Pipe Smoke at Oriskany - The Dedication of Nicholas Herkimer
Nicholas Herkimer died from wounds sustained fighting for the Patriot Cause during the Battle of Oriskany.
Herkimer’s efforts are particularly close to my heart as, with the exception of certain encounters during the Sullivan Expedition, his last engagements were the closest Revolutionary War battles to my home.
For anyone who’s not a neighbor of mine, Herkimer’s story is important because the little remembered Battle of Oriskany helped thin the British numbers just before Saratoga.
Nicholas Herkimer was born and raised in German Flats, a part of the frontier in Upstate New York.
As with many families during the American Revolution, the Herkimer's split their loyalties. Nicholas’ brother John ran off and joined the British to fight for the King.
Nicholas, however, was a dedicated Patriot.
Based on his early involvement in the local Committee of Safety and honorable service in the French and Indian War, Herkimer was commissioned as a Brigadier General in the county militia.
By the Summer of 1777 most of the fighting in the area had been skirmishes of no great consequence…but then, the British came.
The British Invasion
Casual history buffs are familiar with General John Burgoyne’s Army travelling south from Canada to fight off the Americans and take Albany, a plan that was ended with the Continental Army Victory at Saratoga.
Commonly, General Howe’s decision to go into New Jersey and Pennsylvania instead of traveling up the Hudson to meet Burgoyne is credited as a major reason for this defeat.
Often forgotten is the third prong of this planned attack.
Barry St. Leger led a force down the St. Lawrence River, through Lake Ontario, then down the Oswego River to attack the Americans from the west.
The Battle of Oriskany
The first stop on Leger’s trip was to siege the Continental held Fort Stanwix (at the time known as Fort Schuyler).
When Brigadier General Herkimer heard of this move, he mobilized his forces to assist the fort.
Unfortunately, during his trek his men were ambushed by British and Native American troops who knew of his approach. Almost half of his men were killed or retreated instantly.
Herkimer and his horse were both shot early in the battle.
Nicholas was propped up on a tree by his men.
He calmly lit his pipe and began giving orders to his men.
At certain points during this battle, the close-quarter hand-to-hand combat was fought between neighbors.
Eventually, the messages Herkimer had sent to Fort Stanwix paid off and backup arrived to help the Patriots. Their attackers retreated and the battle was over.
Though the Americans had won the day, it came at quite a heavy cost.
Herkimer was brought to a doctor who tended his wounds.
His leg quickly became infected and, though they delayed operation, the decision to amputate was made.
Sadly, the surgery did not go as planned and Nicholas lost too much blood. He died ten days after his most famous battle.
Do you want to read about other Founders in Upstate New York?
Try these articles:
Want to learn more about Herkimer and Oriskany?
‘Revolution in the Mohawk Valley’ covers both topics nicely. It puts into focus the often overlooked yet extremely important battleground that was Upstate New York.
Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).