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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter XII. — Formal Expedition Against the Iroquois Cantons.

THE war had now continued nearly five years, and the operations of the British army during that period, north, south, east, and west, had proved a severe tax on the military resources and strength of the country. But these sacrifices to patriotism and high principles were considered as nothing, compared to the sufferings caused by the savage auxiliaries of the British armies, who were utter strangers to the laws of humanity. The Americans bitterly reproached their foes for paying their Indian allies a price for the scalps they took; but whether the censure was most justly deserved by the employer or the employee, is a question for casuists to decide. Whether the coveted prize, for which the savage watched around private dwellings night and day, was
the bleeding scalp, torn from the head of the infant in its cradle, of the wife in her chamber, of the sire in his closet of prayer, or of the laborer in the field, was not the question; that which produced a thrill of horror in the hearts of a civilized people, was the fact that these bleeding trophies of savage atrocity were made an article of merchandise. The scalp had been, in primeval periods, an Indian's glory; and the test of his bravery and prowess had now, as with the touch of Midas, turned into gold. 400

It was the opinion of Washington, that the cheapest and most effectual mode of opposing the Indians, was to carry the war into their country. 401 These tribes, nurtured in the secret recesses of the forest, were thoroughly acquainted with every avenue through their depths, and thence pounced upon the unguarded settlements when least expected; but, like the nimble fox, they fled back to their lairs in the wilderness before an effective military force could be concentrated to pursue them. By these inroads, Washington observes, the Indians had everything to gain, and but very little to lose; whereas the very reverse would be the case, if their towns and retreats were visited with the calamities of war.

Conformably to these views, the year 1779 witnessed the march of the well-organized army of General Sullivan into the heart of the country occupied by the Iroquois

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confederacy. Sullivan had gallantly aided Washington in the capture of Trenton, and was selected for this service after mature consideration. 402 His entire force consisted of two divisions, one of which, under General James Clinton, marched from central New York northwardly through the Mohawk valley, and the other, from Pennsylvania, ascended the Susquehanna. Clinton, with five brigades, proceeded with great rapidity across the country from Canajoharie, his point d'appui on the Mohawk, to Otsego lake, carrying with him 220 batteaux, all his stores, artillery, and a full supply of provisions. From this point, he followed the outlet of the lake into the Susquehanna, joining General Sullivan and the Pennsylvania troops at Tioga Point. Their total force amounted to 5000 men. After the delays incident to the collection and regulation of such a body of troops, the army proceeded up the river, late in August, and ascended the Chemung branch to Newtown, at present called Elmira. The enemy, anticipating the movement, had prepared to oppose the army by erecting a breastwork across a peninsula, in front of the place of landing, thus occupying a formidable position. Brant commanded the Iroquois, mustering 550 warriors, who were supported by 200 regular British troops and rangers, under Colonel John Butler, Sir John Johnson, and some of the other noted royalist commanders of that period. This force was so disposed among the adjoining hills, and screened by brush, thickets and logs, as to be entirely concealed. The army landed on the 29th of August, and the enemy's position was discovered by the advance guard, under Colonel Poor, at eleven o'clock in the morning. General Hand immediately formed the light infantry in a wood, within 400 yards of the Indian breastwork, where he remained until the rest of the troops came up. While these movements were in progress, small parties of Indians sallied from their entrenchments, and began a desultory firing, as suddenly retreating when attacked, and making the woods resound with their savage yells. Their intention evidently was, to induce the belief that they were present in very great numbers, and were the only force to be encountered. Judging truly that the hill on his right was occupied by the Indians, Sullivan ordered Colonel Poor, with his brigade, to attempt its ascent, and to endeavor to turn the enemy's left flank, while the artillery, supported by the main body of the army, attacked them in front. Both orders were promptly executed. The ascent being gained, the Americans poured in their fire, while the enemy, for two hours, withstood a heavy fire directly in front. Both the Indians and their allies fought manfully; but the Americans pressed on with great determination. Every tree, rock, and thicket sheltered an enemy, who sent forth his deadly messengers. The Indians yielded slowly, and, as it were, inch by inch; being frequently driven from their shelter at the point of the bayonet. Such obstinacy had not been paralleled since the battle of Oriskany. Brant, the moving and animating spirit of the Indians, urged on the warriors with his voice; and their incessant yells almost drowned the

