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Construction and Military History 1758 to 1777


While the men of Colonel Gansevoort's command were repairing Fort Stanwix, the British government and two of its generals were preparing plans for a campaign that was to test the fort and its defenders. What they planned was an invasion of the northern frontier that would, among other accomplishments, redeem the aborted one of 1776. To understand that plan and what it did and did not contain, we need to go back to November of that year when William Howe proposed a plan for 1777 providing that 2,000 men would hold Rhode Island while 10,000 would move from there against New England and 5,000 would hold New York City and 8,000 would "cover New Jersey" while 10,000 would advance up the Hudson to cooperate with a renewed invasion from Canada. The 8,000 men covering New Jersey would also threaten Philadelphia, which Sir William intended to attack after being reinforced. If the American Capital fell and troops became available, he planned to attack Virginia during the autumn and South Carolina and Georgia in the winter. This plan was predicated upon his having available a total of 35,000 men, requiring a reinforcement of 15,000. [1]

On December 20, before a response to his initial plan could be received from London, the general wrote to Lord George Germain, the Secretary of State for Colonies and Lord Commissioner of Trade and Plantations, outlining a modification of his plan. This proposed opening the campaign with an offensive against Pennsylvania, where he believed the sentiments of the people were favorable to the British, and deferring "the offensive Plan towards Boston until the Reinforcement arrives, that there might be a Corps to act defensively on the lower part of Hudson's River to cover Jersey and to facilitate in some degree the approach of the Canada Army." He changed the proposed distribution of troops to 2,000 for Rhode Island, 4,000 in the New York City area, 3,000 to act on the lower Hudson, and 10,000 to operate in Pennsylvania, a total of 19,000. [2]

At the close of the northern campaign of 1776, one of Gen. Sir Guy Carleton's subordinates, Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne, like other officers who were members of Parliment, returned to England for the winter sessions and to advance personal professional interests. He arrived at an important point in the development of plans for the coming year. Between the Colonial Minister and Sir Guy there was an old and cherished enmity. The general's failure to prosecute the invasion of the northern frontier was grist in Lord George's mill, and even George III agreed that the command of the next campaign should be given to a more aggressive general. [3]

There were two candidates for the honor: Henry Clinton and Burgoyne. Clinton did not seek the assignment, at least in part because he expected Howe to give it to him when the invading force established contact with New York. [4] Burgoyne was the more obvious choice, in spite of his association with the failed invasion. In fact, he turned that association to an advantage. Not only could he pose as being familiar with the American scene, but he also assiduously cultivated the impression that he had opposed the abandonment of Crown Point; and a precis in the American Department's papers shows that the account he gave of the campaign of the previous summer did not always place Carleton in the most favorable light. He had brought a letter from his commander recommending him to the secretary as a source of information and advice, and he took advantage of this, especially in detailed observations on Sir Guy's requirements for the next campaign. [5] He used a technique of moderate criticism and suggestive contrast to convey an impression of Carleton's inadequacy.

On New Year's Day Burgoyne wrote to Lord Germain telling him that he was leaving London for Bath:

My physician has pressed me to go to Bath for a short time, and I find it requisite to my health and spirits to follow his Advice. But I think it a previous duty to assure your Lordship that should my attendance in town become necessary, relative to information upon the affairs in Canada, I shall be ready to obey your summons upon one day's notice.

Your Lordship being out of town, I submitted the above intentions a few days ago personally to his Majesty in his closet, and I added, "that as the arrangements for the next campaign might possibly come under his royal contemplation before my return, I humbly laid myself at his Majesty's feet for such active employment as he might think me worthy of.

This was the substance of my audience of my part, I undertook it, and I now report it, to you Lordship, in the hope of your patronage in the pursuit, a hope My Lord, founded not only upon a just sense of the honour your Lordship's friendship must reflect upon me but also upon a feeling that I deserve it, inasmuch as a solid respect and sincere personal attachment can constitute such a claim. [6]

Burgoyne was clearly soliciting the command of the army that would invade the Colonies' northern frontier.

As late as February 24, 1777, the day after the receipt of Howe's December 20 modification of plans for 1777, the King wrote to the Prime Minister, Lord North, that Germain was going to propose that the northern command be given to Sir Henry Clinton and that Burgoyne be sent to New York. However, on the following day, the Cabinet agreed to send Burgoyne back to Canada. [7] Germain had made certain that Carleton would not conduct the campaign, and he flattered himself that, although he had failed in an attempt to effect the Governor-General's recall, the invasion would be directed by a general who possessed the qualities the Secretary found so lacking in Sir Guy.

Leaving Carleton in command in Canada and appointing Burgoyne to command the expedition created a strange and potentially dangerous situation of dual command with "Burgoyne dependent on Carleton for his base and transport, yet marching independently to place himself under the orders of another General [Howe], while Carleton disowned all responsibility for events beyond the frontier of Canada." [8]

General Burgoyne had not been idle while his professional future was being settled: he was busy preparing his own plan. On February 28 he sent to Germain his "Thoughts for Conducting the War from the Side of Canada." [9]

In examining Burgoyne's plan, two matters are pertinent to this study: the basic purpose or objective of the invasion and how it involved the Mohawk Valley. A great deal of ink has been expended in identifying the first. The isolation of New England through a junction of three forces, Burgoyne's from Canada, Sir William Howe's from New York, and Brigadier Barry St. Leger's from Oswego at Albany was a time-honored, simplistic definition. Recent scholarship has made the story more complex and in so doing has redefined the strategic role that the campaign was intended to play. The heart of the solution of the problem lies in Burgoyne's plan.

That plan was, in the first place, a discussion of alternatives. After retaking the first British objectives, Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga, "The next measure must depend upon those taken by the enemy, and upon the general plan concerted at home." [10] If the Government's plan provided that Sir William Howe's entire army would act on the Hudson and if "the only object of the Canada army is to effect a junction with that force," Burgoyne recommended that the main invading column go to Albany by way of Lake George. If, as he believed probable, the Americans should "be in force on the lake," light infantry and Indians should act around the lake to "oblige them to quit it without waiting for naval operations." If that failed to clear the lake, the army should attempt to move southward by Lake Camplain's South Bay and Skenesborough [Whitehall, N. Y.]. Burgoyne expected this alternative to be very difficult and at best requiring a significant number of vehicles for his artillery and supplies. The vehicles had to come from Canada. If, at the same time, the Americans should continue to occupy Lake George, the British would have to leave a chain of posts as they moved southward to secure their communications.

While Burgoyne expected that the British would be able to rid Lake George of the Americans, he advocated that the army "at the outset should be provided with carriages, implements, and artificers for conveying armed vessels from Ticonderoga to the lake."

His second alternative was based upon cooperation with the British force posted in Rhode Island by getting control of the Connecticut River. Such an expedition would be faced with serious transport, communications, and security problems, but "Should the junction between Canada and Rhode Island armies be effected upon the Connecticut, it would not be too sanguine an expectation that all the New England provinces will be reduced by their operations."

The third alternative that Burgoyne suggested was that if the force available for service were too small to undertake an over-land expedition with a reasonable promise of success, it might be wise to send the army by sea to join Sir William Howe.

If the first alternative, the one Burgoyne preferred, were chosen, he defined the expedition's mission in these works: "These ideas are formed upon the supposition, that the sole purpose of the Canada army is to effect a junction with General Howe, or after cooperating so far as to get possession of Albany and open the communication to New York, to remain upon Hudson's River, and thereby enable that General to act with his whole force to the Southward." If the second alternative providing for gaining control of the Connecticut River and cooperation with the troops in Rhode Island, were selected, the reduction of New England, which Britain saw as the heart of the rebellion, would certainly facilitate Howe's movements in other quarters. The third alternative, involving the transfer of the northern army by sea, would obviously be exclusively directed toward Howe's reinforcement. Nothing in Burgoyne's plan made holding the Camplain-Hudson line and isolating New England his mission, except in so far as "cooperating so far as to get possession of Albany and open the communication to New York, to remain upon Hudson's River, and thereby enable that General [Howe] to act with his whole force to the Southward" would contribute to attaining that end.

Burgoyne's proposals received careful attention; and when the King responded to them, he and his ministers had not only the general's comments but also Howe's letter of November 30 containing his first plan, the one of December 20 altering that plan by shifting the offensive from New England to Philadelphia, one dated December 30 and that reported the affair at Trenton, and one dated January 20. When Sir William wrote the last, his fragile optimism had evaporated in the face of the battles of Trenton and Princeton and the amazing recuperative power displayed by Washington's army, and he wrote: "I do not now see a prospect of terminating ye War but by a general Action, and I am aware of the difficulties in our way to obtain it, as ye Enemy move with so much more celerity than we possibly can with our foreign troops who are too much attach'd to their baggage, which they have in amazing quantities in ye field." [11]

With all these documents before them, the King's advisors, members of the Cabinet, and George III made the choice from among Burgoyne's proposals. The King's decision is contained in a document entitled "Remarks on 'The Conduct of the War from Canada'," containing the royal objections to the second and third alternatives, ending with this paragraph:

The idea of carrying the army by sea to Sir William Howe would certainly require the leaving a much larger part of it in Canada, as in that case the rebel army would divide that province from the immense one under Sir W. Howe. I greatly dislike the idea. [12]

The decision was made by the ministry and Crown. The primary purpose of the invasion would be to bring a two-column army from Canada to Albany, where it would be at Gen. Sir William Howe's command to utilize in prosecuting the war. If in accomplishing this other benefits should accrue, such as the isolation of New England, destruction of the army of the Northern Department, and reconquest of a geographic area, that would be so much the better. Perhaps in the face of such a disaster, the rebellion would collapse.

The second matter, and the one more directly associated with Fort Stanwix, concerns the part the Mohawk Valley was destined to play in Burgoyne's strategy. He covered that subject in his "Thoughts" with these paragraphs:

To avoid breaking in upon other matter, I omitted in the beginning of these papers to state the idea of an expedition at the outset of the campaign by the Lake Ontario and Oswego to the Mohawk River, which as a diversion to facilitate every proposed operation, would be highly desirable, provided the army should be reinforced sufficiently to afford it.

It may at first appear, from a view of the present strength of the army, that it may bear the sort of detachment proposed by myself last year for this purpose; but it is to be considered that at that time the utmost object of the campaign from the advanced season and unavoidable delay of preparation for the lakes, being the reduction of Crown Point and Ticonderoga, unless the success of my expedition had opened the road to Albany, no greater numbers were necessary than for those first operations. The case in the present year differs; because the season of the year affording a prospect of very extensive operation, and consequently the establishment of many posts, patroles, etc., will become necessary. The army ought to be in a state of numbers to bear those drains, and still remain sufficient to attack anything that probably can be opposed to it.

Nor, to argue from probability, is so much force necessary for this diversion this year, as was required for the last; because we then knew that General Schuyler with a thousand men, was fortified upon the Mohawk. When the different situations of things are considered, viz, the progress of General Howe, the early invasion from Canada, the threatening of the Connecticutt from Rhode Island, etc., it is not to be imagined that any detachment of such force as that of Schuyler can be supplied by the enemy for the Mohawk. I would not therefore propose it of more (and I have great diffidence whether so much can be prudently afforded) than Sir John Johnson's corps, and a hundred British from the second brigade, and a hundred more from the 8th regiment, with four pieces of the lightest artillery, and a body of savages; Sir John Johnson to be with a detachment in person, and an able field officer to command it. I should wish Lieutenant-Colonel St. Leger for that employment.

I particularize the second brigade, because the first is proposed to be diminished by the 31st regiment remaining in Canada, and the rest of the regiment drafted for the expedition being made also part of the Canada force, the two brigades will be exactly squared. [13]

Burgoyne's discussion is a strange combination of proposing a diversion by way of the Mohawk and a questioning of its wisdom. But, again, it is wise to remember that he was writing about alternatives. For a purely military perspective, there was really not too much to commend the Mohawk expedition. True, it would be diversionary, but did it promise to be effective enough to justify the commitment of the white troops that would be required, especially when so few could be spared? The Government's decision to operate in western New York was based upon political rather than military considerations operating in the valley and farther west.

The region was the gateway to the great western country whose importance had long been appreciated at Whitehall. Memories of Pontiac's conspiracy were fresh, and prudence dictated that the western tribes become accustomed to supporting British interests in the interior.

