Revolutionary War

In 1775 the garrison at Fort Stanwix was zero and the Americans quickly took control of the Carry. A mistake that would eventually cause the British to lose the state of New York. On June 27, 1776, American commander in New York, General Philip Schuyler, ordered Colonel Elias Dayton of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment to proceed to Fort Stanwix. The objective was to rebuild the fort and be prepared for possible attacks on the frontier. Dayton moved all but two companies of his regiment to Fort Stanwix. Colonel Dayton renamed the fort, Schuyler, in honor of their commander. Since there is a Fort Schuyler in Utica, and New York City, I will continue to call her Fort Stanwix.

The British high command began to devise strategies for the new year. General John Burgoyne drew up plans for a three pronged invasion of New York. The objective was to split the state in half and to use New York as a major supply base for operations against the colonists. Burgoyne’s Army was to attack the defenses of Lake Champlain and march his Army to Albany. General Sir William Howe was to attack New York City and travel on the Hudson River up to Albany to meet up with Burgoyne. Colonel Barry St. Leger was to travel down the St. Lawrence River, invade Central New York via Oswego, travel down Wood Creek, capture Fort Stanwix, travel down the Mohawk River and link up with Burgoyne and Howe at Albany. If they could capture Albany, New York would be split and the American forces would have another front to defend. The plan was immediately put into motion.

Burgoyne’s Army got tangled up around Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. General Howe misinterpreted his orders and sailed his army to Philadelphia. However, the biggest disaster of the plan happened under St. Leger. St. Leger quickly moved from Oswego to execute his portion of the plan. He had, under his command, British Regulars, New York Loyalists and Indians loyal to the Crown. A total force of around 2000. His army was a powder keg of hostility. The majority of his army consisted of Loyalists who had one goal in mind, revenge.

The American Army moved in its big guns so to speak. Colonel Peter Gansevoort and the 3rd New York Regiment was sent to defend Fort Stanwix. Gansevoort was liked by his men for his admirable qualities of being very patriotic and stubborn. Gansevoort ordered immediate action be taken to re-fortify the fort and the men were worked day and night to complete this task. Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett was sent from Fort Constitution on the Hudson River to Fort Stanwix. Willett, like Gansevoort, was very patriotic, but he was very quick-tempered. When Willett reached Fort Stanwix, the garrison was up to 600 men. A few miscellaneous companies were sent to the fort which brought the total garrison up to 750 men.

The soldiers of Fort Stanwix were heavy drinkers and they loved to have a good time. They took on the persona of "lean and mean". They were very raggedly looking with no uniforms or shoes. Keep in mind that the 3rd New York Regiment wore a red-faced blue uniform, but supplies were so low that not all troops were given one to wear. The Oneida Indians were on the side of the Americans and served as scouts for Gansevoort. They began to inform Gansevoort about the British movements from Oswego. The Loyalist Indians began to surround the fort. During mid-June the hostilities in and around Fort Stanwix begin to heat up.

Some important days in the forts history:

June 25, 1777: Captain James Gregg and Corporal Samuel Mattison were hunting pigeons near the ruins of Fort Newport and were attacked by the Loyalist Indians. Corporal Mattison was killed and Captain Gregg was severely wounded in the ambush. Captain Gregg was one of a few people to ever survive being scalping. Gansevoort orders the fort to be put on alert. Gansevoort sends a letter to General Schuyler and informs him of the attack, and if he could order the Tryon County Militia (Fort Stanwix was in Tryon County), under the command of General Nicholas Herkimer, at German Flatts to re-enforce the fort. The letter was never answered.

July 3, 1777: A detachment of 16 men under the command of Ensign John Spoon were cutting sod around Fort Stanwix and were ambushed by Indians, leaving one dead, two wounded and six captured. Again, Gansevoort sends a letter to Schuyler informing him of the ambush and to send in the Tryon County Militia. Schuyler answers the request and orders Herkimer to "clear the road between Dayton and Stanwix and to give Gansevoort 200 men." Gansevoort was also informed that the Americans were driven from Fort Ticonderoga by Burgoyne.

