Barry St. Leger's Mohawk Valley Offensive: June-August 1777
Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger departed from Montreal, Canada on June 23, 1777. He arrived at Oswego on Lake Ontario on July 25 and began his offensive the following day. He had roughly 2,000 men under his command. 340 men were British regulars, while about 650 were Canadians and Tories and the remaining 1,000 were Indians. His artillery was made up of only two 6-pounders two 2-pounders and four mortars. He made ten miles a day with the vanguard reaching Fort Stanwix on August 2, 1777.
On August 4, 1777, the main body of Lt. Colonel St. Leger's force reached Fort Stanwix. Colonel Peter Gansevoort had been in command of the fort since his arrival with 550 New York Continentals in April 1777. They had made significant improvements to the fort's defenses. Just prior to St. Leger's arrival, 200 reinforcements joined Gansevoort, bringing the garrison's number up to 750 men. St. Leger had now outdated intelligence on the strength and condition of the fort. He attempted to bluff the Americans by staging a review within sight of Fort Stanwix, but the Americans knew of the Indians in his force and did not expect any quarter or protection from the savages.
Lt. Colonel St. Leger settled in for a siege, even though it stretched his force pretty thin. He even having to send some on work details to cut roads for transporting supplies and held less than 250 regulars in camp. On August 4th and 5th, snipers fired on the fort as the Indians formed a cordon around the fort and nearly everyone else was on work details. On the evening of August 5th, St. Leger received word from Molly Brant, mistress to Sir William Johnson and sister of Chief Joseph Brant, of American reinforcements only ten miles away.
On July 30, an Oneida Indian had told New York militia General Nicholas Herkimer of the approach into the Mohawk Valley of a British force. Overcoming the settlers' reluctance to defend themselves, he gathered 800 men and set out for Fort Stanwix on August 4, 1777. They made camp on August 5 about ten miles from Fort Stanwix and Herkimer sent runners ahead to inform Colonel Gansevoort of their approach and to request that a sortie be sent out from the fort at their arrival. The next morning Herkimer wanted to wait for a cannon signalling that the sortie had begun before advancing, but his subordinates were impatient, so they set out early on August 6th.
When Molly Brant warned Lt. Colonel St. Leger of Herkimer's approach, he dispatched 400 Indians under Joseph Brant to ambush the Americans. Herkimer's column walked into a trap about six miles from Fort Stanwix at Oriskany, New York. Many of the officers were immediately killed or wounded. Herkimer was bleeding from a severe leg wound, but refused to withdraw. Fire was exchanges for forty-five minutes and then a heavy rain paused the action for an hour. Firing was then heard from Ft. Stanwix and it was guessed that the sortie had been mustered, but the reinforcements that soon arrived were actually Tories. They nearly passed themselves off as Continentals until someone spotted his Tory neighbor and the ruse was revealed. Hand-to-hand combat ensued. By now the Indians had had enough and forced the Tories to retreat.
Though the action at Oriskany was a draw, it was a tactical victory for Lt. Colonel St. Leger because the American reinforcements had been turned back. However, his Indian allies felt that they had bourn the brunt of the casualties at Oriskany and when they returned to their camps, they found them looted by a sortie from the fort. Colonel Gansevoort had not received word of Herkimer's approach until 10:00 or 11:00 A.M. and after the same heavy rain that paused action at Oriskany, he sent out a sortie that was limited to the Indian and Tory camps.
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