More immediately important was the retention of the loyalty of the Six Nations. Two of the tribes were refusing to support their old allies, the British; and one, the Oneidas, was actively assisting the Colonies. The presence of victorious royal troops would insure the steadfastness of the loyal and recall the allegiance of the alienated.

The local Loyalists were another factor—not only the active ones like the Johnsons and their associates, but also the inactive and wavering. The former had suffered self-exile for their principles, had raised a body of "provincials" in the British service, and had persuaded the authorities at home that the majority of the valley's people would rise for the Crown whenever a British army should appear.

On the basis of this combination of military and political interests, the ministry decided to make a commitment in the Mohawk-Ontario Country and Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger of the 34th Regiment of Foot was given its command with the local rank of brigadier.

General St. Leger was given 100 men from each of two regiments stationed in Canada, the 34th and the 8th; Sir John Johnson's Regiment (the Greens); a company of rangers under Walter Butler; and 342 Hanau Chasseurs (light infantry or Jagers). To these were to be added "a sufficient number of Canadians and Indians." The expedition also had 40 artillerymen to serve the six-pounders, two three-pounders, and four 4.4-inch "Coehorn" mortars. [14] Of the Hanau troops, only one company joined the expedition. Exact figures of St. Leger's strength cannot be established, but an estimated 700-800 white troops and, according to tradition, 800 to 1,000 Indians comprised his force. [15]

The British regulars and militia left Lachine near Montreal on or about June 23. When he left Montreal, St. Leger had received intelligence about Fort Stanwix to the effect that "there were 60 Men in a picketed place." [16] Upon this information, the commander formulated his plan to make a dash through the wilderness and storm what he believed to be a very weak frontier post, which was consistent with his ordnance capability. Col. Daniel Claus was skeptical about the accuracy of this intelligence and he sent out a reconnaissance party that reported a very different situation:

Between 60 & 70 Leagues from Montreal by reconnoitering party returned and met me with 5 prisoners: (one a Lieut) and 4 scalps having defeated a working party of 16 rebels, as they were cutting Sodd, [17] towards repairing and finishing the old Fort which is a regular Square, and garrisoned by upwards of 600 Men, the Repairs far advanced, and the Rebels expecting us, and were acquainted with our Strength and Rout [e]. I immediately forwarded the Prisoners to the Brigr. [Brigadier] who was about 15 Leagues in our Rear. On his Arrival within a few Leagues of Buck Island he sent for me, and talking over the Intelligence the Rebel Prisrs. gave, he owned that if they intended to defend themselves in that Fort, our Artillery were not sufficient to take it, however he said he was determined to get the Truth of these Fellows. I told him that [?] examined them separately they agreed in their Story; and here the Brigr. had still an Opportunity & time of sending for a better Train of Artillery, and wait for the junction of the Chasseurs which must have secured us Success as every one will allow, however he was still full of his Alert, making little of the Prisrs Intelligence. [18]

Although St. Leger refused to wait for more Germans and send back for additional artillery, he agreed to go to Oswego, which he had intended to by-pass, and join the Indians who were assembled there.

Since July 8, Claus had been superintendent of the expedition's Indians, and he wrote concerning the junction at with the Indians:

The Brigr. set out from ye Island [Buck Island] upon his Alert the 19th July. I having been ordered to proceed to Oswego with Sr. John Johnson's Regt. and a Compy of Chasseurs lately arrived, [?] to convene & prepare the Indians to join the Brigr. at Fort Stanwix, on my Arrival at Oswego 23 July I found Jose[ph] Brant there, who acquainted me that his party consi [sting] of abt. 300 Indns would be in that day, and having been more than 2 months upon Service, were destitute of Necessaries Ammunition & some Arms, Joseph at the same time complaining of having been very scantily supplied by Colo. Butler with Ammunition when at Niagara in the Spring . . .

The 24 of July I received an Express from Brigr. St. Leger at Salmon Creek to repair thither with what Arms & Vermilion I had, and that he wished I would come prepared for a March thro' the Woods, as to Arms & Vermilion I had none, but prepared myself to go upon the March and was ready to set off when Joseph came into my Tent and told me that as no person was on the Spot to take care of the Number of Indians with him, he apprehended in case I should leave them they would become disgusted & disperse, which might prevent the rest of the 6 Nations to assemble, and be hurtful to the Expedition, and begd I would first represent those Circumstances to the Brigr. by Letter. Br. St. Leger mentioned indeed my going was chiefly intended to quiet the Indns. with him who were very drunk & riotous, and Captn. Tice who was the Messenger informed me, that the Brigr. ordered the Indians a Quart of Rum apiece which made them all beastly drunk and in which Case it is not in the power of Man to quiet them; Accordingly I mentioned to the Brigr. by Letter the Consequences that might affect his Majestys Indn Interest in case I was to leave so large a Number of Indns. that [were] come already, & still expected. Upon which Representation and finding the Indians disapproved of the Plan and w [ere] unwilling to proceed, the Brigr. came away from Salm [on] Creek, and arrived the next day at Oswego with the Compy of 8th & 34 Regt. and abt 250 Indians.

Having equiped Josephs party with what Necessaries and Ammunition I had, I appointed the rest of the 6 Nations to Assemble at the 3 Rivers a convenient place of Rendezvous & in the way to Fort Stanwix, and desired Col. Butler [to] follow me with the Indians he brought with him from Niagara and equip them all at 3 Rivers. [19]

Obtaining and holding the cooperation of the Indians was no easy matter. They were somewhat less than unanimous in their desire to commit themselves to the active support of British interest. There were too many memories of white men's breaking their promises and of using the Indian in advancing their own self-interest. The white man who had title to their affection and loyalty, Sir William Johnson, was dead, and there was no one who could really assume his mantle. Relations between Daniel Claus and John Butler were not harmonious. [20] Joseph Brant, who was uniquely able to relate to both races, endeavored to secure fair treatment for his fellows, at the same time binding them to the British cause. Neither Sir John, who should have inherited some of his father's great skill in dealing with the red men, nor St. Leger, whose training and background ill fitted him to deal with an aboriginal people, could through their personal leadership command the Indians' loyalty, much less their obedience. There was never a time when St. Leger could depend upon his Indian allies' unreserved cooperation—they were always an unknown quantity in the tactical equation.

While St. Leger's composite force assembled and launched its invasion of the northwestern frontier, events took place in the Mohawk Valley that affected its outcome. One of these was a confrontation between Joseph Brant and Brig. Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, leader of the pro-American Germans and commanding general of the Tyron County militia. The details of the meeting are obscure and capable of contradictory interpretations. The general may have urged Brant to support the rebellion or at least remain neutral. The latter declared for the King and, without molestation from the militia, withdrew his people to Canajoharie Castle and, as had been noted, eventually joined St. Leger. At least some Americans believed that Herkimer had not conducted himself very well, and his leadership was compromised, a factor that was to have considerable influence when he attempted to support the fort a few weeks later. [21]

Almost simultaneous with this event, General Schuyler, while Burgoyne's main column was at Crown Point, learned something definite about the British plan. On June 29 he wrote Herkimer that he had heard that Sir John Johnson was on his way to Oswego and planned to attack Stanwix, and he ordered him to have the militia ready to support Gansevoort "at a moments warning." [22] During the next day, he wrote to Gansevoort: "A report prevails that Sir John Johnson intends to attack your post. You will therefore put yourself in the best posture of defence . . . I have written General Herkimer to support you with the militia, in case you should be attacked. Give him therefore the most early intelligence if any enemy should approach you." [23]

Intelligence that his fort was likely to be attacked did not take Gansevoort by surprise. As early as May 28, Oneida Indians reported that they had met hostiles on their way to Osewego who intended to attack the fort. [24] He and his men drove themselves, working against time to make the fort defensible and felling trees to obstruct Wood Creek. [25] His personnel problem was critical, and he feared a surprise while his men were on fatigue.

General Schuyler immediately took steps to relieve the man-power and ordered Herkimer to put 200 militiamen to clearing the road between Forts Dayton and Stanwix, so that reinforcement of Gansevoort might be expedited. Another 200 men were to be dispatched to reinforce the garrison. [26] The general was not leaning upon a very sturdy reed. The Tyron County Committee was begging him to send Continental troops to the valley at almost the same moment he was ordering Herkimer to call out 400 men to assist Gansevoort. This was at a time when Burgoyne was advancing southward from Ticonderoga and Schuyler was desperately trying to impede that advance and save his army for a future stand. Writing from Fort Edward on July 10, he said:

I am sorry, very sorry, that you should be calling upon me for assistance of Continental troops, when I have already spared you all I could [the 3d New York] . . . For God's sake do not forget that you are an overmatch for any force the enemy can bring against you, if you will act with spirit. [27]

The committee acted with a spirit, but not the kind the general desired. Poor Herkimer, who had to implement Schuyler's directions, wrote concerning the order to reinforce Gansevoort:

Necessity urgeth me to trouble you again with these to acquaint you of the present circumstances of our county. Agreeable to your direction, I ordered 100 men of my brigade for reinforcement of Fort Schuyler, but with great trouble I got them to assemble for march. The first arrived Party I sent along with some Officers to assist respectively with work and guard in repair of the road to Fort Schuyler, but instead of advancing of the others to be expected, I must hear to my surprise that they have been stopped in their march and countermanded entirely by an order of the committee chairman, Lt. Colo. Wm Seeber and a few members of the committee, as the inclosure will convince your honor clearly. I resented immediately these contrary proceedings, whereupon another committee meeting was called. I also renewed my orders that such a number of militia should march, and the committee at their last convention repealed the orders to the colonels, that the ordered militia should march on. But that stopping of the militia by the committee as aforesaid, made such a confusion and discouragement that I hardly got and was able to dispatch today a number of men sufficient to guard the battoes being loaded at German Flatts with provisions, arms and ammunition for Fort Schuyler. It appears a general disturbance and declining of courage in the militia of our county, for reason of which they allege that they see themselves exposed to a soon invasion of enemies and particularly of a large number of cruel savages, and foresaken of any assistance of troops to save the country. They alone think themselves not able to resist such enemies, for if they would gather themselves to oppose their poor wives and children would be then left helpless and fall prey to merciless savages. I can assure you, that some are already busy moving away, some declare openly that if the enemy shall come, they will not leave home, but stay with their families, and render themselves over to the enemy, as they can't help themselves otherwise without succor. I may say, whole numbers of men in each district are so far discouraged, that they think it worthless to fight, and will not obey orders for battle, if the county is not in time succorded with at least 1,500 men, Continental troops. The loss of the important Fort Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence made the greatest number of our affected inhabitants downhearted, and maketh the disaffected bold. . . . I was urged to promise the men, I sent to guard the battoes, and on the road as above mentioned, they shall not stay longer than three weeks from home to home and the committee orders are but for 16 days. [28]

Schuyler ordered Wesson's Continental Massachusetts Regiment to move into Tyron County to encourage the people. [29] Reinforcements for the fort's garrison arrived from the 3d New York and the New York militia on July 19. [30]

In an effort to improve both the strength and the morale of the people, Schuyler placed all of the troops in the county under the command of a senior colonel, Goose van Schaick, of the 1st New York, who had been wounded at Ticonderoga on July 6. [31]

The people at the fort became increasingly conscious of the dangers of the hour as work parties of militia labored under the protection of Continentals to obstruct Wood Creek, as the reports of scouts brought news of the approaching enemy, and as hostile Indians prowled the woods trying to way lay members of the garrison and local inhabitants. On Sunday, July 27, three girls went out to pick raspberries about 500 yards from the fort. A party of Indians fired on them, killing and scalping two and wounding the third. In order to protect his workers from ambush and to concentrate his manpower, Gansevoort called in the Wood Creek parties. [32] During the next day, he sent away "those women which belonged to the Garrison which have children with whom went the Man that was Scalped the Girl that was Wounded Yesterday & Sick in the Hospital" [33]

Oneidas and Mohawks sent messages to the fort informing the commander of the progress of St. Leger's column and the whereabouts of Indian parties. These Indians were in a dangerous situation. The other nations of the Confederacy were not likely to be merciful to any of their ancient allies who took a pacifist's position. Neutrality in any war is difficult and often dangerous. In border warfare, it is practically impossible. If the Americans failed to turn back the British advance, the future of the friendly tribes would not be happy.

