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True Aim of History. Capture of Billenger and Frey. St. Leger's Messengers. Their Threats, Persuasions, and Falsehoods.
of personal courage exhibited in that battle, which, according to the military ethics of a less benevolent age, would entitle the actors to the crown of laurel, the applause of multitudes, and the panegyric of the historian. But the picture is so revolting to the eye of Christian benevolence, and so repugnant to the nobler feelings of brotherhood, which are now happily impressing their benignant features upon society, that it is far better to draw the curtain of silence before it, and plead for the warriors, in extenuation, the dreadful necessity that impelled them to deeds so shocking to humanity. It is high time that the practice of pampering a depraved public taste by giving the horrid details of slaughter in battle, and of invest. ing with glory, as models for imitation, those who fight most furiously and slay most profusely, should fall into desuetude. These details are not essential elements of history. They contain no useful lesson, no seed of philosophy worthy of germination, no real benefit for the understanding or the heart." Thus far I have avoided such recitals, and I shall do so through the whole work before me. Neither pen nor pencil shall intentionally contribute one thought for a panegyric on war or its abettors. The student of our Revolution, while he may justly rejoice at the vast and invaluable blessings which followed that event, should be taught to lament rather than admire the dreadful instrumentalities that were necessarily employed. He may thus be taught without lessening the veneration which he ought to feel for those who periled life and fortune in defense of the liberty we now enjoy. Let us turn from these better contemplations to the more unpleasant task of tracing out the succeeding events of the siege of Fort Schuyler. So completely was the garrison still environed by the besieging force, after the battle at Oriskany, that no correct intelligence of that event could reach them. St. Leger took advantage of this circumstance, and, by false representations of victory for himself, the total discomfiture of the provincials, and the victorious advance of Burgoyne, endeavored to bring the garrison to surrender. Colonel Billenger and Major Frey were made prisoners, and on the evening of the battle they were forced to write a letter to Colonel Gansevoort, which contained many misrepresentations, and a recommendation to cease resistance. St. Leger's adjutant general, Colonel John Butler, delivered the letter to Gansevoort, and at the same time communicated a verbal demand of surrender from his commander. Gansevoort refused an answer to a verbal summons, unless made by St. Leger himself. On the next morning, Colonel Butler and two other officers approached the fort with a white flag, and asked permission to enter as bearers of a message to the commander. The request was granted; they were conducted, blind-folded, within the fortress, and received by Gansevoort in his dining-room, which was lighted with candles, the windows being closed. Colonels Willett and Mellen were present, and the messengers of St. Leger were politely received. Major Ancram, one of them, more fluent in speech than the others, made known the wishes of St. Leger. He spoke of the humanity of his feelings, and his desire to prevent further bloodshed. He assured Gansevoort that it was with much difficulty the Indians were restrained from massacre, and that the only salvation of the garrison was an immediate surrender of the fort and all the public stores. The officers and soldiers would be allowed to retain their baggage and other private property, and their personal safety should be guarantied. He expressed a hope that these honorable terms would be immediately complied with, for, if they were not, it would be out of St. Leger's power to renew the proposition. The Indians, he remarked, were ready and eager to march down the country and destroy the inhabitants; and they were reminded that the total destruction of Herkimer's relief corps, and the fact that Burgoyne had possession of Albany, extinguished all hope of succor for the garrison.
* An example in an account of the battle in question, given in Stone's Life of Brant, may be cited as an illustration. A Captain Dillenback was assailed by three of Johnson's Greens. “This officer,” says the biographer, “had declared he would not be taken alive, and he was not. One of his three assailants seized his gun, but he suddenly wrenched it from him and felled him with the butt. He shot the second dead, and thrust the third through with his bayonet. But in the moment of his triumph at an exploit of which even the mighty Hector, or either of the sons of Zeruiah, might have been proud, a ball laid this brave man low in the dust.” It is the last clause which is chiefly objectionable, for therein the historian, not content with recording the bloody act (justified by the law of self-preservation), lauds it as a deed worthy of the highest praise. * Letter of St. Leger to Burgoyne, dated Oswego, August 27th, 1777.
