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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 62: 1777, August 6 — Oriskany Soldiers' Personal Experiences.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 831-841 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Accounts of Tryon County American soldiers of the battle of Oriskany — Material gathered by J. R. Simms from Mohawk Valley Revolutionary veterans — Thrilling incidents of this fierce forest fight — Indian atrocities, tortures and cannibalism.

Following are two accounts of the Oriskany battle by American Mohawk Valley militiamen. They are from the papers of the Sammons family. Thomas Sammons, as a young man, fought with Colonel Fisher's Mohawk District Regiment and also took part in several other valley Revolutionary engagements. Sammons became a representative in Congress from Montgomery County after the war. He had a true historical bent and collected a number of affidavits from valley soldiers who fought in various engagements. He also wrote several of his own experiences.

The most important of these is that which is contained in the chapter describing Johnson's great raid through the Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys in 1780. Mr. Sammons obtained the following accounts of the battle of Oriskany from Adam Miller of the present Glen Township, Montgomery County, and Henry Seeber, of the Canajoharie district. They are as follows, with some words added in brackets to locate certain points and subjects.

Following these general descriptions by Miller and Seeber are the personal experiences of Oriskany soldiers. These accounts were mostly gathered by the historian, Jeptha R. Simms, from Revolutionary veterans and their families. No other period of the Revolution has such a wealth of personal and anecdotal material as the Oriskany campaign and the siege of Fort Stanwix.

Adam Miller, a soldier of the Revolutionary army [from the present town of Glen, Montgomery County], states that he was, in the year 1777, enrolled in Capt. John Davis's company of militia, in Col. Frederick Fisher's [Mohawk District of Tryon County] regiment and said company, being ordered out for militia service [he was], engaged in a battle with the [British] enemy at Oriskany, about four miles above [present] Utica. Col. Cox [of the Canajoharie district regiment] and Gen. Herkimer [commanding the Tryon County brigade of militia] held a consultation previous to the day [of the battle, August 6, 1777] upon the propriety of an attack, supposing the enemy to be greater in number [as they proved to be]. Gen. Herkimer expressed a desire to send for reinforcement to which Col. Cox replied, "It will not do." Gen. Herkimer then replied "March on." They all proceeded without delay to march towards the enemy with advanced and flank guards. After marching a short distance the guards were shot off and the main body of the army instantly surrounded by the enemy. A bloody battle then ensued. Col. Cox, Capt. Davis and Capt. Van Slyck were killed at the commencement of the battle. Miller was taken prisoner by Capt. John Hare soon after Capt. Davis was killed. Col. Bellinger [of the German Flatts regiment] fired upon the party having him prisoner, which set him at liberty, and he again joined in battle against the enemy. Soon after this the enemy advanced with fixed bayonets, in which a close attack ensued without the firing of guns from either side. Capt. Gardinier, on the side of the American, and Lieut. MacDonald, of the enemy, were actually clinched together, in which Capt. Gardinier was thrown to the ground and there fastened down with two bayonets which were driven through his thighs, from which he was liberated by Miller. The enemy appeared to be the strongest party and succeeded in taking a number of arms from the American army. Capt. Gardinier instantly followed Lieut. MacDonald and thrust a spear into his side. Many others were actually clinched together with bayonets and spears were clashing together from both parties. Col. Willett having commenced firing from the Fort and the brave officers and soldiers unwavering [and continuing] the battle with great energy, they succeeded in driving the enemy from the field, leaving, among the slain, Capt. Hare and Lieut. MacDonald on the field of battle, Lieuts. Watts and Singleton wounded. They then proceeded to make biers [litters] for the purpose of removing the wounded, in which they succeeded in removing them from the field of battle unmolested.

Henry Seeber, of the Canajoharie district, in the Sammons papers, gives the following statement regarding part of the battle of Oriskany:

He was ordered out in Col. Cox's regiment and marched to the German Flatts. On the fifth of August marched with Gen. Herkimer, who commanded a regiment of the Tryon County militia, to [opposite] Thompson's farm, five or six miles west of the flats and the last on the south side of the river. Here Herkimer wished to wait for reinforcement or until Gansevoort could make a sally from the fort in his favor. Herkimer sent an express to the fort and, if the express could pass the enemy's camp and reach the fort, requested Gansevoort to give notice to it by firing three cannons. Herkimer was very desirous, on the morning of the battle, to remain where he was until he should receive the signal from the fort, but was urged and even accused of cowardice by some of his officers and some of the principal men of Tryon County. He therefore attempted to pass the enemy; when, after marching some distance, his advance guard came upon some of the enemy. A few minutes told him he was completely within the ambush of the enemy. We were engaged most warmly on our south side as on the north to the river was very swampy ground. One Jacob Peeler commenced forming [men in] a circle, without having orders from any officers, about an hour after the battle had commenced, and all soon followed his example. The tactics of forming the Americans into circles during the Oriskany battle has been generally credited to others than Peeler.

