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Remains of the “New Fort." Shirley's Preparations at Albany. Montcalm's Approach to Oswego. Attack on the work.
The remains of the ramparts and ditches of the New Fort are now quite prominent at the junction of Montcalm and Van Buren Streets. The annexed engraving is a view of the appearance of these remains when I Ame. visited them. The view is from 1848. Montcalm Street, looking north, toward the lake. The mounds and ditch were covered with a green sward; and decayed stumps of trees, three feet in diameter, were upon the former. The sort had been abandoned about ninety years (for Fort Ontario became the main fortification after 1758), and, therefore. those large trees must have been produced within that time. - Shirley made vigorous preparations at Albany to re-enforce Oswego, the following spring, for the Marquis de Montcalm, an enterprising and experienced commander, was governor of Canada, and offensive operations on the part of the French were certainly expected. Colonel Bradstreet was appointed commissary general, and, aided by Captain (afterward General) Philip Schuyler, forwarded large quantities of provisions to Oswego. William Alexander, afterward Lord Sterling, of the Revolutionary army, was Shirley's secretary. Early in the spring an army of seven thousand men, under General Winslow, was at Albany, waiting the arrival of the commander-in-chief, Lord Loudon. His procrastination, which defeated all the plans for the season's campaign, was fatal in this instance. He did not arrive until late in the summer. In the mean while the French, about five thousand in number, under the Marquis de Montcalm, came up the lake from Fort Frontenac, and landed stealthily behind a heavily-wooded cape (now called Four-mile Point), a few miles below Oswego. Montcalm was there nearly two days before the fact was known to the garrison. He had thirty pieces of heavy artillery, and was about commencing a march through the forest, to take Fort Ontario by surprise, when he was discovered by the English. Colonel Mercer, the commandant of the garrison, ordered a brigantine to cruise eastward, and prevent any attempt of the enemy to approach the fort by water. The next day a heavy gale drove the brigantine ashore, and while she was thus disabled, the French transported their cannon, unmolested, to within two miles of the fort. One or two other small vessels were sent out to annoy them, but the heavy guns of the French drove them back to the harbor. The enemy pressed steadily forward through the woods, and toward noon of the same day invested the fort with thirty-two pieces of cannon, ranging from twelve to eighteen pounders, several large brass pounders and hoyets, and about five thousand men, one half of whom were Canadians and July, Indians. Some of this artillery was taken from the English when Braddock was de1755 feated. The garrison, under Colonel Mercer, numbered only one thousand four hundred, and a large portion of these were withdrawn to the fort on the west side of the river, to strengthen it, and to place the river between Mercer's main body and the enemy. The French began the assault with small arms, which were answered by the guns of Fort Ontario, and bombs from the small fort on the other side of the basin. Finding an open assault danger- ous, Montcalm commenced approaching by parallels during the night, and the next day he began another brisk fire with small arms. On the day following he opened a battery of cannons within sixty yards of the fort. As soon as Colonel Mercer perceived this, he sent word to the garrison, consisting of three hundred and seventy men, to destroy their cannon, ammunition, and provisions, and retreat to the west side. This they effected without the loss of a man. During the night of the 13th the enemy were employed, in the face of a destructive cannonade, in erecting a heavy battery to play upon the fort. On the morning of the 14th they had finished their battery of twelve heavy guns, and under its cover two thousand five hundred Canadians and Indians crossed the river in three divisions. Colonel Mercer was killed during this movement, and the command devolved upon Colonel
Surrender of the Forts and Garrison to Montcalm. His Courtesy. Destruction of the Forts. St. Leger. Mrs. Grant.