Reply of Colonel Willett to St. Leger's Messengers. St. Leger's written Demand of Surrender. Gansevoort's Reply.
This speech, made up of falsehood, persuasion, and threats, excited the indignation of the patriot officers, and Colonel Willett, with the approbation of Colonel Gansevoort, promptly and properly replied. I give his words, as contained in his narrative. They were delivered with emphasis, while he looked the officer, he says, full in the face: “Do I understand you, sir? I think you say that you came from a British colonel, who is commander of the army that invests this fort; and, by your uniform, you appear to be an officer in the British service. You have made a long speech on the occasion of your visit, which, stripped of all its superfluities, amounts to this—that you come from a British colonel to the commandant of this garrison, to tell him that, if he does not deliver up the garrison into the hands of your colonel, he will send his Indians to murder our women and children. You will please to reflect, sir, that their blood will be upon your heads, not upon ours. We are doing our duty; this garrison is committed to our charge, and we will take care of it. After you get out of it, you may turn round and look at its outside, but never expect to come in again, unless you come a prisoner. I consider the message you have brought a degrading one for a British officer to send, and by no means reputable for a British officer to carry. For my own part, I declare, before I would consents to deliver this garrison to such a murdering set as your army, by your own account, consists of, I would suffer my body to be filled with splinters and set on fire, as you know has at times been practiced by such hordes of women and children killers as belong to your army.” These words expressed the sentiments of the garrison, and the officers very justly concluded that Burgoyne could not be at Albany, and the Tryon county militia all slain or dispersed, else such a solicitude on the part of the enemy for an immediate surrender, on such, favorable conditions, would not be exhibited. The manner of the messengers and the tenor of their discourse made the besieged feel stronger, and more resolved to defend their post. On the 9th, St. Leger sent a written demand for a surrender, which contained the August, substance of Ma- 1777. jor Ancram's speech Gansevoort immediately replied, in writing, “Sir, your letter of this date I have received, in answer to which I say, that it is my determined resolution, with the force under my command, to defend this fort to the last extremity, in behalf of the United States, who have placed me here to defend it against all their enemies.” This prompt and bold stand was unexpected to the British commander. His “cannon had not the least effect upon the sod-work of the fort,” and his “royals had – only the power of teazing.” He thereFont Schuylen AND Vicinity.” fore commenced approaching the fort by *
* Description of The ENGRAving.—A, Fort Schuyler; b, southwest bastion, three guns; c, northwest bastion, four guns; d, northeast bastion, three guns; e, southeast bastion, four guns; g, laboratory; h h h, barracks; I, horn-works begun; K, covered way; L L, glacis; M, sally-port; N, officers' quarters; OO, Willett's attack. The figures refer to the redoubts, batteries, &c., of the enemy. 1, a battery of three guns; 2, bomb battery, four mortars; 3, bomb battery of three guns; 444, redoubts to cover the batteries; 5, line of approaches, 66, British encampment; 7, Loyalists; 8, Indians; 9, ruins of Fort Newport.
A Tory Address. Continuation of the Siege. Adventure of Willett and Stockwell. Gansevoort's Resolution.
