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Honey, Don’t Go_pre-WW1 postcard by De Witt

Recently my wife and I had lunch at the Sprecher Restaurant in Lake Geneva, WI. If you are ever in the area it is certainly worth the stop. The food is excellent and they serve an excellent variety of craft beers.

After lunch we pursued our hobby of visiting the local antique stores (or rummage sales since we are not all that picky). There is what I would call a high-end antique store in Lake Geneva that features some of the finest antique furniture around. Usually, an antique store like that does not profit from us for a host of reasons but sometimes I find something small that fits into one of my niche hobbies-in this case, a pre-World War One postcard.

An officer reviews his command while his wife or sweetheart seems to hold him back.

For old Glory and you my honey
I go with the fellows in blue

The postcard is not addressed and there isn’t any message on the back. It asks for a one-cent stamp and was made in Germany and that’s about all the useful information that was on the back.

It reads in the lower right Photo only Copyright 1907 De Witt C. Wheeler.

A quick INET search turned up some information on Mr. Wheeler and a series of postcards known as the illustrated song series. (Link-The New Found Photography)

My find is apparently from the illustrated song series. In our post-modern culture it seems corny or dated or both to think of love, romance and family life in such a traditional way. In the case above De Witt links the above themes with pre-World War patriotism.

The subject matter features a unit of U.S. Cavalry headed in one direction and a column of U.S. Infantry in the back ground headed in another. The cavalrymen appear to be looking at the couple and in the direction of the camera while the doughboys (slang for WWI American Infantry) are oblivious to the posed drama being played out.

The date on the card is 1907 or ten years prior to the US entry into World War One, The soldiers wear the distinctive campaign hat that was a feature of the American Army well into World War 2. When I was in the Army in the early seventies our drill instructors still wore them and for all I know still do.

The uniforms the soldiers wear are khaki despite the reference in the song to the “fellows in blue.”

US Soldiers in the Spanish-American War fought in the blue uniforms as illustrated by this print from Brassey’s.

The uniform of American soldiers in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The uniform of American soldiers in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

It was however a period of transition between the traditional blue and khaki. It is possible that De Witt colorized the blue from the Spanish-American War to the post-war khaki.

For three bucks the card is a nice addition to my small collection of cards.

 

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Amateur historian uncovers additonal 3,000 Civil War dead

Bruce:

The American Civil War resulted in more American casualties than all of the other wars combined. This reblog reports the number of casualties is being revised upward all the time as new evidence emerges.

Originally posted on The Cotton Boll Conspiracy:

unknown confederate dead photo

Historians in recent years have revised the number of dead connected to the American Civil War significantly upward, from 620,000 to as many as 850,000. That increase is based in part on the work of J. David Hacker of Binghamton University SUNY, who used demographic methods and sophisticated statistical software to study digitized US census records from 1850 to 1880.

Coming up with actual names to go with this increase is significantly more difficult.

However, one South Carolinian, through years of hard work, has given names to many Confederate soldiers whose deaths during the 1861-65 conflict were never officially documented.

Herbert “Bing” Chambers has uncovered the identities of approximately 3,000 South Carolina soldiers who lost their lives during the War Between the States but were never officially recorded.

Chambers’ efforts have increased the state’s losses during the war to nearly 22,000.

To put that in perspective, that figure is more than 17 percent higher than the 17,682…

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World War One Postcards

A recent trip to the antique store produced three World War One era postcards. It is rare for me to find European postcards with World War One subjects but in this case I found three!

The first one features a German Dragoon in full dress uniform. His unit is Dragoon Regiment “Prinz Carl” according to the reverse side.

The reverse side also appears to show the unit’s barracks. The card is not dated and so my guess is that it is pre-World War One.

Prussian Dragoon 1914

Prussian Dragoon 1914

The next color postcard features Belgian soldiers defending a road. Given the uniforms I’d say the card represents a scene from the earliest days of World War One. The writing on the back of the card is extensive. The address is “Paris” and the recipient appears to be the sender’s sweetheart. It’s dated, November, 1917.

Belgians defend a road 1914

Belgians defend a road 1914

A French soldier sends a postcard to his sweetheart in Paris.

A French soldier sends a postcard to his sweetheart in Paris.

The last card’s caption is written in Italian. Translated it reads “Austrians in the trenches.” There isn’t any writing on the back.

The soldiers appear to be armed with 1895 Steyr-Mannlicher carbines which would indeed make them Austrians. By 1916 the Austrian Army had disposed of their pike-gray uniforms and soft caps and gone to field gray uniforms and steel helmets. At a glance they would be indistinguishable from their German allies.

What is more interesting about this card is that it’s in Italian. After Italy declared war on Austria-Hungry the two countries fought the Twelve Battles of the Isonzo. The battles were in present day Slovenia then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Italian objective was to take the Italian speaking City of Trieste.

The 12th battle is also known as the Battle of Caporetto. The Austrians reinforced by German Divisions and commanded by a German General broke the back and forth stalemate that had developed and routed the Italian 2nd Army. Austria-Hungary had been tottering in the war and the Germans sought to keep their ally in the war by taking Italy out of the war. The Twelve Battles had taken an enormous toll of lives on both sides with little gains made until the final battle.

Austrians in the trenches 1916-18

Austrians in the trenches 1916-18

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The Battle of Lake Champlain 11 September 1814

Bruce:

War of 1812 Naval Action on the Great Lakes by an excellent blogger.

Originally posted on War and Security:

The American victory at the Battle of Lake Champlain, sometimes called the Battle of Plattsburg, on 11 September 1814 was the most decisive naval victory of the War of 1812.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Champlain#mediaviewer/File:Champlainmap.svg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Champlain#mediaviewer/File:Champlainmap.svg

In September 1814 11,000 British and Canadian troops under Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost invaded New York State. Prevost’s men were a mixture of veteran units recently arrived from the Peninsular War, British soldiers already in Canada and Canadians. His intention was to march along the western bank of Lake Champlain. The lakeside town of Plattsburg was defended by fewer than 2,000 effectives under Brigadier-General Alexander Macomb.[1]

The British plan required naval control of Lake Champlain. Both sides strengthened their squadrons in August, with the brig USS Eagle being launched on 16 August and the frigate HMS Confiance nine days later.

The following table shows that the British had two ships more than the Americans, with…

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Some Thoughts on the Movie Fury

Okay, so I like tanks. I used to build model kits of them but was never all that good at it compared to my friends. I got more glue on my fingers than I did on the model. Sigh. I may try again. Who knows? Maybe age will have improved my skills.

So, what initially grabbed my attention about the movie Fury was a Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury.” This particular Sherman is an upgrade (M4A3E8) from the standard 75mm pop gun on the basic Sherman that was hopelessly outclassed by most of the German tanks, assault guns and anti-guns of the time. The upgraded Sherman featured a long-barreled 76mm gun with a higher velocity round, still outclassed by most German tanks, but at least an improvement.

Fury

Fury

The other attention getter is known as the Bovington (Museum in the UK) Tiger. The Brits captured one of the famous Tiger I’s in North Africa and shipped it home for study. Today it sits at the Bovington Museum and it actually runs-the only one still in existence that does so.

The Bovington Tiger I

The Bovington Tiger I

The producers of Fury were able to “borrow” it for some scenes although most of the action was filmed with a mock-up; the Bovington being to rare to risk any damage.

The movie features a duel between four Shermans including the upgraded Fury and the fearsome Tiger I. The Tiger I was a bit rare but where it appeared any duels were a bit of mismatch since the Tiger’s frontal armor was impossible to penetrate, something the movie illustrates quite well.

Having said all that, the bulk of the movie is not about the tanks; it’s about the crew of a Sherman tank in the closing days of WW2 when the Allied armies were racing across Germany.

The movie was about the crew of Fury.

The movie was about the crew of Fury.

The star of the movie is Brad Pitt who does what I think is a very credible job as “Wardaddy”. Pitt is an Sgt. E7 to use modern lingo and his mission is to keep his crew alive. The crew is a mixed bunch featuring a Bible quoter, a Mexican-American and an a loader who comes across as one fry shy short of a happy meal. The group has been together since the North African Campaign and despite their considerable differences these guys love each other and watch each other’s backs and in that the movie has a A Band of Brothers feel to it.  The language is pure military. I recall from my own short time in the Army an amazing variety of forms and uses for the “F” word and that is the case in Fury.

