Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

different days, a limited number of each party being present, unarmed. His object seems to have been to ascertain the feelings and intentions of the Mohawk, and the conferences were animated. Here, as on former occasions, Brant was explicit and decided. He told the General the Indians were in concert with the king, as their fathers had been, and they would not violate their pledge.

Brant desired that the Rev. Mr. Stuart, missionary at Fort Hunter, and the wife of Col. Butler, might be allowed to retire into Canada, which the General agreed to, and presented the Indians with several head of cattle, which they slaughtered immediately. The conference ended, and Herkimer returned home.

If this was intended as a hostile demonstration, rather than a peaceful visit, the force employed was entirely insufficient; and this must have been known to Gen. Schuyler, who then commanded in the northern department. We have referred to this incident in the life of Gen. Herkimer, not on account of its importance, or any very striking or peculiar features it may possess, but to endeavor to rescue the memory of a good and a brave man from a most grave and serious imputation. We have endeavored to show, and we think successfully, that the General's visit to his former neighbor was peaceful in its inception and with the intention of inducing Brant not to take up arms against the Americans; it being well known that he left Canada with a considerable party of Indians, soon after he had had a pretty serious misunderstanding with Guy Johnson. Brant was himself convinced that no hostile demonstration was intended, and if any such views were entertained, they must have been abandoned, for the General declared to Brant's messengers, and to Brant himself, he came on a friendly visit.

Now in the face of all these facts, corroborated by concurrent events, is it probable that Gen. Herkimer ever contemplated a foul and treacherous murder? It is certain Brant never suspected any insidious attempt on his life, or, if he did, he possessed the means of successful defense, which have not been disclosed. The General has a right to throw himself upon his former good character, or his friends have for him; and they may well ask that he be acquitted of a charge, foul and dishonorable, based upon a recollection of events which took place sixty years before they are put upon record.

That Gen. Herkimer should have taken all needful precautions to guard against surprise, and protect his command from any sudden attack by Brant and his followers, is quite natural. This it was his duty to do, even if he was compelled to strike down Brant to accomplish his object; and this would have been quite a different position from that he is made to assume, in the life of Brant, by Col. Stone. In the one case, he is made to stand out the premeditated aggressor; concerting measures to destroy a man he had invited to meet him. in a consultation of peace, and who held his safe conduct, which, by all the laws of war, was his shield and protection; and in the other case, he shows a settled resolution not to be circumvented or surprised by an artful, inveterate and resolute foe, without being prepared to strike a blow that must have been instantly fatal to the aggressor.

The latter view of this question entirely accords with the whole tenor of Gen. Herkimer's life to its close, which happened a few weeks subsequent to this event. All hope of inducing the Indians to remain neutral, in the contest between the colonies and mother country, had not then been abandoned by the former, and this was well known to the General; any rash or unguarded act, on his part, would have precipitated an event which all must have deplored, and who would have felt more keenly the severity of Indian retaliation than the General's connexions and neighbors 1 This expedition was set on foot by Gen. Schuyler, and if, in its inception, it was intended as a hostile demonstration against Brant and his followers, it was most strangely and clumsily conducted. But this could not have been its object, nor the design of its projectors.

The approach of the British army from the north under Gen. Burgoyne, and the concentration of the enemy under St. Leger, at Oswego, Indians, Tories, Canadian and others, produced great consternation in the Mohawk valley, and Gen. Herkimer on the 17th of July, 1777, issued the following spirited and patriotic proclamation:

