Part 5 out of 5
which we had once barely gotten away with our lives.
The old man must have understood that I spoke rather from nervousness than
because I was really in anger, and immediately he acted as if nothing
unpleasant had been said, but began to discuss the question of whether it
would be wise to burden ourselves with weapons when, if brought to bay, we
could not hope to fight our way through.
Before we had more than gained the barracks half the men in the
fortification had some knowledge of our intentions, and we were
overwhelmed alike with questions and suggestions.
But very few minutes were needed in which to make ready for the venture,
and when we came out of the barracks all three of us had rifles strapped
upon our backs in such a manner that they would not interfere with our
movements in case it became necessary to trust to the fleetness of our
feet. Three rounds of ammunition for each one, sufficient corn bread to
make a single meal, and hunting-knives, completed the outfit.
It would have pleased us better had we been allowed to depart unaided; but
a full half of the garrison appeared to think it absolutely necessary to
go with us to the very limits of the fort, and if good wishes are of any
avail at such a time, then were we certain of returning in good condition.
Once on the plain outside the stockaded portion of the works, Sergeant
Corney led the way by going in a southerly direction for a distance of an
hundred yards or more, and then striking sharply off toward the west,
where was to be found the nearest cover.
Having gained the line of foliage which fringed the high tract of land, it
was possible to march off at a smart pace without need of taking
particular heed to our steps, and we travelled rapidly until having
arrived at a point midway between our starting-place and the ruins of Fort
"Here's where I allow we'll be wise to change the commandant's plan a
bit," the old man said, coming to a halt for the first time since we set
out. "We can't gain very much in lengthenin' the journey by three or four
miles, an' I'm in favor of strikin' across to the hill from here?"
The statement was made in the form of a question, and I replied that it
suited me to do as he thought best, for when Colonel Gansevoort mapped out
the route I believed he was sending us on a longer detour than was
We crossed the Albany road at that point where it bends in toward the
hill, walking at our best pace, and, once behind the elevation, were
screened from view of the enemy's camp.
While we were going over the open country I kept my eyes fixed upon the
British batteries and the redoubts thrown up to cover them, but failed to
see any signs of human life. That the enemy had abandoned these posts even
for a few moments seemed incredible, and yet it was all of the same piece
with what we could see in their camp.
Sergeant Corney led us directly into the redoubts which had made so much
trouble for us in the fort, and, had we been disposed, we might have
loaded ourselves down with plunder of every description, for the
belongings of the men were strewn about as if cast aside in great haste.
It was not safe to remain many moments where we were; in fact, I came near
to believing the sergeant had lost his wits when he led us into the
British nest, and we hurried out of the works, going directly toward St.
Leger's quarters until we were sufficiently near to see men moving about
excitedly, when he struck off for the rear of the encampment, where could
be found such cover as stout bushes and small fir-trees would afford.
We had advanced boldly on this last stage of the journey, emboldened to do
so by the evidences of panic, or something near akin to it, which we saw
on every hand, and trusting to the possibility that if seen it would be
believed that we belonged to the encampment.
The sun was yet an hour high in the heavens when we found a hiding-place
overlooking the camp, and so easy of accomplishment had been our task,
with nothing of danger attaching to it, that I was heartily ashamed of
having displayed ill-temper in the sergeant's presence.
Neither of us spoke when we were finally come to where we could have a
fairly good view of the scene of confusion. The surprise at what we saw,
and the perplexity because of it, was so great that we could do no more or
no less than stare in bewilderment at this army, every member of which
appeared to have suddenly been deprived of his reason.
The foremost scene which met our wondering gaze was a group composed of
General St. Leger himself, Sir John Johnson, Thayendanega, and a dozen or
more leading sachems of the Six Nations.
These men were too far away to admit of our hearing the spirited
conversation which was going on. It appeared to me at times that the
commander was pleading for some favor, and, again, that he threatened;
but the savages seemed to give little heed to his words.
Then Sir John talked for several moments, apparently appealing to each of
his companions in turn, whereupon one of the sachems spoke excitedly,
using more gestures than I ever saw one of the scoundrels employ, and when
he was come to an end all the savages save Thayendanega stalked off as if
in a rage.
Our stupefaction was complete when General St. Leger made a peculiar
gesture, and straightway two soldiers led forward a half-grown man whose
vacant look proclaimed him to be one of those unfortunates whom God has
deprived of wits, and in his wake came three Oneida Indians.
It was enough to make a fellow lose a full year's growth, thus seeing his
Majesty's general in such company; but when the Oneidas appeared my
surprise gave way to fear.
We had always counted, and with good cause, on these Indians being
friendly to our people who were struggling to throw off the yoke which the
king had put upon us, yet the fact that they were in the encampment,
apparently on friendly terms with our enemies, seemed to betoken still
more trouble and misery for us of the valley.
Jacob gripped my hand tightly as the Oneidas appeared, and I could see the
corners of the sergeant's mouth twitching as if he had suddenly lost that
feeling of security which had been so strong upon him until this moment.
Then the foolish man began to tell a long story to the general, the
Indians added a word now and then, and even Thayendanega began to wear a
It was all so strange and unnatural that I pinched my own arm more than
once to make certain I was not in a dream.
The scenes shifted before us as if they had been painted on bubbles which
were blown hither and thither by the wind.