Capt. Thomas De Witt, who had been left at Fort Dayton by Colonel Willett, arrived on the 13th with about 50 men of Gansevoort's regiment, and Maj. Ezra Badlam brought in 150 men of Col. James Wesson's 9th Massachusetts. The fort's commissary, a man named Hanson, arrived the same day with word that seven batteaux, loaded with provisions and ammunition were on their way up-stream. [34] Within 24 hours, Oneidas brought word that there were 100 "Strange Indians" at the old Royal Block House on their way to the fort. Fearing that they intended to intercept the batteaux, Gansevoort dispatched 100 men under a Captain Benschoten to reinforce the batteaux-guard. [35]

Gansevoort knew that it could be only a matter of hours before the fort would tried by the invaders, and he completed his preparations to receive them. Colonel Willett's Orderly Book records the disposition of the garrison:

August 1, 1777

A picquet guard to mount this evening consisting of 1 capt 3 sub [subalterns] 4 sergeants, 1 drummer & 80 privates who are in case of alarm by the firing of a gun to mount and man the bastions, 1 commissioned officer 1 sergeant 1 corporal and 20 privates on each bastion, and if the officer commanding the picquet should think the alarm of sufficient importance he is immediately to order the drums to beat the alarm, upon which the garrison is to turn out Immediately and to repair to the alarm posts, Major Badlam's detachment to man the S. E. bastion and adjacent curtain, Captains De Witt, Swartout and Bleecker to man the N. E. bastion Capt. Gregg's Company to repair to the parade till further order. [36]

Blocking Wood Creek had been so effective that St. Leger's column was advancing too slowly to suit his purposes, and he feared that additional men and supplies would reach the fort before he could get into an investing position. In order to obtain intelligence and intercept any relief parties, he sent an advance guard under Lieutenant Bird toward the fort. The lieutenant had difficulty with Indians, most of whom would not advance. [37]

Upon receiving the lieutenant's report that closed with the statement: "those with the scout of fifteen I had the honor to mention to you in my last, are sufficient to invest Fort Stanwix if you honor me so far as not to order the contrary," the commander replied:

your resolution of investing Fort Stanwix is perfectly right; and to enable you to do it with greater effect, I have detached Joseph [Brant] and his corps of Indians to reinforce you. You will observe that I will have nothing but an investiture made; and in case the enemy observing the discretion and judgment with which it is made, should offer to capitulate, you are to tell them that you are sure I am well disposed to listen to them: this is not to take any glory or honour out of a young soldier's hands, but by the presence of the troops to prevent the barbarity and carnage which will ever obtain where Indians make so superior a part of a detachment . . . . [38]

It is easy to laugh at the brigadier's optimism in imagining that the garrison might surrender to so limited a display of force, but he shared two fairly common attitudes of his contemporaries: disdain for provincial arms and determination and a humane fear of what Indians might do to surrendered persons in the absence of a large number of regular troops. While he naturally hoped that a mere show of force would persuade the Americans to surrender, he probably did not really expect them to; and his orders to Bird simply provided for the eventuality.

After the advanced party reached the ruins of Fort Newport, the batteaux that Gansevoort was expecting approached Fort Stanwix. Colbrath's August 2 entry in his journal described the event:

Four batteaus arrived being those the Party went to meet having a Guard of 100 Men of Colonel Weston's [Wesson] Regiment from Fort Dayton under the Command of Lieut-Col. Millen [Mellen] of that Regiment The Lading being brought safe into the Fort the Guard marched in when our Centinels on the SW Bastion discovered the Enemys fires in the woods near Fort Newport, upon which the Troops ran to their Respective Alarm posts in this Time we discovered some Men Running from the Landing towards the Garrison On their coming they Informed us, that the Batteau Men who had staid behind when the Guard marched into the Fort had been Fired on by the Enemy at the Landing that two of them were wounded, the Master of the Batteaus taken prisoner and one Man Missing. A party of 30 Men with a field piece was sent out in the Evening to set Fire to two Barns standing a Little distance from the Fort, Two cannon from the SW Bastion loaded with Grape Shott, were first Fired at the Barnes to drive of [f] the Enemys Indians that might have been Sculking about them when the party having Effected their Design Return'd [39]

The advanced party had failed to accomplish its immediate mission, i.e., intercepting the supply boats, but the "investiture" of Fort Stanwix was begun. St. Leger was not able to commit all of his men to laying siege to the camp, because 110 of them were employed for nine days clearing the obstacles from Wood Creek and another party to cutting a temporary road from Fish Creek over which to bring artillery and stores. [40]

On the day the siege opened, two or possibly three, important events have been reported as taking place. The first occurred early in the morning of Sunday, August 3, when a flag that has entered American folklore was raised on one of the fort's bastions. Briefly stated, the tradition developed during the nineteenth century that the news of the passage of the Flag Resolution by the Continental Congress on June 14 reached Fort Stanwix, either in a letter to Colonel Gansevoort or in a newspaper account brought in when the batteaux and one hundred men of the 9th Massachusetts Regiment arrived under Lt. Col. James Mellen on the second. Upon receiving this dramatic news, some of the people prepared a flag of thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, and thirteen stars on a blue field in compliance with the congressional resolution. This new national standard was then hoisted and a salute fired, marking the first time the Stars and Stripes flew over American troops. If true, this was certainly one of the most dramatically significant events of the American Revolution.

One of the early champaions of this interpretation was Pomeroy Jones, a local scholar whose interest in Fort Stanwix's history had a lasting influence on the work of the later scholars. Jones was born several years after the siege; but he knew a number of veterans and their children, including Judge Joshua Hathaway and his son Jay, and invoked their memories in identifying the flag as the "Stars and Stripes." [41] Jones's account was the basis for a number of assertions concerning the flag, including Dr. James Weise's, that the new national flag was unfurled, a salute fired, and that an adjutant read the resolution from the newspaper brought to the fort by the batteaux detail. [42] Weise's version was picked up by the New Larned History, in which the following appears:

. . . the Journal of Capt. Swartwout of Col. Gansevoort's regiment written August 3, 1777 in Ft. Schuyler shows beyond cavil when the first flag of Stars and Stripes of which we have record was made and hoisted, but it was in a fort (Schuyler), not in the field, or at the head of a regiment. [43]

There is no Startwout Journal, just Weise's publication, which was not based upon any original source.

John Albert Scott's popular Fort Stanwix (Fort Schuyler) and Oriskany repeated the story of the newspaper report and the raising of the "first Stars and Stripes." [44] Although Fort Stanwix's claims were frequently disputed in favor of other sites as Bennington, Brandywine, and Guilford Courthouse, many writers uncritically perpetuated the tradition.

A study of the evidence upon which to assess the Sanwix flag's significance is in order. The basic document for the origin of the Stars and Stripes is the so-called Flag Resolution passed by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, which reads: "RESOLVED: that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation." [45] This resolution was preceded and followed by matters brought to the Congress's attention by its Marine Committee. Since the resolution was converting the unofficial Grand Union into an official standard, substituting thirteen stars upon a blue field for the canton derived from the British Union, which combined the crosses of Saints George and Andrew, it was appropriate that it emanate from that committee. This was the case because, following British precedent, flying the Grand Union was common to ships and permanent land installations. Thus, the Congress was providing for a new marine flag, not a national military standard.

Crucial to the examination of the Fort Stanwix tradition is the record of what happened immediately after the passage of the resolution. Thacher's Military Journal's entry for August 3, 1777, noted that: "It appears by the papers that Congress resolved on 14 of June last, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, that the union be thirteen stars in a blue geld . . ." [46] At first blush, Thacher's statement seems to be evidence that the news of the resolution had reached Albany, where he was on duty at the hospital, if not Fort Stanwix, by August 3. However, so far as this writer has been able to determine, the first public notice of the resolution appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on August 20 in the following item: "In Congress, June 14, 1777. Resolved that the FLAG of the United States be THIRTEEN STRIPES alternate red and white; that the union be THIRTEEN STARS white in a blue field. Extract from minutes, CHARLES THOMSON, sec." [47] Other papers printed the resolution between September 3 and October 2, and the first New York papers to publish it were the September 8 issue of the New York Journal and General Advertiser and the September issue of New York Patent and the American Advertiser. The papers to which Thacher most likely had access were the two from New York and the Boston papers, the Gazette and the Spy, in which the story appeared on September 15 and 18 respectively. [48] The obvious conflict in testimony can only be explained by acknowledging that the doctor may have had access to a newspaper that is unknown to historians or, more probably, that when the Journal was prepared for publication prior to January 1, 1832, this was one of the instances in which alterations were made in organizing the material of the original manuscript.

More immediately pertinent to the Fort Stanwix flag are the testimonies of William Colbrath and Marinus Willett. In the entry for Sunday, August 3, Colbrath wrote: "Early this morning a Continental Flagg made by the officers of Col. Gansevoort's Regiment was hoisted and a cannon levelled at the Enemies Camp was fired on this occasion." [49] His calling the standard a "Continental" Union is important because that was the term applied to the Grand Union. It is also significant that he did not refer to the flag as a new one, as would have been natural if he was recording such a momentous event.

Lieutenant Colonel Willett wrote one of the earliest accounts of the siege in a letter to Jonathan Trumbull, Jr. He was probably also the author of the account that appeared in the August 28 issue of the Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser under the title "Extract of a Letter from an Officer of Distinction." In neither of these nor in his Oderly Book did he refer to the flag, a surprising oversight if it was as historically important as such a first would have been. [50]

Concerning the cloak from which the blue cloth had been cut, Willett wrote: "What Baggage the enemy had it consisting of only a few Blankets and Cloaks—A blue Camblot Cloak taken here [Peekskill] afterwards served to enable us to use it for blue strips of a Flagg which was afterwards hoisted during the siege of Fort Schuyler" [52] The statement about blue strips could only refer to a Continental flag, because the Stars and Stripes has a blue field, not blue stripes.

More than thirty years after the siege, Willett prepared the manuscript of his "Narrative," in which he wrote:

The Fort had never been supplied with a Flagg—The importance of having one on the arrival of the enemy had set our Ingenuity to work, and a respectable one was formed the white stripes were cut out of ammunition shirts the blue strips out of the Cloak foermerly mentioned taken from the Enemy at Peeks-Kill. The red strips out of different pieces of stuff collected from sundry persons. The Flagg was sufficiently large and a general Exhilaration of spirits appeared on beholding it Wave the morning after the arrival of the enemy. [51]

That Marinus Willett had an appreciation of his historic role is apparent in his letters and the "Narrative. " If he had been a party to or a witness of the manufacture and display of the first national flag, the fact would have been prominently recorded by him.

The papers of two other important American officials, Peter Schuyler and Peter Gansevoort, would be expected to throw some light upon such an important subject. General Schuyler was the commanding general of the Northern Department when the Flag Resolution was passed and continued in that office until August 19. If the Resolution had been published or become a matter of either official or common knowledge during that period and if it had the effect of authorizing a new national military standard, he would have been among the first to have known about it. Schuyler was a meticulous record keeper. His papers include all the correspondence he received from the Congress, General Washington, and every person with whom the had occasion to transact public or private business, as well as copies of all letters and documents that he sent to them. There is nothing in that important collection to indicate that the general or any of his correspondents knew about the Resolution before it was published on August 20.

Peter Gansevoort, the fort's commanding officer, also left a valuable collection of papers. They contain no letter advising him of the passage of the Flag Resolution. Nor do they include any documents that would support the assertion that the flag raised at his post was one that reflected compliance with the congressional act.

One of the soldiers of the 3d New York Regiment was James (Alexander) McGraw, who had enlisted during July 1775 and been shot in a leg during the Canadian campaign of 1775-76. He re-enlisted in Capt. Leonard Bleeker's company, 3d New York, and was confined to quarters at Fort Stanwix in March 1778 because of an "Ulcerous leg." It may have been during that period of convalescence that he carved the powder-horn that has figured prominently in the flag controversy, although the date on the specimen is December 25, 1777. [53]

If the horn is genuine and McGraw made it, and its accuracy in depicting the fort and its components argues for its authenticity, it offers valuable evidence. Flying from the southwest bastion is a flag that, except for the absence of the cross of St. George, resembles the Grand Union very closely.

A second powder-horn is one that apparently was carved by Christopher Hutton, who after serving in Meade's Regiment of New York Militia became an ensign in Cpt. Henry Tiebout's Company of the 3d New York Regiment on November 21, 1776, and was made regimental adjutant on May 28, 1778. He subsequently received a lieutenant's commission on February 6, 1779, transferred to the 2d New York on January 1, 1783, and was discharged on June 3, 1783. [54] His tour of duty at Fort Stanwix presumably extended from the end of March 1777 to November 1780, the period during which the regiment garrisoned the post.

