Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

. (page 28 of 192)
Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 28 of 192)
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had the general obtained a knowledge of the enemy's move-
ments and preparations to surprise him, he would certainly
have taken the necessary precautions ; and had there been
scouts in advance, or on the flanks, at proper distances from
the main body, the ambuscade would have been discovered
and the surprise prevented.

It is evident, from all the known facts in the case, that
General Herkimer had no knowledge of the presence of the
enemy in the fatal ravine ; and it is equally certain that no
precautions were taken to guard against a catastrophe.

The brave commander had made up his mind that in the
absence of all reason and discretion on the part of his offi-
cers, his only course was to lead them forward as rapidly as
possible, and in the event of a sudden attack to make the
best fight he could.

The head of the gallant column, composed of the regiment
of Colonel Cox, passed rapidly down the steep bank of the
ravine, and pushed on over the causeway and up the sloping
hill-side beyond'^ followed closely by the commands of Klock
and Bellinger. The surrounding forest was still as the
grave, and not a movement was made until the head of the
column was abreast of the British and Tory companies and
the baggage-wagons were just descending the eastern bank,
when, on a sudden, the shrill signal was given by Brant,
and simultaneously, like the levin-bolt which follows the
flash and roar, came the deafening yell of a thousand throats,
and the crash and blaze of a thousand well-aimed rifles,
pouring a leaden storm of death upon that devoted but
heroic band before which scores went down and many a



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



105



noble leader fell, while consternation and confusion for a
moment paralyzed both officers and men. Seeing the hell
of conflict which was boiling in the ravine, the men of
Colonel Visscher's regiment, according to many accounts,
became panic-stricken, and, turning on their heels, inglori-
ously fled, pursued by the yelling savages, who shot and



Staggered and disconcerted for a moment by the havoc
in his command, and the terrible fire and blood-curdling yells
of the savages, who .swarmed, tomahawk in hand, from
every tree and bush, the veteran Herkimer speedily com-
prehended his peril and made the best possible dispositions
for a desperate resistance ; while the officers who were



PLAN OP THE BATTLE OP ORISKANY, FOUGHT AUGUST 6, 1777.



Drawn on the gronnd.



Sc.ile, 20 rods per inch.



SLOPING-



iillllllllllllllll!







CO

O

a
o



MILITARY RO/i|o







PR'LS'E.HT



REFEnENCE. — TIic piirallcl lines crossing the militai7 road ileiiute Herkimer'a column. The zipzag lines show the Indian ambuscade. The short double
pKiallel lines show the poaitions of the English troops and Tories at the commencement of the battle. The ciiclcB show Herkimer'a final order of battle
which repulsed the enemy. The flag-stuff in the centre of the circle is near the place where Herkimer was wounded, and from which he issued his orders.
Col. YisBcher's command is shown to the right of the ravine.



tomahawked them till they suffered more severely, if pos-
sible, than their comrades in the front.

Other accounts claim that Colonel Visscher bravely
breasted the savage tide, and strove to join the main body ;
but the Indians were between him and his commander, and
at best he could only fight a desperate battle against over-
whelming odds. There is no doubt that he did all that
any man could have done under the circumstances, and
perhaps the records and traditions of that day's encounter
have never done him justice.*

* From Col. Stone's statement of the officers killed and wounded in
Col. Visseher'a regiment, and other matters relnted, it would seem
that it was in the thickest of the battle. Capt. Jacob Gardenier,
who fought 90 valiantly in the circle, is returned as belonging to this
regiTQent, The accounts are badly mixed, and do not agree in par-
ticulars. The probability seems to be that Visscher's regiment neither
fled nor was driven off, but took part in the entire battle with the
main body.

The following additional items, relating to Col. Visscher, we find
in an article contributed by Washington Frothingham to Beers'
History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties:

" Col. Frederick Visscher, the eldest son of Harman Frederick
14



spared in the first deadly assault rallied their men and
fought the enemy with a courage born of almost despair.