Even as we gazed at the leaders of the army while they stood listening to
the foolish man as if believing him to be inspired, a mob of Tories and
Indians surged toward that portion of the encampment, and in an instant
St. Leger, Thayendanega, and Sir John Johnson were blotted out from our
Nothing could have happened to give us who crouched amid the stunted
bushes a more vivid idea of the change which had come over the besieging
army than this one incident, when the commanders, at whose frowns savages
as well as white men cringed, were treated with such utter lack of
I fully expected to hear one or the other of these three burst into a
towering rage, and order the immediate punishment of those who had
offended, whereas the men extricated themselves from the tangle of
half-drunken soldiers and savages as best they could, immediately
resuming the apparently confidential conversation with the idiot.
I saw Sergeant Corney shrug his shoulders, as if to say that he had given
over even trying to guess what might have happened, and then he beckoned
for us to follow as he crept straight away from the, to us, perplexing
There was little need for us to give much heed to our movements so far as
concerned making a noise, for I dare venture to say that a full company of
men might have marched boldly past without raising an alarm, so long as
they remained hidden from view.
When we were twenty yards or more from where the commanders stood trying
to hold their position against the drunken tide of reds and whites, the
sergeant halted and looked at us lads inquiringly:
"Well?" I said, irritably, vexed because of my bewilderment. "If you can't
explain the situation there is no need to look at us. It beats anything I
ever heard of or dreamed about. Have they all lost their senses?"
"Somethin' is goin' mightily wrong!" Sergeant Corney said, impressively,
as if he was imparting valuable information.
"Goin' wrong!" Jacob repeated. "I should say it had already gone wrong
with a vengeance. Can't you make some kind of a guess, sergeant?"
"Not a bit of it, lad. This 'ere business lays way over anythin' I ever
saw in all my experience as a soldier. There's one thing certain,
howsomever, which is that jest now an hundred of our people could walk
through the entire encampment without bein' called upon to spill a drop of
"Well?" I asked again, as the old man ceased speaking.
"Colonel Gansevoort must know how mixed up is this 'ere army."
"We can go back an' tell him," Jacob replied, promptly. "I reckon we might
walk straight out toward the fort, an' never a man here would give heed to
"If we knew exactly what had happened it might be as well for all three to
go back to the fort; but there's no knowin' when matters may take a turn,
an' we must keep a sharp watch lest through us our people are brought into
"Why don't you say what you mean, without talkin' all around the subject?"
I cried, nervously. "What have you got in your mind?"
"That one of us must go back to the fort, while the others stay here on
watch to give the alarm in case this 'ere army suddenly comes to its
It was not my desire to travel back alone to carry the tidings. There was
no thought in my mind that any danger might threaten while the enemy was
in such a state of confusion; and I was most eager to watch these
apparently crazy people, in the hope of being able to come at a solution
of the riddle, therefore I asked, sharply:
"Who do you think should go back?"
"Do either of you lads want to tackle the job?" the sergeant asked, and I
understood by his tone that he was as loath to leave the place as was I.
Neither of us made reply, and he went on, as if already having had the
plan fixed in his mind:
"Then we'll draw lots to see who it shall be. As the matter stands, we
know full well that the commandant must be told of what we have seen. It
won't require two hours' travelling because there's no call to make a very
wide circuit, an', in case these fellows pull themselves together before
midnight, them as stays on watch can warn our people."
"Fix the drawin' of lots to suit yourself, an' he who gets the worst of it
will set out at once," I said, curtly, and the old man broke off three
small twigs, which he held in his closed hand.
"I haven't taken note of which is the shortest; but, in case you might
think I had, make your choice, an' the one which is left shall be mine."
"He who gets the shortest goes back, eh?" Jacob asked, and I replied:
"That is understood. Take the first choice, an' let us settle this
business as soon as we can, for I am wild to get over yonder where I can
see the king's army playin' the fool, if it so be that I'm not forced to
Jacob drew one of the twigs without stopping to make a selection, I took
the second, and Sergeant Corney opened his hand to show the third.
They were all so nearly of a length that we were forced to measure each
in order to learn who was the unfortunate, and then it was found that
Jacob had been selected to play the part of messenger.
Disappointed though the lad must have been, he did not make any delay, but
asked as he rose to his feet:
"What shall I say to the commandant?"
"Tell him what you have seen," the sergeant replied, "an' say that with
two hundred men at the most he can capture the whole blessed army. If
there should be any change within the next two hours, one or both of us
will hurry back, goin' around by way of the hill opposite the
batteries,--the same course we came,--therefore, if he sends out a
detachment, let it approach by that route."
Immediately the old man ceased speaking Jacob wheeled about, and in a
twinkling was lost to our view in the gloom.
By this time night had fully come, and I knew the lad would be in no
danger if he made a direct line for the fort, therefore I ceased to think
of him as I urged my companion to return with me to where we could
overlook the scene of confusion.
We went back at once without giving especial heed to moving noiselessly,
and soon were gazing upon the wildest, oddest scene that ever a military
During the short time we were absent the men had built small fires here,
there, and everywhere around, and now that which had at first looked like
a panic began to present the appearance of an orgy.
We saw directly in front of General St. Leger's camp a dozen or more
Indians broaching a cask of rum, and hardly more than twenty feet away
were a lot of Tories, drinking from bottles which had evidently been
plundered from the commander's private store.
Had the camp been in the possession of an enemy there could not have been
greater evidences of lawlessness, and again and again I asked myself what
could have happened to bring about such a condition of affairs.
It would be well-nigh impossible to set down all the wild pictures we saw
during the hour which followed. Instead of recovering from their panic,
insubordination, or whatever it may have been, the men were momentarily
growing more disorderly, and that the officers made no effort to preserve
even the semblance of order, we knew from seeing them from time to time
moving about the encampment with no heed to what was being done.