July 17, 1777: Gansevoort is informed that the Indian Nations were urged by the British to "take the hatchet to the Americans". Colonel Daniel Claus, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Crown, said that,"the commander of Fort Stanwix would surrender the fort without firing a single shot, just as Ticonderoga did." The Oneidas pledged their loyalty to the Americans. On the other hand, 300 Mohawks joined up with St. Leger and the Seneca and Cayuga tribes were to send 400 braves to St. Leger.

July 28, 1777: Gansevoort received word that St. Leger is only 40 miles away near Oneida Lake. St. Leger was moving rapidly to cross Wood Creek before it was totally obstructed. Gansevoort orders the woman and children, along with the sick to be sent to Fort Dayton and no one to be outside of the fort's gates unless they have a well armed guard. The Oneidas did not want another Fort Ticonderoga and told Gansevoort they will fight with the Americans, but not if they were going to surrender in the presence of the British Army. Several scouts informed Gansevoort that the road between Dayton and Stanwix was blocked by enemy troops. The smell of battle was in the air.

August 2, 1777: The long awaited supply Bateau arrive at the Upper Landing. All available men were sent to either guard or to retrieve the supplies. Just as the last supplies were being loaded into the wagons, they were attacked by the Loyalist Indians. All of the supplies reached the fort and the garrison was now well armed and well stocked. The Massachusetts troops that arrived with the Bateau informed Gansevoort about the new national flag that was authorized by Congress on June 14. Gansevoort being a stern patriot, ordered that one of these new banners be made to fly above his fort. Many of the soldiers donated articles of clothing to make the flag. The red came from a captured British cloak, the blue from the petticoat of Anna Roof (a civilian that lived outside of the fort), and the white came from the army shirts. Now, the rest is speculation, but it was supposedly the first "Stars and Stripes" flag to fly in the face of an enemy. There is evidence to support this theory and there is evidence against it. Some believe the flag to be a variant of the Continental Colors or Grand Union Flag. Unless the original flag is found, it will always remain a mystery. Since the city of Rome still to this day claims that honor, I will most humbly honor that belief.

August 3, 1777: The first "Stars and Stripes" are raised above the garrison and a salvo is fired at the enemy to salute the new flag. Columns of British Regulars and Loyalists begin to surround the fort. British Captain Gilbert Tice entered the fort under a flag of truce. He presents Gansevoort with St. Leger’s demand to surrender the fort. Captain Tice was escorted from the fort with an answer, No! Outraged by Gansevoort’s refusal to surrender the fort, St. Ledger orders his men to lay siege upon the fort.

General Herkimer got word that the fort was under siege and quickly mobilized the entire Tryon County Militia. They began a 40 mile march from German Flatts to reinforce the garrison at Fort Stanwix. General Herkimer dispatched three soldiers to Fort Stanwix with a message to Gansevoort about his mobilization and to let him know that he had a force of 600 strong on there way to the fort.

August 6, 1777: Herkimer's messengers arrive at the fort and informed Gansevoort that he is to fire three cannon blasts and to send out an armed escort to aide in the militia’s arrival. Unbeknownst to Gansevoort and the messengers, General Herkimer was already engaged with the enemy six miles away at a place called Oriskany. The Tryon County Militia was ambushed on the rolling hillsides by the British Loyalists and a large number of Indians. The fighting was very fierce and bloody. Many a good soldier died there. General Herkimer received a wound to the lower portion of his body which turned fatal.

The fighting was stopped by a tremendous thunder storm and both sides fell back. Colonel St. Leger foolishly committed his troops to the battle at Oriskany. Capitalizing on this blunder, Gansevoort sent Colonel Willett with 250 men to raid the British camps surrounding Fort Stanwix. They took and captured everything that they could carry, including Regimental Colors, a Regimental Drum, supplies and logistics information. This was the first time in the history of America that British Colors were captured. Ironically they even found a letter written by Gansevoort's wife which had never reached the fort. As the British were returning from the fight at Oriskany, and fearing capture of Willett's men, the fort’s garrison opened up with everything they had, thus giving Willett ample cover to return safely to the fort. They inflicted even more casualties upon the enemy. Gansevoort quickly had the captured colors run up the flag pole, just to show who was in control.