The cement in the story is the new guy named Norman who is the replacement assistant driver because the last one had just been killed. Norman looks to be about eighteen and although I question the line where he says he only had eight weeks of basic training I was not surprised that the Army was cutting short training programs for the combat arms at that stage of the war. The attrition rate in the infantry was atrocious and I doubt it was better for tank crews.

Norman is totally unprepared for the horrors that lay ahead of him. One early scene is compelling. Just before Norman arrives to tell Wardaddy he is the new guy you see a bulldozer pushing mangled German bodies into a mass grave. It’s like no one notices what should be a shock unless you see it everyday, which they probably did.

Wardaddy doesn’t want Norman but he’s stuck with him. Norman’s initial reception from the rest of the crew seems cool and even cruel. Wardaddy tells Norman not to get close to anyone a veiled reference to the attrition rate and the hurt of losing a close buddy.

Shortly after Norman arrives they get another mission and Fury is the second tank in a column of Shermans traveling up a road. Norman spies an armed German kid (teen-Hitler Jugend) through the brush and does not fire the hull MG because the target is a kid. Seconds later another German kid with a Panzerfaust (early RPG) lights up the lead Sherman and Norman watches in horror as a burning crewman shoots himself in the head rather than burn to death!

The German kids are quickly dealt with by the rest of the Shermans.

I thought there was a good juxtaposition going on with the theme of the German kids. On one hand you saw German kids hung by the Nazi’s because they would not fight or deserted and on the other you saw fanatical Hitler Jugend youth quite willing to die for what obviously was at that point a lost cause.

Wardaddy is rightly furious with Norman for not shooting and Norman has to recognize what an armed Hitler Jugend with a Panzerfaust can do.

They reach the mission area and have to clean out some German infantry and anti-guns as they support a pin downed rifle company.

The Shermans supporting the rifle company quickly make short work of the German resistance. What follows is one of the more shocking scenes in the movie imo.

The American infantry capture what appears to be an older German soldier who is not SS. By that stage of the war none of the western allies were in the mood to take SS prisoners-a fact hammered home a bit later in the movie. The average combat soldier had correctly made the assessment that the SS were ideological fanatics (think ISIS) and at that stage of the war the major obstacle to ending the war and the reason for a lot of unnecessary blood shed are the SS holdouts.

What is shocking about the above scene is that the older German is not SS. He looks to be in his 40s and he is pleading for his life trying to show the GI’s pictures of his family while he begs them not to shoot him. The American infantry could care less and some are mocking the poor soul. The scene is gripping because you expect the “good guys” to just take him prisoner despite the mocking and indifference to his begging.

Wardaddy intervenes but it’s not to save the German soldier as you tend to expect. Wardaddy grabs Norman and seeks to force Norman to shoot the soldier in the back while the rest of Americans look on seemingly understanding the lesson being played out.

Norman’s sensibilities are shocked to the maximum and he fights Wardaddy the best he can. The other Americans look on in indifference with understanding because Norman could not shoot the German kid with the rifle. Wardaddy is teaching Norman to hate not for hate’s sake but to potentially save his life and the lives of Wardaddy’s precious crew.

I hated the scene and felt like Norman whose morals are shocked to the core by the execution of a helpless prisoner. Wardaddy summed it up well when he said, ideals are peaceful and history is violent.

The “lesson” has its desired effect as they occupy a German town. German soldiers run on fire from a building and Norman uses the bow MG to cut them down while other Americans tell him he should have let them burn. Hate. Pure Hate.

The scene reminded me of Rick Atkinson’s, An Army at Dawn, the first in Atkinson’s trilogy of America’s Army on the western front during WW2.

In An Army at Dawn Atkinson makes reference to the fact that America’s citizen soldiers had to learn to hate. They had to learn to view the German soldiers they faced not as human beings who were in many ways similar to the themselves but as hated obstacles in the way of ending the war. The more you kill, the quicker you get to go home saving the lives of your fellow soldiers in the process. It’s a hard lesson in Atkinson’s book and it’s hard lesson in the movie.