The three commanders, however, remained beyond our line of vision, and,
because no one save the rioting soldiery and the savages entered or came
out of the headquarters tent, I began to suspect that the leaders had run
As can be supposed, in a comparatively short time the Indians were
thoroughly under the influence of the enormous amount of strong drink
which had been consumed, and ripe for mischief of any kind.
One of the Tories, a fellow who had been hob-nobbing with the savages,
himself drinking until he could stand only with difficulty, was set upon
by two of the feathered wolves, murdered and scalped before our eyes,
without an alarm being raised.
Then the Indians began a war-dance, waving the bloody scalp in the air
with frenzied gestures as they circled around and around the lifeless
body, and many of the drunken white men applauded heartily, although it
must be set down in extenuation that they were so drunk as not really to
understand what had taken place.
"It's a nice kind of a tea-party," Sergeant Corney whispered to me, while
the orgy was at its height. "If the rum holds out these villains will
settle matters among themselves, so that Colonel Gansevoort won't find any
to stand against him when he arrives."
To this I could make no reply. I was literally sickened by the horrible
scene, and began to wish most fervently that I had been the one to draw
the shortest twig, for it was by no means agreeable to remain there idle
while murder was being done, even though it was a bitter enemy who had
thus been cowardly done to death.
The savages soon brought their dance to an end as they stumbled into this
tent and that, searching for more spirits although the cask was not yet
empty, and I was on the point of suggesting to Sergeant Corney that it
would be wise to move back among the bushes lest some of the drunkards
come upon us by mistake, when a heavy body suddenly fell, or was thrown,
directly upon my back, pinning me to the earth.
My first thought was that the rioters had flung some heavy piece of camp
equipage into the bushes at random, and then the blood grew cold in my
veins as I felt two hands clutching at my throat.
Like a flash of light came the knowledge that one of the drunkards, an
Indian as I believed, had stumbled upon me accidentally. I expected each
second to hear an alarm raised which would bring the murderous crew to the
spot without delay, when there could be no question as to the result, for
the sergeant and I could not hold out many moments against such a mob,
even though every one of them was intoxicated to a greater or less degree.
That which rendered my situation critical was the fact of my being
virtually unarmed. It will be remembered that the rifle was strapped to my
back, and even though I had been unhampered, it would have required no
slight time in which to unsling it. My knife was quite as useless,
because, borne to the earth as I had been, it could not be removed from my
To set all this down in words makes it appear as if I had ample time in
which to think over the situation, whereas no more than five seconds could
have elapsed before the sinewy fingers were closed so tightly about my
throat that I could not breathe.
At almost the same instant that the pressure began to be painful, before a
single cry had been uttered by my assailant, a second shock was felt by
me, while the weight which pressed me down to the earth was increased, and
dimly I understood that the sergeant had leaped upon the back of him who
was strangling me.
Why the Indian made no cry for help I cannot understand, except that he
was too drunk to realize he had within his grasp an enemy instead of one
of his own company.
Certain it is, however, that no alarm was raised even when the sergeant
came to my relief, and in silence, save for the rustling of the foliage as
we swayed to this side or that, the battle was continued until I felt the
cruel fingers about my throat suddenly relax, while a warm liquid of a
peculiar, salty odor poured down over my neck and head.
When he who had been striving to kill me rolled from my back, I lay
motionless, unable to raise a hand and gasping for breath, until Sergeant
Corney lifted me up as he whispered in my ear:
"Are you hurt, lad?"
"Only choked well-nigh to death," I contrived to say, and then tried to
struggle to my feet, but found myself yet pinned to the earth by the
lifeless body which lay across my legs.
"Let us get out of here," I said, after releasing myself from the sinister
weight. "This is worse than such an ambush as we fell into on the
"Ay, lad, I reckon you're right as to that; but it strikes me we're bound
by the word I sent the commandant to stay here till we make certain these
reptiles don't come to their senses."
While he spoke the sergeant was helping me retreat yet farther among the
bushes, for my knees bent beneath me, owing to the horror of it all, as
well as the rough handling I had received.
The old man was not willing to move so far away that it would not be
possible to have a fairly good view of what might be going on; but we did
walk to what I believed was a comparatively safe distance, and then sat
down upon the ground on the alert for anything more of the same kind which
had come so near to putting me out of the world.
"It was a close shave, lad, an' ought'er be a lesson to sich fools as
we've shown ourselves, never to carry good weapons where they can't be got
hold of for use at a moment's notice."
"A fellow isn't supposed to be on his guard against drunkards," I replied,
curtly, caressing my throat, which was exceeding sore.
"True for you, lad; but I'm free to say that, while we've had
considerable experience in the business of fightin', I never run up agin
quite sich a mess as this. It actually gives me a pain because I can't
make head or tail of it."
I was already weary with trying to solve the problem, for indeed it was
puzzling to even make a guess at why an army of near to seventeen hundred
men had been thrown into such a state of panic and lawlessness. Then,
again, why were the commanders not present with their officers to check
these proceedings? Why had they allowed the men to take part in such an
orgy, for to my knowledge St. Leger was near at hand when the first cask
of rum was broached?
"It is no use to speculate as to how this thing came about," I said; "but
it strikes me that you ought to post yourself so far as to be able to tell
Colonel Gansevoort, or whoever he sends in command of the detachment,
exactly where the blow may best be struck, for just now all we know is
regardin' the row close hereabout."