At an unknown date, but presumably 1777, he carved or had carved for him, the horn associated with his name. The specimen has several subjects incised into its sides, including "Chris. Hutton 1777"; a diagrammatic sketch of the Mohawk and Schoharie Rivers; "Ft. Schuyler III Rege"; "Ft EWD"; a field cannon and a pyramidal stack of six balls; an Indian armed with a musket and Tomahawk; a mounted figure with the caption, "Peter.": and most important to this study—a flag of stars and stripes.

The Hutton power-horn is more difficult to interpret than the McGraw specimen. It does not include such elements as the fort that make a comparison with documented data possible; and it poses several questions that defy easy solutions. The most obvious is whether it is what it is purported to be. Since there is no conclusive authentication that question remains moot; although on the basis of design, lettering, and general appearance, it appears to be a late 18th century specimen. The second question is, what designer's objective? Was he using the characters to illustrate events that occurred at Fort Stanwix in 1777? If so, why was the small legend "Ft EDW," which must refer to Fort Edward, included? That fort was located at another important carrying place, the one between the Hudson River and Wood Creek that provided a portage to and from Lake Champlain. Why was the flag located where it was? It, obviously was not intended to mark Stanwix's location in relation to the Mohawk River. While the mounted man captioned "Peter" may represent Colonel Gansevoort, it was a strange way for lowly Revolutionary period ensign to identify the regiment's commander.

Ensign Hutton may have intended that the powder-horn present a graphic record of his military career. But that still does not solve the problem of the flag. The question of when the horn was carved remains. Does it really date from 1777, or is it a later exercise in nostalgia? Because there is almost overwhelming evidence that Hutton could not have known of the passage of the Flag Resolution until during the autumn of 1777, it must be assumed that the horn was made some time after the siege. There is no answer that satisfies all the canons for historical criticism.

Another of the powder-horns that depict Fort Stanwix and a flag is one attributed to James Wilson, a private in Col. Goose Van Schaick's 1st New York Regiment, which garrisoned the fort from the end of 1778 until November 1780. Although it does not show the buildings that stood within the fort, it does include five sentry boxes, the necessary, and a structure on the southeast bastion that was demolished on December 20, 1780, after the 1st New York moved out. Along with other features, both historic and decorative, it also has an elaborate symbol of a hand grasping thirteen arrows surrounded by a floral scroll bearing the legend: "THE XIII UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." There is also a flag flying over the fort, an ensign of eleven stripes without a canton and stars. [55] The fact that this flag differed significantly from the Grand Union and the Stars and Stripes does not detract from the specimen's value, but reflected the historic reality as will become apparent in the following paragraphs.

Turning from the powder-horns, with their evidentiary problems to the sounder ground of documentary evidence, it should be remembered that the congressional resolution of June 14 concerned a maritime flag and was not intended to provide an official standard to troops in the field. This is confirmed by subsequent events.

Almost two years after the siege of Fort Stanwix, Richard Peters, secretary of the Board of War, wrote to General Washington that requisitions for drums and colors had not been filled because "we have not the materials to make either in sufficient numbers." He went on to write concerning the flags:

. . . as to the Colours, we have refused them for another reason. The Baron Steuben [Inspector-General] mentioned when he was here [Philadelphia] that he would settle with your Excellency some Plan as to the Colours. It was intended that every Regiment should have two Colours—one a Standard of the United States, which should be the same throughout the Army, and the other a Regimental Colour which should vary according to the facings of the Regiment. But it is not yet settled what is the Standard of the U. States. If your Excellency will therefore favour us with your Opinion on the Subject we will report to Congress and request them to establish a Standard and as soon as this is done we will endeavour to get Materials and order a Number made sufficient for the Army. Neither can we tell what should be the Regimental Colours as Uniforms were by late Resolution of Congress to be settled by Your Excellency. [56]

Peters' letter makes it obvious that the resolution of June 14, 1777, did not authorize a national military standard, that as of May 1779, no such flag had been adopted, and that the Board of War would ask the Congress to establish one after Washington had expressed his opinion on the matter.

The Board continued to consider the design for a new national military flag during the summer of 1779 and by September had narrowed the choice to: "The one with the Union and Emblem in the middle . . . as a variant from the Marine Flag." [57] The Marine Flag was the Stars and Stripes, and the Board favored a different form for military use.

The matter was still unsettled when the final shot of the war was fired in South Carolina in 1782. This does not mean that no flags of one design or another including stars and stripes appeared on the field. One of them, the so-called Bennington Flag, is believed by some students to be the oldest such color. While there is no contemporary record to confirm its Revolutionary vintage, a nineteenth century tradition claims that it was raised at Bennington by President Fillmore's grandfather, Nathaniel Fillmore, who kept it until during the War of 1812, when he gave it to his nephew, Septa Fillmore, in whose family it remained until 1926. It does not conform to the Flag Resolution, having in the center of the union the number "76." Nor could it have been carried in the field, being ten feet long by five and half feet wide. [58]

Another claimant for honors is a flag that is said to have been carried by North Carolina militia at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. Noted flag authority R. C. Ballard Thurston believed that this is the only such flag carried by troops during the war. It does not follow the color scheme defined in the Flag Resolution in that it has seven blue and six red stripes and thirteen blue stars on a white union. [59]

That the Stars and Stripes flew at Yorktown is attested by a contemporary watercolor by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe of the Queen's Rangers. It resembles the Guilford flag in having red and blue stripes and blue union with "a pattern figures. marks or, perhaps, stars in what seems to be a darker shade of blue." [60]

It might be argued that the flag flown at Fort Stanwix was also an unofficial version of the Stars and Stripes. However, that contradicts Colbrath's testimony and strains Willett's statement, to say nothing of the evidence, for what it is worth, of the McGraw powder-horn. If it was certainly not a result of the Flag Resolution, for there is not a scintila of evidence that anyone in the fort knew of the Congress's act in August 1777.

An exhaustive, if not comprehensive, search has failed to locate any claims identifying the Fort Stanwix Flag as the Stars and Stripes that date before the 1850's, three-quarters of a century after the siege.

In the absence of testimony favoring the tradition that meets the minimum canons for historical accuracy, a careful study of the documentary sources leads to the conclusion that the fort's flag was a locally made version of the Grand Union and could not have been the first Stars and Stripes to be flown over American troops in the presence of the enemy.

There is a tradition that on the day the siege was opened St. Leger paraded his troops to overawe the garrison. Hoffman Nickerson, as usual without citing a source, records it as follows:

St. Leger's first thought was to impress the garrison. Accordingly he held a review of his entire force within sight of the besieged. From their palisaded earthworks Gansevoort and his men could see the white breeches and scarlet coats of the British infantry, the blue coats of the British artillerymen, and green faced with red of the German chasseurs, and the green faced with white which gave Sir John Johnson's regiment the name of Royal Greens. Here and there may have appeared the black skull cap fronted with a brass plate and the green coat faced vermillion which were the official uniform of Butler's rangers. But for the most part these last seem to have been painted and dressed like Indians. If so they increased what must have been the deep-set impression made upon those within, that is, that of St. Leger's command the greater number were savages. The sight of the Indians with their feathers, their hideous warpaint, tomahawks, and scalping knives, and the sound of their war whoop, showed the garrison vividly enough what would be their own fate should their resistance fail and what would happen to the settlements behind them.

At the same time the review must have shown them that in white men alone the numbers of St. Leger's force were at most equal and if anything inferior to their own. [61]

Christopher Ward, also without citing a source, told the same story in less detail. [62] Contemporary American and British reports that have been consulted in the preparation of this study do not document such a review. Colbrath did record in his Journal for August 3 that "about three o'clock this after the Enemy shewed themselves to the Garrison on all Sides Carry'd off some Hay from a Field near the Garrison. " [63] However, this falls short of corroborating the dramatic show of force that Nickerson and Ward described.

At 3 p.m., St. Leger sent Captain Tice under a flag to demand the fort's surrender and offered protection to the garrison. Colbrath recorded that the demand and promise were "Rejected with disdain." [64] William L. Stone, who was not above tampering with his sources in the interest of a good story, gave this text of the British general's proclamation:

By BARRY ST. LEGER, Esq., commander-in-chief of a chosen body of troops from the grand army, as well as an extensive corps of Indian allies from all the nations, &c., &c.

The forces entrusted to my command are designed to act in concert, and upon a common principle, with the numerous armies and fleets which already display on every quarter of America, the power, justice, and, when properly sought, the mercy of the king.

The cause in which the British arms are thus exerted applies to the most affecting interest of the human heart, and the military servants of the crown, at first called forth for the sole purpose of restoring the rights of the constitution, now combine with love of their country and duty to their sovereign, the other extensive incitements which spring from a due sense of the general privileges of mankind. To the eyes and ears of the temperate part of the public, and to the breast of suffering thousands in the provinces, be the melancholy appeal, whether the present unnatural rebellion has not been made a foundation for the completest system of tyranny that even God in his displeasure suffered for a time to be exercised over a froward and stubborn generation. Arbitrary imprisonment, confiscation of property, persecution and torture unprecedented in the inquisitions of the Romish Church, are among the palpable enormities that verify the affirmative. These are inflicted by Assemblies and committees who dare to profess themselves friends of liberty, upon the most quiet subjects, without distinction of age or sex, for the sole crime, often for the sole suspicion of having adhered in principle to the government under which they were born, and to which by every tie, divine and human, they owe allegiance. To consummate these shocking proceedings, the profanation of religion is added to the most profligate prosecution of common reason; the consciences of men are set at naught; and multitudes are compelled, not only to bear arms, but also to swear subjection to usurpation they abhor.

Animated by these considerations; at the head of troops in the full powers of health, discipline and valor, determined to strike when necessary, and anxious to spare where possible; I by these presents invite and exhort all persons, in all places, where the progress of this army may point, and by the blessing of God I will extend it far, to maintain such a conduct as may justify me in protecting these lands, habitations and families. The intention of this address is to hold forth security, not depredation to the country.

To those whom spirit and principle may induce them to partake the glorious task of redeeming their countrymen from dungions, and reestablishing the blessings of legal government, I offer encouragement and employment; and upon the first intelligence of their associations, I will find means to assist their undertakings. The domestic, the industrious, the infirm, and even the timid inhabitants, I am desirous to protect, provided they remain quietly at their houses; that they do not suffer their cattle to be removed, nor their corn or forage to be secreted or destroyed; that they do not break up their bridges or roads; nor by any other acts, directly or indirectly, endeavor to obstruct the operations of the king's troops or supply those of the enemy.

Every species of provision brought to my camp will be paid for at an equitable rate in solid coin. If, notwithstanding these sincere endeavors and sincere inclinations to effect them, the frenzy of hostility should remain, I trust I shall stand acquitted in the eyes of God and man, in denouncing and executing the vengeance of the state against wilful outcasts. The messengers of justice and of wrath await them in the field and devastation, famine and every concomitant horror that a reluctant but indispensable prosecution of military duty must occasion, will bar the way to their return.

Barry St. Leger

By order of the Commander-in-chief
Will., OSB. HAMILTON, Secretary. [65]

This proclamation was an almost verbatim copy of General Burgoyne's and it was equally effective.

The Americans continued to try to work at strengthening the fort against the assault that they were certain St. Leger would undertake whenever he was able to bring up his artillery and the men who were working on the temporary road and clearing a passage on Wood Creek. However, the continuing fire from the Indians harassed the working parties, forcing them to work at night. On the night of the 4th, details went out and brought in 27 stacks of hay for the cattle that were impounded in the fort's ditch and to burn a house and barn that obstructed the field of fire. [66] The Indians' fire resulted in two deaths among the garrison on the 4th and 5th, and six were wounded during the former. The barracks that Lamarquise had erected outside the fort was burned by the British during the late afternoon of the 5th. [67]

On the same afternoon, St. Leger received word from the late Sir William Johnson's Indian wife, Molly Brant, that a relief column was on its way to the fort and would be within 10 or 12 miles of the British camp by that night. St. Leger now had a serious tactical problem to solve. He had to sustain the siege and destroy the relief column.