“sapping to such a distance that the rampart might be brought within their portices, at the same time all materials were preparing to run a mine under the most formidable bastion.” In the mean while an address to the people of Tryon county, signed by Johnson, Claus, and Butler, was issued, strongly protesting their desire for peace, promising pardon and protection to all that should submit, and threatening all the horrors of Indian cruelty if they resisted. They called upon the principal men of the valley to come up and oblige the garrison at Fort Schuyler to do at once what they would be forced to do finally—surrender. This document was sent by messengers through Tryon county, but it effected little else than get the messengers themselves into trouble.” The siege, in the mean while, was steadily, but feebly, continued. The garrison, fearing that re-enforcements for the enemy might arrive, or that the siege might continue until their own provisions and ammunition should fail, resolved to communicate with General Schuyler, then at Stillwater, and implore succor. Colonel Willett volunteered to be the messenger, and on a very stormy night, when shower August 10 after shower came down furiously, he and Lieutenant Stockwell left the fort by 1777, the sally-port at ten o'clock, each armed with a spear, and crept upon their hands and knees along a morass to the river. They crossed it upon a log, and were soon beyond the line of drowsy sentinels. It was very dark, their path-way was in a thick and tangled wood. and they soon lost their way. The barking of a dog apprised them of their proximity to an Indian camp, and for hours they stood still, fearing to advance or retreat. The clouds broke away toward dawn, and the morning star in the east, like the light of hope, revealed to them their desired course. They then pushed on in a zigzag way, and, like the Indians, sometimes traversed the bed of a stream, to foil pursuers that might be upon their trail. They reached the German Flats in safety, and, mounting fleet horses, hurried down the valley to the headquarters of General Schuyler, who had already heard of the defeat of Herkimer. and was devising means for the succor of the garrison at Fort Schuyler. St. Leger continued the siege. He advanced, by parallels, within one hundred and fifty yards of the fort, and the garrison, ignorant of the fate of Willett and Stockwell, or the relief that was preparing for them below, began to feel uneasy. Their ammunition and provisions being much reduced in quantity, some hinted an opinion to their commander that a surrender would be humane policy. Gansevoort's stout and hopeful heart would not yield admission to such an idea, and he informed the garrison that he had resolved, in case succor should not appear before their supplies were exhausted, to sally out at night and cut his way through the enemy's camp. Suddenly, and mysteriously to the garrison, the besiegers broke up their camp, and fled so precipitately from before the fort that they left their tents, artillery, and camp equipage behind them. The mystery was soon solved. We have already noticed the appeal of General Schuyler to his troops at the mouth of the Mohawk, and the readiness with which Arnold and several hundred men volunteered to march to the relief of Gansevoort. These troops consisted chiefly of the Massachusetts brigade of General Learned. They marched immediately, under the general command of Arnold, and were joined by the first New York regiment, under Colonel Livingston. On the 20th, Arnold and a portion of the troops arrived at Fort Dayton, where he intended to wait for the remainder, under Learned, to arrive; but, hearing of the near approaches of St. Leger to Fort Schuyler, he resolved to push forward, and hazard a battle before it should be too late. He knew that his small force was too inconsiderable to warrant a regular engagement, and he conceived several stratagems to supply his deficiency of strength. One, which proved successful, was adopted. Among the Tory pris. oners who were taken with Walter Butler was a coarse, unlettered, half idiot named Hon
* Letter of St. Leger to Burgoyne, dated Oswego, August 27th, 1777.
* Walter N. Butler, a son of Colonel John Butler, and afterward one of the most brutal of the Tory leaders, with fourteen white soldiers and the same number of Indians, appeared at the German Flats, at the house of a Tory named Shoemaker. Colonel Wesson was then in command of a small fortification there, called Fort Dayton, and he sent a party to arrest Butler and his associates. They succeeded, and Butler was tried and condemned as a spy, but was afterward sent a prisoner to Albany, under a reprieve.
Hon-Yost Schuyler. His successful Mission to St. Leger's Camp. Arnold's Proclamation. Alarm of the Indians.