"You never spoke a truer word in your life, lad," the old man said,
excitedly, as he rose to his feet. "I got so mixed up with this 'ere
hubbub, tryin' to make out how it came about, as to have clean lost sight
of all that a soldier ought to do. Jacob hasn't been gone over an hour,
an' we have as much more time to find out how things are in the rest of
the encampment, so let's set about it without delay."
The scene immediately before us was so revolting that I had no desire to
gaze at it longer, and there was a certain sense of relief in my mind when
the sergeant, prompted by me, had thus decided upon a definite course of
With so much of confusion and drunkenness everywhere around, it was a
simple matter for us to go and come as we pleased, save by chance we might
stumble upon those who yet remained sober, for all the men I had thus far
seen, except the leaders themselves, were in such a maudlin condition as
to be unable to distinguish friend from foe.
We had already learned that the batteries fronting Fort Schuyler on the
northeast had been abandoned, and it was only necessary to get a view of
the remainder of the British encampment. There was little need to visit
the Tory quarters, for, as it seemed to me, all those renegades were
present, taking part in the orgy.
With no care as to advancing noiselessly, but keeping a sharp lookout lest
we come upon sober men, the sergeant and I moved about at will, finding
everywhere the same condition of affairs, and when half an hour had passed
it was positive our people might come into the enemy's lines and gather up
prisoners by the hundreds without being molested in any way, for I
question if their presence would have been suspected.
During all this time of inspection we saw nothing of St. Leger, Sir John,
or Thayendanega, and I was of the opinion that they had run away; but
Sergeant Corney held to it that most like they were in the Indian
encampment, proposing that we cross the river in order to hunt them up,
but to this I would not listen.
According to my mind, such of the Indians as remained sober, if there were
any, would be in their own lodges, and because we had had such singular
success in our scout thus far was no reason why we might not suddenly find
ourselves face to face with the gravest danger, if we acted the fools by
poking our noses among the camps of the savages.
"Why not go to the fort?" I asked. "There is nothin' more to be learned
here. We know to a certainty that the greater portion of all the Tories
an' Indians are hereabout, and every one of them so drunk that the army
will be harmless, save as to each other, until daybreak. Let us go back by
way of the batteries, an' we can reach the fort almost as soon as will
Jacob, if perchance he went to the northward of the hill."
The sergeant was not inclined to leave the encampment immediately,
although he agreed that we could learn nothing further of importance; it
was as if the scene of confusion had a certain fascination for him. He
finally agreed, however unwillingly, to my proposition, and we set out
leisurely on the return, being forced to pass once more in the rear of all
the British camps because of having continued our investigations to the
easternmost line of tents.
We began the return without thought of haste or of danger, and were come
midway between headquarters and the most southerly battery, when without
warning we arrived face to face with a party of six Tories, who, with
their arms around each other's necks, were reeling to and fro in the most
convivial fashion on what was probably intended to be a pleasant stroll in
the night air.
Just for an instant I was startled, fearing lest we might be discovered
and find ourselves in trouble when we believed we were safest; but then,
realizing that we had already met many who mistook us for comrades, I
would have gone on but that Sergeant Corney halted suddenly, unslung the
rifle from his back, and, presenting it full at the drunken renegades,
said in a low, stern tone:
"We are prepared to shoot one or all at a moment's notice if you make the
slightest resistance. The orders are to gather in every mother's son in
this encampment who has been makin' a fool of himself, an' I reckon you
come in that class. About face, an' the first who so much as yips gets a
bullet through the head."
The fellows must have believed that we were acting under orders from their
general, for, with many a laugh and good-natured quip, they obeyed the
sergeant's order as promptly as a party of small boys would have done,
and, still supporting each other, moved toward the fort, we two following
directly in the rear.
I could have laughed aloud at the comical situation. Here were two scouts
who had gone out to spy upon an encampment of seventeen hundred men,
marching boldly through the entire place, and taking as prisoners six
soldiers who made no effort whatsoever to defend themselves.
I question if in the annals of warfare there be found anything that can
match such a situation!
"Are you goin' to take them into the fort, sergeant?" I asked, in a
whisper, and he replied, speaking with difficulty because of his mirth:
"Why not, lad? It will be a rare lark, an' somethin' to tell about in the
days to come, that we took out from almost directly in front of St.
Leger's headquarters six men, marchin' 'em into a fort which was supposed
to be closely invested."
There could be little danger attending such a performance, save perchance
we might come upon some of those who were sober, and that risk I was more
than willing to take for the sake, as the sergeant had said, of being able
to tell the story in the future.
We marched our prisoners out past the batteries, they giving no heed to
the direction we were going, evidently fancying we were taking them to the
guard-tent, until arriving midway between the fort and the redoubts.
[Illustration: "'Keep a-movin' unless you're achin' to have a bullet
through the back'"]
Then somewhat of the truth seemed to dawn upon them, and this was so
startling as to restore a portion of their befuddled senses. The entire
party halted as if with one accord, and would have turned to look at us,
but that the sergeant said, sharply, emphasizing the words by the click of
his rifle-lock as he cocked the weapon:
"Keep a-movin' unless you're achin' to have a bullet put through the back
of every blessed one in the gang!"
"But, look here, this is too much of a joke," one of them cried, with a
drunken laugh. "We can't go very far on this course without bein' seen by
"You've been seen by 'em already, an' that's why we've got you in charge.
We count on movin' the whole of St. Leger's force over to the fort in
squads, an' you're the first that has been started on the road."