The relief column was General Herkimer's response to learning of St. Leger's advance on the fort. On June 30 he ordered the Tryon County militia to muster at Fort Dayton. By August 4, between 800 and 900 men assembled and the march to raise the siege was begun. On the night of the 5th Herkimer sent three or four scouts forward to inform Gansevoort of his advance and to ask the fort's commander to cooperate if the enemy should attack the militia. Gansevoort was asked to fire three shots to acknowledge receipt of the runners and to express his willingness to make a sortie when Herkimer's column approached, then to engage the enemy about the fort and prevent them from concentrating on the militia.

On the morning of the 6th, Herkimer had reached a critical point in his march to the fort's aid. No cannon shots had been heard from its defenders. Should he continue to advance or await the expected signal? He convened a council of war to discuss the matter. His preference was for waiting for the signal, but the overwhelming majority of his officers favored an immediate advance. The discussion became heated, and as the commander maintained his opinion with traditional Teutonic stubbornness some of the officers accused him of Tory sympathies or cowardice, making much of the fact that one of his brothers was an officer in Sir John's regiment. Berated and maligned, the old soldier-farmer yielded and gave the order to march. With his Oneida scouts in the lead, the general took the head of a double column of about 600 men, followed by a 200-man rear-guard.

When he received the news of Herkimer's advance, St. Leger dispatched about 400 Indians and the light infantry company of Sir John's regiment, under Sir John, Colonel Butler and Joseph Brant, to ambush the military relief force.

With surprisingly poor march security, the Tryon men marched to a place about six miles from the fort where the road crossed a broad ravine about 50 feet deep with very steep banks. There the Anglo-Indian party had laid an ambush with the light infantrymen on the west and the Indians along the ravine's margin in a curve, leaving the eastern side open to Herkimer's men. When the middle of the column was deep in the ravine, the light infantrymen were to check its head while the Indians closed the circle around the rear-guard.

The main body of the column made its way into the ravine and up the western side when the Indians east of the ravine opened fire and rushed the road-bound militiamen. The trap was sprung too early to catch the rear-guard, which fled. Herkimer, at the column's head, turned back to investigate the firing. The light infantry and Indians on the west rushed forward; and the general's horse fell dead and he suffered a wounded leg.

The circle was completed; and the Americans took cover behind trees, formed small circles, and fought with a valor born of desperation. After three-quarters of an hour, a cloudburst wet the muskets' priming and for an hour the fighting stopped. During the lull, Herkimer's men took cover by twos so that, when one had fired and was reloading, the other would be ready to shoot any of the enemy that attacked.

The Tryon County men gave a good account of themselves that day; and the Indians, who suffered severely, began to lose their aggressiveness. At this point, a second detachment of Sir John's regiment, under Major Watts, arrived on the scene. He ordered his men to turn their coats inside out, concealing their uniforms. Thus they advanced under the guise of a sortie from the fort. The militia discovered the ruse and attacked, and a fierce hand-to-hand fight followed that ended when the Indians retreated, followed by the white troops. The Battle of Oriskany was over. The militia was too badly mauled to pursue, and they gathered their wounded to begin the march back to Fort Dayton. [68]

The morning of August 6 was a time of uncertainty at the fort. The garrison noted that the Indians, who had been maintaining a continual firing, were going away from the immediate area toward the lower landing on the Mohawk. Not knowing what was really happening, the officers and men feared that something was afoot in the river valley and that the loyalty of its inhabitants would weaken if the fort were reported taken. Colbrath expressed the men's fears in these terms:

This Morning the Indians were seen going off from around the Garrison towards the Landing as they withdraw we had not much firing. Being uneasy least the Tories should Report that the Enemy had taken the Fort Lieut. Diefendorf was Ordered to get Ready to set of [f] for Albany this Evening to Inf Genl Schuyler of our Situation. [69]

But before the lieutenant could get away, the men whom Herkimer had sent with the message of his approach arrived, and Colbrath recorded that:

between 9 & 10 this morning three Militia Men Arrived here with a Letter from Genl Harkeman [Herkimer] wherein he writes that he had Arrived at Orisca [Oriskany] with 1000 Militia in Order to Relieve the Garrison and open the Communication which was then Entirely Blocked up and that if Colonel Should hear a Firing of small Arms desired he wou'd send a party from the Garrison to Reinforce Him. General Harkeman desired that the Colonel would fire three Cannon if the Three Men got safe into the Fort with his Letter which was done and followed by three cheers by the whole Garrison. According to Genl Harkemans Request the Colonel Detached two Hundred Men and one Field piece under command of Lieut. Colonel Willett with Orders to proceed down the Road to meet the Generals party. [70]

In his letter of August 11, his first account of the events, Colonel Willett wrote:

Wednesday morning there was an unusual silence; we discovered some of the enemy marching along the edge of the woods downwards. About eleven o'clock, three men got into the fort, who brought a letter from Gen. Harkeman, of the Tryon county militia, advising us that he was at Eriska (eight miles from the fort) with part of his militia, and proposed to force his way to the fort, for our relief—In order to render him what service we could in his march, it was agreed that I should make a sally from the fort with two hundred and fifty men, consisting one half of Gansevoort's, and one half of Massachusetts men, and one field piece, (an iron three pounder) The men were instantly paraded, and I ordered the following dispositions to be made: Thirty men for the advanced guard to be commanded by Van Benscoten and Lieut. Stockwell; thirty for the rear guard under the command of Capt. Allen of the Massachusetts troops, and Lieut. Durffendreff: thirty for flank guards, to be commanded by Capt.       from Massachusetts, and Ensign Chase. The main body formed into eight subdivisions, commanded by Capt. Bleaker, Lieutenants Conine, Bogardus, M'Clenme, and Ostrander, Ensign Bayley, Lewis, and Dennison, Lieut. Ball, the only supernumerary officer, to march with me. Capt. Johnson to bring up the rear of the main body—Capt. Swardwoundt, with Ensigns Magee and Arent, with fifty men to guard the field piece, which was under the direction of Major Badlam [71]

Thus the detachment from the fort set out down the old military road that lay between Albany and Oswego. When the column reached a point a little more than half a mile from the fort, it came upon Sir John Johnson's camp and its mission was altered on the spot. The troops raided this camp, the nearby Indian one, and perhaps Lieutenant Bird's about half a mile away at the "Lower Landing Place." The colonel reported:

Nothing could be more fortunate than this enterprize. We totally routed two of the enemy's encampments, destroyed all their provision that was in them, brought off upwards of fifty brass kettles, and more than a hundred blankets (two articles which were much needed by us) with a number of muskets, tomahawks, spears, ammunition, cloathing, deer skins, a variety of Indian affairs, and five colours, which on our return to the fort, were displayed on our flagstaff, under the Continental flag. The Indians took chiefly to the woods, the rest of their troops 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 on the opposite shore. I was happy in preventing the men from scalping even the Indians, being desirous, if possible, of teaching even the Savages humanity. But the men were better employed, and kept in excellent order. We were out so long, that a number of British regulars, accompanied by what Indians, &c. 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 pass 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, Major Badlam, ith his field piece, did considerable execution—here, also, the enemy were annoyed by the fire of several cannon from the fort, as they marched round to form the ambuscade. The enemy's fire was very wild, and though we were very much exposed, did not execution at all. [72]

The loot taken from the camps included "several bundles of papers and a parcel of letters belonging to our garrison, which they had taken from our militia, but not yet opened. . . . There were likewise papers belonging to Sir John Johnson, and several others of the enemy's officers, with letters to and from Gen. St. Leger, their Commander; their papers have been of some service to us." [73]

From prisoners brought in from the camp, the garrison learned about the fight at Oriskany, the enemy's strength, the number and type of his artillery. [74]

The question of why Willett stopped to plunder the camp instead of obeying the order to meet Herkimer is not clearly answered—in fact, it is not broached in the contemporary documents. The men from the fort did not know that the militia had been engaged, but their curiosity must have been piqued by the absence of so large at part of the enemy. Apparently, Willett simply decided that the immediate and obvious benefits to be derived from attacking the camps outweighed any obligation to rendezvous with Herkimer. Although it could not have influenced Willett's decision, it was too late to have done the militia much good. Adam Hellmer, one of Herkimer's runners, testified that he entered the fort at one o'clock, although Colbrath wrote that the men came in by 10 a.m. and Willett put their arrival at "about 11 o'clock." If, as is probable, Hellmer was correct, Willett's detail did not leave the fort until nearly mid-afternoon, too late to have influenced the outcome at Oriskany. This fact, along with the results of his raid, probably muted criticism of his failure to execute his orders.

St. Leger, from his main encampment northeast of the fort, undertook to intercept Willett's sortie, but arrived too late to prevent its successful return with the captured goods. [75]

The raid on the Indian camp was to have especially significant results. The loss of their clothes, blankets, and provisions coupled with the loss of several of their chiefs at Oriskany dampened their enthusiasm for what was threatening to become a long, unrewarding siege, a type operation for which they rarely had an affinity. In fact, the British situation was not nearly good enough to give much promise of success, unless St. Leger could persuade the fort's garrison that defence of the post was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, he put the best possible face on conditions when he reported to Burgoyne:

on the 5th I learnt from discovering parties on the Mohawk River that A Body of one thousand Militia were on their March to raise the Siege. On the confirmation of this News I moved a large body of Indians with some troops the same night to lay in ambuscade for them on their march—They fell into it—The compleatest victory was obtained. Above 400 lay dead on the field amongst the number of whom were almost all the principal Movers of Rebellion in that Country—There are six or seven hundred men in the Fort—The Militia will never rally—All that I am to apprehend therefore that will retard my progress in joining you, is a reinforcement of what they call their regular troops by way of Halfmoon up the Mohawk River. A diversion therefore from your army by that quarter will greatly expedite my junction with either of the grand armies. [76]

Of course, Burgoyne was many miles north of Halfmoon and in no condition to send the Mohawk expedition assistance in any form.

The men in the fort enjoyed a respite from enemy fire during most of the 7th, although "at 11 o'Clock this Evening the Enemy came near the Fort called to our Centinels, telling them to come out again with Fixed Bayonets and they should give us Satisfaction for Yesterdays work, after which they fired 4 small Cannon at the Fort we laughed at them heartily and they returned to Rest." [77] At midnight, the runners from Herkimer's column and a militianman who brought news of the fight at Oriskany set out for the lower valley.

The cannon fire that Colbrath reported indicated that St. Leger had finally brought up his artillery. More shots were fired into the fort during the day, and the garrison "in order to Return the compliment, they [the enemy] were Salluted with a few Balls from our Cannon." [78]

At about 5 p.m., St. Leger's adjutant, Major Ancrum, Colonel Butler, and a surgeon came to the fort under a flag. Colonel Willett's "Narrative" gives this dramatic example of total recall:

The afternoon of the next day, the beating of the chimade and the appearance of a white flag, was followed by a request that Colonel Butler, who commanded the Indians, with two other officers, might enter the fort, with a message to the commanding officer. Permission having been granted, they were conducted blindfolded into the fort, and received by Colonel Gansevoort in his dining room. The windows of the room were shut and candles lighted; the table also was spread with crackers, cheese and wine. Three chairs placed at one end of the table, were occupied by Colonel Butler and the other two officers who had come with thim; at the other end, Colonel Gansevoort. Colonel Mellon and Colonel Willett were seated. Seats were also placed around the table for as many officers as could be accommodated, while the rest of the room was nearly filled with the other officers of the garrison indiscriminately; it being desirable that the officers in general should be witness to all that might take place. After passing around the wine, with a few commonplace compliments, Major Ancrum, one of the messenges, with a very grave, stiff air, and a countenance full of importance, spoke, in nearly the following words:

"I am directed by Colonel St. Leger, the officer who commands the army now investing the garrison, to inform the commandant, that the colonel has, with much difficulty, prevailed on the Indians to agree, that if the garrison, without further resistance, shall be delivered up, with the public stores belonging to it, to the investing army, the officers and soldiers shall have all their baggage and private property secured to them. And in order that the garrison may have a sufficient pledge to this effect, Colonel Butler accompanies me to assure them that not a hair of the head of anyone of them shall be hurt." (Here turning to Colonel Butler, he said:

"That, I think was the expression they made use of, was it not? To which the colonel answered, "Yes.") I am likewise directed to remind the commandant that the defeat of General Herkimer must deprive the garrison of all hopes of relief, especially as General Burgoyne is now in Albany, so that, sooner or later, the fort must fall into our hands. Colonel St. Leger, from an earnest decision to prevent further bloodshed, hopes these terms will not be refused; as, in this case, it will be out of his power to make them again. It was with great difficulty the Indians consented to the present arrangement, as it would deprive them of the plunder which they always calculate upon on similar occasions. Should these, the present terms be rejected, it will be out of the power of the colonel to restrain the Indians, who are very numerous, and much exasperated not only from plundering the property but destroying the lives of, probably, the greater part of the garrison. Indeed, the Indians are so exceedingly provoked, and mortified by the losses they have sustained, in the late actions, having had several of their favorite chiefs killed, that they threaten—and the colonel, if the present arrangement should not be entered into, will not be able to prevent them from executing their threats—to march down the country, and destroy the settlement with its in habitants. In this case, not only men, but women and children, will experience the sad effects of their vengeance. These considerations, it is ardently hoped, will produce a proper effect and induce the commandant, by complying with the terms now offered, to save himself from further regret when it will be too late."

