by Eagle Scout, Andrew Street
students know about major Revolutionary War sites such as Lexington and
Valley forge, but ultimate victory was possible only by the colonists
defending many other, more obscure locations and keeping them out of British
control. One such place is Fort Stanwix was built in 1758 and already
had a rich history by the time of the American Revolution. The fort and
its brave defenders played a pivotal role in helping to create our new
With the capture of Canada in 1760, the forts original purpose of
defending the merging place of waterways leading to the Atlantic Ocean
from the Great Lakes (called the Oneida Carrying Place) was lost and Fort
Stanwix became abandoned. About 15 years later, at the onset of the Revolutionary
War, it became clear the Mohawk River valley needed to be defended, and
the logical place was at the site of the now dilapidated Fort Stanwix.
Colonel Peter Gansevoort was sent west with a garrison of less than 1000
men and began to renovate the defenses in the summer of 1776. As the war
progressed, rumors arose about an imminent British attack from Canada
through New York, and the garrison at Stanwix prepared itself for the
major task of defending the water routes from the British army.
General Barry St. Ledger commanded the British column marching towards
the fort as one of a three-prong attack devised by General Burgoyne, called
the Saratoga Campaign. Gansevoort bravely refused the terms of surrender
and had faith that his men, although outnumbered almost two to one, could
resist long enough for reinforcements. If successful, the Saratoga Campaign
had the potential to effectively end the independence movement. The fate
of a free America was to be decided in part by the brave defenders of
fort Stanwix in August, 1777.
On August 3, St. Legers forces attacked the fort, and for the first
time, the stars and stripes were proudly flown in battle. American patriots
in the New York area, about 900 strong, were marching west from Fort Dayton
to relieve Gansevoort and his men when they were ambushed by St. Legers
men and Indian allies in the battle of Oriskany, one of the bloodiest
engagements of the war. Noticing most of St. Legers force was at
Oriskany, Gansevoort sent his men to raid the British camp. The American
troops succeeded, returning to the fort with huge amounts of supplies,
tools, and official papers meant for St. Leger himself. After losing much
of his supplies and his men suffering from low morale, St. Leger retreated
northward on August 20.
Fort Stanwix was the only fort in the hands of American forces for the
entire duration of the war. Shortly after the British failure to capture
the Mohawk Valley, General Burgoyne was defeated in the Battle of Saratoga.
It was at this battle that one of my ancestors, Colonel thaddeus Cook,
won for himself distinction under General Horatio Gates. With
the surrender of the main British army in the north, a renewed hope for
victory spread across the colonies, eventually leading to the founding
of this great country.
Sources and superscripts omitted by the editor.