Wardaddy commends Norman after he machine guns the Germans on fire and you are not sure if he approved of the mercy involved or if it was just the fact Norman could do it for whatever the motive (remember the previous scene when the American on fire kills himself). It’s another example of blurred motives. From that point on Wardaddy and Norman’s relationship improves.

Those were the kind of scenes that gripped me. The scenes compared with the intensity of Saving Pvt. Ryan as they dealt with the raw emotion of war and the not so easy boundaries between right and wrong, justice and murder.

The tanks in my opinion were secondary to the story of men who were sick of war and who had to make split second decisions that were not always “clean”.

My only real complaint about the movie was the ending where a disabled Fury and her crew take on considerable odds against the hated SS. Frankly, the Germans look stupid and whatever else you might say about German soldiers they were not stupid. But honestly, it’s a minor complaint and otherwise it’s a good movie ranking up there with Band of Brothers and Saving Pvt. Ryan. Just don’t be shocked by the language because that is how soldiers talk and don’t be shocked by the carnage because that’s what soldiers see.

 

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Cpl. Herb Lehnen, 101st AB, 327th Glider Inf. From Normandy to Bergstaden

I have a friend who lost touch with her father due to a divorce when she was about five-years-old. Much later in life she connected with cousins who were able to tell her about her biological father.

As it turns out my friend’s father was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, 327th Glider Infantry from 1943 to the end of the war. He and his unit saw major action including Normandy, Market Garden and Bastogne. His name was Cpl. Herb Lehnen and he wrote numerous letters from the front to various members of his family and friends. One of my friend’s cousins is in possession of 80+ of these letters and my friend gave me the two she had. She gave me permission to reproduce them on my history blog.

The famous Screaming Eagle of the 101st AB Div.

The famous Screaming Eagle of the 101st AB Div.

The first one is dated June 26th, 1944 and was written when Herb’s unit was engaged in the Carentan Peninsula.

Background to where the 327th was and what it was doing around the time of writing

Normandy – D-Day

In June 1944, the decision to drop both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions simultaneously into Normandy reduced the number of available aircraft to tow the gliders for a glider assault.  The 327th Glider Infantry Regiment was ordered to land across Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division on D-Day.  Its mission was to move to Carentan to cut off the fleeing Germans.  Although casualties were high, the mission was accomplished and the regiment moved back to England to prepare for its next mission. http://www.ww2-airborne.us/units/327/327.html

Although ostensibly the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment during World War II was a part of the 101st Airborne Division, the majority of this unit landed by sea on Utah Beach the afternoon of D-Day +1, 7 June 1944, due to a shortage of glider tow planes. Some elements did reach shore on 6 June, but due to rough seas, beach traffic, and the fact that the paratroopers of the 101st had already achieved many objectives, the landing was delayed. The 327th suffered a few casualties going ashore by enemy fire and were strafed by enemy aircraft. Near Ste. Come DuMont (southeast of the village), the 327th was camped right next to German paratroopers, separated by thick hedgerows. German speaking soldiers in the 327th engaged in taunting the enemy. The 327th took several casualties by enemy mortars. By 8 June, the 327th had entered the front line, largely in reserve of the 506th until crossing the Douve River near Carentan. First and Second Battalions guarded Utah Beachhead’s left flank northeast of Carentan. Company C was hit hard by friendly fire mortars while crossing the Douve. Official findings blamed enemy mines. Company B also suffered casualties in the incident.