With the approbation of Colonel Gansevoort, Colonel Willett made the following reply. Looking the important major full in the face he observed:

"Do I understand you, sir? I think that you say, that you come from a British colonel, who is commander of the army which invests this fort; and, by your uniform, you appear to be an officer in the British service. You have made a long speech on the occasion of your visit, which, stripped of all its superfluities, amounts to this, that you come from a British colonel to the commandant of this garrison, to tell him that if he does not deliver up this garrison into the hands of your colonel, he will send his Indians to murder our women and children. You will please reflect, sir, that our blood will be on your heads, not ours. We are doing our duty; this garrison is committed to our charge, and we will take care of it. After you get out of it, you may turn round and look at its outside, but never expect to come again, unless you come a prisoner. I consider the message you have brought a degrading one for a British officer to send, and by no means reputable for a British officer to carry. For my part, I declare, before I would consent to deliver this garrison to such a murdern'g set as your army, by your own accounts consists of, I would suffer my body to be filled with splinters and set on fire, as you know has been practiced, by such hordes of women and children killers as belong to your army. [79]

The deputation from the British commander presented a letter written by Colonel Peter Bellinger and Major Frey, who had been captured at Oriskany, that read:

It is with concern we are to acquaint you that this was the fatal day in which the succors, which were intended for your relief, have been attacked and defeated, with great loss of numbers killed, wounded and taken prisoners. Our regard for your safety and lives, and our sincere advice to you is, if you will avoid inevitable ruin and destruction, to surrender the fort you pretend to defend against a formidable body of troops and a good train of artillery, which we are witnesses of: when, at the same time, you have no farther supports or relief to expect. We are sorry to inform you that most of the principal officers are killed; to wit—General Herkimer, Colonels Cox, Seeber, Isaac, Paris, Captain Graves and many others, too tedious to mention. The British army from Canada being now perhaps before Albany, the possession of which place of course includes the conquest of the Mohawk River and this fort. [80]

Gansevoort believed the letter to be a forgery or prepared under durres, and it had no effect upon his determination to defend the fort.

Colonel Willett's post-war account differs from his first reports of the conference in detail and mood. His first version of the event, which is contained in his important August 11 letter, related that:

This evening [August 8] they sent us a flag, with which came their Adjutant-general, Capt Armstrong [Ancrum], Col. Butler, and a surgeon, the surgeon to examine Singleton's wounds; the principal business of the flag was to acquaint us, that Gen. St. Leger had, with much difficulty, prevailed on the Indians to agree, that if the Commanding Officer would give up the fort, the garrison should be secured from any kind of harm, that not a hair of their heads should be touched; but if not, the consequences to the garrison, should it afterwards fall into their hands, must be terrible; that the Indians were very much enraged, on account of their having a great number of their Chiefs killed in the late actions, and were determined, unless they got possession of the fort, to go down the Mohawk River, and fall upon its inhabitants. Our answer was, that should this be the case, the blood of their inhabitants would be upon the hands of Mr. Butler and his employers, not upon us, and that such proceedings would ever remain a stigma upon the name of Britain; but for our parts, we were determined to defend the fort. [81]

An account that appeared in August 28, 1777, issue of The Independent Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, Boston, entitled "Extract of a Letter from a Officer of Distinction," who was probably Willett, read:

Friday—Butler and a regular officer came into the fort, with proposals, representing that "Burgoyne was in Albany,—everything was lost—and it would be in vain for the fort to be obstinate, the militia were entirely routed—the Indians were enraged at their loss, and that they feared the consequences of an obstinate resistance, as the fort must finally fall,—they were determined to have it,—that they had prevailed on the Indians so far that if the garrison would surrender immediately, they might march with their effects without molestation, and take themselves where they pleased; but otherwise they feared the consequences.

Col. Gannsevoort answered, that he was surprised at their proposals, they implied a reflection upon the officers of the whole garrison—that they were not to be intimidated by threats—that he was determined to hold the fort as long as possible, and that he and his Men would die in the Trenches before he would surrender—at the same time took the occasion to remonstrate with Butler on the cruelty of their late practices, in scalping and murdering innocent inhabitants, particularly murdering the three little girls—Butler had little to say. [82]

The record is clear that the British made their proposal and that Colonel Gansevoort refused to entertain the idea of surrendering the fort. In fact, the only thing that would have persuaded him to do so would have been a loss of nerve. He knew that it was highly unlikely that Burgoyne had reached Albany, even if the main portion of the Northern Department's army had been defeated, which was improbable. He also knew that the British artillery was incapable of breaching his works; and he had no confidence in the British ability to restrain the Indians. Daniel Claus accurately summed up the reasons for the Colonel's refusal when he wrote: "The Rebels knowing their Strength in Garrison as well as Fortification and the Insufficiency of our Field pieces to hurt them, and apprehensive of being masacred by the Indians for the Loss they sustained in the Action [at Oriskany]. They rejected the Summons s[ai]d that they were determined to hold out to the last Extremity. " [83]

Shortly after mid-night, Colonel Willett, accompanied by Lieutenant Levi Stockwell, left the fort to go to Fort Dayton to raise a relief expedition. It was from there that the colonel wrote his August 11 and August 13 letters. [84]

During the first day of the cease-fire following the conference, St. Leger sent a flag to the fort with a written statement of the demands presented on the previous day by Adjutant-general Ancrum. That paper read:

Camp before Fort Stanwix, August 9, 1777.


Agreeable to your wishes, I have the honour to give you on paper, the message of yesterday, though I cannot conceive, explicit and humane as it was, how it could admit of more than one construction. After the defeat of the reinforcement, and the fate of all your principal leaders, on which, naturally, you built your hopes; and having the strongest reason from verbal intelligence; and the matter contained in the letters that fell into my hands, and knowing thoroughly the situation of General Burgoyne's army, to be confident that you are without resource—in my fears and tenderness for your personal safety, from the hands of Indians, enraged for the loss of some of their principal and most favourite leaders—I called to council, the chiefs of all the nations, and after having used every method that humanity could suggest, to soften their minds, and lead them patiently to bear their own losses, by reflecting on the irretrievable misfortunes of their enemies, I, at last, laboured the point my humanity wished for; which the chiefs assured me of, the next morning, after a consultation with each nation, that evening, at their fire places—Their answer in its fullest extent, they insisted should be carried by Colonel Butler; which he has given you in the most categorical manner; you are well acquainted that Indians never send messages without accompanying them with menaces on non-compliance, that a civilized enemy would never think of doing: you may rest assured therefor, that no insult was meant to be offered to your situation, by the King's servants, in the message they peremptorily demanded be carried by Colonel Butler.

I am now to repeat what has been told you by my Adjutant-general.

That provided you will deliver up your garrison, with everything as it stood, at the moment the first message was sent, your people shall be treated with every attention that a humane and generous enemy can give.

I have the honour to be,
Sir, Your most obedient
humble servant

Barry St. Leger     
Brig Gen of his Majesty's forces.

P.S. I expect an immediate answer, as the Indians are extremely impatient; and if this proposal is rejected, I am afraid it will be attended with very fatal consequences, not only to your and your garrison, but the whole country down the Mohawk River—such consequences as will be very repugnant to my sentiments of humanity, but after this, entirely out of my power to prevent.

Barry St. Leger     
Colonel Gansevoort, commanding Fort Stanwix [85]

The fort's commander replied immediately:

Fort Schuyler, Aug 9, 1777


Your letter of this morning's date I have received, in answer to which I say, that it is my determined resolution, with the forces under my command, to defend this fort and garrison to the last extremity, in behalf of the United American States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies.

I have the honour to be, in
Your most ob't humble serv't
Peter Gansevoort
Col. commanding Fort Schuyler
Gen. Barry St. Leger [86]

Although the armistice was to have lasted for three days, the British began to bombard the fort at 10:30 p.m. and continued a "well directed fire" all night. The fort's papers and money were stored in the bomb-proof in the southwest bastion. Artillery and small arms fire were exchanged at intervals during the next week with very limited effect on the garrison and none on the fort's fabric. On the 16th, Colbrath recorded that "the Enemy threw some Shells Horrisontally at our Works." [87] The explanation of this technique is found in St. Leger's report to Burgoyne:

it was found that our cannon has not the least effect upon the sodwork of the fort, and that our royals [mortars] had only the power of teasing, as a six-inch plank was a sufficient security for their powder-magazine, as we learnt from deserters. At this time Lieutenant Glenie of the artillery, whom I had appointed to act as assistant engineer, proposed a conversion of the royals (if I may use the expression) into howitzers. The ingenuity and feasibility of this nuance striking me very forcibly, the business was set about immediately, and soon executed, when it was found that nothing prevented their operating with the desired effect but the distance, their chambers being too small to hold a sufficiency of powder. There was nothing now to be done but to approach the fort by a sap to such a distance that the ramparts might be brought within their portice, at the same time all materials were preparing to run a mine under the most formidable bastion. [88]

The Fleury map shows a portion of St. Leger's disposition of positions for the siege. The lack of a scale limits its usefulness in determining distances, but an estimate based upon the size of the square formed by the fort's bastions, 335 feet to the side, except for eastern face, the distance between the original battery positions and the fort was approximately 350 yards. The sap or approach directed toward the northwest bastion. [89]

While St. Leger's men worked at the approach trench, the garrison and their enemies kept up the exchange of fire. The fort suffered little or no damage, although a few casualties occurred among its defenders. The effects of the American fire can not be determined. On August 21 a woman in the fort who was "big with Child" was wounded in the thigh by the artillery fire. The next day, she gave birth to a daughter on the southwest bastion's bombproof, and Colbrath recorded that both and mother and child "do well with the Blessing of God." [90] The enemy diverted the stream that was the main water source, and the garrison dug wells within the fort. Sorties went out for a variety of purposes, and both sides lost men through desertion. [91]

While the siege continued, the British did not ignore the country that the fort defended. After the Battle of Oriskany, Sir John Johnson proposed to his commander that he be permitted to take 200 men and "a signifficient body of Indians" down the valley to bring the people back to the royal cause, but St. Leger "said he could not spare the men, and disapproved of it." [92] A few days later, Walter Butler took two regulars and three Indians to German Flats in an effort to enlist the assistance of the inhabitants in persuading the garrison to surrender. Butler carried with him a proclamation, signed by Sir John, Daniel Claus, and John Butler, that read:

Camp before Fort Stanwix, Aug. 13

To the Inhabitants of Tryon County

Notwithstanding the many and great injuries we have received in person and property at your hands, and being at the head of victorious troops, we most ardently wish to have peace restored to this once happy country; to obtain which we are willing and desirous, upon a proper submission on your parts, to bury in oblivion all that is past, and hope that you are or will be convinced in the end, that we were your friends and good advisers, and not such wicked designing men as those who led you into error, and almost total ruin. You have, no doubt, great reason to dread the resentment of the Indians, on account of the loss they sustained in the late action, and the mulish obstinacy of your troops in this garrison but in themselves, for which reason the Indians declare, that if they do not surrender the garrison without further opposition, they will put every soul to death, not only the garrison, but the whole country, without any regard to age, sex, or friends—for which reason, it is become your indespensible duty, as you must answer the consequences, to send a deputation of your principal people, to oblige them immediately, to what in a very little time they must be forced, the surrender of the garrison—in which case we will engage on the faith of Christians to protect you from the violence of Indians.

