Nicholas Herkimer was a Patriot militia General during the American Revolution. Odds are good you have not heard his name as he is certainly not in the top-tier of American or British leaders during the war. The one thing that he was though was easily one of the bravest generals of the war. To be honest several years ago when I started putting together the idea of this blog, General Herkimer was one of the reasons why and I am pleased to tell you a little bit about him.
Herkimer was the son of German immigrants, born in the Mohawk Valley of what was then the Colony of New York. He participated in the French and Indian War as a captain and as tensions with Britain escalated in 1775 he was named a colonel of the Tryon County militia, soon promoted to brigadier general by the Provincial Congress. He and his militia were instrumental in the struggle against the British aligned natives and Herkimer himself, who spoke Iroquois, worked to keep the tribes as neutral as possible.
In 1777 as part of the Hudson Valley campaign one wing of the British Army from Canada came south to invest Ft Stanwix in New York. Their force was mixed regular, militia and Mohawk Indians. As soon as Herkimer heard they fort was under attack he called out his militia and rushed them to the rescue.
And they never made it. On their way his troops were ambushed by a large force of Mohawks and the Battle of Oriskany was on. In the opening moments of the battle Herkimer was wounded and despite the pleas of his men, refused to be taken off the field. instead his wound was dressed and he was propped up with his saddle next to a tree where he continued to direct his troops, calmly smoking his pipe all the while as chaos erupted all around him. twice the tide of battle turned against his men and they were on the verge of a route, but he rallied them and kept them in the fight. Eventually the Mohawk attackers realized that their losses in the fight did not make for the gains and the retreated back to the British lines at Ft Stanwix. Herkimer was carried off the field by his men, victorious. S few weeks later, due to an inexperienced surgeon Herkimer died from a botched amputation as his wounded leg had become infected.
So a little known battle in the wilds of New York, but the consequences were huge. The Mohawks confronted the British after the battle wondering why they were being sent out to die while the British sat safely in the siege lines. Tensions between the British and Indians grew worse until eventually the Indians quit the British camp to return home, sacking the place on the way out. this would set the stage for the siege to be lifted (By none other than Benedict Arnold) and was one more nail in the British coffin that would be sealed that fall at Saratoga. All thanks to cool and calm General Herkimer who refused to leave the field…