Monday marked the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany. Though a lesser known battle, historians say it was one of the bloodiest of the Revolutionary War. Our Andrew Sorensen tells us why this battle is still important to people in the Mohawk Valley, 235 years later.
ORISKANY, N.Y.-- Fort Stanwix National Monument Ranger Dan Umstead is quite familiar with the Battle of Oriskany, the pinnacle of Revolutionary War action in the area.
"This is perhaps one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution and we don't see this percentage of losses until again the American Civil War," he said.
With a solemn salute Monday, the Oneida Nation, the Parks Service, and Revolutionary heritage groups commemorated the 235th anniversary of the truly remarkable Battle of Oriskany.
Many of these people were there because they have relatives who fought and died on that same field, and others because this battle is still important to the people of the Mohawk Valley.
"We're really looking at about a six hour battle from start to finish. It's an ambush," Umstead explains.
General Nicholas Herkimer's Tryon County Militia came up from Fort Dayton, hoping to surprise British Loyalists who were besieging a nearby fort.
"Many of his senior officers want to move forward, which they do, and unfortunately, the British have already learned that they're coming up," Umstead said.
The object of the attack was at Fort Stanwix. Then known as Fort Schuyler, it was an important portage point crossing the frontier of Upstate New York.
"You can go all the way from the Atlantic Ocean, all the way on up into Canada and then beyond using the Great Lakes by using the natural rivers, and streams, and lakes here in New York," 17 year Fort Stanwix volunteer George Walters said, noting the strategic importance of the fort.
If the British had succeeded, they would have cut the colonies in two. And the significance of Herkimer's ability to hold this field still holds today, especially to some of America's first allies: the Oneida Indians.
"We saw the struggles in the cause for freedom, the cause for liberty, justice for all, and Oneidas believe that in our heart," Oneida Indian Nation Bear Clan representative Brian Patterson said.
Patterson says the dedication his people showed then carries through today. They recently donated $10 million to the Museum of the American Revolution.
"That commitment is important to ensure that the legacy of our Oneida people is not forgotten," he said.
Without that commitment, and the commitment of Herkimer, historians say the British would likely have succeeded in their plan. And it's because of the great sacrifices made here that this monument, and the people of this area, label the Oriskany Battlefield "sacred forever."
Fort Stanwix will be holding other educational events related to the siege of the fort this coming Saturday and on August 23rd.