As I stated earlier, the Loyalists were there for revenge. However, the militia was fighting for there survival. The survival of a nation. Both armies put up a formidable fight. Even the Indians were surprised at the fighting spirit of the militia. Furthermore, the Battle of Oriskany had to happen. Whether it was at “Oriskany” or on the green around the fort, a battle was going to happen. I believe that St. Ledger knew that he had to ambush the militia. If not, he would have been sandwiched between the fort and the militia with nowhere to go. By going on the offensive, St. Ledger, bought himself some time. The offensive was a limited success in that he prevented the militia from reaching the fort, but he did lose a large number of men and needed supplies. If anyone can claim victory on August 6th, it was America.

A small party of St. Leger's officers enter the fort under a white flag and demanded that Gansevoort surrender the fort or the Indians would be sent over the walls to kill the garrison. Gansevoort became outraged when they produced a letter written by two of Herkimer's officers stating that Gansevoort's "position was hopeless, that he was cut off from help and that he should surrender the fort." Again the officers were escorted out of the fort with a reply, “I say that it is my determined resolution, with the forces under my command, to defend this fort and garrison at every hazard, to the last extremity, in behalf of the United American States who have placed me here to defend it against all enemies." Gansevoort did not know what to anticipate, so he sent Colonel Willett with a dispatch to General Schuyler to inform him of the situation.

Colonel Willett reached General Schuyler and told him of the siege. General Benedict Arnold was given 900 troops and told to aid Gansevoort and to hold back the British advance. It was at this time that General Burgoyne was also engaged in a heated battle near Bennington. Arnold began his march immediately with Colonel Willett to the German Flatts. While at German Flatts, General Arnold devised one of the most cunning plans that was carried out in the Fort Stanwix Campaign. He knew that he was outnumbered at least three to one so he relied upon his intellect instead of the rifle. He took three of the captured British soldiers, being held at German Flatts and let them go. Exaggerating the size of his force to 3000 in conversation that these soldiers could hear, they hurried back to St. Leger with this “valuable” intelligence report.

August 22, 1777: A British deserter entered the fort with news for Gansevoort. He was informed that a contingent of 3000 Continental Soldiers were on their way to defend the fort. St. Leger was so unnerved by the news that he lifted the siege and retreated back to Oswego without even striking the camps. Gansevoort thought this was a trick, but more deserters began to enter the fort telling of the large army on there way to Fort Stanwix. A skirmish party was sent out to confirm this and they brought back to the fort much needed supplies and accouterments.

August 24, 1777: General Arnold arrives and the 21 day siege has ended. From here on Fort Stanwix earned the reputation as "the fort that never surrendered."

The Burgoyne plan failed miserably, as none of the three Army’s were able to fulfill their missions. The result came when General Burgoyne surrendered his army to General Horatio Gates at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The invasion of New York was now a part of history.

Word of Gansevoort’s stubbornness to surrender Fort Stanwix reached General George Washington. Needing good commanders like Gansevoort, Washington promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General. An “elaborate sword” was presented to Colonel Willett for his service at the fort. Willet was later promoted to General of the Tryon County Militia. Washington also gave the entire garrison a mention in front of Congress for their bravery and requested that the fort be kept in pristine shape and well supplied in case of another attack into the Mohawk Valley. In 1781 a fire ravaged the fort destroying a large portion of it. Later in the year, the fire was followed by a destructive flood. Washington reluctantly, as Fort Stanwix was a symbol of bravery to the men, ordered the fort to be abandoned. The fort saw very little use after the fire. Another Indian treaty was signed by the U.S. Government here during the 1783. Following the abandonment, a blockhouse was constructed on the old parade ground of the Fort and remained there for several years.

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