimer and a grandson of Capt. George Herkimer and Alida (Schuyler) Herkimer.

[Photo: General Nicholas Herkimer Homestead and Monument.]

In recognition of General Herkimer's heroism, the Continental Congress, in 1777, appropriated $500 for a monument to be erected to the brigadier's memory, but the money was never expended. In 1847 Warren Herkimer (son of Joseph Herkimer, grandson of George and grand-nephew of the General) placed a headstone on the grave of the hero of Oriskany, this being his first monument. Through the agitation of the Herkimer and Oneida County historical societies and the Valley D. A. R. chapters, the New York State Legislature, in 1895 and 1896, appropriated $5,500 for a monument here to Gen. Nicholas Herkimer. The present granite obelisk, sixty feet high, and the stone wall around the burial plot, were erected and dedicated in 1896 with imposing Masonic exercises.

A statue of Gen. Nicholas Herkimer was erected in the park at Herkimer in 1907 on the occasion of the celebration of the centennial of that village. It is an excellently modeled figure, cast in bronze, and represents the Oriskany leader, wounded and seated upon his saddle, pipe in hand, while he directs the battle. The action of the statue, pointing the way to victory, is vigorous and inspiring. The sculptor was Burr C. Miller of Paris, and the work is the gift to Herkimer of Warner Miller, former United States senator from the State of New York, a resident of that town and father of the sculptor.

* * * * *

Col. Peter Gansevoort, the intrepid commander of Fort Stanwix, was a Revolutionary patriot and soldier of the highest type and he deserves a niche in the hall of fame dedicated to the heroes of the Revolution. Gansevoort was born in Albany, July 17, 1749. He accompanied Montgomery into Canada in 1775, with the rank of major, and the next year he was appointed a colonel in the New York line, which commission he held when he defended Fort Stanwix against St. Leger. For his gallant defense of that post he received the thanks of Congress, and in 1781 was-promoted to the rank of brigadier-general by the State of New York. After the war he was for many years a military agent. He held several offices of trust and "was always esteemed for his bravery and judgment as a soldier and for his fidelity, intelligence, and probity as a citizen". He died July 2, 1812, aged sixty-two years.

* * * * *

Col. Marinus Willett, who was so active in the defense of Fort Stanwix, made his headquarters at Fort Plain for the last three years of the war and was connected with so many of the Valley military operations and almost all the patriot successes in the Valley. He was a soldier of the highest qualifications, great courage and daring, a clever and fearless woodsman and an intrepid fighter in the open field. His quick, powerful, decisive blows, such as at Johnstown and Sharon Springs, conspired to end the raids from Canada which had devastated the Valley. Marinus Willett was born in Jamaica, Long Island, in 1740, the youngest of six sons of Edward Willett, a Queens County farmer. In 1758 he joined the army, under Abercrombie, as a lieutenant in Colonel Delaney's regiment. Exposure in the wilderness caused a sickness which confined him in Fort Stanwix until the end of the campaign. Willett early joined the Whigs, in the contest against British aggression. When the British troops in New York were ordered to Boston, after the skirmish at Lexington in 1775, they attempted to carry off a large quantity of spare arms in addition to their own. Willett resolved to prevent it and, although opposed by the mayor and other Whigs, he captured the baggage wagons containing the weapons, etc., and took them back to the city. These arms were afterwards used by the first regiment raised by the State of New York. He was appointed second captain of a company in McDougal's regiment and accompanied Montgomery's futile expedition against Quebec. He commanded St. John's until 1776. He was appointed lieutenant-colonel in 1777 and commanded Fort Constitution on the Hudson. In May he was ordered to Fort Stanwix, recently named Fort Schuyler, where he did such signal service. He was left in command of that fort, where he remained until 1778, when he joined the army under Washington and fought with him at Monmouth. He accompanied Sullivan in his campaign against the Indians in 1779. Colonel Willett was actively engaged in the Mohawk Valley in 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783. So he spent at least four or five years in military service in the Mohawk Valley.