The 327th suffered heavy casualties while advancing on Carentan via what is now the city Marina from a northeast direction and other casualties approaching Carentan from the east. G Company led the attack on the west bank of the marina canal. A Company of the attached 401 was on the east bank of the canal. Concealed German machine guns and mortars inflicted the most casualties. Chaplain Gordon Cosby earned a Silver Star for bravery in the face of the enemy for assisting wounded glider men in front of heavily armed German soldiers. The 327th played a pivotal role with the 501st and 506th of the 101st in taking Carentan. The 327th marched through the town and East to be possibly the first unit of the Utah Beachhead to link up with the Omaha Beachhead around the four-villages area of le Fourchette, le Mesnil, le Rocher and Cotz. It was then directed South between the bulk of the 101st and the 75th Infantry Division of the Omaha Beachhead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/327th_Infantry_Regiment_(United_States)

Battle of Carentan  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Carentan

It is an honor for me to reproduce Herb’s letter. I hope it’s a tribute to all the men and women who served our country during WW2. Here’s the letter dated June 28th, 1944. My commentary is in italics:

Dear Eddie,

 Eddie is Herb’s brother and in the Army, but did his  service stateside. Blanks are words I could not make out from the copy.

I sure was ______ glad to receive your two swell long air mail letters, also Eddie. I’m glad you had a swell time on your last furlough home. I’ll try to answer your swell letter when I have a few hours of spare time.

I found the use of the word “swell” to be common in Herb’s two letters. It’s a word seldom used now but it meant “great” and was American slang at the time.

Well, Eddie, the great invasion [Normandy Invasion, June 6th, 1944] but I’ll never forget the great ______ and adventures I had, since we hit France. Yes, Eddie our airborne division did a great job which was plenty tough and really rugged. I would like to tell you all about our thrills but I can’t because of the dam censor! However, I suppose you read all about it in the papers. There some Germans ______dam good fighters, but we are better. Eddie, I wish you could see my fox hole it’s really a ______ (peach?) about six feet deep and on top I have it covered with slits for protection from the dam German 88mm guns which is really wicked. I don’t mind machine gun fire or rifle fire but that dam 88mm gun is the one that is really tough,

 The Germans referred to here were German paratroopers of the 6th FJR (von der Heydte) and soldiers from a SS Panzer Grenadier Division and as such were elite troops. Herb must have been sensitive to what was acceptable for him to write as the letter does not have anything blocked out by a sensor. I found it humorous that he referred to the censor as the “dam censor.”

I have lots of German ______ some coins, also some of their ______ which the Germans use every once in a while. I could have had lots of German guns; but Eddie, its to much extra stuff to carry. As it is I carry my sub machine gun, lots of bullets and my trench knife always on my side-you have to travel real light.

Herb was a corporal and the standard issue to para NCOs would have been the Thompson submachine gun.

Two typical 101st AB troopers and one is a corporal like Herb.

Two typical 101st AB troopers and one is a corporal like Herb.

Well known pic of some 101st troopers with a captured Nazi flag.  Even from this picture it can be seen they had a lot to carry.

Well known pic of some 101st troopers with a captured Nazi flag. Even from this picture it can be seen they had a lot to carry.

Eddie, its plenty tough and rugged here, very ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ for Germans, however we have things under control now. (I believe he is making reference to the difficult terrain around Carentan that favored the Germans who were defending.) Now, at night Eddie, we slept in our fox hole with our guns always at our sides and our trench knives right by our head just in case a German gets to close.

The French people always bring us plenty of apple cider to drink! Also they treat us pretty good. I haven’t seen a good looking French girl yet. I can’t figure out where they are at.

Food and girls, common concerns for most GI’s. Most of the girls would probably be in hiding safe from German or American soldiers is my guess.

Yes, Eddie, your right the Army surely does things which are really stupid-you’ll never use ( 1/2 fraction here?) of that stuff in combat.

Yeah, cause you have to lug it around.

Eddie, just use your head, don’t work to hard and if its possible try like hell to get reclassified because your eyes are in no shape for a combat outfit.

Very interesting line imo. Herb is obviously very concerned about his brother and not in the least resentful that he is in combat and his brother is not.

I hope and pray that you will never leave the states. I’m sure we’ll have this war in Europe over with pretty darn soon.

Many GI’s thought the war would be over by Christmas, 1944.

Eddie, just about all the guys are dam glad they are married, so don’t let the dam war stop you from getting married. I’ll be around good old Wisconsin by Christmas time then Eddie we’ll really celebrate the good old days.

Another interesting insight into the mindset of these combat soldiers. Most are happy to be married. They might be thinking about French girls and food but thoughts of home and hearth is want they really want.

