Loyalist rangers of the American War of Independence
It is, perhaps, in the the character of the American Rangers of the eighteenth century that they would be perceived in entirely different ways depending upon which side they fought. These were guerrilla fighters not regiments of red coated regulars occupying the battle lines. They were a unique kind of warrior equal to their tough environment and with their own brand of warfare. Their task was to disappear quickly into the wilderness only to appear unexpectedly to wreak ferocious destruction then melt away again. Often supported by native Indians, whose ferocity in battle, known to everyone and all but impossible to moderate once it had been unleashed, the Rangers fought a savage war. Robert Rogers has been perceived as a heroic figure of the French and Indian War by the British and the Americans in whose cause he served. The creator of Butler’s Rangers, John Butler also served in that conflict at Ticonderoga, Fort Frontenac, Fort Niagara and Montreal. After the war he became one of the most prosperous men in the American colonies, second only to Sir William Johnson. In 1775 war came again destroying old affiliations and this time as a ‘loyalist’ and after taking part in the bloody affair at Oriskany, Butler formed and commanded a unit which would fight a savage rangers war, but against the very people who had once been friends and allies. At Wyoming Valley, Forty Fort and Cherry Valley, Butler’s Rangers and their Iroquois allies earned the undying enmity of the American people. This book provides three useful insights into Butler, his rangers and his most notorious engagements for all students of the period and those interested in another aspect of rangers at war.
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The wakeful Mrs. Clyde had dreamed of Indian alarms and of warnings from Mollie Brant, and at daylight urged her husband to repair to the fort and learn if all were right. He had not time to return when a wounded rider came in with the word that the foe had overtaken and shot him. The signal gun was fired, a dismal rainy morning. Mrs. Clyde being prepared, gathered her family and fled to the ravine as the savages emerged from the forest behind. There were eight children besides an apprentice and a little dog. The babe never wailed, the dog did not bark. The rain turned to sleet and snow, yet all escaped after a night’s exposure and terror, a relief party coming out from the fort and all running the gauntlet of the enemy’s fire in crossing the open ground in front of the palisade. A battle raged here for hours, renewed on the 12th, but the cannon compelled the foe to retire. Colonel Clyde was luckily within, and he seems to have assumed the command, or it might have been taken, as nearly all its officers were surprised at their quarters in the houses of the settlement.<br>
The Wells house had been the first to be attacked. They were at worship when the rifle of a Tory felled the head of the household. The whole family were slain, Robert Wells, his wife and four children, his mother, brother and sister and three domestics, together with the guard of Colonel Alden. Having secured the Lieutenant Colonel, Stacy, Brant demanded, “Who runs there?” and being told, “The colonel,” he turned over his prisoner and pursued the fugitive, calling on him to surrender. Alden turned to use his pistol, but the tomahawk flew and he fell in the roadway. The body, dragged to one side, was found on a spot still pointed out just below the ascent to the Wells house. This is the account given in a MS. by Judge George C. Clyde, and the account also related to me personally by Mr. George Ripley, both of them grandsons of Colonel Clyde; namely that Colonel Alden was killed by Brant himself, but, as he alleged, in self-defence. A pillar of concrete with marble tablet erected on this spot marks the occurrence.<br>
Every foot of the Cherry Valley soil has its tale of the experiences of that day. Hugh Mitchell avoided the Indians, but gained his house to find his wife and four children left for dead, two being carried captives. One child showed signs of life, and as he was in the act of restoring her the blow of a Tory extinguished the spark; all that was left was to load the corpses on a sled, and over the fresh fallen snow, bring and lay them with the ghastly rows with which the great trench was being filled. He recognized his near neighbour, a Royalist renegade named Newbury, as the man who committed this brutal act, and he had the satisfaction, later, of bringing him to the gallows for his crime. Mitchell lies buried at Cherry Valley at the age of 102 years.<br>
Mrs. Elizabeth Dickson escaped with her children to the hill behind the house, but her infant fretting she ventured back for milk and did not return. The daughter, Eleanor, peering about, at length saw a scalpstick on which, drying, among others waved a tress of brilliant auburn of a colour such as there was none other in the settlement but her mother’s. The Campbell home was defended so valiantly by the aged Captain Cannon, the grandfather, a naval veteran, that the Indians let him go; but his wife was captured, and, too feeble to make the journey, was struck down in the snow by an Indian the next day, and her body was buried at the fort.<br>
It may have been this piece of barbarity which led Brant to insist on the release of the majority of the women and children. Forty-five of these were now permitted to return. The thirty-four carried off, as reported in a return by Colonel Harper shortly after, included all males captured and the families of prominent persons, and likewise some eight or ten negroes. Thirty-three inhabitants were massacred and fourteen of the regiment, besides the colonel. Colonel Campbell was absent at the time; his wife was captured with her infant and other children, except one, William, rescued and carried to the river by a faithful slave. He was afterwards Surveyor General of the state.<br>
