BATTLE OF ORISKANY
New York State played a large role in the Revolutionary War. The Daughters of the American Revolution Owasco Chapter currently has 81 members; many of their Revolutionary ancestors fought in and are buried in New York.
Many of us have seen “Drums Along the Mohawk” with Henry Fonda and more recently with Daniel Defoe. The movie is an attempt to accurately portray life in central New York during the Revolution, and the brave men and women who defended their homes and families.
Of all the battles fought in the American Revolution, few, if any were as violent as the Battle of Oriskany. The National Park Service provides us with some details.
The Battle of Oriskany occurred on August 6, 1777, when the local Tryon County Militia attempted to come to the relief of the besieged Fort Schuyler (Stanwix). In 1777 Tryon County covered the area that now embraces the Counties of Fulton, Montgomery, Tioga, Ontario, Herkimer and Hamilton.
On July 30, 1777, the militia's commander, General Nicholas Herkimer, had ordered his men to begin assembling at Fort Dayton located in the modern Herkimer NY area. By August 4, around 800 of the militia were assembled and ready to begin the march to relieve Ft. Schuyler. General John Burgoyne was attempting to force General Philip Schuyler's army of some 1,000 men to abandon their positions along the Mohawk, opening the route to Albany. He selected Lt. Colonel Barry Saint Leger (1737-1789), to command the expedition. Between regular troops, Hessians and Indians there was a British fighting force of about 1,400 men.
Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer's Command consisted of the Tryon County, New York Militia. Along with his eight hundred men, Herkimer had between 250 and 400 ox carts filled with supplies for the besieged Fort. The column was almost one mile long.
The militia brigade was composed of four regiments, mostly of Palatine German immigrants or their descendants. The 1st (Canajoharie) Regiment under Col. Ebenezer Cox, the 2nd (Palatine) Regiment under Col. Jacob Klock, the 3rd (Mohawk) Regiment under Col. Fredrick Visscher, and the 4th (Kingsland-German Flatts) Regiment under Col. Peter Bellinger.
The battle of Oriskany was devastating on both sides. Losses on the Tryon militia side may have been as high as 500 killed, wounded, or captured out of the 800 engaged. The battle of Oriskany led to Gen. Herkimer's death and destroyed the Tryon County Militia Brigade as an effective fighting force for the remainder of the war. This made it impossible for the militia to effectively defend their settlements from the Indian and loyalist raids that would plague them for the rest of the war.
General St. Leger's claim to victory in his letter to General Burgoyne of August 11th, 1777 was true enough. He had stopped the attempt to resupply and relieve Fort Stanwix. The Americans' claim that they still held the field of battle is an empty boast, as they did not achieve their goal. But, that they broke the back of St. Leger's fighting force and gave the British Indian allies something to think about was a true victory. Through their heroic defense, in the worst possible circumstances, they were truly victors.