Judging from the other letter I’ve seen Herb did not make it home for Christmas. He was in the Battle of the Bulge at the time. The 327th earned an impressive citation for their work there.

Thanks a million, Eddie, for getting the gift for ______ for me. I don’t ______ ______ I’ll ______ repay you  for all that you have done for me. Eddie, I have my bonus money made all ready-you have $300.00 for being ______ a certain length of time.

Well Eddie, I’m giving every cent of that to your ______ as gift. Your tops with me Eddie, no one can compare with you-just take good care of yourself and don’t worry because everything will turn out ok.

$300.00 in 1944 was not small change. Herb is quite a guy judging from this letter. I am unsure what the bonus was for since I think the draft was for the duration. Perhaps he had to re-enlist as a para and that’s what the bonus was for.

Oh! I wrote those letters home to the folks last week. I’ll write you whenever possible, so please don’t worry.

We’ll meet again and dam soon-you can bet on that Eddie, I’m looking forward to out meeting.

As I said, like most soldiers of all nations they just want to finish the war and go home.

God bless you and always keep you in good health. Hello to Irene for me. Take good care of yourself Eddie and try like hell to get reclassified, I wish you ______ ______ ______ success always.

Your brother,

Herbie

 

 

 

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War in UpState New York 1777

Butler's Rangers. The Rangers and their Iroquois allies attacked the militia from the flanks in the ambush.

Butler’s Rangers. The Rangers and their Iroquois allies attacked the militia from the flanks in the ambush.

Upstate New York, August, 1777 “Gentleman” Johnny Burgoyne is leading a British Army from Canada in an invasion of New York during the American War of Independence. His goal would be Albany.

By securing upstate New York  the British hoped to take the steam out of the American War for Independence by 1777-78 when the British Army in New York City would move to capture Philadelphia. New York was a tempting target with approximately 33% of the population favoring the British while another 33% favored the rebels and another third just wanting to get on with their lives.

The campaign which ultimately failed became known as the Saratoga Campaign. The battles fought in the campaign are part of upstate New York’s colonial past and key aspects of United States history given their consequences.

As part of Burgoyne’s strategy he sent a British Lt. Colonel by the name of Barry St. Leger on a diversion to take the American fort named Fort Stanwix.

The nucleus of St. Leger’s force was a company of British Regulars, two Regiments of Loyalists (Butler’s Rangers and The Royal Regiment of New York), a company of Germans from Hesse-Hanau who were rifle armed. To this force approximately 450 Native Americans were enlisted. Predominate among them were Mohawks and Senecas.

Lefferts Print http://www.srcalifornia.com/uniforms/p42.htm

The Royal Regiment of New York or Johnson’s Royal Greens. Many residents of New York favored the Crown in 1777. Lefferts Print http://www.srcalifornia.com/uniforms/p42.htm

The use of native Americans by the British was controversial even in British circles. The reason it was controversial is that the native warriors were impossible to control; something the French found out in the preceding French and Indian War.

The Indians fought primarily to take captives and to ransom them. They also fought for the spoils of war which meant looting. Many a Tory (Loyalist) family suffered from St. Leger’s Indians since the Indians made little distinction between Loyalist and Patriot. As far as the Indians were concerned both were Americans they had recently been at war with and thus fair game.

The Indians were also notorious for atrocities. To fall into their hands often could and would mean a long and painful death.

The British had a certain reluctance to use the Indians but use them they did as a terror weapon and thus using every means possible means to bring the rebels back to the crown.

When the St. Leger’s forces reached Fort Stanwix they issued an ultimatum to the garrison. Surrender now and we will guarantee your safety from the Indians but if we have to storm the fort there will be no such guarantee.

The Americans behind the walls of Fort Stanwix were no strangers to frontier warfare and knew full well that if they surrendered the well-meaning British officers would have little control over the Indians and even among the loyalists many of whom had suffered by the hands of the rebels. War in upstate New York often had the dimensions of vicious civil war.

These facts accounted for the Americans reluctance to surrender and they so replied  “no thanks, we will take our chances behind these walls. Besides, if your Indians commit atrocities our blood will be on your hands and not ours.”

