Curving slopes of forested hills and peaceful Farmlands in the valley are visible from Newtown Battlefield at the top of the hill in the park. It is a restful scene. But in 1779, this tranquility was broken by the boom of cannons and the crack of musket fire. The Continental Army was engaged in battle with the British regulars, Loyalist rangers and 1,000 Iroquois indian warriors. The Battle of Newtown was the decisive clash in one of the largest offensive campaigns of the American Revolution.
Gen. George Washington had dispatched Gen. John Sullivan with an army from Eston, Pennsylvania and Gen. James Clinton with an army gathered at Canajoharie in the Mohawk Valley, in what was to become known as the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. This expedition has been commonly regarded as punishment to some tribes among the
Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy who had sided with the British in the war and had attacked frontier settlements. It has also been interpreted as a means of cutting off supplies of corn, dried vegetables and fruits going to the Indians and the British.
At noon on Aug. 22, Gen. Clinton arrived at Tioga Point (The Hudson Valley detachment were held up by the swollen streams and difficult terrain and failed to connect with Clinton’s division) and was greeted by the cheers of all of the men there assembled and welcomed with a 13 gun salute.
After the arrival of the force under Clinton, preparations for the march northward into the Indian country were speeded up. On Aug. 26 the combined forces, numbering close to five thousand men, left Tioga Point. Their progress was slowed down by the treacherous terrain and the swollen river, and it was three days later, on Aug 29 before they reached the Indian village of Newtown.
On August 29, scouts discovered fortifications near the Iroquois village of Newtown at the base of the hill. There were 15 British regulars, 250 Loyalist Rangers and the much larger force of indians. The enemy forces had thrown up a breastworks concealed by freshly cut saplings. In front flowed Baldwin's Creek and on their left flank was an extensive swamp. At their rear was a high hill (present location of Newtown Battlefield Reservation) and on their right passed the old Indian trail over which Sullivan should advance. Some 200 yards beyond this trail lay a wooded ridge where British forces were hidden. Thus, the trap was set.
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Sullivan’s scouts discovered the ambush and sent word back to their commander. General Sullivan sent Col. Ogden to the far left and Clinton and Poor’s brigades to the right to gain the enemy’s flank and rear. Col. Proctor’s artillery was moved to within 300 yards of the breastworks. At a prearranged time the artillery began a heavy fire and the plan went into action.
Sullivan met with his generals and planned their attack. They bombarded the fortified line of their enemy with artillery supported by a troop assault. Soldiers led by Gen.'s Poor and Clinton were delayed by the swamp but eventually gained high ground and engaged in active combat with the enemy. For awhile it was a hotly contested battle, but eventually the vigorous artillery fire had a telling effect on the Indians and the signal for retreat was sounded by the Indian leaders. The forces under the Loyalist Col. John Butler and the Iroquois war chief Joseph Brant retreated towards Newtown and a ford in the river. The
Continental Army pursued them without result.
From here the Sullivan - Clinton Campaign completed a long sweep through the Finger Lakes region, destroying about 40 indian villages, 160,000 bushels ofcorn, and a vast quantity of vegetables and fruit raised by the indians for their winter food supply.
The mighty Continental Army held the ground at Newtown. The Native and Loyalist forces turned and fled. The Expedition itself has been called a "well-executed failure." The armies proceed northward into the Finger Lakes area, driving the Indian inhabitants before them, burning crops and villages. In doing this, the Expedition was considered to be a success. However, General Sullivan did not complete the rest of General Washington's orders, which were to proceed farther north to the shores of Lake Erie and capture the British-held forts at Niagara and Oswego. Because he did not do so, the raids on the frontier settlements continued with even greater fervor.
The Indians who were driven out of their territories and homes were forced to take refuge at Fort Niagara. There they spent a very hard winter without their food stores under the protection of British forts. Because there was no space to properly house them and not enough supplies to feed them, many died from the cold, disease, and starvation during that winter. Many of those who survived fled to Canada for refuge. The great League of Six Nations, the Iroquois Confederacy, was broken.
