Throughout history there have been many battles but few, other than those that were momentous, have endured in the collective memory. The Battle of Oriskany will be memorable for some as featuring in the classic novel (and subsequently movie) of Walter D. Edmonds book 'Drums along the Mohawk.’ Its historical significance, the subject of this book, is no less interesting. It became for example one of the bloodiest encounters fought by the forces of the United States in terms of casualties suffered as a percentage of those engaged with over 50% of the American force killed or wounded. It is also popularly believed to be the first occasion the American national flag flew in victory over a field of conflict. Oriskany was fought on 6th August, 1777 during the American War of Independence between the Mohawk Valley relief force of militia and Indians, under Herkimer which was pushing towards Fort Stanwix to relieve its siege, and a British force whose task it was to block them, commanded by Barry St. Leger. St. Leger’s force consisted of Hanau and Loyalist troops supported by Iroquois Indian allies. Herkimer's force was ambushed just 10 miles from Stanwix in a small valley. There ensued a bloody, close quarter conflict typical of the deep woods, with protagonists often firing at each other from point blank cover or coming to hand to hand combat. The outcome was ambiguous, but probably resulted tactically in favour of the British, though, more importantly, strategically for the Americans. This Leonaur edition benefits from a campaign overview with maps by Henry Carrington. Available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The Mohawk from the mouth of the Oriskany curved northward, so that here it is as far away in a right line, perhaps a mile in each case. The bottoms were marshy, as they yet are where the trees exclude the sun. Now the New York Central Railroad and the Erie Canal mark the general direction of the march of the patriots from their starting-place hither. Then forests of beach and birch and maple and hemlock covered the land where now orchards and rich meadows extend, and grain-fields are ripening for the harvest. Even the forests are gone, and the Mohawk and the hills and the ravine and “Battle Brook,” are the sole witnesses to confirm the traditions which have come down to us. The elms which fling their plumes to the sky, are young successors to the knightly warriors who were once masters here. Through the forests Herkimer from his elevation could cate the general outlines of the battle. Some of his advance had fallen at the farthest point to which they had marched. Upon their left, the enemy had appeared in force, and had closed up from the southward, and on the east side of the ravine. The patriots had been pushed to the north side of the road, away from the line which the corduroy still marks in the ravine, and those who tied sought the river.<br>
Skeletons have been found in the smaller ravine about two hundred rods west, and at the mouth of the Oriskany, an extent of a mile and a half; and gun-barrels and other relics along the line of the Erie Canal, and down towards the river. These are witnesses of the limits of the battle. They mark the centre here. Here gathered the brave militia without uniforms, in the garb of farmers, for their firesides and their homes, and the republic just born which was to be. Against them here, in the ravine, pursuing and capturing the rear-guard on the east of the ravine or down in it, and thence towards the river, rushed from the forests, uniformed and well equipped, Johnson’s Greens in their gay colour, the German Chasseurs, Europe’s best soldiers, with picked men of British and Canadian regiments, and the Indian warriors decked in the equipments with which they made war brilliant.<br>
Some of this scene, Herkimer saw; some of it extent of space and thickness of forest hid from his eye. But here he faced the enemy, and here he ordered the battle. During the carnage, a storm of wind and rain and lightning brought a respite. Old men preserve the tradition that in the path by which the enemy came, a broad windfall was cut, and was seen for long years afterwards. The elements caused only a short lull. In came at the thick of the strife, a detachment of Johnson’s Greens; and they sought to appear reinforcements for the patriots.<br>
They paid dearly for the fraud, for thirty were quickly killed. Captain Gardenier slew three with his spear, one after the other. Captain Dillenback assailed by three, brained one, shot the second, and bayoneted the third. Henry Thompson grew faint with hunger, sat down on the body of a dead soldier, ate his lunch, and refreshed resumed the fight. William Merckley, mortally wounded, to a friend offering to assist him, said: “Take care of yourself, leave me to my fate.”<br>
Such men could not be whipped. The Indians finding they were losing many, became suspicious that their allies wished to destroy them, and fired on them, giving unexpected aid to the patriot band. Tradition relates that an Oneida maid, only fifteen years old, daughter of a chief, fought on the side of the patriots, firing her rifle, and shouting her battle cry. The Indians raised the cry of retreat, “Oonah!” “Oonah!” Johnson heard the firing; of a sortie from the fort. The British fell back, after five hours of desperate fight. J Herkimer and his gallant men held the ground.<br>
Such men could not be whipped. The Indians finding they were losing many, became suspicious that their allies wished to destroy them, and fired on them, giving unexpected aid to the patriot band. Tradition relates that an Oneida maid, only fifteen years old, daughter of a chief, fought on the side of the patriots, firing her rifle, and shouting her battle cry. The Indians raised the cry of retreat, “Oonah!” “Oonah!” Johnson heard the firing; of a sortie from the fort. The British fell back, after five hours of desperate fight. J Herkimer and his gallant men held the ground.