By this time the renegades had a fairly good idea of the situation, and I
fully expected they would turn upon us, but each of them was a coward. If
they wheeled about suddenly, taking the chances that one might be killed
in the squabble, it would have been possible to overpower us, even though
they were without firearms; but it was the probability of our doing some
considerable execution before knocking under that prevented them from
escaping at the favorable moment.
I walked with my rifle cocked and pointed at the man directly in front of
me, prodding him with the muzzle now and then that he might know I was
ready for action, and Sergeant Corney kept the whole party moving at a
good smart pace, for we had no assurance that there were not sober men
enough in the enemy's camp to play the mischief with our bold plan.
Before we were hailed by the sentinels I came to believe that every member
of the besieging army was more or less incapacitated for duty through
having drank too much rum, for we heard nothing whatsoever from any one in
the enemy's camp, although we were in fairly good view of them for no less
than half an hour.
When the sentinel hailed we were yet half a musket-shot distant, and my
companion answered it by shouting:
"Report to the officer of the day that Captain Campbell, of the Minute
Boys, an' Sergeant Braun, unattached, are come with a few prisoners as
sample of what may be had for the takin'."
This reply caused some mystification among the sentinels, as we could
understand by the hum of conversation which followed; but the old man did
not call a halt, and we continued straight on toward the sally-port, I
feeling more than a bit nervous lest the sergeant's loud words might have
been heard by such of the enemy as were able to come in pursuit.
When we had come near the gate, the Tories now well sobered by fright,
Colonel Gansevoort himself hailed, and again the sergeant replied, but
this time in a respectful tone, after which we heard the command to open
A throng of curious, laughing men crowded around as we marched in, and not
until the uniforms of our prisoners could be seen did they believe we had
really made a capture.
It was a squad of Johnson Greens which we had run across so fortunately
and accidentally, and none of St. Leger's force could have been more
welcome to our lads than they, for that organization was made up wholly of
renegades from the Mohawk Valley, who needed such a lesson as we were now
in position to give them.
With such proof as we had with us, Colonel Gansevoort could no longer
doubt the report which had already been brought in by Jacob. He had not
thought it possible the entire force of the enemy could be in a helpless
condition, and it is hardly to be wondered at that he was incredulous.
The prisoners were speedily cared for in such a fashion that there could
be no possibility of their escaping, and then the commandant summoned all
three of us who had visited the British encampment, to his headquarters,
that we might tell the story to himself and the officers.
No one could even make a guess as to what had happened within the enemy's
lines; but there was not a man present who did not believe that now had
come our time to raise the siege in such a manner that the fort would not
be invested again for many days to come.
"When your messenger came in with his report, he admitted that you had
seen but a small portion of the encampment, therefore I hesitated to
accept it as a fact regarding the entire army; but now, after you have
made a tour of the works, it would be worse than folly to delay," the
commandant said to the sergeant. "If you who have so lately returned want
to join in the sortie, it will be necessary to make your preparations
And the old man replied, grimly:
"The advance can't be made any too soon to please us, sir."
No more than three hundred men were sent out to take advantage of the
singular state of affairs which we, the scouts, had reported as existing
in the British camp, and when I expressed surprise because of the small
number ordered on duty, Sergeant Corney replied, contentedly:
"If you an' I told the truth, lad, as we know we did, then a detachment of
three hundred is way off more than enough to take care of all St. Leger's
army in its present condition; but if we made a mistake, or if in some way
it turned out to be a big trick intended for our undoin',--though I don't
see how it _can_ be,--then have men in plenty been taken from the garrison
"All of which means that you're entirely satisfied with everything this
night?" I said, with a laugh, for the capture of the Tories had pleased me
so thoroughly that my mouth was stretched in a grin nearly all the time.
"That's about the size of it, lad, though in this case I couldn't find
anythin' to be disgruntled with, however soreheaded I might be. The
colonel is sendin' out men in plenty."
It was Captain Jackman who led the force, and I knew full well that if it
was possible to punish the Britishers he was the one above all others to
tackle the job, for a braver, more cool-headed man I have never seen.
It is well that I make the story short, so far as our own movements were
concerned, for what we said or did before visiting the enemy's camp in
force is of very little importance.
We set off within an hour after Sergeant Corney and I brought in the
prisoners, and were marched boldly across the plain on a bee-line for the
batteries without hearing a single note of alarm. It seemed to me that
even the noises of the orgy had died away.
Arriving at the batteries, Captain Jackman ordered thirty of his force to
take possession of the guns and hold them until the last possible moment,
in case the enemy rallied sufficiently to do anything toward caring for
their own safety.
A few yards farther on, at the redoubts covering the batteries, thirty
more men were left, and, since there was an ample supply of ammunition for
the big guns as well as the small arms, we who were entering the
encampment would have a fine support in case of trouble.
All these precautions were proper, and the captain would have been a poor
soldier indeed had he failed to take them; but, as was soon shown, they
When we arrived near General St. Leger's quarters we saw the last of the
army fleeing as if panic-stricken in the direction of Oneida Lake, no
longer preserving any semblance of military formation, but each man for
himself, and, what was yet more puzzling, their Indian allies were in
close pursuit, striking down laggards whenever the opportunity offered.
These so-called warriors of whom Thayendanega had been so proud, were
taking Tory and British scalps as if they had been summoned for no other
purpose, and during two or three minutes all our people stood as if
suddenly turned into graven images, so much of astonishment and
bewilderment was caused by the wonderful change in affairs.