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noise of the conflict, until the quickly-succeeding and regular reverberations of the artillery overpowered all other sounds. It was remarked by an officer, who was present, that the roar of this cannonade was most commanding and "elegant." The Indians still maintained their ground in front, though the tremendous fire from Colonel Poor's brigade had so terribly thinned their flank, that a reinforcement of a battalion of rangers was ordered up to sustain it. In vain did the enemy contest the ground from point to point, endeavoring to maintain a position; this officer at length ascended the hill, and attacked them in flank, which decided the fortunes of the day. Observing that they were in danger of being surrounded, the yell of retreat was sounded by the Indians, and red and white men, impelled by one impulse, precipitately fled across the Chemung river, abandoning their works, their packs, provisions, and a quantity of arms. The action had been protracted, and, on their part, sanguinary. Contrary to the Indian custom, some of their warriors who had fallen were left on the battle-field, and others were found hastily buried by the way. The American loss was but six killed and fifty wounded.

This battle, as subsequent events proved, decided the result of the campaign. It vindicated the opinion of Washington, that the Indians must be encountered in their own country; and, as aboriginal history proves, it effectually destroyed the Iroquois confederacy.

The results of the campaign may be easily demonstrated. The Indians, having fled in a panic, never stopped until they reached the head of Seneca Lake; whence they scattered to their respective villages. They did not rally, as they might have done, and oppose Sullivan's forces at defiles on the route. The American army pursued them vigorously, with four brass three-pounders and their entire disposable force. They encamped at Catherine's Town on the 2d of September, and began to burn and destroy villages, corn-fields, and orchards in the surrounding country, continuing their devastations through the Genesee country and the Genesee valley. On the 7th of the month, the army crossed the outlet of Seneca Lake, and moved forward to the capital of that tribe, Kanadaseagea, now Geneva. 403 This place contained about sixty houses, surrounded with gardens, orchards of apple and peach trees, and luxuriant corn-fields. Butler, the commandant of the defeated rangers, had endeavored to induce the Senecas to rally here, but in vain. They fled, abandoning everything; and the torch and destroying axe of their foes were employed to level every tenement and living fruit-tree to the ground.

From this point the army proceeded to Canandaigua, where they found twenty-three large and "elegant" houses, mostly frame, together with very extensive fields of corn, all of which were destroyed. The next point of note in the march was Honeoye, a village containing ten houses, which were burnt. Here a small post was established,

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as a depot. As General Sullivan advanced towards the valley of the Genesee, the Indians determined again to oppose him; and having organized their forces, presented themselves in battle array between Honeoye and Canesus Lake. They attacked the advance-guard in mistake, supposing it to be the entire force; but having seen it fall back on the main army, they did not await the approach of the latter. In this affray they took a friendly Oneida prisoner, who was inhumanly butchered by a malignant chief, named Little Beard. At this time, also, occurred the dreadful tragedy which befell Lieutenant Boyd, who, going out with twenty-six men, to reconnoitre Little Beard's town, was captured, and most inhumanly tortured, notwithstanding his appeal to Brant as a Masonic brother. 404

The army moved forward to the flats of the Genesee, where the Indians made a show of resistance. General Clinton immediately prepared to attack and surround them, by extending his flanks; but, observing the object of his movement, they retreated. The army then crossed the Genesee, to the principal town of the Indians, containing 128 houses, which were burned, and the surrounding fields destroyed. It was these fertile fields which had furnished the savages with the means of carrying on their predatory and murderous expeditions. General Sullivan had been instructed to make them feel the strength of the American arms, with the bitterness of domestic desolation; for which purpose, detachments were sent out at every suitable point, to lay waste their fields, cut down their orchards, destroy their villages, and cripple them in their means. In carrying out these orders, not less than forty Indian towns were burned; and the tourist, who, after the lapse of seventy years, visits the ruins caused by these acts of military vengeance, is forcibly reminded of the spirit of destruction which descended upon the Indian villages and orchards. Having accomplished the object of the expedition, the army recrossed the Genesee on the 16th of September, passed the outlet of the Seneca Lake on the 20th, reached the original rendezvous at Tioga on the 30th, and within a fortnight returned to their respective points of departure.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
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