Mrs. Campbell’s experience was most harrowing. The murdered Mrs. Cannon was her mother. With the little babe in her arms she made the bitter journey all the way down the Susquehanna to Tioga Point, and up the Chemung to the Seneca Castle. Here she passed the winter, not ill-treated by the Indians, but destitute of sufficient clothing and in deepest anxiety about her children’s fate as well as of her friends. One day a squaw asked her why she wore the linen cap, then the mark of a lady, saying she had such a cap, and produced it. Mrs. Campbell recognized it as the one worn by her loved friend, Jane Wells! Towards spring the British officers at Fort Niagara, hearing that there was a lady who was a prisoner at the castle, sent a messenger on horseback with a supply of female raiment and provisions for her relief.<br><br>************<br><br>About a month previous, messengers had been sent to the commander-in-chief of the army requesting a detachment for succour. None, however, arrived, and on the morning of the 3rd of July a council was held to determine the question of immediately attacking the enemy or waiting longer for assistance. During this conference five men, citizens of Wyoming, arrived at the fort, three of whom had resigned their commissions in the army. These had heard nothing of the messengers.<br>
The advocates of immediate attack now prevailed in the council, and at dawn of day the little band left the fort and began their march up the valley. Having proceeded about two miles, they halted to reconnoitre, and volunteers were asked for the service. Abraham Pike and an Irish companion (whose name has not been preserved) offered their services. These found the enemy in possession of “Wintermoot’s,” carousing in supposed security, but on their return the scouts met two strolling Indians, by whom they were fired upon, and immediately returned the fire without effect.<br>
Hastening their advance, the little army found the enemy formed in line of battle—their left under command of Col. John Butler, resting upon the river’s bank, and their right, composed of Indians and painted Tories, resting upon the swamp which still appears a prominent feature in the landscape. The settlers immediately deployed and formed in corresponding order—the right commanded by Col. Zebulon Butler and Major John Garrett, the left by Col. Nathan Denison, supported by Lieut. Col. George Dorrance.<br>
It was five o’clock and the battle had begun. It was contested for some time with unflinching courage, each man advancing a few steps at every discharge. The effect was soon apparent upon the British line, which was already slowly retiring, when a horrid yell on the left proclaimed that the savages had penetrated the swamp and turned Denison’s wing. He now gave the order to “fall back,” intending to double his line at the point menaced and wheel to the left, pivoting upon the centre. This movement was difficult of execution, with raw militia, and the order was misunderstood.<br>
At the same moment the British Colonel Butler succeeded in bringing a party of troops through the bushes on the river’s bank and turned the right of the settlers. Thus, enfiladed and outflanked, the latter were forced back on each other, and the rout became general. “Stand up to your work, Sir,” said Col. Dorrance to one of his men who was wavering while the Indians were sprinting forward with savage yells.<br>
“Don’t leave me, my children!” cried Col. Butler; “stand firm, and the victory is ours!” But all was of no avail; the force of numbers told with fearful effect, and the battle was already lost.<br>
Some of the settlers succeeded in reaching the river, and escaped by swimming; others reached the mountains, after the savages (now occupied by plunder) had given up pursuit. Many of those who escaped, with the women and children, took refuge in Wyoming.<br>
On the next day the combined British and Indian forces appeared there and demanded its surrender. It was stipulated in the articles of capitulation that the garrison was to surrender their prisoners and military stores, and remain in the country unmolested.<br>
Three hundred of the settlers were either killed or missing. Among them were one lieutenant-colonel, one major, ten captains, six lieutenants and two ensigns.<br>
The conditions of the capitulation were entirely disregarded by the victors, and every species of barbarity wantonly committed. No known adjunct of savage cruelty was unemployed upon the defenceless settlement. The village of Wilkes-Barre, then consisting of twenty-three houses, was burned, and men, wives and children separated and borne into captivity. The remaining inhabitants, driven from the valley, wandered on foot sixty miles through the Great Swamp, almost without food or clothing. Numbers perished on the journey, principally women and children, some died of their wounds, while others wandered from the path and were lost.<br>
The Battle and Massacre of Wyoming having produced much public sensation. General Washington sent a detachment of two thousand five hundred men, under command of General John Sullivan, to drive out the British and Indians, restore peace to the valley and lay waste the Indian towns of southern New York. This gallant officer arrived with his command on the 22nd of June, 1779, and continued in the valley until the 31st of July. Nine days before, a company of Pennsylvania militia, who had marched to the Lackawaxen, were attacked by one hundred and forty Indians and defeated with the loss of fifty men.<br>
At the same time British and Indian parties attacked Freeland Fort above Northumberland, and Minisink on the Delaware, hoping by these diversions to distract Sullivan from his purpose. No such result occurred. The intrepid officer, putting his whole force in motion, on the last day of July moved from his quarters with pack horses in front, baggage in barges on the river, and martial music front and rear. He camped the first night at Lackawanna, then successively at Buttermilk Falls, Tunkhanrock, Williamson’s, Wysauking, Sheshequin and Tioga, and, leaving a garrison at the latter place, pushed on to the attack of the Indian settlements. He found the enemy, in number about a thousand, entrenched behind a breastwork at Newtown (now Elmira), attacked them August 29th. and routed them with considerable slaughter. He then proceeded through the country of the Six Nations, and laid it waste as far as the Genesee River, destroying eighteen villages, with countless orchards and corn-fields. Returning by the same route he was received and entertained with great ceremony by Col. Butler and the settlers who had found their way back.