Surrounded as you are by victorious armies, one half (if not the greater part) of the inhabitants friends of the government, without any resource, surely you cannot hesitate a moment to accept the terms proposed to you, by friends and well-wishers to the country. [93]

The garrison at Fort Dayton captured the little party, and nothing came of this ploy. [94]

While St. Leger's and Gansevoort's men contended for the Mohawk country, events elsewhere were taking place that were to be decisive in bringing failure to British designs.

Gen. Philip Schuyler, whose command of the Northern Department placed upon him ultimate responsibility for the defense of the Mohawk Valley, as retreating southward along the Hudson before Burgoyne's hitherto victorious advance. He was struggling to retard that advance and prepare his main army for a stand that would halt the British invasion. Shortages, personality clashes, sectional animosities, political rivalries, and a succession of disheartening reverses conspired in making his task almost impossible. Yet he did not neglect his responsibilities in the western part of his command. During July, he worked at trying to obtain additional Continental troops for the Tryon County area and sought the state's assistance in finding units that could be sent up the Mohawk. He wrote letters to the Tyron County committees and General Herkimer that endeavored to encourage and advise them.

On August 6 Schuyler's assistance took a more concrete form when he ordered a Continental force to move toward Fort Stanwix. This contingent was followed by others on and after August 9. The Continentals were Brig. Gen. Ebeneezer Learned's brigade of Massachusetts troops, which had been posted at Van Schaick's Island near the junction of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. [95] He also wrote to the Tryon County officials requesting that they cooperate with their militia.

The main body of Schuyler's army lay at the vilage of Stillwater, and from that place Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold departed on August 13 to direct the relief of Fort Stanwix. There is a well-known story of his assignment to the command that had its origins in Isaac N. Arnold's Life of Arnold and has been repeated by many other writers including Hoffman Nickerson in the classic, The Turning Point of the Revolution:

On receiving at Stillwater the news, first of St. Leger's arrival before Stanwix, then of Herkimer's retreat from Oriskany, Schuyler had determined to relieve the fort. According to the military custom of the time he called a council of war in which he proposed detaching a part of his own dis-spirited forty-five hundred to act against St. Leger.

The risk involved was high. Within twenty-four miles of them—a single day's forced march—Burgoyne lay at Fort Edward with seven thousand victorious troops. He might come down upon them. Indeed, as the council sat he was issuing orders to his main body to advance eight miles to Fort Miller, and for Fraser and his advanced corps to go on four miles farther to the mouth of the Battenhill, where they would be only twelve miles from Schuyler and his unhappy little force. Of course Schuyler's council did not yet know of this advance, which was intended merely to cover the Bennington expedition, but as they saw the situation it is not surprising that all except Arnold opposed Schuyler's plan.

On the other hand, Schuyler undoubtedly reasoned from Burgoyne's delay that the army from Canada was having trouble with its transportation. He knew that to the eastward patriot forces were gathering which would soon either reinforce him or cut in on Burgoyne's left and rear. Finally, he thought it necessary to run risks on the Hudson in order to save the Mohawk. All along he had known the political situation in that district to be unsatisfactory. Should a Tory rising spring up there to assist St. Leger, the example might spread and the whole political basis of the Revolution in the North might go.

Schuyler's argument failed to persuade his officers. In his agitation he walked to and fro in the room, a pipe in his mouth. While doing so he heard some of them say, 'He means to weaken the army.' He well knew the New England rumors that he was at heart a traitor. Was it possible, he thought, that officers under his command believed the slander? Almost as he heard their words he found that he had bitten his pipestem clean through. Never to the end of his life could he forget the bitterness of that moment.

Nevertheless he controlled himself quickly. Indeed his instant of rage helped him to make up his own mind. He made no further effort to persuade, but said that he would take upon himself the responsibility of the expedition. Whereupon the fiery little Arnold sprang up and volunteered for the command. [96]

Isaac Arnold's version offers other details. After telling of the officers' opposition and the general's breaking the pipe, he wrote that Schuyler said: "Gentlemen: I shall take the responsibility upon myself; Fort Stanwix and the Mohawk Valley should be saved! Where is the brigadier who will command the relief? I shall beat up for volunteers tomorrow. No brigadier offered his services, and Benedict Arnold:

though a major general and second in command, in dignant that his friend should be so wronged, instantly volunteered. Impulsive, ever ready for deeds of daring, knowing how false and cruel were the imputations cast upon Schuyler, he at once offered his services, and they were gratefully accepted. On the next morning the drums were beaten through the camp for volunteers, and it was announced that Major General Arnold offered to lead them, and before noon 800 men had volunteered to follow him to the rescue of Gansevoort. [97]

Not a single contemporary source supports this story, and there are several facts that contradict it.

Starting with Nickerson't first sentence, Schuyler was not at Stillwater when he received news of St. Leger's arrival at Stanwix, of Herkimer's retreat from Oriskany, and made his decision to relieve the fort. He was at his home in Albany, which was his headquarters until he went to Stillwater on or about August 10. General Learned was already on the march toward Stanwix, and another brigadier was not required to command the relief. What was needed was a higher ranking general officer, and Arnold was the only major general on hand.

The beating of the drum for volunteers simply did not occur. The Continentals that were committed were moved from Van Schaick's Island, more than 20 miles away, from three to seven days before the legendary council; and Arnold's instructions make it clear that he was to join those troops and take command of them—not that he was to take troops with him from Stillwater. In addition, Schuyler never refered to the fort as Fort Stanwix after it was renamed in his honor.

Schuyler's instruction to Arnold appear to support the part of the story that related to the latter's volunteering to command the relief expedition when he wrote: "It gives me greatest satisfaction that you have offered to go and conduct the military operations in the Tryon county." [98] However, the circumstances of his volunteering are not clear, especially in the light of a letter from Washington to Schuyler, dated July 24, in which he proposed that Arnold, "or some other sensible spirited officer," be assigned to Fort Stanwix "in case anything formidable should appear in that quarter." [99] The proposal was couched in terms that in a normal military interpretation would be almost tantamount to an order.

There is no evidence for representing Schuyler's general officers as opposed to the Mohawk undertaking. In fact, in one of his reports to Washington, Schuyler wrote that the detailing of the Massachusetts regiments was done "by the unanimous advice of all the general officers here [Stillwater]." [100]

Schuyler ordered Arnold to "repair thither [Tryon County] with all convenient speed and take upon you the command of all the Continental troops & such of the Militia as you can prevail upon to join your troops. Fort Schuyler is being beseiged you will hasten to its relief and hope that the Continental troops now in the county of Tryon, if joined by some of the militia will be adequate to the business."

Arnold set out immediately for Albany, where he met Colonel Willett, and together they hurried to Fort Dayton, which they reached on August 20. During the following day, he convened a council consisting of Brigadier General Learned; Colonels Willett; John Bailey, 2d Massachusetts; Cornelius Van Dycke, 1st New York; Henry Beeckman Livingston, 4th New York; James Wesson, 9th Massachusetts; and Lt. Col. John Brook; 8th Massachusetts. The official report in the Gates Papers reads:

The general [Arnold] informed the council that previous to his leaving Albany, General Schuyler had sent a belt and a message to the Oneidas to meet at Albany, and intrusted him, General Arnold, to engage as many of them as possible in our service, and had furnished him with presents for them, in consequence of which, he had dispatched a messenger to them, requesting they would meet him at German Flatts; as yesterday they did not arrive he has given orders for the army to march for Fort Schuyler this moning, since which a deputation from the Oneidas and Tuscaroras had arrived, acquainting him that the chiefs of both Tribes with their families would be here the day after tomorrow, requesting a meeting with us; one of the Oneidas, who had lately been at the enemy's encampment also informed that all the Six Nations, except the two tribes above mentioned, had joined the enemy, the whole with foreign Indians amounting to 1,500 by the enemy's account. The Oneida, who is known to be a fast friend of ours, says that from viewing their encampment he is fully convinced there is upwards of 1,000 Indians, and from the best authority their other forces are near 700, besides some Tories who have joined since their arrival. Colonel Willett, who lately left the fort, being present, is fully of opinion the above account is nearly true. The general then acquainted the council that by the returns delivered this morning, our whole force, rank and file, effectives, are 933, and 13 artillerymen, exclusive of a few militia, the whole not exceeding 100 on whom little dependence can be placed; at the same time requests the opinion of council whether it is prudent to march with the present force and endeavour to raise the siege of Fort Schuyler, or to remain at this place, until reinforcements can be solicited from below, and more of the militia turned out to join us, and until the Oneidas had determined if they would join us, of which they give encouragement.

Resolved, That in the Opinion of this Council, our force is not equal to that of the enemy, and it would be imprudent and putting too much to the hazard to attempt the march to the relief of Fort Schuyler, until the army is reinforced; the council are of the opinion that an express ought immediately to be sent to General Gates, requesting he will immediately send such reinforcements to us as will enable us to march to the relief of the fort, with a probability of suceeding and that in the meantime the army remain at the German Flatts, at least until an answer can be had from General Gates, and that all possible method he taken to persuade the militia and Indians to join us. [101]

Benedict Arnold has a reputation for audacity equalled by few if any of his contemporaries, but he approached the relief of Fort Stanwix with uncharacteristic caution. While it was true that the evidence indicated that St. Leger's force outnumbered Arnold's column, the total American strength, including the fort's garrison, gave them a force more than equal to that of their enemy. At the most, St. Leger's white troops numbered 700 to 800 men, of whom approximately 300 were Canadian militia, not the most reliable of troops. The Indians, who may have numbered 800 at this time, were of limited usefulness in a pitched battle; and even that number had been reduced by the fighting at Oriskany. Between Arnold and Gansevoort, the Americans had a maximum of 1,746, of whom all but about 100 were Continentals. [102] St. Leger could not maintain the siege and repel the relief column; and if he abandoned the siege, the garrison would be free to cooperate with Arnold against him. The responsibilities of an independent field command had sobered the flamboyant general who so often made his superiors seem pedestrian when he did not have ultimate responsibility for the conduct of a campaign.

If he was not prepared to rush into battle, he was ready to sound aggressive, so he issued a proclamation:

By the Hon. BENEDICT ARNOLD, esq. Major-general and Commander in Chief of the army of the United States of America on the Mohawk River Whereas a certain Barry St. Leger a Brigadier-general in the services of the George of Great-Britain, at the head of a banditti of robbers, murderers, and traitors, composed of savages of America, and more savage Britons (among whom is noted Sir John Johnson, John Butler, and Daniel Claus) have lately appeared in the frontiers of this State, and have threatened ruin and destruction to all the inhabitants of the United States. They have also, by artifice and misrepresentation, induced many of the ignorant and unwary subjects of these States, to forfeit their allegiance to the same, and join with them in their crimes, and parties of treachery and parricide.

Humanity to those poor deluded wretches, who are hastening blindfold to destruction, induces me to offer them, and all others concerned whether savages, Germans, Americans or Britons PARDON, provided they do, within ten days from the date hereof, come in and lay down their arms, use for protection, and swear allegiance to the United States of America.

But if still blind to their own interest and safety, they obstinately persist in their wicked courses, determined to draw on themselves the first vengeance of Heaven, and of this exasperated country, they must expect no mercy from either.

B. Arnold, M.G.

Given under my hand, HeadQuarters, German
Flats, 20th August, 1777. [103]

Willett once again returned eastward to deliver to General Gates the council of war's resolution August 21 along with a request for 1,000 light infantry men. [104]

Without waiting for reinforcements, Arnold resorted to a strategm that has few parallels in American history and folk lore. A Loyalist plot had been uncovered in the vicinity of German Flats, and among the prisoners taken was one of the less prepossessing members of the numerous Schuyler clan, a mentally retarded fellow named Hon Yost Schuyler. He had lived among the Indians, who apparently held him in some awe because of his affliction. He was condemned to death for his part in the plot, but his brother Nickolas and their mother came into Arnold's camp to plead for the life of the unfortunate man. Nickerson's account of how Arnold used him is probably more accurate than most that have come down to us:

Taking Hon Yost's brother as hostage for his good conduct, Arnold told the half-wit that his life would be spared if he would go to St. Leger's camp and frighten the Indians there by playing upon their emotions and especially by exaggerating the numbers of the relieving force. The half-wit, delighted at the chance of saving himself, prepared with considerable cunning for the attempt. In order to represent himself as an escaped prisoner who had been fired upon, he caused several bullet holes to be shot through his clothes. Such were the political relations of the various Iroquois tribes that it was possible for a friendly Oneida in Arnold's camp to offer to follow Hon Yost and confirm his story.