Littlehales. The enemy had a mortar battery in readiness by ten o'clock, and their forces were so disposed that all the works of defense were completely enfiladed. At the same time, the regulars, under the immediate command of Montcalm, were preparing to cross to the attack. Colonel Littlehales called a council of war, and, it being agreed that a defense was no longer practicable, a chamade, or parley, was beaten by the drums of the fort, and the firing ceased on both sides. Two officers were sent to the French general to inquire upon what terms he would accept a surrender. He sent back a polite and generous answer, remarking, at the same, time that the English were an enemy to be esteemed, and that none but a brave nation would have thought of defending so weak a place so long." The fort, the whole garrison, one hundred and twenty cannons, fourteen mortars, a large quantity of ammunition and stores, and quite a respectable fleet in the harbor, were the spoils of victory. The forts were dismantled, the prisoners were placed on transports for Frontenac, and, without leaving a garrison behind, the whole military armament went down the lake, and left Oswego solitary and desolate. The destruction of the forts was a stroke of policy on the part of Montcalm. They had been a continual eyesore to the Six Nations, for they had reason to suspect that, if the English became strong enough, their fortifications would be used as instruments to enslave the tribes. This act of Montcalm was highly approved by the Indians, and caused them to assume a position of neutrality toward the belligerent Europeans. This was what Montcalm desired, and he gained far more power by destroying the forts than he would by garrisoning them. French emissaries were sent among the Indians, and by their blandishments, and in consequence of their successes, they seduced four of the tribes wholly from the British interest. These were the Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The following year English troops again took possession of Fort Ontario, and partially restored it to its former strength, and in 1759 it was rebuilt on a larger scale. They also erected a small stockade fort near the Oswego Falls, and built Fort Stanwix, on the Mohawk. Thus, in a military point of view, Oswego remained until our war for independence broke out.” This post was rather too remote for active operations, during the first years of the war, to attract the serious attention of either party, and the fort was garrisoned by only a few men until the summer of 1777, when St. Leger, with seven hundred Rangers, detached from the army of Burgoyne at St. John's, on the Sorel, made this his place of rendezvous preparatory to his incursion into the Valley of the Mohawk. Here he was joined by Sir John Johnson and Colonel Daniel Claus, with nearly seven hundred Indians, under Brant, and four hundred regular troops. Here a war feast was given, and, certain of success, the party, in high spirits, departed to invest Fort Stanwix. A different scene was exhibited a few weeks later at Oswego. St. Leger, foiled, and his troops utterly routed, came hastening back in all the terror and confusion of a retreat, the victors in hot pursuit. His Indian allies, greatly alarmed, were scattered over the vast forests, and a mere remnant of his army,
His note to Colonel Littlehales was as follows: “The Marquis of Montcalm, army and field marshal, commander-in-chief of his most Christian majesty's troops, is ready to receive a capitulation upon the most honorable conditions, surrendering to him all the forts. They shall be shown all the regard the politest nation can show. I send an aid-de-camp on my part, viz., Mons. de Bougainville, captain of dragoons; they need only send the capitulation to be signed. I require an answer by noon. I have kept Mr. Drake
for a hostage. “MontcALM. “August 14, 1756."
* Mrs. Grant, of Edinburgh, Scotland, in her “Memoirs of an American Lady,” gives a charming picture of the scenery about Oswego in 1761–2. She was then a child, and resided there with her father; and her book presents all the vividness of a child's impressions. She noted, in particular, a feature in the forest scenery which now delights the sojourner upon the southern shores of Lake Ontario—the sudden bursting forth of leaves and flowers in the spring. Major Duncan, who was in command of the fort at that time, was a gentleman of taste, and, in addition to a large and well-cultivated garden, he had a bowling green and other pleasure grounds. These were the delight of the author of the “Memoirs,” whose pleasing pictures may be found in chapters xliv, to xlvii. inclusive.
Willett's Attempt to Capture Fort Oswego. Oswego in 1798. Attack upon Oswego in 1814. Fort Oswego.
without arms, half naked, and nearly starved, followed him to Fort Ontario, whence he fled to Montreal. The details of the siege of Fort Stanwix will be given hereafter. There was no engagement at Oswego during the Revolution. Just at the close of the war, Washington conceived the design of securing Fort Ontario, and sent an expedition thither under the command of Colonel Marinus Willett, who had been an efficient officer in the Mohawk Valley from the time of the siege of Fort Stanwix. Preliminary articles of peace had been signed in November previous, but as the terms were not definitely agreed upon, it was the policy of the commander-in-chief to be prepared for the reopening of hostilities, and, therefore, until the settlement was finally made, in September, 1783, by the signing of the definitive treaty, his vigilance was unrelaxed. This enterprise was undertaken in mid-winter. Willett assembled his troops at Fort Herkimer, on the German Flats, and on the 9th of February crossed the Oneida Lake on the ice, and reached Oswego Falls the next morning. Not being strong enough in numbers to attempt a siege or an open assault, he there prepared scaling-ladders, and determined to surprise the garrison that night. A deep snow lay upon the ground, and the weather was so intensely cold that one of the soldiers was frozen to death. A young Oneida Indian acted as guide, but the snow and the darkness caused him to lose his way. At daylight they found themselves in sight of the fort, and soon afterward they discovered three wood-choppers near. Two of them were captured, but the third escaped to the fort and gave the alarm. Willett and his party immediately retreated, and thus ended the expedition." In 1796 this post, with all others upon the frontier, was given up by the English to the United States. A prize, in the shape of public stores deposited at the Oswego Falls, attracted the attention of the British in 1814, and a fleet, bearing three thousand men, appeared before the town on the 5th of September. Fort Oswego, lying nearer the shore of the lake than old Fort Ontario, on the same side of the harbor, was quite dilapidated, and the little garrison had small means of defense. They had only six cannons, and three of these had lost their trunnions. As soon as the sail of the enemy appeared, information was sent to Captain Woolsey, of the navy, then at the village on the west side of the river, and to the neighboring militia. Four large ships, three brigs, and a number of gun and other boats appeared, about seven miles distant, at dawn on the morning of the 5th of September. The Americans prepared a battery on the shore, and gave the enemy such a warm reception, while approaching in boats to land, that they returned to their ships. Early on the morning of the 6th the fleet came within cannon-shot of the works, and for three hours kept up a discharge of grape and heavy balls against the fort and batteries.” The troops finally effected a landing, and the little band of Americans, not exceeding three hundred in number, after maintaining their ground as long as possible, withdrew into the rear of the fort, and halted within four hundred yards of it. After fighting about half an hour, they march
* Clarke's MS.
