2011 / 2012 / 2013 /
Column for 6.20.12
On the desk in front of me is “40 Miles of American Heroism,” subtitled “A guide to General Herkimer’s historic line of march, August 3-6, 1777.” I pulled the guidebook out of my bookcase the other day. I wanted to read it again before participating in last week’s DAR ceremony at the Oriskany Battlefield.
On Flag Day in 1912, the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated 14 stone markers to mark the march taken by Gen. Herkimer and his men, who were going from about where Little Falls is today to Fort Stanwix, which is in today’s Rome. They were ambushed by British forces, including Mohawk and Seneca Indians. What resulted was one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War.
And because the Americans, along with their Oneida Indian allies, were able to fight to a draw at Oriskany, causing the British forces to withdraw, we today carry passports issued by the United States and not the British. The Battle of Oriskany was a turning point of the war.
Last week on Flag Day, the DAR rededicated the 14 monuments on Herkimer’s route and conducted a ceremony at the last marker on the Oriskany Battlefield. I was asked, along with others, to say a few words and so I did.
Much of what I said at last week’s ceremony were things that can be found in the pages of “40 Miles of American Heroism,” which was published by Utica National Insurance during the country’s Bicentennial celebration, including the following:
• Herkimer’s militia of about 800 was composed primarily of farmers with “no previous experience fighting together as a unit...The Militia had been called out on some alarms, but they had never engaged in battle.”
• The size of British General Barry St. Leger’s forces varies according to who is telling the story. “The best estimates are 300 regulars, including 80 German mercenaries, 800 Indians led by Joseph Brant and Daniel Claus, and 450 American Loyalists led by Sir John Johnson.”
• “It was about nine or ten o’clock on that fateful morning (August 6, 1777) when the Militia entered the ravine (in what is today’s Route 69, just west of the Village of Oriskany) a perfect site for an ambush. Sir John Johnson and his Loyalists were positioned on the north end. The 800 Indians were well concealed on both sides of the heavily-wooded steep slopes. The Militia came along the rough causeway laid across the marshy bottom of the glade. When they were partially into the ravine, the attack began.”
• “Records vary on the losses of that day. One authority notes the Tryon County (Herkimer’s Militia) had almost 500 men of the 800 killed or wounded or captured. The British loss was smaller only because they had missed the first murderous onslaught.”
• “A hard rain storm interrupted the fight, providing relief for an hour before the fighting resumed. By four in the afternoon, the Seneca cry of retreat...was heard. Both sides left the field. The American Militiamen picked up wounded and started the slow journey home. They left behind their dead.”
One final note: As I mentioned during last week’s DAR ceremony, which took place on a beautiful, sunny and peaceful day at the Oriskany Battlefield, “It’s hard to imagine that such a battle happened here - hand to hand fighting, and a creek through the battlefield running red with blood. But it did and because of what happened here and the courage shown, the war would eventually be won.”