Following are a few accounts of the battle from the men that fought it;
Lieut. Col. Adam Hubley's account of the day
Sunday, August 29th."This morning at 9 o'clock the army moved in the same order of the 26th; the riflemen were well scattered in front of the light corps, who moved with the greatest precision and caution. On our arrival near the ridge on which the action of the 13th commenced with light corps, our van discovered several Indians in front, one of whom gave them a fire, and then fled. We continued our march for about one mile; the rifle corps entered a low marshy ground which seemed well calculated for forming ambuscades; they advanced with great precaution, when several more Indians were discovered, who fired and retreated. Major Parr, from those circumstances, judged it rather dangerous to proceed any further without taking every caution to reconnoitre almost every foot of ground, and ordered one of his men to mount a tree and see if he could make any discoveries; after being some time on the tree he discovered the movements of several Indians, (which were rendered conspicuous by the quantity of paint they had on them,) as they were laying behind an extensive breastwork, which extended at least half a mile, and most artfully covered with green boughs, and trees, having their right flank secured by the rirer, and their left by a mountain. It was situated on a rising ground, about one hundred yards in front of a difficult stream of water, bounded by the marshy ground already mentioned on our side and on the other, between it and the breast-works' by an open and clear field. Major Parr immediately gave intelligence to General Hand of his discoveries, who immediately advanced the light corps within about three hundred yards of the enemy's works, and formed in line of battle; the rifle corps, under cover, advanced, and lay under the bank of the creek within one hundred yards of the lines. Gen. Sullivan, having previous notice, arrived with the main army, and ordered the following disposition to take place: The rifle and light corps to continue their position; the left flanking division, under command of Colonel Ogden, to take post on the left flank of the light corps, and General Maxwell's brigade, some distance in the rear, as a corps de reserve, and Colonel Proctor's artillery in front of the centre of the light corps, and immediately opposite the breast-work. A heavy fire ensued between the rifle corps and the enemy, but little damage was done on either side. In the meantime, Generals Poor and Clinton's brigades, with the right flanking division, were ordered to march and gain, if possible, the enemy's flank and rear, whilst the rifle and light corps amused them in front. Col. Proctor had orders to be in readiness with his artillery and attack the lines, first allowing a sufflcient space of time to Generals Poor, &c., to gain their intended stations. About 3 o'olock, P. M., the artillery began their attack on the enemy's works, the rifle and light corps in the meantime prepared to advance and charge; but the enemy, finding their situation rather precarious, and our troops determined, left and retreated from their works with the greatest precipitation, leaving behind them a number of blankets, gun covers, and kettles, with corn boiling over the fire. Generals Poor, &c., on account of several difficulties which they had to surmount, could not effect their designs, and the enemy probably having intelligence of their approach, posted a number of troops on the top of a mountain, over which they had to advance. On their arrival near the summit of the same, the enemy gave them a fire, and wounded several officers and soldiers. General Poor pushed on and gave them a fire as they retreated, and killed five of the savages. In the course of the day we took nine scalps, (all savages,) and two prisoners, who were separately examined, and gave the following corresponding account. that the enemy were seven hundred men strong, viz.. five hundred savages, and two hundred Tories, with about twenty British troops' commanded by a Seneca chief, the two Butlers, Brandt, and M'Donald.
The infantry pushed on towards Newtown; the main army halted and encamped near the place of action near which were several extensive fields of corn and other vegetables. About 6 o'clock, P. M., the infantry returned and enecamped near the main army.
The prisoners further informed us that the whole of their party had subsisted on corn only for this fortnight past, and that they had no other provisions with them; and that their next place of rendezvous would be at Catharines town, an Indian village about twenty-five miles from this place.
Distance of march (exclusive of counter-marches) this day, about eight miles.
Lieut. Col. Henry Dearborn's Account of the day
29th The army march'd at 9 oclock A.M. proceeded about 5 miles when our light troops discover'd a line of brestwork about 80 rods in their front, which upon reconoytering was found to extend about half a mile in length, on very advantageous ground with a learge brook in front. the river on their right, a high mountain on their left & a learge settlement in their rear call'd New Town;
their works ware very artfully mask'd with green bushes, so that I think the discovering them was as accidental as it was fortunate to us. Skurmishing on both sides commence'd after we discover'd their works, which continued until our Disposition was made, which was as followeth viz:
---the Artillery to form in front of their works, cover'd by Genl Hands Brigade, Genl Poors Brigade & riflemen to turn the Enimies left, & fall in their rear, supported by Gen' Clintons Brigade: Gen! Maxwells Brigade to form a Corps dereserve; the left flanking division & light Infantry to pursue the enimy when they left their works.
--- at 3 oclock P.M. Genl Poor began his rout by Collumns from the right of Reg's by files, we pass'd a very thick swamp, so cover'd with bushes for near a mile that the Collumns found great difficulty in keeping their order, but by Gen! Poors great prudence & good conduct, we proceeded in much better order than I expected we possibly could have done; after passing this swamp we inclin'd to the left, cross'd the creek that runs in front of the Enimies works:
---on both sides this creek, was a learge number of new houses, but no land cleared. soon after we pass'd this creek we began to assend the mountain that cover'd the Enimies left. Immediately after we began to Assend the Mountain, we ware saluted by a brisk fire from a body of Indians who ware posted on this mountain for the purpos of preventing any troops turning the left of their works. at the same Instant that they began their fire on us, they rais'd the Indian yell, or war whoop: the rifle men kept up a scattering fire while we form'd the line of Battle, which was done exceeding quick; we then advanced rappedly with fix'd bayonets without fireing a shot, altho they kept up a steady fire on us until we gain'd the summet of the Mountain, which is about half a mile, we then gave them a full volley which oblig'd them to take to their heels:
Col° Reids Regt which was on the left of the Brigade was more severely attackt then any other part of the Brigade, which prevented his advancing as far as the rest.