It was a fitting reply that acknowledged the British has little control over their “terror weapon.”

The killing of Jane McCrea. The murder of Ms. McCrea galvanized the patriot militia to oppose St. Leger. The irony was that Ms. McCrea was engaged to a Loyalist officer serving with Burgoyne.

The killing of Jane McCrea. The murder of Ms. McCrea galvanized the patriot militia to oppose St. Leger. The irony was that Ms. McCrea was engaged to a Loyalist officer serving with Burgoyne.

Marching to the relief of Fort Stanwix were four battalions of New York militia numbering 800 men under the leadership of General Nicholas Herkimer.

St. Leger who knew full well the militia was on its way to relieve Fort Stanwix consulted with his Loyalists and decided that they would attempt to ambush the militia column before it got to the fort. Their strategy was sound for if the militia made it to the fort the British forces would be greatly outnumbered especially so because the Indians were nearly useless in a stand up fight.

Leaving a small force to continue the siege of the fort St. Leger sent the bulk of his forces to ambush the militia column.

Nicholas Herkimer, the militia general, was popular with his men but a poor General.  He made a cardinal mistake in the march to relief Stanwix-he failed to scout his route adequately.

This is remarkable given the fact Herkimer was aware that the opposing British force was dominated by Indians (and Butler’s Rangers) who were the masters of the ambush and of scouting. Herkimer did have some woodsmen among his militia as well as a few Oneida scouts and perhaps they failed to pick up on the ambush.

Whatever the case Herkimer marched his men in a dense column through a forest path. The ambushing Indians along with Butler’s Rangers took up flanking positions while the Royal Regiment of New York blocked the road. It was a classic ambush set up that worked out as planned.

The Royal Greens (the other name for the Royal Regiment of New York) began the battle with a ploy. The Greens knew that a certain Massachusetts Continental Regiment was dressed primarily in whitish hunting shirts. The Greens reversed their coats to show the white lining. When the militia came into view they would think it was the Massachusetts Regiment coming down from Stanwix to link up.

New York militia gather around their wounded General at the Battle of Oriskany.http://www.redstate.com/2013/02/01/reflections-on-the-american-revolution-the-militia/

New York militia gather around their wounded General at the Battle of Oriskany.http://www.redstate.com/2013/02/01/reflections-on-the-american-revolution-the-militia/

That was exactly what the lead company of militia thought. They were rudely brought into reality by the Greens first volley which cut down most of the lead company before they could respond to their error.

The volley signaled the attack and in the resulting battle the militia lost 50% of the entire force including General Herkimer making it one of the most bloody battles in the American War of Independence.

The militia recovered from the initial shock and began to give a good account of themselves. They were no doubt motivated by the fact they were surrounded and that to give up would mean cruel torture at the hands of St. Leger’s Indians.

After much vicious close quarter fighting the Indians began to lose interest especially as a good percentage of their leaders had been killed by the desperate militia. The Indians began to melt away or merely hold their positions leaving the Greens and Rangers to press the attack. By that time those units were exhausted and a terrible thunder-storm broke out that effectively ended the engagement with Herkimer’s soldiers retreating. General Herkimer would later die of his wounds.

St. Leger’s force suffered 15% casualties mostly among the Indians while Herkimer’s command lost 50% meaning that virtually every family in the county lost a father, son, uncle or other relative in what became known as the Battle of Oriskany.

Although Herkimer failed to relieve Stanwix it turned out it did not matter. While St. Leger moved to confront Herkimer the garrison of Stanwix sortied from the fort dispersing the few regulars left. The Americans took the camp and looted it thoroughly with the Indians losing the most. When they returned from the battle and found their camp looted they became even more disillusioned and began their long march back to Canada. This left St. Leger to small a force to continue the siege and he withdrew as well.

The Battle of Oriskany is unique in that it was fought exclusively by Americans on both sides. The only exceptions were the British officers with St. Leger.

For an excellent account I recommend Richard Berleth’s, Bloody Mohawk-the French and Indian War & American Revolution on New York’s Frontier.

 

 

 

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