Visscher, was born in Albany, Feb. 22, 1741, being exactly nine years
younger than General Washington. His father removed to a new lo-
cation on the Mohawk, about three miles east of the present village
of Fonda, in Montgomery County, when Frederick was nine years of
age. On the breaking out of the Revolution, young Visscher at once
espoused the cause of the Colonies, though surrounded by such Tories
as Col. John Butler, Sir John and Col. Guy Johnson, and Col. Dan.
Claus. He was early appointed a colonel of militia, and, as already
seen, led his regiment gallantly in the battle of Oriskany. After the
surrender of Burgoyne he was appointed commissioner for disposing
of confiscated property in Tryon County, which no doubt rendered
him doubly obnoxious to the Tory element.

"During Sir John Johnson's terrible raid into the Mohawk Valley
in the spring of 1780, the Visscher mansion was taken and de-
stroyed, and Col. V. and his two brothers and nged mother were
scalped and left for dead. But the colonel survived that bloody day,
and entirely recovered from his wounds. In 1782 he attended a ban-
quet given at Schenectady in honor of Washington's visit, at which
time the general assigned him the place of honor on his right. He
died in 1309, in his sixty-ninth year."

For an interesting account of this family see Beers' History of
Montgomery and Fulton Counties.



106



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



It was anolher Monongahek, but destined to a different
ending.

The head of the army which had passed the ravine fell
back a little while the rear closed up, and notwithstanding
the terrible losses, the sturdy men of the Mohawk and the
Schoharie rallied, like the decimated legions of Wallace at
Falkirk, and, forming themselves in bristling circles, pelted
the howling miscreants with such deadly volleys that they
were fain to seek shelter behind the trees, from which they
kept up an incessant fire, dashing from their coverts now
and then to scalp some unfortunate soldier as he fell in the
murderous conflict.

It is said that the gallant Herkimer rode a white horse
in the beginning of the battle, which rendered him a con-
spicuous object, and drew the deliberate fire of the enemy's
sharpshooters, like Washington at Monongahela ; and in the
early part of the conflict he was struck through the leg, a
little below the knee, by a shot which killed his steed be-
neath him and disabled him from further active command.
But, though completely crippled by his broken limb, the
hero was by no means inclined to surrender his command.
His men carried him up the slope a little distance, and,
taking the saddle from his horse, laid it at the foot of a
giant beech, and, propping the veteran upon it, made him
as comfortable as possible, though the air around was full
of whistling bullets, and the dead and wounded were strewn
on every hand.

Taking his pipe from his pocket, and deliberately fill-
ing it, he lighted it with flint and steel, for there were no
matches in those days, and, puflSng the white smoke from
his lips, coolly ordered the battle ; and, when a brother-
officer advised his removal to a less exposed position, he
said, " I will face the enemy."

Colonel Cox, the brave commander of the leading regi-
ment, and Captains Davis and Van Sluyck, were killed in
the early part of the engagement, and the slaughter in the
broken ranks was dreadful. According to accounts the
battle must have begun about nine o'clock in the morning,
and for the space of three-quarters of an hour the advan-
tages were on the side of the enemy ; but after the troops,
under their respective ofiicers, had formed themselves into
circles or squares (for it is probable that both formations
were employed), the advantages were more nearly equal.
Gradually the firing on the part of the savages slackened,
and they drew back as if tired of the battle, but, under the
inspiring presence of their great leader, only to renew the
work of death with redoubled ferocity. Throwing down
their rifles, they charged desperately with tomahawk and
spear, and the struggle was hand to hand ; but the Provin-
cials at length, with a furious bayonet-charge, drove them in
turn, and they fled, yelling, into the recesses of the forest.

At about midday a heavy thunder-storm, which had been
muttering in the west, burst upon the combatants with great
fury; in fact it was a destructive tornado, which, as if in sym-
pathy with the human strife below, swept furiously over the
land, leaving its pathway strewn with wrecks that were visi-
ble for years. The storm compelled a cessation of the firing,
for the flint-lock muskets of the Revolution were useless in
the rain, and the contending parties took advantage of the
truce to secure better positions ere they renewed the fray.



Herkimer's troops were concentrated on higher ground, a
few rods northwest of the crossing in the ravine, and formed
in an irregular circle, probably in double ranks, as being
better able thereby to resist a charge. Here every man
looked to his arms, and the grim, defiant ring of stubborn
men, with their officers forming an inner circle, awaited the
cessation of the storm and the next move of the enemy.

