Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Battle of Oriskany

Year:   1777
 Location:   Oriskany, New York 

The Battle of Oriskany, fought on August 6, 1777, is remembered as the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution. 

A Patriot force of 800 men, made up of the Tryon County Militia and Oneida warriors under the command of General Nicholas Herkimer attempted to relieve isolated and threatened Fort Stanwix. 

Herkimer had not wanted to fight. An experienced soldier, he realized that the County Militiamen were inexperienced and ill-trained, and he feared disaster at the hands of the enemy, who had received weapons and training from the British. Several of his subordinates accused him of cowardice, so, stung, he chose to lead the relief column. 

Herkimer's men were ambushed and defeated by a combined force of Loyalist Militia, Mohawks, Senecas  and other allies of several non-Haudenosaunee Native American tribes, numbering about 500 men. The commander of the Loyalist forces was Leftenant Colonel Barry St. Leger, whose Adjutant was General Herkimer's own brother. 

This was one the few battles in the war in which almost all of the participants were North Americans; no overseas British troops or officers were involved.  Indeed, the Battle of Oriskany was effectively a Civil War, with members of the Six Nations tribes fighting on both sides and Loyalist and Patriot friends, neighbors, and family bearing arms against each other.  

The Loyalists ambushed the Patriots in a small valley about six miles east of Fort Stanwix, near the present-day village of Oriskany, along a stream known today as "Bloody Creek." Bloody Creek has a steep and narrow valley, but the valley was the easiest path through the heavily wooded and tumbled area. Thus, the Patriots were bottlenecked in the valley when the ambush occurred. Herkimer, who was leading the force, was shot from his horse, and died two days later.

The Seneca war chiefs
Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter led the first assault along with the famed Mohawk war chief known as Joseph Brant.   

In the resulting confusion, numbers of Patriots tried to flee, only to be cut down by Loyalist troops. The Patriot force lost 500 of its 800 men. The Loyalists lost 150 of 500, mostly Native Americans.   The battle turned however, when a raiding force from Fort Stanwix, hearing the nearby gunfire, arrived and scattered the pro-British forces. Thus, despite the losses, Oriskany is accounted an American victory.  

The Battle of Oriskany led to the shattering of the Iroquois Confederacy, a result which strengthened the American position. 

The area around Fort Stanwix itself was not pacified until mid-August, when a large contingent of Continental troops under General Benedict Arnold arrived to reinforce the fort.

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