Captain Jackman's first act, after understanding that the enemy was
actually in retreat, with their former allies harassing the fleeing men to
the best of their ability, was to send a messenger in hot haste to the
fort with the word that he counted on taking his entire force, save those
left to hold the batteries and redoubts, in pursuit, and advising that
nearly all the British equipment could be seized upon without fear of
Then we began the pursuit, and this, like the panic in the camp, was the
oddest ever known. British regulars and Tories running helter-skelter,
casting aside their weapons and accoutrements lest they be impeded in the
unreasoning flight, and close at their heels the savages, who fell upon
every unarmed man they saw, sometimes killing him outright, but, in many
cases which came under my personal observation, disabling and then
scalping the poor wretch, leaving him to a lingering death.
More than once did the frightened soldiers flee toward us for protection,
and again and again we lent them weapons with which to defend themselves
against their late friends.
It is almost impossible to give any details of that pursuit, which was not
brought to an end until we were close upon the shore of Oneida Lake,
because it was all so confusing--more like the wildest kind of a
foot-race, wherein each man was trying to gain the lead, and the
hindermost frantic with fear.
It would have been strange indeed had our people been able to hold
anything like a military formation. Captain Jackman yelled himself hoarse
trying to keep us together, and, when it seemed as if he was on the point
of succeeding, some one would set off at a mad pace to save the life of a
British soldier who had fallen at the mercy of a savage.
At first we turned our attention to taking prisoners; but before having
left the main encampment a mile in the rear the Indians, eager for scalps,
began to grow careless of what we might do, and then we paid off many an
old score, although all could not have been settled had we slaughtered
every last one of them.
During that time of pursuit we saw nothing of the leaders, and I had come
to believe that they were among the first to flee, when suddenly the
sergeant, in whose company Jacob and I had remained, pointed out amid the
bushes what appeared to be a large portmanteau which had evidently been
cast aside by some of the fugitives.
In the excitement of the chase either Jacob or I would have passed it by
as being of no particular value when there were so many things to be
picked up; but the old man was too good and experienced a soldier not to
realize the possibilities of the find, and, heedless of all the wild
scenes around him, he seized upon it, breaking the lock with a rock.
Then it was we learned that the apparently valueless case was none other
than the writing-desk, or official portfolio, belonging to General St.
Leger himself, and in it were not only private letters and documents, but
all his correspondence and papers relating to the campaign, such as
afterward served to show that the king's officers had actually hired the
Indians to murder those whom they called "rebels."
"I reckon we've captured the prize of the day," the sergeant said,
gleefully, after making certain as to the contents of the case. "This is
of more value than a score of prisoners, although there's far less
satisfaction in seizin' it."
A moment later the old man began to understand that if he held on to the
prize he would be left far behind in the chase by our people, because it
was far too cumbersome to be carried at a rapid pace, and then he
regretted having found it.
I believe that for a moment he had it in his mind to throw the heavy
portfolio away, willing to lose what he believed to be the most valuable
of all the plunder that might be found, rather than miss the excitement of
the chase; but, fortunately, just then John Sammons came limping back with
a wound in the leg which had been inflicted by a savage whom he afterward
succeeded in killing.
"It's the toughest kind of ill-fortune to be crippled just when the fun is
the hottest," he said, after explaining how the wound had been received.
"I can't go on, an' I don't want to miss the show when the crazy
Britishers an' Tories arrive at the shore of the lake."
"It looks pretty bad," Sergeant Corney said, when he had made the most
careless examination of the wound, and I was surprised to hear him speak
in such a tone, for it was not his custom to make much ado over any
injury, however severe. "I reckon you'd better hobble back to the fort
without delay, an', once there, look well to it that you wash an' bandage
the leg well."
"I s'pose I'll have to go," Sammons replied, with a sigh, and the sergeant
made haste to add:
"Of course you will, lad, an' I've got here that which will ensure you a
warm reception by Colonel Gansevoort. Take this case to him, an' you'll
be glad you had to go back."
Then it was that I understood why the old man was so solicitous regarding
Sammons took up the bulky portfolio and limped back in the direction of
the fort, the sergeant saying with a peculiar twinkle of the eyes as the
lad passed beyond earshot:
"Now I reckon there's nothin' to prevent us from goin' on so long as do
the others. Strike out lively, lads; we've wasted too much time already!"
Then we tailed on behind the crowd of our people who howled and yelled as
if at a fair, shooting at every bunch of feathers we saw amid the foliage,
but making no effort to capture the fugitives lest we find ourselves so
hampered that further advance would be out of the question.
There were many of our people who thought much as we did on that day,
otherwise Fort Schuyler might have been crowded with prisoners before
When we had finally come within sight of the lake, it was to find the
foremost of our party drawn up in something approaching military order.
Captain Jackman had succeeded in bringing them to a halt while yet half a
mile from the shore, and this was done because the British and Tories had
made a stand while their boats, which had been left at that point when
they marched to the investment of Fort Schuyler, could be put in sailing
We of the American army were far too few in numbers to risk an action by
pressing on, for, no matter how demoralized the enemy had become during
the flight, it was more than probable they would fight with desperation
now safety was within view.
More than one of our party cried out in anger because the captain
displayed too much caution according to their ideas; but the
cooler-headed, among whom was Sergeant Corney, declared that it would be
the height of folly for us to throw ourselves upon at least a thousand men
when no great good could come from such a venture, and much of disaster to
the Cause might result.
The savages had no such reason for lagging, however, nor did they intend
to fall upon their late friends in a manner which could involve them in a
pitched battle; but yet they did a large amount of mischief without
putting their precious bodies in danger.
