Mysterious America

Oriskany's Spectral Battlefield

Some visitors insist the sights, sounds, and smells of this bloody Revolutionary War ambush still linger after dark.

The Battle of Oriskany was fought on August 6, 1777 in Oneida County, New York during the siege of Fort Stanwix. It was an attempt by Tories and British Iroquois allies to ambush a Patriot relief column headed for the fort. Heavy rain and dogged defense by the colonists and their Oneida allies saved them from destruction. While Fort Stanwix is widely believed to be haunted, the Oriskany battlefield has its own reputation for the macabre.

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 were alerted to their approach and a force of approximately 1,200 British troops 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. The battle raged over several hundred yards. 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.

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. It’s considered one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War, and it’s easy to see why this battlefield has long been rumored to be haunted.

According to Dwayne Claud, author of Haunted Finger Lakes (2009), visitors walking along the ravine trail have a disconcerting feeling of eyes watching them through the trees. Others report hearing sounds of battle, groans, and the smell of gunpowder. Floating orbs flicker between the trees after sundown. Others report seeing full-bodied apparitions of soldiers reliving the battle.

In 2011, Dave “Wheels” Wheeler had what he described as a ghostly encounter at Oriskany battlefield after midnight. A group of friends and he were looking for a scare and got more than they bargained for. First, Dave heard drums reverberating in the darkness. Then sounds of shouting and gunfire reached the ears of his companions.

As his friends and he beat a hasty retreat to their car… “We were walking with our backs to the battlefield, and all of a sudden a white figure of a human crashed into my left shoulder and ran into the weeds on the side of the road. Dan’s Dad saw it, and we both freaked out.” To this day, Dave is convinced he made physical contact with a ghost.

Are the horrific events of August 1777 being replayed in a spectral display of sight and sound? Are these men who fought, bled, and died beneath gathering storm clouds condemned to relive their last moments for all eternity? There are many skeptics, but some visitors will insist that just for a moment–they smelled the acrid stench of gunpowder, and heard the crackle of muskets through the trees.

Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site is located at 7801 State Highway 69, northwest of Oriskany, New York, south of Oriskany Creek. The museum is open daily April 1 through October 14, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Grounds are open from dawn to dusk. Call (315) 655-3200 for more information.


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