Miller's description would indicate that Col. Willett's sortie from Fort Stanwix against the British camp drew off such a large portion of the British force engaged in attacking the valley militia that they were thereafter able to withdraw unmolested from the Oriskany battlefield. It is more than probable that a well-arranged and concerted attack on St. Leger's army by the Tryon County militia and Gansevoort's garrison [their combined American forces excelling the British party] would probably have defeated and have effectually repulsed the British invaders. It was such an attack that Gen. Herkimer planned and the execution of which was prevented by the insubordination of his officers and soldiers.

The Indian word from which Oriskany was derived was Olehisk, meaning "the nettles" — a most appropriate title considering the conflict there.

* * * * *

Having had a general review of the Oriskany campaign, a few of the experiences and particulars of the patriot actors in that affair may be in order, particularly as they relate to the Palatine and Canajoharie men. Regarding details of the Oriskany conflict, Simms publishes the following experiences of those engaged:

"It is only in the minor events attending a battle that the reader is made to realize its fullness and see its horrors, and that the reader may see this deadly conflict * * * some of its interesting scenes are here depicted.

"At the beginning of the Revolution, there dwelt in Fort Plain two brothers named George and Robert Crouse. The former was a man of family, and his sons, Col. Robert and Deacon Henry Crouse, are well remembered in this community, where four sons of the latter still reside [at the time Simms wrote these incidents]. Robert was a bachelor. Those brothers were remarkably large and well formed men, and would have served a sculptor as a model for a giant race. Robert was the tallest and came to be called a seven-footer, and is believed to have stood full six and a half feet in his boots, and well proportioned. His great strength became proverbial, and two anecdotes have been preserved in the memory of our venerable friend, William H. Seeber, going to prove it. In January, 1776, on the occasion of Gen. Schuyler's assembling troops at Caughnawaga, now Fonda, to arrest Sir John Johnson, the Tryon County militia were ordered thither by Gen. Tenbroeck of Albany, to whose brigade they then belonged. Nicholas Herkimer, then the senior colonel of Tryon County troops, assembled them as directed. The Tryon County militia became a separate brigade in September, 1776, with Col. Herkimer as its acting general, and he was, as stated elsewhere, later commissioned its brigadier general. While at Caughnawaga [Fonda] the brigade was paraded on the ice in the river, and Robert Crouse was designated to bear the flag in saluting the generals. He waved it so easily and gracefully with one hand, when hardly another man present could have handled it with both hands, that not only the generals, but the entire assemblage was excited to admiration, and a significant murmur of applause was echoed from the hills hemming in the valley. Gen. Schuyler said to the officers near him, 'That man ought to have a commission', and one is said to have been tendered him, which he declined. This incident probably accounts for the fact that Lieut. Sammons placed him among the officers killed at Oriskany.

"Henry Walrath, the strongest man by reputation in the Palatine settlements, came from Stone Arabia in the winter of 1775 and 1776, bringing a friend with him, as he told Robert Crouse, expressly to see which was the stronger man of the two. Said Crouse, 'Well, you go home and put 50 skipples of wheat on your sleigh, and I will put 50 skipples with it, and the strongest one shall have the 100 skipples' — 75 bushels. The Stone Arabia bully never put in an appearance, which left Crouse the acknowledged champion.

"Robert Crouse was made a prisoner at Oriskany, and, as his friends afterward learned, by fellow prisoners who knew him, was most inhumanly murdered. Agreeable to the affidavit of Dr. Moses Younglove, who was also a prisoner from that battlefield, the Indians killed some of the prisoners at their own pleasure, and to his knowledge they tortured to death at least half a dozen.

"Of this number of tortured prisoners was Robert Crouse, of Fort Plain, who was the selected victim at one of their hellish orgies, as the late William Crouse, a nephew, learned subsequently by other prisoners who knew him. His remarkable stature possibly gave them a new idea of derisive torture, for, with their knives, they began by amputating his legs at the knee joints, and when accomplished they held him up on those bleeding limbs — derisively told him he was then as tall as those around him — and bade him walk. As his life was fast ebbing they sought other modes of torture. At length dispatching him they tore off and secured for market his reeking scalp. Whether they ate any of his flesh is unknown, but it is not improbable that they did, as numbers of the Indians engaged in this contest had feasted on prisoners in earlier wars. Thus ignobly fell, not only the largest but one of the best men in the Mohawk Valley."

It is family tradition that, while the giant Crouse was tied to the stake, he managed to grasp two of his Indian torturers and kill them with his bare hands.

Robert Crouse's brother, George, was with the American army at Oriskany, but came out of that terrible conflict. He returned to Fort Plain, where he served as a militiaman throughout the Revolution. He inherited much land from his father, Jacob Crouse, the pioneer settler of Fort Plain. After the war he added to these holdings until he became one of the largest landowners in the Fort Plain section. He raised a large family and is the ancestor of the Crouse family which was important in the upbuilding of Fort Plain and members of which settled and became prominent in Utica and Syracuse and elsewhere westward.

Captain Jacob Gardinier, after being literally riddled with bullets and bayonets, crept into a cavity at the roots of a tree, and, by the aid of his waiter, a German lad, who loaded his gun for him, his hand having been lacerated by a bayonet, he continued the fight, shooting from that position an Indian who was dodging about to get a shot at an American officer. Of this brave militia captain, said the Rev. Johan Daniel Gros of Fort Plain, in a work published after the war on "Moral Philosophy:" "Let it stand recorded, among other patriotic deeds of that little army of militia, that a Jacob Gardinier, with a few of his men, vanquished a whole platoon, killing the captain, after he had held him for a long time by his collar as a shield against the balls and bayonets of the whole platoon. This brave militia captain is still alive and was cured of thirteen wounds."

George Walter, at Oriskany, was struck down with a severe bullet wound. Faint from loss of blood, he crept to a spring and slaked his thrist and revived. While watching the fight, an Indian lurking near discovered him and, running up, gave him a blow on the head with his tomahawk, and in another moment had torn off his reeking scalp. When found by his friends, some of his wounds were fly-blown, but he recovered and lived until 1831, dying at a ripe old age. It is said that Walter, in telling of his experiences, remarked: "Dat Indian tot I vash det, but I knows petter all de time; but I tot I would say nodding so as he would go off."

Captain Christopher W. Fox: — In the Palatine battalion of militia, there were three captains by the name of Fox, viz: Captain William Fox, Jr., Capt. Christopher P. Fox and Captain Christopher W. Fox.

Probably they were all in the Oriskany battle and the last two named were quite surely there. Christopher W. was severely wounded in the right arm, which was partially dressed on the ground, where he remained with his men; and, discovering an Indian crawling from behind a tree in the direction of the enemy's encampment, grasping his sword in his left hand he said to some of his men: "You keep an eye on me for safety and I will kill an Indian." As he approached the savage, a mutual recognition took place. The Indian was a half-breed called William Johnson, and was a reputed son of his namesake, Sir William Johnson. He was down with a broken leg and begged for his life because he was wounded. "Ah," said the captain, directing the prostrate warrior to his crippled arm, "I am wounded too, and one of us must die." In an instant, with his left hand, he thrust the keen-edged sword through the Indian's body. This Captain Fox was wounded in the following fashion. He and a hostile Indian, under the cover of trees a few rods distant were, for some time, watching in a vain endeavor to get some advantage of each other; and, thinking to draw the Indian's shot, and win the game, Fox extended his hat upon his hand beside a tree to attract the savage's attention. The ruse succeeded and the Indian supposing the hat contained a head, fired on the target; but unfortunately Fox had a long arm and had extended it so far that the ball struck it and, dropping the hat, the hand fell limp at his side. The Indian, seeing the hat fall, no doubt supposed he had killed his man, but considered the hazard of securing a scalp too great to approach his victim. It was common practice to thrust out a hat on one's ramrod or a stick to draw an antagonist's charge, when fighting in the Indian fashion, but so reckless an act as that of this captain's seemed to merit the punishment. Fox became a major and resided after the war at Palatine Church. The following has a direct bearing on the above:

"Recd., Williger, Oct. 16, 1779, of Christopher Fox, Esq., eight dollars in full for curing his arm of a wound received in the Oriskany fight, £3. 4. 0.

"Moses Younglove."