Wherever a squad of the fugitives was withdrawn from the main body, making
ready a boat, the painted fiends would swoop down upon it, performing
their murderous work and getting away with a fresh supply of scalps before
the victims' friends could rush to their assistance.
I saw a boat laden with men, the greater number of whom were unarmed
because of having thrown away their weapons during the flight, push off in
company with several others; but the oarsmen of this particular craft were
clumsy, and she drifted down the shore until beyond range of the
remainder of the force.
Then it was that the feather-bedecked wolves began shooting at the
helpless men until a full half of the crew were wounded, after which
Thayendanega's beauties swam out to her, killing and scalping all on
This is but a single instance of what the savages did during that mad
retreat. More than once had my rifle been emptied in behalf of some
sore-beset soldier, and I even went so far in my sympathy for the white
men that I saved the life of a Tory who would have been killed had we not
come up in the nick of time. After rescuing him, however, we turned the
fellow over to a squad who were guarding twenty or more prisoners, thus
making certain he would not be left at liberty to work mischief among our
The following brief account of the retreat was written and printed by one
who took every care to learn all the truth regarding the affair, and I set
it down here that he who reads may know I have not exaggerated the story
for the purpose of shaming the enemy:
"The Indians, it is said, made merry at the precipitate flight of the
whites, who threw away their arms and knapsacks, so that nothing should
impede their progress. The savages also gratified their passion for murder
and plunder by killing many of the retreating allies on the borders of the
lake, and stripping them of every article of value. They also plundered
them of their boats, and, according to St. Leger, 'became more formidable
than the enemy they had to expect.'"
It was late in the afternoon before Captain Jackman gave us the word to
turn back. He would have returned sooner, but our men pleaded for
permission to watch the fugitives until they had embarked, and he could
hardly do otherwise than remain.
A happy, light-hearted company it was that marched back to what had been
the British encampment, there to find many of those we had left in the
fort busily engaged hauling in the plunder abandoned by his Majesty's
valiant army, to the fortification.
Now we had ammunition in plenty, both for our own guns and those we
brought in from the batteries, while there was such a store of provisions
that the wagons were kept busy during the entire night transporting it.
We feasted from sunset until sunrise, much after the fashion of the
savages, for it made a fellow feel good to know from actual test that
there was no longer any need of saving every scrap of food against that
day when it might be necessary to fight and fast at the same time.
Even though we had not thus made merry, I question if there was a man
among us, from the highest to the lowest, who could have closed his eyes
in slumber. The relief of mind was so great, and the wonderment because of
what had happened so overpowering, that we were able to do nothing save
discuss the matter again and again, but without coming to any satisfactory
solution of the riddle.
The Tory encampment, which was a long distance westward from St. Leger's
quarters, presented the same scene of confusion and evidences of hasty
departure as had the British, and from there we got a large quantity of
plunder; but in the Indian camp was nothing left but the lodges, and these
we carted into the fort, although they would be of little value to us. It
was satisfying to despoil Thayendanega's snakes, even though only to a
When another day had come Colonel Gansevoort brought all us merrymakers up
with a sharp turn, by forcing us to perform military duty once more. The
stores of the British and Tories had all been brought in, and then we were
called upon to level the earthworks which had been thrown up at the
beginning of the siege, lest General Burgoyne, who had been reported as
possibly coming our way, might be able to turn them to his own advantage
and our discomfiture.
It was downright hard work to handle shovel and pick hour after hour under
the burning rays of the summer sun; but no fellow cared to show himself
indolent after having had such rare good fortune, and we petitioned the
commandant to let us continue the labor throughout the night, to the end
that it might the sooner be performed.
Within six and thirty hours after we had returned from the pursuit matters
were so far straightened that we had nothing save ordinary garrison duty
to perform, and we lounged around discussing the exciting and mysterious
events which we had witnessed, until I dare venture to say that every man
was absolutely weary with so much tongue-wagging.
Messengers had been sent on the road toward Stillwater to learn, if
possible, what had caused such a panic among the enemy, and Sergeant
Corney said to Jacob and me while we were waiting with whatsoever of
patience we could command for some definite information to be brought in:
"We must get out of this, lads, within four an' twenty hours after the
matter has been made plain, an' we know somewhat concernin' the movements
of our friends on the outside."
"How surprised the people of Cherry Valley will be when they hear all that
we can tell them!" Jacob said, as if speaking to himself.
"An' is it in your mind, lad, that we're to go back there rather than
"Where else could we go?" I asked, in surprise.
"I've been thinkin' that we might do our people at home more good by
marchin' the Minute Boys to where they could be of real service, than
goin' back to let 'em loaf 'round the settlement."
At that moment the old soldier was called away to attend to some duty,
and Jacob and I had ample food for thought as we turned over in mind what
he had said.
Before the day had come to an end we had reinforcements--when we no longer
needed them--in plenty. Company after company of soldiers marched in from
the direction of Stillwater, and through the earliest arrivals we learned
that twelve hundred men, under General Benedict Arnold, had been sent to
To our great joy, they could give valuable information regarding the
strange behavior of St. Leger's army, and by putting together this and
that bit of news we had a fairly good solution to the puzzle before the
arrival of General Arnold, who came with a small force twenty hours behind
the main body.
And this is the story as we heard it from one source and another until
there could be no question but that we had all the facts with no
Colonel Willett and Lieutenant Stockwell succeeded in getting past the
several encampments without being discovered, and made their way to German
Flats. There they procured horses, and rode at full speed until arriving
at the headquarters of General Schuyler at Stillwater.
