Archive for September, 2018

October 7: Battle of Bemis Heights (Second Battle of Saratoga)

Posted on: September 18th, 2018 by hauleymusic No Comments

Second of two battles that led to the British surrender at Saratoga (American War of Independence). After failing to even reach the American lines in his previous attack (Battle of Freeman’s Farm, 19 September), Burgoyne had waited in the hope that a supporting attack from New York would force General Gates to split his army. When it was clear that this was not happening, Burgoyne made the unusual (for him) move of calling a council of war. Those of his senior officers who were willing to give advice were in favor of a retreat back towards Canada, but this was not the advice Burgoyne wanted, and instead he decided to attack again.
Since Freeman’s Farm, the American position had increased in strength. Gates now had 11,000 men and outnumbered Burgoyne by two to one. Burgoyne’s plan was to punch through the American left wing, and by a rapid march reach Albany before Gates could react. Burgoyne was still hoping to find British troops at Albany, but General Clinton’s attack from New York never reached Albany, stalling once it captured the Highland forts upriver from New York. A second weakness in the plan was that Burgoyne’s army had shown no ability to move quickly, and was in very poor condition. Burgoyne’s plan was a desperate attempt to avoid disaster.
Unsure of the American positions, Burgoyne decided to start the day by sending out a reconnaissance in force. Fifteen hundred men with ten artillery pieces advanced slowly towards the American lines. After an advance of three-quarters of a mile, they had discovered nothing. The advance was halted and the troops formed into a line, then stopped to wait.
It was now the Americans turn to act. Their scouting was far superior to the British, and news of the unsupported advance soon reached Gates, who ordered Poor’s brigade (New Hampshire regulars) to attack the British left. This attack was supported by Daniel Morgan’s regiment, which was able to reach the British rear. Also prominent in the American attack was Benedict Arnold. Although he had been relieved of his command by Gates, Arnold had remained with the army, and when battle developed Arnold dashed into the fray, and soon appears to have taken command of the American attack. As a battlefield commander he may have been the best on either side during the war. He led from the front, and the American troops were willing to follow him into battle in a way that few other commanders could imitate.

Under the stress of the repeated American attacks, the British line crumbled. General Simon Fraser was killed by sniper fire, ordered by Arnold, as was one of Burgoyne’s aids sent to order a retreat. Burgoyne was initially able to get the main body of the army back into their entrenchments at Freeman’s Farm in remarkably good condition, but once again Arnold came to the fore, leading a wild attack on the British right, which succeeded in capturing part of the British defenses. However, after Arnold was forced off the field by a serious wound the American attacks began to tire, and the British managed to avoid total disaster.
Even so, the days fighting left the British position at Freeman’s Farm untenable. What had started as an attempt to punch a hole in the American lines had ended with the British being forced to retreat from their own camp. Burgoyne was now faced with the inevitability of surrender.
Further reading:
Furneaux, Rupert (1971). The Battle of Saratoga. New York: Stein and Day.
Mintz, Max M (1990). The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates. Yale University Press.
Patterson, Samuel White (1941). Horatio Gates: Defender of American Liberties. Columbia University Press.



Posted on: September 1st, 2018 by hauleymusic No Comments

Fort Stanwix (site of modern Rome, New York) occupied a strategic western portage known as the Oneida Carrying Place between the Mohawk River, which flowed southeast to the Hudson River, and Wood Creek leading to Lake Ontario. Built by the British in 1758 during the French and Indian War, the fort had fallen into disrepair. The site again became strategically important when the War widened in 1776.

The Siege of Fort Stanwix (known as Fort Schuyler) began on August 2, 1777, and ended August 22. Fort Stanwix, in the mid-western part of the Mohawk River Valley, was then the primary defense point for the Continental Army against British and Indian forces aligned against them. The fort was occupied by Continental Army forces from New York and Massachusetts under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort. The opposition included 1200 British regulars, American Loyalists, Hessian soldiers, and Iroquois Indians, under the command of British Brigadier General Barry St. Leger and Joseph Brant. St. Leger’s expedition was planned to support General John Burgoyne’s campaign to gain control of the Hudson River Valley. General Nicholas Herkimer attempted to take 800 militiamen (Tryon County militia) and a party of Oneida warriors to re-enforce the Americans at Fort Stanwix. His army was ambushed 2 miles west of Oriskany Creek in a
battle that resulted in heavy casualties for both sides following bloody hand-to-hand combat. Herkimer received an injury to his leg, and died.

The Americans lost 385, while 50 were wounded and 30 captured. The British lost 95, 57 wounded and 10 captured.
The Battle of Oriskany ended in victory for the British, but significantly affected morale of Loyalists and Native Americans due to militia from Stanwix sacking and destroying several homes and villages while the enemy was away.

The attack was finally broken when American reinforcements under the command of Benedict Arnold with the assistance of Herkimer’s relative Hon. Yost Schuyler, convinced the enemy that a much larger force was arriving. This misinformation, combined with Indian fighters upset over their losses from the raids, and not liking siege warfare led St. Leger to abandon the effort and retreat.

Although St. Leger reached Fort Ticonderoga in late September, he was too late to aid Burgoyne which contributed to the surrender at Saratoga in October 1777.

The first official US flag was flown during battle on August 3, 1777, at Fort Schuyler. The Continental Congress adopted the following resolution on June 14, 1777: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white, on a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Massachusetts reinforcements to Fort Schuyler brought news of the adoption by Congress of the official flag. Soldiers cut up their shirts to make the white stripes; scarlet material was secured from red flannel petticoats of officers’ wives, while material for the blue union was secured from Capt. Abraham Swartwout’s blue cloth coat. A voucher showed that Congress paid Capt. Swartwout for his coat for the flag.

Fort Stanwix saw little action after the siege, although it was a dangerous and unpopular post because of regular harassment by Loyalists and hostile Iroquois. In the spring of 1779 the Continental Army used the fort as a staging ground for the destruction of Onondaga Castle. In 1780, the garrison was blockaded for several days by a large force of Indians led by Joseph Brant. Finally, in the spring of 1781, when flood and fire (probably arson) destroyed most of the fort, the Americans evacuated the post.

Fort Stanwix was completely destroyed in the 19th century. The site was designated a U.S. National Monument in 1935, although the land itself was then occupied by private businesses and residences in downtown Rome, New York. In 1961 the site was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1966 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.The fort was reconstructed in the 1970s by the National Park Service, creating the current Fort Stanwix National Monument.

The site (Battle of Oriskany) is known in oral histories of the Iroquois nations as “A Place of Great Sadness.” The site has been designated by the United States as a National Historic Landmark; it is marked by a battle monument at the Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site.

Further reading:

Campbell, William W (1880). Annals of Tryon County, Or, The Border Warfare of New York, During the Revolution: Or, The Border Warfare of New York During the Revolution. Cherry Valley Gazette Print. OCLC 7353443.

Johnson, John; Stone, William Leete; De Peyster, John Watts; Myers, Theodorus Bailey (1882). Orderly book of Sir John Johnson during the Oriskany Campaign, 1776–1777. Albany: J. Munsell’s Sons. OCLC 2100358.

Luzader, John F. (2010). Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution. Casemate Publishers. ISBN 9781611210354. OCLC 185031179.

Scott, John Albert (1927). Fort Stanwix and Oriskany: The Romantic Story of the Repulse of St.Legers British Invasion of 1777. Rome, NY: Rome Sentinel Company. OCLC 563963.

Watt, Gavin K; Morrison, James F (2002). Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55002-376-3. OCLC 49305965.