Learning About New York Part XV

Utica is beautifully situated on the south side of the Mohawk, on an inclined plain rising from the river, 96 miles from Albany, 241 from New York and 202 from Buffalo. The Erie Canal here is 70 feet wide, and the Central Railroad passes through the city. The Chenango Canal, 97 miles long, extends from Utica to Binghamton. Utica is surrounded by a highly productive and populous country, to which turnpikes and plank roads radiate in various directions. The city is laid out with general regularity, with spacious streets, some of which are 100 feet wide, and is well built, having many fine blocks of stores and elegant dwellings. Much attention is given to education, and there are several flourishing incorporated seminaries in the place. It has 8 banks, 23 churches, and about 23,000 inhabitants. The manufacturing interests of the city are varied, important and flourishing. The State Lunatic Asylum is located about one mile from the center of the city, on elevated ground, with splendid buildings, surrounded by a farm of one hundred and sixty acres.

The first building erected within the limits of Utica was a mud fort, constructed during the old French war, which was named Fort Schuyler, in honor of Col. Schuyler. The settlement of Utica commenced at an early period, but was not prosecuted with the vigor that some others were. Whitestown was regarded as the great central point up to the year 1794. At this period quite a village had grown up there, while Utica, or old Fort Schuyler, as its site was then called, could boast of but three houses. The first church gathered in this city was organized under the care of Rev. Bethuel Dodd, as a branch of the church at Whitestown, in 1794.

Oriskany is about 7 miles westward of Utica, through which the railroad between Utica and Syracuse and the Erie Canal pass. About two miles, in a western direction, from the village the battle of Oriskany was fought, in which Gen. Herkimer received a mortal wound.

"On the advance of the British forces, under Lieutenant-Colonel St. Leger, to the siege of Fort Schuyler (Stanwix), at Rome, General Herkimer summoned the militia of Trvon county to the field to march to the succor of the garrison. On the 5th of August, 1777, he arrived near Oriskany with a body of upward of eight hundred men, all eager to meet the enemy. On the morning of the 6th of August, General Herkimer determined to halt till he had received reinforcements, or at least until the signal of a sortie should be received from the fort. His officers, however, were eager to press forward; high words ensued, during which his two colonels and others denounced their commander to his face as a tory and a coward. The brave old man calmly replied that he considered himself placed over them as a father, and that it was not his wish to lead them into any difficulty from which he could not extricate them. Burning, as they now seemed, to meet the enemy, he told them roundly that they would run at his first appearance. But his remonstrances were unavailing. Their clamor increased, and their reproaches were repeated, until, stung by imputations of cowardice and a want of fidelity to the cause, and somewhat irritated withal, the general immediately gave the order--'march on!' The words were no sooner heard than the troops gave a shout, and moved, or rather rushed forward.' Colonel St. Leger having heard, of the advance of Gen. Herkimer, determined to attack him in an ambuscade. The spot chosen favored the design. There was a deep ravine crossing the path which Herkimer was traversing, 'sweeping toward the east in a semi-circular form, and bearing a northern and southern direction. The bottom of this ravine was marshy, and the road crossed it by means of a causeway. The ground, thus partly inclosed by the ravine, was elevated and level. The ambuscade was laid upon the high ground west of the ravine.

The British troops, with a large body of Indians under Brant, disposed themselves in a circle, leaving only a narrow segment open for the admission of Herkimer's troops. Unconscious of the presence of the enemy, Gen. Herkimer with his whole force, with the exception of the rear guard, found themselves encompassed at the onset, the foe closing up the gap on their first fire. Those on the outside fled as their commander had predicted; those within the circle were thrown into disorder by the sudden and murderous fire now poured in upon them on all sides. Gen. Herkimer fell wounded in the early part of the action, and was placed in his saddle against the trunk of a tree for his support, and thus continued to order the battle. The action having lasted more than half an hour, in great disorder, Herkimer's men formed themselves into circles to repel the attacks of the enemy, who were now closing in upon them from all sides. From this moment their resistance was more effective. The firing in a great measure ceased, and the conflict was carried on with knives, bayonets, and the butt end of muskets. A heavy shower of rain now arrested the work of death; the storm raged for an hour, and the enemy retired among the trees, at a respectful distance, having suffered severely, notwithstanding the advantages in their favor. During this suspension of the conflict, Gen. Herkimer's men, by his direction, formed themselves into a circle and awaited the movements of the enemy. In tile early part of the battle, whenever a gun was fired by a militiaman from behind a tree, an Indian rushed up and tomahawked him before he could reload. To counteract this, two men were stationed behind a single tree, one only to fire at a time, the other to reserve his fire till the Indian ran up as before. The fight was soon renewed, but by this new arrangement the Indians suffered so severely that they began to give way. A reinforcement of the enemy now came up, called Johnson's Greens. These men were mostly royalist, who, having fled from Tryon county, now returned in arms against their former neighbors. Many of the militia and the Greens knew each other, and as soon as they advanced near enough for recognition, mutual feelings of hate and revenge raged in their bosoms. The militia fired upon them as they advanced, and then springing like tigers from their covers, attacked them with their bayonets and butts of their muskets, or both parties, in closer contact, throttled each other and drew their knives, stabbing, and sometimes literally dying in each other's embrace.'

This murderous conflict did not continue long; the Indians seeing with what resolution the militia continued the fight, and finding their own numbers greatly diminished, now raised the retreating cry of "Oonah!" and fled in every direction under the shouts of the surviving militia, and a shower of bullets. A firing was heard in the distance from the fort; the Greens and Rangers now deemed that their presence was necessary elsewhere, and retreated precipitately, leaving the victorious militia of Tryon county masters of the field. 'Thus ended' (says Col. Stone in his life of Brant), 'one of the severest, and, for the numbers engaged, one of the most bloody battles of the revolutionary war.' The loss of the militia, according to the American account, was two hundred killed, exclusive of wounded and prisoners. The British claimed that four hundred of the Americans were killed and two hundred taken prisoners. 'The loss of the enemy was equally if not more severe than that of the Americans.' Gen. Herkimer, though wounded in the onset, bore himself during the six hours of conflict, under the most trying circumstances, with a degree of fortitude and composure worthy of admiration. 'At one time during the battle, while sitting upon his saddle, raised upon a little hillock, being advised to select a less exposed situation, he replied, 'I will face the enemy.' Thus, surrounded by a few men, he continued to issue his orders with firmness. In this situation, and in the heat of the onslaught, he deliberately took his tinder box from his pocket, lit his pipe and smoked with great composure." After the battle was over, he was removed from the field on a litter, and was conveyed to his house, below the Little Falls on the Mohawk."

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part XV
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
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