Abram Quackenbush: — One of the earliest Low Dutch families to locate in the present town of Glen was that of Quackenbush, as the name is now written. One of Quackenbush's boyhood playmates, near the lower Mohawk castle at Fort Hunter, was an Indian called Bronkahorse, who was about his own age. Quackenbush was a lieutenant under the brave Capt. Gardinier. Among the followers of the Johnsons to Canada was his Indian friend, who also tried to get the white Whig to go with him, assuring him that he would have the same office in the royal army. Their next meeting was in the dodging, tree-to-tree fight at Oriskany. The lieutenant heard himself addressed in a familiar voice, which he recognized as that of his early Indian friend. now posted behind a tree within gunshot of the one which covered his own person. "Surrender yourself my prisoner and you shall be treated kindly," shouted the Mohawk brave, "but if you do not you will never get away from here alive — we intend to kill all who are not made prisoners!" The success of the enemy at the beginning of the contest made them bold and defiant. "Never will I become a prisoner," shouted back Quackenbush. Both were expert riflemen and now watched their chance. Bronkahorse fired first and planted a bullet in the tree scarcely an inch from his adversary's head, but he had lost his best chance, as the lieutenant sprang to a new position from which his adversary's tree would not shield him, and in the next instant the Indian dropped with a bullet through his heart.

The Seebers: — Major William Seeber, who lived next to Fort Plain and was then nearly 60 years old, was mortally wounded in the battle, where his son Audolph was slain and Capt. Jacob H. fell with a broken thigh. Jacob cut staddles and attempted to withe them about his broken leg to enable him to escape, but could not stand upon it, and gave up, expecting to be slain. Henry Failing, an acquaintance, came to him and offered to remove him to greater safety, but Seeber declined, telling his friend to load his gun, take the remainder of his cartridges and leave him to his fate. He was afterward removed and died at Fort Herkimer. Failing was also severely wounded, but removed and recovered.

Garret Walrath, a soldier in the Canajoharie battalion, was at Oriskany and is said to have never feared flesh or the devil. In one of the terrible encounters in the early part of the engagement, he was made prisoner and pinioned and told to keep close behind an Indian, who claimed all his attention. He often purposely ran against his captor, whining and complaining that his arms were so tightly drawn back. * * * At this period not only the Indians but the whites, especially those accustomed to hunting, carried a sharp, well-pointed knife in a belt. Walrath * * * cautiously grasped the handle of his knife and, watching his opportunity, in one of his stumbles over the heels of his captor, he adroitly plunged his knife into his body, and in the next instant he was a disembowled and dead Indian. The liberated captive, with his bloody knife in hand, cautiously sought his way back, and in an hour or two was welcomed by his surviving companions, who soon saw him armed again with a gun.

Col. Henry Diefendorf was a brave militia captain from the present town of Minden, where his descendants still reside. In the discharge of his duties, he was shot through the lungs, during the latter part of the engagement. Near him when he fell were William Cox, Henry Sanders and probably others of his company. He begged for water, and Sanders stamped a hole in the marshy soil and, as the water settled in it, he took off his shoe and in it gave the dying man a drink. Seeing by the smoke from whence the shot came that struck down his captain, Cox said "Damn my soul, but I'll have a life for that one!" He ran to the tree before the foe could possibly reload his gun, where he found a large Indian down with a broken leg. As Cox leveled his rifle, the warrior threw up his hand and shouted: "Youker! you-ker!" which his adversary supposed was a cry for quarter. "I'll give you you-ker" said Cox as he sent a bullet through the Indian's head. He rejoined his comrades a few minutes later with the savage's gun.

Henry Thompson was a helper to the doughty Capt. Gardinier, who lived and had a blacksmith shop near the present village of Fultonville. Into Oriskany he followed his brave employer and, after the battle had raged for hours, he approached Gardinier and said he was hungry. "Fight away," shouted the captain. "I can't without eating," said the soldier. "Then get you a piece and eat," was the reply. He did so and sitting upon the body of a dead soldier, he ate with a real zest, while the bullets whistled about his head. His lunch finished, he arose and was again seen with renewed energy where peril was the most imminent.

Sir John Johnson married a daughter of John Watts of New York city and her brother, Stephen Watts, joined Johnson when he went to Canada. He was a British captain at Oriskany and, in making a desperate charge he was wounded and made a prisoner. As the Americans could not be encumbered with their wounded foes, he was left to his fate — and not despatched and scalped as were all wounded Americans found by the enemy. Being discovered by Henry N. Failing, a private soldier [from the present town of Minden] in the Canajoharie district battalion, he kindly carried him to a little stream of water that he might there slake his thirst and die more easily. To his thanks for the soldier's kindness he added the gift of his watch. Two days after, Capt. Watts was discovered by some straggling Indians looking for plunder, was taken to the enemy's camp, properly cared for and finally recovered.