"Whereas it appears certain that the enemy, of about 2000 strong, Christians and savages, are arrived at Oswego, with the intention to invade our frontiers, I think it proper and most necessary for the defence of our country, and it shall be ordered by me as soon as the enemy approaches, that every male person, being in health, from 16 to 60 years of age, in this our country, shall, as in duty bound, repair immediately, with arms and accoutrements, to the place to be appointed in my orders; and will then march to oppose the enemy with vigor, as true patriots, for the just defence of their country. And those that are above 60 years, or really unwell, and incapable to march, shall then assemble, also armed, at their respective places, where women and children will be gathered together, in order for defence against the enemy, if attacked, as much as lies in their power. But concerning the disaffected, and who will not directly obey such orders, they shall be taken along with their arms, secured under guard to join the main body. And as such an invasion regards every friend to the country in general, but of this county in particular, to show his zeal and wellaffected spirit in actual defence of the same; all the members of the committee, as well as all those who, by former commissions or otherwise, have been exempted from any other military duty, are requested to repair also when called, to such place as shall be appointed, and join to repulse our foes. Not doubting that the Almighty Power, upon our humble prayers and sincere trust in him, will then graciously succor our arms in battle, for our just cause, and victory can not fail on our side."

We have, in another place, briefly noticed the battle at Oriskany, in which Gen. Herkimer commanded the brave American militia, and were induced to do so from the consideration that many of the inhabitants of the territory now composing this county, were actors in that bloody drama; and not because it came within the scope marked out by the writer when he commenced a work which was intended to be purely local. In the published notices of that event, full justice has not, in the estimation of many, been done to the motives and character of Gen. Herkimer. That he was a good and brave man, can not be questioned, and now, when all the circumstances attending that unfortunate event are calmly considered, no one is disposed to doubt his fixed and unwavering devotion to the patriotic cause; and yet we can not but see that the unfortunate results of that day were owing more to unjust and unmerited aspersions, combined with the characteristics of the men composing the little army, than a want of capacity or inattention to the safety of the troops on the part of the General.

The little army commanded by Herkimer, then hastening by forced marches to the relief of Fort Schuyler, was composed entirely of undisciplined militia, little used and not inclined to submit to the discipline of war, and among them were several members of the county committee of safety, who had theretofore exerted almost unlimited control in all matters relating not only to civil government, but to the movement of troops called out for defense upon the frontiers.

The General was advised that a body of hostile Indians would intercept his approach to the fort, and he sent forward a messenger to Col Ganesvoort advising that officer of hia position, and concerted a signal, whereby the arrival of the messenger at the fort was to be announced to the General. As soon as the messenger arrived a spirited sally was to be made by the besieged against the beleaguering army, in order to divert the enemy's attention from Herkimer, who designed a rapid approach, and would have been able to pass the point of expected attack and reach the vicinity of the fort unmolested. Unfortunately the General's messenger did not reach Col. Ganesvoort at the hour expected, and the anticipated signal was not heard in the camp near Oriskany. General Herkimer's forces were not sufficient to warrant him to risk an action with the enemy single handed. On the morning of the 6th of August, while waiting for the signal of the sortie from the fort, several of the General's officers and some of the committee of safety urged an immediate advance to the relief of the garrison, but the General was reluctant to peril the safety of his little army, composed of his neighbors and friends, and desired to wait the arrival of reinforcements, or until he was notified his express had gained the fort. But the enthusiasm of his followers could not be restrained, nor were his subordinates disposed to treat his opinions with the respect and consideration to which they were justly entitled. This was not all, some of them charged him with cowardice and disaffection to the country; he still adhered to his resolution of delaying a forward movement until it was known whether Col. Ganesvoort had been advised of his approach; and instead of meeting with a proper submission from his subordinate officers, some of them in passionate words charged him to his face with being a tory and a coward. The alternative thus presented to the citizen general was one of great delicacy and immeasurable responsibility. On the one hand it was his duty to march to the relief of the beleaguered fortress and aid in preserving it from falling into the hands of the enemy, but he was yet without any reliable information that his express had reached or could reach Col. Gansevoort in any event, or even that Fort Schuyler itself was not then in possession of St. Leger; on the other, his little army, composed entirely of the militia of the county, fathers, sons and brothers who had recently passed from a state of almost hopeless despondency to the extreme elation and uncontrollable resolution, was no match for the enemy in numbers, and besides if it had been it was alike the imperative duty of the General, by all prudential means, to preserve his men from needless slaughter and captivity, and above all other things not to allow them

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »