Recent Activities - Battle of Wyoming Valley

 

     On July 1, the British arrived to find that their approach had already been discovered and that the Americans were assembled in between eight and ten forts. The British marched within view of Wintermute's (Wintermoot) fort. Terms were arranged that the defenders, after surrendering the fort with all their arms and stores, would be released on the condition that they would not again bear arms during the war. On July 3, the British saw that the defenders were gathering in great numbers outside of Forty Fort. William Caldwell was destroying Jenkin's fort, and when the Americans were still a mile away Butler directed that Fort Wintermute (Wintermoot) to be set on fire. The Americans, thinking this was a retreat, advanced rapidly. Butler instructed the Seneca to lie flat on the ground to avoid observation. The Americans advanced to within one hundred yards of the rangers and fired three times. The Seneca came out of their positions, fired a volley, and attacked the Americans in close combat.

 

     Accounts indicate that the moment of contact was followed by a sharp battle lasting about forty-five minutes. An order to reposition the Patriot line turned into a frantic rout when the inexperienced Patriot militia panicked. This ended the battle and triggered the Iroquois hunt for survivors. Only sixty of the Americans managed to escape, and only five were taken prisoner. Some of the victorious Loyalists and Iroquois killed and tortured an unknown number of prisoners and fleeing soldiers. Butler reported that 227 American scalps had been taken.

 

     Colonel Dennison surrendered Forty Fort and two other forts along with the remaining soldiers the next morning. The Americans were paroled with the condition that they not engage in hostilities for the remainder of the war. These soldiers were not harmed. Colonel Dennison and the militia did not honor the terms of their parole, and they were under arms within the year and later attacked Iroquois villages.

 

     After the battle, about 1,000 homes and all of the forts in the area were burned.

 

     There was no substantial killing of non-combatants and almost no inhabitants were injured or molested after the surrender. John Butler wrote : "But what gives me the sincerest satisfaction is that I can, with great truth, assure you that in the destruction of the settlement not a single person was hurt except such as were in arms, to these, in truth, the Indians gave no quarter." An American farmer wrote: "Happily these fierce people, satisfied with the death of those who had opposed them in arms, treated the defenseless ones, the woman and children, with a degree of humanity almost hitherto unparalleled".

 

     According to one source, 60 bodies were found on the battlefield and another 36 were found on the line of retreat and all were buried in a common grave. According to another source 73 bodies were also buried in one hole.

 

AFTERMATH

 

     This battle caused a panic on the frontier, and settlers in the surrounded counties fled.

 

     The Iroquois were enraged at the accusations of atrocities which they said they had not committed, as well as at the militia taking arms after being paroled. This would have tragic consequences at the Cherry Valley Massacre later that year. Reports of the massacres of prisoners and atrocities at Wyoming and atrocities at Cherry Valley enraged the American public.

 

     The Wyoming militia led by Denisson, and others, violated their parole and later that year under Colonel Hartley ascended the Susquehanna as far as Tioga destroying the Loyalist farms and destroying the Indian village of Tioga.

 

     In 1779, the Sullivan Expedition commissioned by General George Washington methodically destroyed at least forty Iroquois villages throughout upstate New York.

LEGACY

 

     The massacre was depicted by the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell in his 1809 poem Gertrude of Wyoming. Because of the atrocities involved, Campbell described Joseph Brant as a "monster" in the poem, though it was later determined that Brant had not been present. Brant was at Oquaga on the day of the attack.

 

     The western state of Wyoming received its name from the U.S. Congress when it joined the Union in 1890, much to the puzzlement of its residents. Ohio Congressman J. M. Ashley suggested the name supposedly because he liked the poem by Campbell.

 

     The battle and massacre is commemorated each year by the Wyoming Commemorative Association, a local non-profit organization, which holds a ceremony on the grounds of the Battle of Wyoming Monument. The Monument is a mass grave containing the bones of many of the victims of the battle and massacre. The commemorative ceremonies began in 1878, to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle and massacre. The principal speaker at the event was President Rutherford B. Hayes. The annual program has continued each year since then on the grounds of the Wyoming Monument. One hundred and seventy-eight names of Patriots killed in the battle are listed on the Wyoming Monument. (This monument includes the names of about a dozen militiamen who were killed/and or died in captivity a day or so prior to the main battle). A possible explanation for the difference between the number of names on the monument (178) and the reported number of scalps taken in the battle (227) is that allegedly a large number of civilians, perhaps 200 -- instead of surrendering to Colonel Butler - elected to try to flee and died of exposure in a swamp known as the "Shades of Death" after the battle; thus possibly the extra 50 to 60 "scalps" could have been taken from either/or the 100 unmustered volunteers and/or the civilians who died of exposure.

 

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