The latter had fallen back beyond the range of fire, and
also changed somewhat their plan of battle, for neither army
had given up the hope of beating the other, though the one
fought for scalps and spoil while the other battled for their
lives and to aid the beleaguered garrison of Fort Stanwix.
For an hour the rain poured down in torrents, pitilessly
pelting the dead and wounded, while the survivors on both
sides sullenly watched each other and prepared to renew the
dubious conflict ; and at the same hour the brave Colonel
Willett and his men were waiting impatiently for the storm
to subside, that they might sally out upon the camps of
Johnson and the Indians. At length the thunder ceased,
and the sun broke forth.

In the beginning of the battle the Indians had practiced
a cunning game. They watched the Provincials closely,
and when a man fired from behind a tree, an Indian would
instantly spring forward and cut him down with his toma-
hawk. To prevent the recurrence of this, two men were
stationed at each tree, with instructions for one to withhold
his fire, and when in the latter part of the engagement a
savage again dashed forward to scalp the supposed unpre-
pared soldier, he received the contents of the second man's
gun and lost his own scalp instead.

When the storm had passed over, the enemy once more
renewed the battle, but their former advantage of position
was gone, and they found Herkimer's men ready at all
points to receive them, and the conflict became more like a
pitched battle. The steady and withering fire of the Pro-
vincials soon told heavily upon the enemy, and the Indians
in particular suffered severely. Prom a statement in St.
Leger's report that a cowardly Indian had brought the re-
port to camp that Sir John Johnson was being heavily
pressed in the battle, and " that Lieutenant Bird had quitted
his post to march to his assistance," it appears that the
enemy received reinforcements on the field.* The Indians
were actually giving way when this detachment, which
Colonel Stone states came up under Major Watts, and con-
sisted of a portion of Johnson's Greens, arrived just in time
to prevent a complete rout of the savages.

They were Loyalists, and many of them had been neigh-
bors and friends of the gallant men who were so desperately
fighting for their liberties under Herkimer. The sight of
these traitors to their country exasperated the Americans
to the last degree, and pouring into the advancing troops a
terrible fire, they followed it with a sudden charge of leveled
bayonets which brought on a desperate hand-to-hand con-
flict, and prodigies of valor were performed on both sides.

By and by, in the lull of the conflict, came the sound of



• * This statement may very possibly have reference only to Colonel
Willett's sortie. It would appear from Colonel Willett's narrative
that during the cessation of the battle Sir John Johnson had returned
to St. Leger's camp. There were certainly wounded men from the
battle-field in the camp at the time.



HISTOKY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



107



heavy firing in the direction of the fort, and both parties
realized at once that a sortie was being made. To the
weary and struggling troops of Herkimer it was a most
welcome sound, for they knew that the enemy had a new
danger to meet, and the distant boom of the guns gave them
redoubled energy.

" The combat deepens, — on, ye brave !
Who rush to glory or the grave !
Wave, JiilniHon, all yoxir banners wave,
And charge with all your chivalry !"

Seeing the desperate necessity of terminating the conflict
as speedily as possible, Colonel Butler attempted a ruse de
guerre, which for a few moments appeared likely to succeed.
He hastily detached a body of the Greens to make a circuit
and come down the road leading towards Fort Stanwix, so
as to appear like a reinforcement coming to the assistance
of Herkimer's beleaguered command. Lieutenant Jacob
Sammons was the first to notice them as they approached
the portion of the line commanded by Captain Jacob Gar-
denier, and he immediately cried out to the captain that
reinforcements were coming from the garrison. But not-
withstanding they wore American hats, the gallant captain
was not deceived by them, and he instantly replied, " Not
so ! they are enemies ! don't you see their green coats !"*
" They continued to advance until hailed by Gardenier, at
which moment one of his own soldiers, observing an ac-
quaintance, and supposing him a friend, ran to meet him
and presented his hand. It was grasped, but with no
friendly gripe, as the credulous fellow was dragged into the
opposing line, and informed that he was a prisoner. He
did not yield without a struggle, during which Gardenier,
watching the action and the result, sprang forward, and with
a blow from his spear leveled the captor to the dust and lib-
erated his man. Others of the foe instantly set upon him,
of whom he slew the second and wounded the third. Tliree
of the disguised Greens now sprang upon him, and one of his
spurs becoming entangled in their clothes, he was thrown to
the ground. f Still contending, however, with almost super-
human strength, both of his thighs were transfixed to the
earth by the bayonets of two of his assailants, while the
third presented a bayonet to his breast, as if to thrust him
through. Seizing this with his left hand, by a sudden
wrench he brought its owner down upon himself, where he
held him as a shield against the arms of the others, until
one of his own men, Adam Jliller, observing the strugje,
flew to his rescue. As the assailants turned upon their new
adversary, Gardenier rose upon his seat, and although his
hand was severely lacerated by gra.sping the bayonet, which
had been drawn through it, he .seized his spear lying by his
side, and quick as lightning planted it to the barb in the
side of the assailant with whom he had been clinched.
The man fell and expired, proving to be Lieutenant Mc-
Donald, one of the Loyalist ofiicers from Tryon County.
All this transpired in far less time than is necessarily occu-
pied by the relation. While engaged in the struggle, some
of his own men called out to Gardenier, ' For God's sake,
captain, you are killing your own men !' He replied, ' They