Yost Schuyler, a nephew of General Herkimer, who, with his mother and brother, lived near Little Falls. He was tried and condemned to death. His mother hastened to Fort Dayton and pleaded for his life. For a time Arnold was inexorable, but finally consented to spare him, on condition that he should go to Fort Schuyler and endeavor so to alarm St. Leger, by representations of the great number of Americans that were approaching, as to induce him to raise the siege. Hon-Yost readily agreed to perform the duty, for, in reality, his political creed was so chameleon-like, that it would assume any required hue, according to circumstances. His mother offered herself as a hostage for his faithfulness, but Arnold chose his brother Nicholas as security. The latter was placed in confinement, and Hon. Yost, with a friendly Oneida, who promised to aid him, departed for Fort Schuyler. Arnold, having issued a proclamation' from Fort Dayton to counteract the address of Johnson, Claus, and Butler, marched ten miles onward toward Fort Stanwix. There Augusta he received a communication from Colonel Gansevoort, announcing that the siege 1777. had suddenly been raised, and that the enemy had fled, in great haste, toward Wood Creek; why, he could not imagine. Arnold perceived that Hon-Yost had been faithful. He and the Indian had managed the affair adroitly, and the charge of idiotcy against Hon-Yost was wiped out forever. Before leaving Fort Dayton, he had several bullets shot through his coat, and, with these evidences of a “terrible engagement with the enemy,” he appeared among the Indians of St. Leger's camp, many of whom knew him personally. He ran into their midst almost out of breath, and apparently much frightened. He told them that the Americans were approaching in great numbers, and that he had barely escaped with his life. His bullet-riddled coat confirmed the story. When they inquired the number of the Americans, he pointed to the leaves on the trees, and shook his head mysteriously. The Indians were greatly agitated. They had been decoyed into their present situation, and had been moody and uneasy since the battle of Oriskany. At the moment of Hon-Yost's arrival they were engaged in a religious observance—a consultation, through their prophet, of Manitou, or the Great Spirit, to supplicate his guidance and protection. The council of chiefs at the pow-wow at once resolved upon flight, and told St. Leger so. He sent for and questioned Hon-Yost, who told him that Arnold, with two thousand men, would be upon him in twentyfour hours. At that moment, according to arrangement, the friendly Oneida, who had taken a circuitous route, approached the camp from another direction, with a belt. On his way he met two or three straggling Indians of his tribe, who joined him, and they all confirmed the story of Hon-Yost. They pretended that a bird had brought them the news that the valley below was swarming with warriors. One said that the army of Burgoyne was cut to pieces, and another told St. Leger that Arnold had three thousand men near. They shook their heads mysteriously when questioned about numbers by the Indians, and pointed, like Hon-Yost, upward to the leaves. The savages, now thoroughly alarmed, prepared to flee. St. Leger tried every means, by offers of bribes and promises, to induce them to remain, but the panic, and suspicion of foul play, had determined them to go. He tried to make them drunk, but they refused to drink. He then besought them to take the rear of his army in retreating; this they refused, and indignantly said, “You mean to sacrifice us. When you marched down, you said there would be no fighting for us Indians; we might go down and smoke our pipes; whereas numbers of our warriors have been killed, and you mean
* The address of Arnold was well calculated to awe the timid and give courage to the wavering Whigs. The prestige of his name gave great weight to it. He prefaced it with a flourish of his title and position, as follows: “By the Honorable Benedict Arnold, Esq., general and commander-in-chief of the army of the United States of America on the Mohawk River.” He denominated a certain Barry St. Leger “a leader of a banditti of robbers, murderers, and traitors, composed of savages of America and more savage Britons,” and denounced him as a seducer of the ignorant and unthinking from the cause of freedom, and as threatening ruin and destruction to the people. He then offered a free pardon to all who had joined him or upheld him, “whether savages, Germans, Americans, or Britons,” provided they laid down their arms and made oath of allegiance to the United States within three days. But if they persisted in their “wicked courses,” and “were determined to draw on themselves the just vengeance of Heaven and their exasperated country, they must expect no mercy from either.”
Flight of St. Leger's Forces to Oswego. The Spoils. Amusement of the Indians. End of the Siege. Captain Gregg.
