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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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The Capture of the USS President 15 January 1815


Superb blog in general but a great article on a War of 1812 naval battle.

Originally posted on War and Security:

The United Kingdom and United States of America agreed terms to end the War of 1812 on 24 December 1814. They were ratified by the UK government three days later, but the slow speed of communications from Europe to America meant that fighting continued until well into February.

The American frigate USS President (44 guns), the sloops USS Hornet and Peacock and the schooner USS Tom Bowlinewere in New York at the start of 1815. Commodore Stephen Decatur, captain of the President, intended to break out in order to raid British shipping. The harbour was large, but difficult to enter and leave in bad weather because of the many sand banks between Coney Island and Sandy Hook.[1]

On 13 January the port was blockaded by the razee (a 74 gun ship of the line cut down to be a heavy frigate), HMS Majestic(58) and the…

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2014 in reviews

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 46,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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I’ll be home for Christmas . . .


Interesting back story to a well known Christmas song.

Originally posted on The Casemate Blog:

We at Casemate wish everyone the nicest holiday season. People are reconnecting with family now, taking long-overdue days off, and in general seeking to regenerate in pleasant circumstances for the next year to come.

While we all take a brief respite, nevertheless, a particular song has been going on in our heads that still resonates through the decades, and as a military history publisher it may be appropriate for us here to describe its context.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written by the songwriting team of Gannon and Kent, with credit to Buck Ram for its original lyrics. The song was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943, right in the middle of World War II, just as America had flung literally millions of its men across its oceans—to Europe and the Pacific—to try to retrieve Western values against aggressive dictators who sought power through force rather than the universal…

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Killing Patton_Book Review

Killing Patton-The Strange Death of World War IIs Most Audacious General, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Company, Copyright 2014. 350 pages

I would consider myself an occasional viewer of Bill O’Reilly on Fox. I can’t make up my mind as to whether I like him or not.

I usually agree with his daily memo and enjoy the show when Miller is on but on other occasions I find O’Reilly annoying especially when he talks over Megyn Kelly who is way, way smarter than he.

O’Reilly always loses me when he talks “expertly” on religion often just mouthing a half-baked Roman Catholic theology that seems to disparage anyone who takes the Bible seriously or sees it differently than he does.

For that reason I skipped O’Reilly’s best-selling Killing Jesus although it would be a subject I’d otherwise have an interest in.

When O’Reilly wrote Killing Lincoln I was a bit more interested since I thought he would be better at American History than he would be talking anything theological. Never-the-less, I skipped Killing Lincoln (and Killing Kennedy) as well.

When Killing Patton came out I admit to being intrigued.

Old Blood and Guts George Patton

Old Blood and Guts George Patton

My father was a Military Policeman stationed in Cologne, Germany at the time Patton had his fatal “accident.”

As a child dad told me that all the military police in his unit, including officers doubted that it was a car accident that did the famous general in. According to my dad speculation ranged from the Werewolves (post-war Nazi Hitler Youth who were suppose to create havoc among the occupying allies) to the Russians!

No doubt much of what was said was rumor and GI gossip yet these were Military Police whose intuition and speculation could be spot on despite the official reporting of what happened.

Patton’s death has always been shrouded with a degree of mystery and as I read Killing Patton (a gift from wife as I recovered from a major surgery) my hopes were that the authors had uncovered some new evidence or smoking gun that could put the matter to rest.

At least 50% of the book is given to documenting Patton’s well-known battlefield exploits especially as he leads his Third Army across France and into Germany in a relentless campaign that deserves more attention that it usually receives.

The book also covers Patton’s personal side, the slapping of two soldiers who would now be diagnosed PTSD, his big mouth that famously gets him in trouble with Eisenhower, how he irritates Monty and dislikes the Russians. Patton is militarily brilliant, colorful, pompous, a believer in reincarnation and to his superiors a pain in the hind quarters.

Personally, I think the movie Patton starring George C. Scott was spot on in portraying the man and Killing Patton confirms the portrayal.

George C, Scott in the 1970 release of Patton

George C, Scott in the 1970 release of Patton

The last half of the book was a bit more interesting to me as it built upon the idea that the car accident which took Patton’s life was no accident.