* Other accounts state th.Tt they had turned their coats inside out.
t It would seem that Captain Gardenier was a mounted officer.



are not our men, — they are the enemy, — flre away I' A
deadly fire from the Provincials ensued, during which about
30 of the Greens fell slain and many Indian warriors. The
parties once more rushed upon each other with bayonet and
spear, grappling and fighting with terrible fury ; while the
shattering of shafts and the cla,shing of steel, mingled with
every dread sound of war and death, and the savage yells,
more hideous than all, presented a scene which can be more
easily imagined than described."J

In the midst of this terrible melee, three of the Greens
pu.shed through the broken circle and attempted to capture
and drag away Captain Dillenback, who had often declared
he would never be taken alive ; and he made good his word.
With his clubbed gun he struck one who attempted to
seize it senseless to the earth, shot the second one dead,
and bayonotted the third ; but just as he had accomplished
the heroic exploit, a bullet from a distant rifle sti-uck him,
and he fell dead amid his enemies.

A conflict so desperate could not continue very long, and
at length the Indians, who had sufiered severely, and who
saw no prospect of ultimate success against the stubborn
determination of Herkimer's gallant band, sounded their
retreating cry, " Ooiiali ! Oouah .'" and fled precipitately
from the field amid the cheers of the surviving Provincials,
who poured into their scattering masses a destructive fire.
The firing at the fort had alarmed the British and Tories,
and finding themselves deserted by their allies, they also
turned and left the field in the possession of the victorious
Tryon County militia. The battle was won.

The following incident of the battle is given in the ap-
pendix to vol. i. of Stone's " Life of Brant" :

" In regard to the battle of Oriskany, the author has
received an interesting anecdote from Mr. John S. Quack-
enboss, of Montgomery County. The father of the author's
correspondent, Abraham D. Quackenboss, resided in the
Mohawk country, on the south side of the river, at the
breaking out of the war. Living as it were among the
Indians, he spoke their language as well as he did his own.
Among them he had a friend named Bronkahorse, who,
though an Indian, had been his playmate, and they had
served in the French war together under Sir William
Johnson. When the Revolutionary troubles came on,
Bronkahorse called upon Quackenboss, and endeavored to
persuade him to espouse the cause of the king, assuring
him that their Great Father could never be conquered.
Quackenboss refu.sed, and they parted, — the Indian, how-
ever, assuring him that they were parting as friends,
although since they had fought in one war together, he
had hoped they might do so in the other. Mr. Q. saw no
more of his friend until the battle of Oriskany. During
the thickest of the fifzht he heard his name called in the
well-known voice of Bronkahouse, from behind a large tree
near by. He was himself sheltered by a tree, but in look-
inn- out for the warrior he saw his Indian friend. The
latter now importuned Quackenboss to surrender, assuring
him of kind treatment and protection, but also assuring
him that unless he did so he would inevitably be killed.
Quackenboss refused, and the Indian thereupon attempted



t From manuscript of William Gardenier, copied from Stone.



108



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



to kill him. For a moment they watched each other, en-
deavoring to obtain the first and best chance of a shot.
The Indian at length fired and his ball struck the tree, but
had nearly been fatal. Springing from his covert upon the
Indian Quackenboss then fired, and his friend Bronkahorse
fell dead on the spot. It was the belief of Mr. Quacken-
boss that the loss of the enemy during the battle equaled
that of Herkimer's command. The latter suflFered the most
severely in the early part of the engagement, the enemy in
the latter."