Circumstances admirably set the stage for the half-wit. Rumors of the coming of Arnold. 'The Heep Fighting Chief,' had already disturbed St. Leger's Indians. St. Leger on his side seems to have committed the error of proposing that the red man should again take the lion's share of resisting this new effort at relief as they had already done against Herkimer. They had refused. In order to persuade them to march at all he had to promise that he would lead them in person and support them with three hundred of his best white troops. Even so the incident had made them still more suspicious of them.

At this moment the half-wit appeared pointing to the holes in his clothes as proof of the story of his escape. When asked Arnold's numbers he looked upward vaguely and pointed to the leaves on the trees. Such a message from one so mysteriously stricken by the Great Spirit was enough to put the Indians in commotion.

Brought before St. Leger, Hon Yost repeated his story with a wealth of detail. Arnold with two thousand men, he said, would be upon them within twenty-four hours.

About this time the Oneida appeared, and he too played his part well. On his way through the woods he had met certain other Indians whom he knew and persuaded them to follow him one by one in order to increase the effect of what he proposed to say. His message was that Arnold had no quarrel with St. Leger's Indians, but proposed to attack only the British and Tories. One by one according to their agreement his friends took up the tale. One went so far as to say that a talking bird had warned him that great numbers of hostile warriors were on their way. On top of the existing discouragement among St. Leger's Indians, all this was irresistible. Oriskany had taken all the fight out of them, and now they were determined to go. [105]

St. Leger, Sir John, and the Indian superintendents, Claus and Butler, tried to prevent their allies from overreacting to the tales of Arnold's advance. A council was convened, at which the general learned that 200 Indians had already decamped. The chiefs then informed him that if he did not retreat, they would abandon him. [106]

Just how much Hon Yost's story played in influencing the Indians is open to question. The campaign certainly had not been profitable to the Iroquois, and they had little stomach for either a prolonged siege or another battle. The appearance of the half-demented white man must have seemed very fortuitous. They now had an excellent excuse for doing what they wanted to: abandon the expedition. Daniel Claus put the best face possible on the affair when he wrote:

The Indians finding that our besieging the Fort was of no Effect, our Troops but few, a Reinforcement as was reported of 1500 or 2000 Men with Field pieces, by the way, began to be des[pi]rited & file off by Degrees: The Chiefs advised the Brigr to retreat [to] Oswego and get better Artillery from Niagara & more Men and return & renew the Siege, to which the Brigr agreed and accordingly retreated wch, was on the 22 of Augt. [97]

Everyone knew that the siege would not be renewed—that the expedition was a failure.

The British withdrawal was so precipitant that they left part of their equipment behind. Colbrath described the evacuation from the garrison's prospective:

Augt 22d. This Morning the Enemy bombarded very smartly The Sergeant Major and two privates were wounded. At Noon a Deserter came to us whose Examination was that the Enemy had news in the Camp that Burgoynes Army was Entirely Routed and that three Thousand men was Coming up to reinforce us and further that the Enemy was retreating with great precipitation and that he with another was conveying off on Lieut Anderson's Chest when he had made his Escape and that most of their Baggage was gone—upon which the Commanding Officer Ordered all the Cannon bearing on their Works to Fire severall rounds each to see whether they wou'd return it which partly confirmed the Report of the Deserter. Some time after 4 Men came in and reported the same and that they had left part of their Baggage upon which the Col. ordered 50 Men & two waggons under Command of Capt. Jansen to go to their Camps where they killed 2 Indians and took 4 Prisoners one of them was an Indian. After they had Loaded the wagons with what Baggage they cou'd carry they returned but Night Coming on they cou'd not return to fetch what Baggage was still Left in their Camp. At Night two Men came in one of them was assisting the first Deserter in carrying off Lieut Anderson's chest the other John Yost Schuyler, who informed the Commanding Officer that he was taken prisoner at the German Flatts and confined at Fort Dayton 5 Days That Gener'l Arnold had sent him to General St. Leger commander of the King Troops to inform him that 2000 Continental with 2 Fields Pieces and a great Number of Millita were on their march for this place to Reinforce the Garrison that he informed General St Leger of it and in Consequence of which he Ordered his Troops to strike their Tents and pack up, and further after he had done his Errand he hid himself in the woods till Night and coming acoss the above Men they came in together, he likewise in formed us that near 17 Indians were at Fort Newport quite drunk upon which the Col ordered a party of men under the command of Major Cochran to go and take them who in about an Hour Returned and informed the Colonel he had been there but did not find any and that he went to Wood Creek and found 8 New Batteaus which the Enemy had left behind While they were out the woman that was wounded with a Shell last Night was brought to Bed in our S W Bombproff of a Daughter She and the child are like to do well with the Blessing of God Our Blockade Ended and the Garrison once more at Liberty to walk about and take the free Air we had for 21 Days been Deprived of At 12 o'clock this Night the Commanding Officer sent off 3 of his Regiment to inform General Arnold of the Precipitate retreat of the Enemy A deserter came in who said he just left the Enemy's Cohorns below Wood Creek Bridge

Augt 23d. This Morning the Col sent out a party under the command of Major Cochran to take them, who returned with three prisoners 4 Cohorns and some Baggage and reported there was 17 Batteaus lying there; another party was sent to the Enemy's N. Camp to bring in the rest of the Baggage left by us last Night containing of Ammunition camp equapage and entrenching Tools another party was sent to the Enemys S E Camp who brought in 15 Waggons a 3-pound field piece Carriage with all its Apparities most of the Waggon Wheels was cut to pieces as were the Wheels of the Carriage Several Scouts were sent out to Day one of whom took a German prisoner who Reported that the Enemys Indians had when they got about 10 Miles from this Fort fallen on the Scattering Tories, took their Arms from & Stabb'd them with their own Bayonets And that for fear of said Indians he and 9 more German Soldiers had took to the woods the rest are not yet found their Design was not to come to the Fort as Butler and Johnston told them when Orders were given to Retreat, that those who fell into our hands would be Hanged immediately Another Scout proceeded to Canada Creek found a Carriage for a Six pounder & 3 Boxes of Cannon Shott which they brought in This afternoon the Honble Major General Arnold Arrived here with near a 1000 Men They were Saluted with a Discharge of powder from our Mortars formerly the Enemys, and all the Cannon from the Bastions amounting in the whole to 13 Attended with three cheers from the Troops on the Bastions. [107]

Colonel Gansevoort's official report to General Arnold confirmed Colbraths account, setting the time that he learned of St. Leger's withdrawal at 3:00 p.m. [108]

The impedimenta abandoned by the retreating army included:

4 Royals, 4 2.5 inches diameter, 126 shells for ditto, 3 travelling carriages damaged, 2 damaged limbers for ditto, 135 three-pound round shot, 20 six-pound ditto, 72 three-pound shot flannel cartridges, 4 tin tube boxes, 60 tubes, 11 cannisters, 1 set horse-harness, 1 set of men's ditto, 4 sponges, 3 ladles, 3 wad-boks, 28 boxes musket balls, 2 powder-horns, 2 lanthorns, 4 handspikes, 3 haversacks, 1 drudging-box, 2 linstocks, 2 port-fires, 1 apron, 1 pair of good limbers, 27 oil-cloths, 2 pair cloathes, 1 coil-rope, a large quantity of junk, a quantity of woollen yarn, 17 three-pound boxes of cartridges damaged, 5 six-pound ditto, 2160 good musquet cartridges, a large number of ditto damaged, 30 copper hoops. [109]

General Arnold, at German Flats, had learned of the enemy's attempt to dig approach trenches nearer the fort; and fearful that an attack might carry the place, he decided to move to its relief. An express reached him when he had marched about two miles and informed him of St. Leger's withdrawal. He pushed about 900 men forward in an effort to catch up with the British rear. He reached the fort at 5 p.m., too late to press the pursuit. The next morning, he sent 500 men to continue the chase, but bad weather forced its abandonment, except for a small party that reached Oneida Lake in time to see the last of the British soldiers crossing it in boats. [110] Arnold soon hurried back to the Hudson with Learned's brigade and participated in the decisive Battles of Saratoga.

Barry St. Leger intended to join Burgoyne on the Hudson and redeem the defeat he had suffered on the Mohawk. The distance were too great, and St. Leger did not get to join the main drive against Albany.

The British plan for 1777 went awry on the Hudson with more dramatic and far-reaching results than was the case on the Mohawk. As we have noted, Sir William Howe had proposed shifting his primary threat from New England to Philadelphia. [111] The king and his ministers approved this change in priorities early in March. [112] and he moved against the American capital, leaving Sir Henry Clinton in New York with about 3,000 men to defend the city and act on the lower Hudson. Burgoyne's main army advanced to the northern part of the township of Stillwater, where Gates had blocked the road to Albany. On two days, September 19 and October 7, he fought two engagements, called the Battle of Saratoga, on the American general's terms. Failing to drive or lure the Americans off Bemis Heights, he retreated northward to the village of Saratoga (Schuylerville), where he capitulated to Gates on October 17. The British grand design for 1777 was wrecked. A strategic and tactical turning point in the war was passed, and a family fight had become an international conflict. [113]

The American victory at Fort Stanwix purchased temporary security for the troubled Mohawk valley that was shattered each of the remaining years of the war by raids by British regulars and, especially, their Loyalist and Indian auxiliaries. Except for the regulars, the people on both sides were fighting for their home country; and the fighting was often characterized by the mutual savagery of internecine warfare. The Americans retaliated in 1779 with the Sullivan-Clinton campaign that devastated the hostile Iroquois towns but failed to destroy the Indians' ability to fight. Although the tribes suffered severely during the winter of 1779-80, the heaviest of the century, they joined their white allies for even more serious raids, especially Joseph Brant's and Sir John Johnson's forays of 1780; and the northern frontier was a theatre for destructive but indecisive border war until the end of the Revolution. [114]

Fort Stanwix continued to guard the Great Carrying Place until the spring of 1781. During the fort's final years, the elements and fires worked havoc on its fabric and structures. A fire in April 1780 destroyed the guardhouse and threatened the nearest barracks so seriously that it had to razed to prevent the fire's spreading. [115] On May 14, 1781, another fire, preceded by a rainstorm, destroyed all the barracks; and the rain did extensive damage to the fort's walls. On May 27, Washington wrote the President of the Continental Congress:

There has been a necessity of abandoning the post at Fort Schuyler and removing the Garrison and Stores to German Flats. The Barracks had been [during] the beginning of the month consumed by fire and the Works so exceedingly damaged by the heavy rain storm that they were rendered indefensible, nor could they be repaired in any reasonable time by the number of Men who can be spared as a Garrison. [116]

The general visited the Great Carrying Place in 1783 and in August directed Marinus Willett, by then a colonel of the New York Levies and Militia, to build one or two blockhouses at the portage between the river and Wood Creek. [117] Apparently three such structures were erected near the site of the colonial Fort Williams near the river landing-place.

In 1784, the United States negotiated one of its first Indian treaties at old Fort Stanwix. The settlement of western lands was one of the new nation's most pressing problems. Efforts to reach a solution produced the Ordinance of 1785, one of the landmarks in American legislative and land policy history. The Ordinance provided for the division of western public lands into townships and sections and for their sale by auction. The minimum price was set at one dollar per acre, and the smallest plot to be sold at auction was one section, 640 acres. These terms effectively barred the frontier farmers from buying government land directly, because they had to attend an auction in the east and because 640 acres at a dollar each exceeded their needs and resources. Thus, the door was opened to speculators, who could purchase the lands and then divide them for sale at a profit and on interest-bearing credit.

While surveys mandated by the Ordinance were started, Congress turned to the next step required to open the West—Indian removal. One of the chapters in that story is the Treaty of Stanwix of 1784, by which the Iroquois surrendered all claims to their old lands in return for a few cheap presents. Altogether, the Indians had few reasons to remember the fort with affection. Yet, there are few historic sites whose story more nearly represent the history of the western frontier. Trade, settlements, war, diplomacy, heorism, cupidity, and suffering each played a role at the Oneida Carrying Place, as each had throughout the story of the white man's conquest of the frontier.

A decade after the second Treaty of Fort Stanwix was signed, the State of New York erected a blockhouse for housing military stores on the parade of the fort. Still standing in 1815, it disappeared at an unknown date, and the entire fort was leveled by 1830. [118] The history of Fort Stanwix had come to a close.

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Last Updated: 26-Dec-2008