Washington sent him to treat with the Creek Indians in Florida in 1792 and the same year he was appointed a brigadier-general in the army which was intended to act against the northwestern Indians. He declined this appointment, being opposed to the expedition. Colonel Willett was for some time sheriff and in 1807 was elected mayor of New York City. He was president of the electoral college in 1824 and died in New York August 23, 1830, in the 91st year of his age. A portrait of Colonel Willett hangs, among those of other former mayors, in the City Hall in New York and shows a face of much intelligence, power and forceful initiative. Marinus Willett was one of the men of iron who made the American republic possible. There are few natural leaders and he was one. Simms says Willett was a "large man." He was a direct descendant of Thomas Willett, who was a man of great ability and influence in the early years of New York province, and who was the first mayor of New York City after the Dutch rule, being appointed by Governor Nicolls in 1665.

While Colonel Gansevoort was a brave and intrepid soldier, Colonel Willett seems to have been the leading spirit in the defense and relief of Fort Stanwix. "Willett's Narrative," including his relation of the siege of Fort Stanwix and his later command of the Mohawk Valley posts, is one of the most interesting documents relative to the Revolution. Parts of it are published in the Revolutionary chapters of this work.

* * * * *

Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1740, a descendant of Benedict Arnold, one of Rhode Island's early governors. From 1763 to 1767 he kept a drug and book store in New Haven. At the outbreak of the Revolution he was in command of a volunteer company of that city and marched to Cambridge with it. He was in many of the stirring events of the war, up to his treason in 1780. Among his greatest services were his gallant leadership at Saratoga and his clever conduct of the relief of Fort Stanwix. He held commands in the British army during the latter part of the war and at its end went to England. From 1786 to 1793 he was in business at St. Johns, N. B., where he was so dishonest in his dealings that he was hung in effigy by a mob. He died in London in 1804, aged 63 years.

* * * * *

[Photo: Marker of the Birthplace of General Nicholas Herkimer, near Fort Herkimer.]

Dr. Albert Vander Veer, the eminent surgeon of Albany, has kindly furnished the editor with the following notes regarding Herkimer's wound. Dr. Vander Veer is a native of the Mohawk Valley and greatly interested in its history. Dr. Vander Veer's contribution follows:

From careful investigation it is impressive to note the various reports regarding General Herkimer's case. Probably there are few instances in history, referring to one particular statement, that have had so many different interpretations, and yet, it is possible certain facts not easily disproved might help to decide his case more definitely. All the reports of the battle agree that General Herkimer was wounded at the beginning of the conflict on August 6, 1777. His horse had been shot from under him and his leg, about four or five inches below the knee-joint, seriously shattered by a musket ball. All say that he was calm, succeeded in securing a good position, rallied his men, and gave his orders clearly and distinctly for a period of five hours. Some of these reports state he was carried back to his home on a litter, the leg amputated, also that he died on the 16th of August, as the result of his wound. An interesting report comes from Dr. Petrie, whom it would appear was his surgeon accompanying the expedition, and who was himself severely wounded, but dressed the General's shattered leg on the field, making him comfortable, and later seeing him placed on a litter on his way home. It was said that Dr. Petrie would doubtless have accompanied him had he not himself been disabled by so painful a wound. It also is noted that Dr. Petrie was of the opinion that the leg could be saved, and is reported to have condemned an amputation. Another description goes on to say that the General was attended by a young surgeon who followed General Arnold up the valley, and who, in amputating the leg, was so unskillful the patient bled to death. Another statement was that the leg, when amputated, was "cut off square and the vessels not tied."

Just here let us consider some facts not to be denied: — It must not be overlooked that the bones were broken in several pieces that with the long distance of transportation these fragments may have irritated the deeper tissues, and added to the seriousness of his wound. Then, probably, some portion of clothing may have been carried into the wound by the round bullet used at that time. The weather was undoubtedly warm, perhaps hot, and transporting any soldier suffering from such a condition would exhaust him somewhat. There is no evidence the bleeding was at all severe at the time of the reception of the wound, nor up to the day that Dr. Johnston found it necessary to amputate. Beyond question the wound suppurated from general infection and may have produced what we now understand as "blood poisoning." Dr. Johnston, the surgeon, had a serious condition to face. He was under positive orders to follow General Arnold as soon as he had cared for General Herkimer, and, properly, concluded that an amputation was absolutely necessary. It is reasonable to suppose his condition was considered very serious or General Arnold would not have ordered Dr. Johnston to attend him. Then in a letter written by Dr. Johnston, after the operation, he speaks of an anodyne that was given, and which controlled the spasms, so that it is reasonable to believe there may have been added to all of these various complications, the fear of tetanus, or lockjaw. There was, undoubtedly, an amount of pus that saturated the dressings, and the leg must have presented many abscesses.