* This view is from the west side of the river, near the site of the present United States Hotel. ".
* I visited Fort Oswego, which is now a strong and admirably appointed fortification. A small garrison is usually stationed there, but at the time of my visit the fort was vacated by troops and left in charge of a sergeant (Mr. Brown), whose courtesy made our little party feel as much at home amid the equipments of war as if we were veritable soldiers and our ladies attachés of the camp. He gave me a four-pound eannon-ball, which was fired into the fort from the British ship Wolfe, the only ship engaged in the action, on the morning of the 6th of September, 1814. It bears the rude anchor mark of British ordnance shot, and was labeled by the sergeant, “A present from John Bull to Uncle Sam.”
Result of the Battle in 1814. Oswego at Present. Major Cochran. Dr. John Cochran.
ed toward the falls, to defend the stores, destroying the bridges in their rear. The British burned the barracks, and, after spiking some of the guns, evacuated the fort, and retired to their ships at three o'clock on the morning of the 7th. The loss of the Americans was six killed, thirty-eight wounded, and twenty-five missing. The enemy lost, in killed, wounded, drowned, and missing, two hundred and thirty-five." They returned on the 9th, and sent a flag into the village, to inform the people of their intention to land a large force and capture the stores; but, being informed that the bridges were destroyed and the stores removed, the fleet weighed anchor and returned to Kingston. Scarcely a feature of old Oswego is left. The little hamlet of the Revolution and the tiny village of 1814 have grown __ – into a flourishing city. Heavy stone piers, built by the United States government, guard the harbor from storms, and a strong fortification protects it from enemies. Lake commerce enlivens the mart, and a canal and rail-road daily pour their freights of goods and travel into its lap. While in Oswego I visited the venerable Major Cochran and his excellent lady, the daughter of General Philip Schuyler. Major Cochran was then nearly eighty years old, and feeble in bodily health, but his mind was active and vigorous. His father was Dr. John Cochran,” the surgeon general of the Middle Department of the Revolutionary army; and himself was a member of Congress during the administration of the elder Adams." His family relationship and position made him acquainted with all the general officers of the Revolution, and his reminiscences afforded me much pleasure and instruction during my brief visit. He has since gone down into the grave, and thus the men of that generation, like the sands of an hour-glass, fall into their resting
* Letter of Commodore Chauncy to the Secretary of the Navy.
* Dr. Cochran was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1730. His father came from the north of Ireland. He studied medicine at Lancaster, and served as surgeon's mate in the hospital department during the French and Indian war. At the close of that contest he settled in Albany, and married Gertrude, the only sister of General Schuyler. He entered the Revolutionary army, and in the spring of 1777 Washington appointed him surgeon general of the Middle Department, and in October, 1781, director general of the hospitals of the United States. He removed to New York after the peace, and his eminent services were not forgotten by Washington, who nominated him commissioner of loans for that state. He died at Palatine, Montgomery county, April 6th, 1807, aged 76.
* This view is from the top of the United States Hotel, looking east-northeast. It was hastily sketched during the approach of a thunder-storm, and the “huge herald drops” came down just as I traced the distant water-line of the lake. The objects by the figure in the foreground are the balustrade and chimney of the hotel, now (1848) a summer boarding-house for strangers. The first height beyond the water on the right is the point on which stands Fort Oswego. The land in the far distance, on the same side, is Four-mile Point, behind which Montcalm landed his forces. On the left is seen the light-house upon one of the stone piers, and beyond it spread out the waters of Lake Ontario.
