An unassuming park in central New York State commemorates the bloodiest battle of the Revolutionary War.
The Battle of Oriskany was fought on August 6, 1777 during the siege of Fort Stanwix, it was an attempt by Tories and British Iroquois allies to ambush a colonial relief column headed for the fort. Heavy rain and dogged defense by the colonists and their Oneida allies saved them from destruction. Today, a tall granite obelisk marks the battle’s location.
As British forces lay siege to Fort Stanwix, 800 Tryon County militia and Oneida warriors under General Nicholas Herkimer rushed to its defense. The British, however, were alerted to their approach and a force of approximately 1,200 British and Iroquois braves under Sir. John Johnson and Joseph Brant planned an ambush. Just six miles from their objective, in a marshy ravine, Seneca warriors waited for the column of Colonial militia.
Impatient, the Seneca warriors opened fire before completely entrapping the Colonial militia. General Herkimer was shot in the leg, but refused to be carried from the field. “I will face the enemy,” he said. A thunderstorm interrupted the fighting, giving the colonists time to establish a last line of defense on a hill while British reinforcements left their camps outside Fort Stanwix to join the battle. This allowed the Fort Stanwix defenders to sally forth and attack the British camps. Seneca Indians at the ambush site retreated to protect their camp, and the remaining British withdrew.
Three hundred and eighty-five Colonial militia and Oneida were killed, 50 wounded, and 30 captured in the battle. The British and their allies lost 72 killed and 21 wounded. Though the battle ranged for several hundred yards, there isn’t much of a walking trail at this State Historic Site. Parking is available close to the monument and visitor center. The visitor center itself isn’t much more than a large shed, but it contains pamphlets and brochures, a few artifacts, and a small gift shop. Interpretive signs on the grounds tell the story of the battle.
Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site is located at 7801 State Highway 69, northwest of Oriskany, New York, south of Oriskany Creek. (315) 338-7730. It is open daily April 1 through October 31, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.