August a to sacrifice us also.” The council broke up, and the Indians fled. The panic was 1777 communicated to the rest of the camp, and in a few hours the beleaguering army were flying in terror toward their boats on Oneida Lake. Hon-Yost accompanied them in their flight as far as Wood Creek, where he managed to desert. He found his way back to the fort that night, and was the first to communicate to Colonel Gansevoort the intelligence of Arnold's approach.” The Indians, it is said, made themselves merry at the precipitate flight of the whites,” who threw away their arms and knapsacks, so that nothing should impede their progress. The savages also gratified their passion for murder and plunder by killing many of their retreating allies on the borders of the lake, and stripping them of every article of value. They also plundered them of their boats, and, according to St. Leger, “ became more formidable than the enemy they had to expect.” Half starved and naked, the whites of the scattered army made their way to Oswego, and, with St. Leger, went down Ontario to Canada. Colonel Gansevoort, on the retreat of St. Leger, sent a dispatch to Arnold, acquainting him with the fact. That general sent forward nine hundred men, with directions to attempt to overtake the fugitives, and the next day reached the fort himself Gansevoort had already sent out a detachment to harass the flying enemy, and several prisoners were brought in, with a large quantity of spoil, among which was the escritoire, or writing-desk, of St. Leger, containing his private papers. Colonel Willett was left in command of the garrison at the fort, and Arnold and his men marched back to the main army then at Stillwater, under Gates, who had superseded Schuyler), to perform valiant service in the battle that soon afterward occurred on Bemis's Heights. Thus ended the siege of Fort Schuyler," in the progress of which the courage, endurance, and skill of the Americans, every where so remarkable in the Revolution, were fully displayed."
* Mary Jemison, whose narrative we have referred to, says that the Indians (at least the Senecas) were greatly deceived. They were sent for to “see the British whip the rebels.” They were told that they were not wanted to fight, but might sit down and smoke their pipes, and look quietly on. With this impression, the Seneca warriors accompanied the expedition, and, as we have seen, suffered great loss.
* Hon-Yost made his way back to Fort Dayton, to the great joy of his friends. He afterward fled from the valley with his family and fourteen Tory associates, and joined Sir John Johnson. After the war he returned to the valley, where he remained until his death in 1818.
* Gordon (ii., 240), on the verbal authority of the Rev. Mr. Kirkland, who was at Fort Schuyler, relates that St. Leger, while standing on the border of a morass alone with Sir John Johnson, reproached the latter with being the cause of the disaffection of the Indians. High words and mutual criminations followed. Two chiefs, standing near, overheard the quarrel, and put an end to it by shouting, “They are coming ! they are coming !” Both officers, terribly alarmed, plunged into the morass. This was the signal for the general retreat of the whole army. Such was their haste, that they left their tents, baggage, and artillery behind, and the bombardier was left asleep in the bomb battery When he awoke he found himself alone, the sole representative in camp of the besieging army. The Indians continued their cry, at intervals, “They are coming ! they are coming !” behind the fleeing Tories, and thus amused themselves all the way to Oneida Lake.
* Letter of St. Leger to Burgoyne, August 27th, 1777.
* Fort Schuyler was destroyed by fire and flood in 1781, and was never rebuilt.
* Before the fort was invested by St. Leger, the Indians, in small parties, annoyed the garrison, and frequently attacked individuals when away from their dwellings. On one occasion they fired upon three little girls who were out gathering blackberries. Two were killed and scalped, but the third escaped. The remarkable adventure of Captain Gregg is worthy of notice. He was a soldier of the garrison of Fort Schuyler, and went out one day to shoot pigeons, with two of his soldiers, and a boy named Wilson (who became an ensign in the army at the age of eighteen, and conducted the surrender of the British standards at Yorktown). Fearing the Indians, the boy was sent back. They had not proceeded far before some savages in ambush shot all three down, sealped them, and made off. The captain, though badly wounded, was not killed. His two soldiers, however, were lifeless, and, laying his bleeding head upon the body of one of them, he expected soon to die. His dog had accompanied him, and, in great agitation, whined, licked his wounds, and otherwise manifested his grief and attachment. He told the dog to go for help, and the animal, as if endowed with reason, at once obeyed. He ran about a mile, and found two men fishing. By piteous moans he induced them to follow him to his wounded master. The captain was carried to the sort, and, after suffering much, was restored to health. “He was a most frightful spectacle,” says Dr. Thacher, from whose journal (page 144) this account is taken. “The whole of his scalp was removed; in two places on the forepart of his head the tomahawk had penetrated the skull; there was a wound on