O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (co-author) trace the possibilities of who might want Patton dead based on the scant available evidence, much of which has mysteriously disappeared over the years. Where the trail leads is quite interesting and in the interest of not giving a spoiler I won’t let on to where the finger ends up pointing.

O’Reilly and Dugard claim that with each of their books they are not conspiracy nuts. Their method is to stick with the known facts and evidence and let the reader draw their own conclusions. I believe they have achieved that goal in Killing Patton.

The authors also do a nice job of telling the reader of some of the larger than life characters that were Patton’s superiors, peers and contemporizes.

Eisenhower looms large which is not surprising. Eisenhower’s war-time affair with his secretary Kay Summersby receives much attention as does Patton’s affair with Jean Gordon which nearly cost him his marriage with his beloved Beatrice. In fact the affairs of famous men seem to be a given.

When President Truman attends the Potsdam Conference he asked if he wants either women or wine or both. Truman is horrified and tells the officer who made the offer to never ever suggest such a thing again. That an officer would naturally assume Truman would be interested says something about what was considered normal behavior for the high-ranking. It also says something about Truman’s integrity.

Patton turns out to be right about the Russians and right about not trusting them-a fact Rooselvelt nor Eisenhower didn’t want to grasp or care. Had Patton had his way the Third Army would have liberated Berlin and the geographical lines of the Cold War would have been drawn very differently.

But Patton did not get his way and while he was responsible for getting himself into much trouble one has to wonder if the American High Command was indeed that naïve regarding Stalin and the Russians and simply put Patton away because it was politically expedient to do so.

After the war a large military parade was held in Berlin by the victors. George Patton was on the stand next to Marshall Zhukov, Hero of the Soviet Union and the Soviet General most responsible for defeating the Germans in the east.

A unit of ISIII’s (Soviet heavy tank, IS stands for JS or Joseph Stalin) rolls by. Zhukov remarks to Patton that the heavy tank can fire seven miles. Unflustered Patton replies that any member of his Third Army that opened fire on an enemy tank at more than 700 yards would be court-martialed for cowardice. Zhukov has no response.

That was George Patton, old Blood and Guts, either loved or hated, he was a warrior.

The M60 Patton Tank was replaced my the M1 Abrams tank. Abrahams served under Patton in the Third Army.

The M60 Patton Tank was replaced my the M1 Abrams tank. Abrahams served under Patton in the Third Army.




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World War One Reading

I haven’t been writing much but have been reading so I’d thought I’d share my latest books on WW1 along with brief reviews should anyone be interested.

My first plunge was John Keegan’s The First World War. Keegan’s book is written at a strategic level-a kind of movement of armies type book that gives an excellent feel to just how massive WW1 was and what it cost in human terms. Keegan is a top-notch historian and I’ve read many of his books. The First World War is not a page turning novel but a superb documentation of what happened.

My second plunge into the Great War was The illustrated History of World War One by Andrew Wiest. Wiest’s book is broad, like Keegans, but peppered with excellent side bars of pictures, paintings, color maps and much about the soldiers and their equipment, a particular interest of mine. It was a bargain at Half-Price Books. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get the big picture but with enough detail to understand something about the little picture as well.

I have a special interest in the Eastern Front of World War One for a number of reasons. One reason is that it’s little known in the west and I was intrigued by the massive campaigns that took place there. Another reason is the events on the Eastern Front have shaped out modern world just as much as events on the Western Front have yet those events are largely neglected.

The huge scope of operations of the Eastern Front in WW1.http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_(World_War_I)

The huge scope of operations of the Eastern Front in WW1.http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_(World_War_I)

Russia declared war on Austria because Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia because Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany declared war on Russia because East Prussia was threatened but also on France because France supported Russia. Hence the cascade of entangling alliances began.

Four empires fell during and after WW1 radically changing the map of Europe and setting the stage for WW2.

The four empires were Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Turks and Russia. Russia’s fall gave rise to the Bolsheviks and Russian Revolution that in turn would affect the map of Europe after WW2.

So, I wanted to under stand more of the Eastern Front in the First World War and purchased Geoffrey Jukes’ The First World War-The Eastern Front. Jukes’ wrote in the Essential Histories Series put out by Osprey Books.