Dr. Johnston was certainly placed in a position of keen anxiety and great responsibility. Think of the lack of proper assistance — no competent nurse, no anaesthetic, and very few proper instruments!

The following letter from Dr. Johnston would seem to disprove the fact that General Herkimer died of hemorrhage: —

"General Harcomers, August 17, 1777.

"Dear Doctor: —

"Yesterday morning I amputated General Harcomer's leg, there not being left the prospect of recovery without it. But, alas, the patriotic hero died in the evening — the cause of his death God only knows. About three hours before his departure he complained of pain. I gave him thirty drops of laudanum, liquid and went to dress Mr. Pettery. I left him in as good a way as I could wish with Mr. Hastings to take care of him. When I returned I found him taking his last gasp, free from spasm and sensible. Nothing more surprised me, but we cannot always parry death, so there is an end of it.

"General Arnold left yesterday morning with positive orders to follow him this evening or to-morrow morning. I sent for Scull to take care of the General and Pettery. He is just now arrived. I propose to have Pettery removed to Palatine, where Scull and two regimental mates will take care of him and the other wounded. This evening I will pursue General Arnold and I suppose will overtake him at Fort Dayton.

"The place and hour of glory draws nigh. No news from Fort Schuyler. I am, dear doctor, your most obedient and humble servant,

Robert Johnston."

This letter was addressed to Dr. Jonathan Potts, director of the general hospital for the Northern Department. (See New England and General Register 1864, Vol. 18, p. 31.) [Probably New England Historical and Genealogical Register.]

After such an operation there is a free discharge of serum and venous blood from the soft parts, to which Dr. Johnston undoubtedly gave proper attention.

Dr. Petrie was undoubtedly correct when he saw the General on the field of battle, that an operation was uncalled for, but he did not see him after that and could not form any opinion as to the possible changes that had taken place, as previously stated, from infection. Now it must be remembered that in those days the use of drainage tubes, to prevent pockets of pus, and like complications, was unknown. It is not clear who attended the patient from the time of his return home until the operation.

Had Dr. Johnston been unable to tie the blood vessels at the time it is hardly reasonable to believe the General would have lived during the day and evening with such large arteries uncontrolled.

These are facts: — The operation was not done the day he returned to his home, and no serious bleeding took place at that time; that the spasms spoken of by Dr. Johnston, added to the other serious symptoms, seem to have made the operation justifiable. The operation was unquestionably a difficult one, but the blood vessels must have been tied, and the hemorrhage controlled when Dr. Johnston left him and visited Mr. Pettery, else he scarcely would have lived through the day. The General recovered sufficiently to converse with Colonel Willett, although too exhausted to recover from the shock of the operation. It must also be remembered that in those days patients did not have the comforting effect of anaesthetics. Had he bled to death it seems impossible for Dr. Johnston to have overlooked examining the dressings, and had he been bleeding he would certainly have made some reference to this condition as the cause of death. The surgeon who performed the amputation must have been a man of ability or he would scarcely have been on General Arnold's staff, and he must have been a surgeon of courage and determination. This being the case such an operator generally performs every duty in a proper manner.

Dr. Johnston's letter is somewhat abrupt, and not as clear as we could have wished, regarding his opinion as to the cause of death. While the evidence is not in sequence yet there is every reason to believe that the surgeon who operated was Dr. Robert Johnston, who is referred to in the records of the various campaigns of the Revolutionary War, as a man of unusual ability, probably being detailed at General Arnold's request to accompany him in the Mohawk Valley campaign. This would indicate that his reputation as a surgeon was established. I am unable to find any record to confirm the term "young French surgeon."

General Herkimer died of surgical shock, following amputation of an infected compound, comminuted gunshot fracture of the leg.

Albert Vander Veer, M. D.

Albany, N. Y., December 10th, 1924.

Go to top of page | back to: Chapter 60 | ahead to: Chapter 62

You are here: Home » Resources » MVGW Home » Chapter 61 updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library