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.
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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.
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