Osprey’s Essential Histories are just that-essential and basic, numbering 100 pages or less. Yet, they are helpful, especially if you know little about the subject matter. The First World War-The Eastern Front 1914-1918 by Jukes is no exception as it served me as a primer on the subject. Osprey peppers these nifty little volumes with great illustrations, maps and pictures giving the reader a fun and fascinating quick read.

Going one better on the subject of the Eastern Front in World War One is Michael S. Nieberg and David Jordan’s The Easter Front 1914-1920.

Polish Cavalry over run Bolshevik infantry in the 1920 war.

Polish Cavalry over run Bolshevik infantry in the 1920 war.

I found this volume incredible given what the author’s were trying to accomplish in about 200 pages. Like the Essential Histories by Osprey the book is liberally sprinkled with color campaign maps, pictures,  and nifty side bars of soldiers, their equipment and other detail that enhances the bigger picture campaigns with the huge armies.  As a bonus the book also details the Russian-Polish War of 1920. Poland emerged from WW1 as an independent nation and was immediately attacked by Bolshevik Russia. Amazingly the Poles soundly trounced the invading Bolsheviks and even managed to counter attack deep into the Ukraine. I highly recommend this volume. I am in the search for its companion volume on the Western Front.

In the midst of immersing myself about WW1 I came across a recommendation for Richard Rubin’s The Last of the Doughboys.

This book was a departure from Europe because it deals with the US commitment to the Great War. It also differs in what it emphasizes.

In the mid to late 1990s the French Government sought to recognize all US veterans of the Great War that had served on French soil. All of the survivors the French knew about were put on a list and if possible visited by a French official who presented them with a medal. I thought that was an incredibly nice gesture to these men who would soon be gone.

After the fact Rubin got a hold of the list and in the early 2000s began to visit the survivors whose numbers were getting smaller and smaller given the fact that all were well over 100 years of age. His search also included some veterans who did not make it to France but none-the-less did their part in the Great War.

Rubin’s book is a superb human interest book. He interviewed these elderly veterans sometimes more than once simply for their memories and his desire to preserve those memories of a generation that would soon be gone. I had a hard time putting this volume down and Rubin’s skill in his writing seemed to actually transport me into a by gone era and into the lives and memories of the generation that fought in WW1. The book comes in at almost 500 pages. Don’t be fooled; it’s not a combat history but sections do speak of the combat. Rubin has faithfully recorded the memories of rear echelon soldiers like truck or horse-drawn supply wagon drivers, black soldiers (the US Army was not integrated at the time and black served in their own units with white officers), artillery men, men in the trenches and even a sailor and a gal who was “drafted” for an office job in Washington in what became the VA. I recommend this book because of its human interest focus.


Last but not least of my latest reads is Brassey’s History of Uniforms-World War One German Army by Stephen Bull. Yes, I know, kind of geeky, but I have an interest in military miniatures and I paint them so a book like this is what the doctor ordered. It’s highly detailed has a number of color prints and gets into the equipment that the German soldier used in World War One. I will eventually get the volume on the British Army but am disappointed that Brassey did not cover any of the other major powers.






Sun Prairie’s Civil War Soldier Dies at Just 15


Another interesting American Civil War story from a fellow Wisconsin blogger.

Originally posted on The Hanneman Archive:

His death was given only passing notice in the Wisconsin State Journal, the state’s official newspaper. “May he rest in peace,” the brief item from April 9, 1864 read. So it was the unwritten that was truly remarkable in the all-too-brief life of James Moore, soldier of the Wisconsin 12th Infantry Regiment in the Civil War.

The son of Irish immigrants who settled to farming in the Town of Sun Prairie, Moore was just 14 when he enlisted in Company I of the 12th Infantry Regiment in late September 1862. Moore and Lemuel Neal of Sun Prairie enlisted together at Camp Randall on September 29, 1862. Moore was a boy who went to fight in a man’s war — a theme that would be repeated, most especially in the “war to end all wars,” World War I. His youth, just five months past his 14th birthday, seems quite remarkable for an infantry…

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