“Circumstances connected with his election are rather amusing. A vessel was to be lanched upon (I think) Seneca Lake, at Geneva, and, it being an unusual event, people came from afar to see it. The young folks gathered there, determined to have a dance at night. A fiddle was procured, but a fiddler was want. ing. Young Cochran was an amateur performer, and his services were demanded on the occasion. He gratified the joyous company, and at the supper-table one of the gentlemen remarked, in commendation of his talents, that he was “fit for Congress.” The hint was favorably received by the company, the matten was “talked up,” and he was nominated and elected a representative in Congress for the district then comprising the whole state of New York west of Schenectady. He always claimed to have fiddled himself into Congress.
Attempted Abduction of General Schuyler by Waltermeyer. Alarm of the Family. Narrow Escape of an Infant
place. His lady, many years his junior, was the youngest and favorite daughter of General Schuyler. She was his traveling companion during his old age, and constantly enjoyed the advantages of the refined society by which he was surrounded. When her mother departed from earth, she was his companion and solace, and was at his bedside, to minister to his wants, in the hour of death." Although the stirring scenes of the Revolution were passed before the years of her infancy were numbered, her intercourse with the great and honorable of that generation, during her youth and early womanhood, brought facts and circumstances to her vigorous mind so forcibly, that their impressions are as vivid and truthful as if made by actual observation. She related many interesting circumstances in the life of her father, and among them that of an attempted abduction of his person in 1781. At the time in question, General Schuyler was residing in the suburbs of Albany, having left the army and engaged in the civil service of his country. Notwithstanding his comparatively obscure position, his aid and counsel were constantly sought, in both military and civil transactions, and he was considered by the enemy one of the prominent obstacles in the way of their success. He was then charged by Washington with the duty of intercepting all communications between General Haldimand in Canada and Clinton in New York. For some time the Tories in the neighborhood of Albany had been employed in capturing prominent citizens and carrying them off to Canada, for the purpose of exchange. Such an attempt was made upon Colonel Gansevoort, and now a bold project was conceived to carry off General Schuyler. John Waltermeyer, a bold partisan and colleague of the notorious Joe Bettys, was employed for the purpose. Accompanied by a gang of Tories, Canadians, and Indians, he repaired to the neighborhood of Albany, but, uncertain how well General Schuyler might be guarded, he lurked among the pine shrubbery in the vicinity eight or ten days. He seized a Dutch laborer, and learned from him the exact position of affairs at Schuyler's house, after which he extorted an oath of secrecy from the man and let him go. The Dutchman seems to have made a mental reservation, for he immediately gave information of the fact to General Schuyler. A Loyalist, who was the general's personal friend, and cognizant of Waltermeyer's design, also warned him. In consequence of the recent abductions, the general kept a guard of six men constantly on duty, three by day and three by night, and after these warnings they and his family were on the alert. August, At the close of a sultry day, the general and his family were sitting in the front 1781, hall. The servants were dispersed about the premises. The three guards relieved for the might were asleep in the basement room, and the three on duty, oppressed by the heat, were lying upon the cool grass in the garden. A servant announced to the general that a stranger desired to speak to him at the back gate. The stranger's errand was at once comprehended. The doors of the house were immediately shut and close barred. The family were hastily collected in an upper room, and the general ran to his bed-chamber for his arms. From the window he saw the house surrounded by armed men. For the purpose of arousing the sentinels upon the grass, and perchance to alarm the town, he fired a pistol from the window. The assailants burst open the doors, and at that moment Mrs. Schuyler perceived that, in the confusion and alarm of the retreat from the hall, her infant child, a few months old, had been left in the cradle in the nursery below. Parental love subdued all fear, and she was flying to the rescue of her child, when the general interposed and prevented her. But her third daughter" instantly rushed down the two flights of stairs, snatched the still sleeping infant from the cradle, and bore it off safely. One of the miscreants hurled a sharp tomahawk at her as she left the room, but it effected no other harm than a slight injury to her dress, within a few inches of the infant's head. As she ascended a private stair-case she met Waltermeyer, who, supposing her to be a servant, exclaimed, “Wench, wench, where
* Grief for the loss of his wife, and the melancholy circumstances connected with the death of his son-inlaw, General Alexander Hamilton, weighed heavily upon his spirits. His death was hastened by exposure and fatigue while accompanying two French dukes over the battle-ground cf Saratoga. He was taken ill there, and never recovered. * Margaret, afterward the first wife of the late venerated General Van Rensselaer (the patroon) of Albany.