Among the tragic incidents of Oriskany was one which happened at a tree afterward called "the bayonet tree." One of Herkimer's men was held up, dead or alive, and pinned to a tree several feet from the ground with a bayonet driven into the tree several inches. Here the body remained until it fell to the ground from decomposition. This bayonet was to have been seen in the tree for more than a quarter of a century and until the tree had grown so as to bury most of the blade.

Henry Thompson was not the only one of the patriots to satisfy his hunger during the battle. Adam Frank also opened his knapsack and sat down and made a hearty but hasty meal, after which he was heard to exclaim in German, "Jezt drauf auf die kerls!" — "Now we'll give it to them!"

Captain Andrew Dillenbeck of Stone Arabia, was the hero of a fight which resulted in his death. Tories of Johnson's Greens attempted to take him prisoner and, on Dillenbeck's saying he would not be taken alive, seized his gun. Captain Dillenbeck wrenched it away and felled his enemy with the butt. He shot a second one dead, thrust a third through the body with his bayonet and then fell dead from a Tory shot.

Dr. Younglove, surgeon in the Tryon county brigade, was taken prisoner at Oriskany and, after his return to his Palatine home, made the following affidavit:

"Moses Younglove, surgeon of Gen. Herkimer's brigade of militia, deposeth and saith, that being in the battle of said militia on the 6th of August last, toward the close of the battle, he surrendered himself a prisoner to a savage, who immediately gave him up to a sergeant of Sir John Johnson's regiment; soon after which a lieutenant in the Indian department, came up in company with several Tories, when said Mr. Grinnis, by name, drew his tomahawk at this deponent and with a deal of persuasion was kindly prevailed on to spare his life. He then plundered him of his watch, buckles, spurs, etc., and other Tories, following his example, stripped him almost naked, with a great many threats, while they were stripping and massacreing prisoners on every side. That this deponent was brought before Mr. Butler Sen. (Col. John), who demanded of him what he was fighting for? to which deponent answered: 'He fought for the liberty that God and nature gave him, and to defend himself and dearest connexions from the massacre of the savages.' To which Butler replied: 'You are a damned impudent rebel!' and so saying immediately turned to the savages, encouraging them to kill him, and if they did not, the deponent and the other persons should be hanged on the gallows then preparing. That several prisoners were then taken forward to the enemy's headquarters with frequent scenes of horror and massacre, in which Tories were active as well as savages; and in particular one Davis, formerly known in Tryon county, on the Mohawk river. That Lieut. Singleton of Sir John Johnson's regiment, being wounded, entreated the savages to kill the prisoners, which they accordingly did, as nigh as this deponent can judge, about six or seven. That Isaac Paris was also taken the same road without receiving from them any remarkable insult, except stripping, until some Tories came up who kicked and abused him, after which the savages, thinking him a notable offender, murdered him barbarously. That those of the prisoners, who were delivered up to the provost guards, were ordered not to use any violence in protecting the prisoners from the savages, who came up every day with knives, feeling the prisoners to know which were fattest. That they dragged one of the prisoners out of the guard with the most lamentable cries, tortured him for a long time, and this deponent was informed, by both Tories and Indians, that they ate him, as appears they did another on an island in Lake Ontario [Buck's Island] by bones found there nearly picked, just after they had crossed the lake with the prisoners. That the prisoners who were not delivered up were murdered, in considerable numbers, from day to day around the camp, some of them so nigh that their shrieks were heard. That Capt. Martin of the bateaux men, was delivered to the Indians at Oswego, on pretence of his having kept back some useful intelligence. That this deponent, during his imprisonment, and his fellows were kept almost starved for provisions, and, what they drew were of the worst kind, such as spoiled flour, biscuit full of maggots, and mouldy, and no soap allowed or other method of keeping clean, and were insulted, struck, etc., without mercy by the guards, without any provocation given. That this deponent was informed by several sergeants orderly on St. Leger that twenty dollars were offered in general orders for every American scalp.

"Moses Younglove."

"John Barclay, Chairman of Albany Committee."

Lieut. Peter Groat and Andrew Cunningham, a neighbor, were captured at Oriskany and murdered at Wood creek, slices of their thighs being roasted and feasted upon by the savages with zest and mirth. Peter Ehle, a fellow prisoner, saw his comrades killed.

It was amid such bloody scenes of savage horrors, that Americans gained their liberty.

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