The various accounts of this battle differ so much that
there is no satisfactory way of reconciling them. One ac-
count states that Colonel Visscber's command formed the
rear-guard behind the baggage-train, and that when the
attack began it was cut off, and fled in a panic towards the
river; while in the same volume, a few pages farther on,
is given a circumstantial account of the desperate fighting
in the circle formed in the latter part of the engagement,
of Captain Jacob Gardenier, who commanded a company
in this regiment. Some writers say that the force of Her-
kimer extended in marching order more than a mile, but
to any one who has seen infantry moving in bodies, if even
only reasonably closed up, this statement appears somewhat
marvelous. The probabilities are that they moved in toler-
ably compact order, and, including their baggage-wagons,
may have occupied a half-mile of the road. If they had
been in such loose order as sometimes represented, they
could not have closed on the centre and formed in the com-
pact shape proved to have been the case. That skeletons
were found many years afterwards over a wide area does
not necessarily imply that the battle proper extended over
such an immense space as is sometimes supposed. The
heavy fighting was done in and immediately around the
ravine, while skirmishing occurred among stragglers on
both sides at considerable distances from the scene of the
principal action. There is little doubt but Herkimer kept
his forces substantially together, for in no other way could
they have rallied and made a successful defense against the
preponderance in numbers and the advantages of position
which the enemy possessed. The battle was won by a com-
bination of good judgment and coolness on the part of the
commander and his subordinates, and the stubborn deter-
mination of the whole body to conquer the hated enemy or
die on the field. The same determined spirit was mani-
fested at Bennington, and these two decisive actions, fought
so nearly at the same time, marked in a wonderful manner
the crisis of the Revolution, and especially indicated the
awakening of the people from that apathy which had but
so recently seemed to paralyze them.

As the enemy began their retreat the Provincials set to
work constructing rude hand-litters, made of poles and
blankets, for the purpose of carrying off their wounded ;
and it was while lifting their disabled general into one of
them that three desperate Indians dashed up and were in-
stantly shot down by three of the militia.

The actual field of battle was left in the hands of the
Provincials, but in that terrible five hours' conflict their
losses had been dreadful. The best authorities state them
to have been about 200 killed, including many of the prin-
cipal military and civil leaders of the county, with probably



as many more wounded, and quite a large number taken
prisoners. The British reports made extravagant claims,
setting the Provincial loss as high as 500 killed (Glaus'
letter) and 200 prisoners. A loss of 200 killed and 300
wounded and prisoners was probably a nearer approximate
to the truth, but even this would be an enormous loss, con-
sidering the numbers engaged, equal to five-eighths of Her-
kimer's whole force, which fully equals the loss of Brad-
dock's army and that of St. Clair, when both were defeated
and driven in disorder from the field.

The following list of oflBcers killed, wounded, and miss-
ing is from Stone, and was taken from Lieut. Jacob Sam-
mous' narrative. The list, as will be seen, does not include
the name of General Herkimer :

" The ofiicers of the Tryon County militia killed or
wounded in this battle were as follows : In Col. Frederick
Visscher's regiment, Captains John Davis and Samuel Pet-
tingill, killed ; Major Blauvelt and Lieut. Groat, taken
prisoners and never heard of afterwards ; Captain Jacob
Gardenier and Lieut. Samuel Gardenier, wounded. In
Col. Jacob Klock's regiment, Major John Eisenlord and
Major Van Sluyck and Captain Andrew Dillenback, killed ;
Captains Christopher Fox and John Breadbeg, wounded ;
Brigade Major John Frey, wounded and taken prisoner.
In Colonel Peter Bellinger's regiment. Major Enos Klep-
sattle. Captain Frederick Hclmer, and Lieut. Petry'' were
killed. Lieutenant^Colonel Frederick Bellinger and Henry
Walradt were taken prisoners. In Col. Ebenezer Cox's
regiment, Col. Cox and Lieut.-Col. Hunt were killed ; Cap-
tains Henry Diefendorf, Robert Grouse, and Jacob Bow-
man, killed; Captain Jacob Seeber and Lieut. Wm. Seeber,
mortally wounded. The surgeon, Moses Younglove, was
taken prisoner. Among the volunteers not belonging to



Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 28 of 192)