after we had scowerd the top of the mountain, (in doing which Lt Cass of our Regt tommohawk'd an indian with the Indians own tommahawk that was slightly wounded) I being next to Col° Reid on the left, finding he still was very severely ingag'd nearly on the same ground he was first attackt on, thought proper to reverce the front of the Regt & moove to his assistance. I soon discover'd a body of Indians turning his right, which I turn'd about by a full fire from the regt this was a very seasonable releaf to Col° Reid who at the very moment I fir'd on those that ware turning his right found himself so surrounded, that he was reduce'd to the nessessaty of retreating, or making a desperate push with the bayonet, the latter of which he had began to put in execution the moment I gave him releaf; the Enimy now all left the field of action with precepetation, & in great confusion, pursued by our light Infantry about 3 miles, they 1eft a number of their packs blankets &con the ground.
--- half an hour before the action became serious with Genl Poors Brigade the Artillery open'd upon their works which soon made their works too warm for them.
---we found of the Enimy on the field of action 11 Indian warriers dead & one Squaw; toock one white man & one negro prisoners, from whome we learnt that Butler Commanded here, that Brant had all the Indians that could be muster'd in the five Nations, that there was about 200 whites a few of which ware British regular troops. it seems their whole force was not far from 1000.
---these prisoners inform us that their loss in killtd & wounded was very great, the most of which they according to custom, carried off.
---our loss in Genl Poors Brigade, kill'd and wounded is
Majr .......... 0.............1 Majr Titcomb
Capt............ 0............1 Capt Clays
Lt. 0 1 died the same night
& privates .......... 3........29
our loss in kill' d & wounded in the whole Army except Genl Poors Brigade was
kill'd.......0 wounded . . . 4
at sunset thc army Incamp'd on the ground lately occupied by the Enimy.---
Lieut. Col. Francis Barber's Order Book
Head Quarters Newtown August 30, 1779
Parole Canada Countersign Hallifax
Brigadier of the day General Clinton
Field Officer of the day Lt. Colo. Weissenfield
Brigade Major Fish
The Commander-in-chief with the highest satisfaction, returns his sincere thanks to the officers & soldiers of the Army, for their brave & soldierly conduct yesterday. No troops could have manifested more eagerness for the combat than those who were immediately engaged & none more bravery & coolness than those who were in action. The General in a special manner returns his thanks to General Poor, the officers & soldiers of his brigade for the firmness & resolution with which they opposed & routed the enemy. He also returns his thanks to Major Parr & the troops under his command for the brave stand they made. He is sensible of the obligation he is under to every General, field & other commissioned officers for their particular attention to orders & the cheerfulness they shew in executing every direction. He cannot help expressing his satisfaction with the conduct of Colo. Proctor, and the officers & men of the Artillery---Capt. Machin, Lieuts. Stephens and Jenkins have his cordial thanks for the services they rendered the army by their vigalence & exertions. It is with pleasure he declares, the conduct of the whole army has fully convinced him that every future attempt to appose their progress must be vain & fruitless. The same signals as yesterday will notify the march of the Army. Gen. Clinton is appointed President of a Court Martial to sit at three o'Clock this afternoon for the trial of Commissary Steele. Each Brigade to furnish one Field officer & three Captains. Capt. Anderson is appointed Judge Advocate. The court to sit at the President's Marque
From The Journal kept by Liutenent Obediah Gore
August 29th: Marched at 8 A M & our advanced Parties frequently discovered Indians in Front & at the Distance of about 4 Miles they had a Breast Work situated on a very advantageous Heighth The Riffle Corps crept up & amused them with a Scattering Fire for 2 or 3 Hours attended with some Execution while our Artilery could be brought up to play upon them---Mean Time Generals Poor & Clintons Brigades advanced to gain the Enemys rear at 3 P. M. we begun a Cannonade upon the Breast Work & in about 6 Minutes they began to run & quit their Works which our advance Party took Possession of immediately---The Right FIank of the Enemy in their Flight fell in with General Poor's Brigade who gave them a Warm Reception which put them in such Precipitation as to leave Packs Blankets Guns Powder & even an officer's Commission &c We found 9 dead & took 2 Prisoners & have Reason to think that Considerable other Execution was done as there was great Quantities of Blood found in their Paths---in all which we had only 5 killed & twenty three wounded. We passed the Breast work about one Mile & encamped at Night the Troops were much animated with this Days Success.