Now it must be understood that when General Washington heard the news of
the fall of Ticonderoga, he sent General Benedict Arnold with as many
troops as could be gathered, to strengthen the northern army. General
Arnold arrived at Stillwater nearabout three weeks before Colonel Willett
rode into that place with the request that assistance be sent as soon as
possible to Fort Schuyler.
Now it seems, as I have heard it said by those who knew, and, later, have
seen it printed, that immediately the messengers from the besieged fort
stated the purpose of their coming, General Schuyler, eager to send
Colonel Gansevoort all the succor he might, called a council of war to
decide upon what should be done, when, greatly to his surprise, he found
that the members of his staff were bitterly opposed to weakening the force
then at Stillwater by sending any away, even on so important a mission as
that of aiding the beleaguered garrison.
Here is what I have seen printed regarding the matter, and I will copy it
lest any one think I may have imagined some portion of this contention,
which, as we look at the situation now, seems so improbable, for one can
hardly believe that any officer in the patriot army would have refused at
such a time to aid those who were so sorely pressed as were Gansevoort's
[Footnote: Fiske's "American Revolution."] "General Schuyler understood the
importance of rescuing the stronghold and its brave garrison, and called a
council of war; but he was bitterly opposed by his officers, one of whom
presently said to another, in an audible whisper:
"'He only wants to weaken the army!'
"At this vile accusation the indignant general set his teeth so hard as to
bite through the stem of the pipe he was smoking, which fell on the floor
and was smashed.
"'Enough!' he cried. 'I assume the whole responsibility. Where is the
brigadier who will go?'
"The brigadiers all sat in sullen silence, and Arnold, who had been
brooding over his private grievances, suddenly jumped up.
"'Here!' said he. 'Washington sent me here to make myself useful. I will
"The commander gratefully seized him by the hand, and the drum beat for
volunteers. Arnold's unpopularity in New England was mainly with the
politicians. It did not extend to the common soldiers, who admired his
impulsive bravery and had unbounded faith in his resources as a leader.
Accordingly twelve hundred Massachusetts men were easily enlisted in the
course of the next forenoon, and the expedition started up the Mohawk
"Arnold pushed on with characteristic energy, but the natural difficulties
of the road were such that after a week of hard work he had only reached
the German Flats, where he was still more than twenty miles from Fort
Schuyler. Believing that no time should be lost, and that everything
should be done to encourage the garrison and dishearten the enemy, he had
recourse to a stratagem, which succeeded beyond his utmost anticipation.
"A party of Tory spies had just been arrested in the neighborhood, and
among them was a certain Yan Yost Cuyler, a queer, half-witted fellow not
devoid of cunning, whom the Indians regarded with that mysterious awe with
which fools and lunatics are wont to inspire them, as creatures possessed
with a devil.
"Yan Yost was summarily condemned to death, and his brother and gipsy-like
mother, in wild alarm, hastened to the camp to plead for his life. Arnold
for awhile was inexorable, but presently offered to pardon the culprit on
condition that he should go and spread a panic in the camp of St. Leger.
"Yan Yost joyfully consented, and started off forthwith, while his brother
was detained as a hostage, to be hanged in case of his failure. To make
the matter still surer, some friendly Oneidas were sent along to keep an
eye upon him and act in concert with him.
"Next day St. Leger's scouts, as they stole through the forest, began to
hear rumors that Burgoyne had been totally defeated, and that a great
American army was coming up the valley of the Mohawk. They carried back
these rumors to the camp, and, while officers and soldiers were standing
about in anxious consultation, Yan Yost came running in, with a dozen
bullet-holes in his coat and terror in his face, and said that he had
barely escaped with his life from the resistless American host which was
close at hand.
"As many knew him for a Tory, his tale found ready belief, and, when
interrogated as to the numbers of the advancing host, he gave a warning
frown and pointed significantly to the countless leaves that fluttered on
the branches overhead."
[Footnote: Lossing's "Field Book American Revolution."] "The Indians were
greatly agitated. They had been decoyed into their present situation, and
had been moody and uneasy since the battle of Oriskany. At the moment of
Yan Yost's arrival they were engaged in a religious observance,--a
consultation, through their prophet, of the Great Spirit, to supplicate
his guidance and protection.
"The council of chiefs at the powwow at once resolved upon flight, and
told St. Leger so. He sent for and questioned Yan Yost, who told him that
Arnold, with two thousand men, would be upon him in twenty-four hours.
"At that moment, according to arrangements, the friendly Oneida who had
taken a circuitous route approached the camp from another direction with a
belt. On his way he met two or three straggling Indians of his tribe, who
joined him, and they all confirmed the story of Yan Yost. They pretended
that a bird had brought them the news that the valley below was swarming
"One said that the army of Burgoyne was cut in pieces, and another told
St. Leger that Arnold had three thousand men near at hand. They shook
their heads mysteriously when questioned about the numbers of the enemy,
and pointed, like Yan Yost, upward to the leaves.
"The savages, now thoroughly alarmed, prepared to flee. St. Leger tried
every means, by offers of bribes and promises, to induce them to remain,
but the panic and suspicion of foul play had determined them to go. He
tried to make them drunk, but they refused to drink. He then besought them
to take the rear of his army in retreating; this they refused, and
"'You mean to sacrifice us. When you marched down, you said there would be
no fighting for us Indians; we might go down and smoke our pipes; whereas
numbers of our warriors have been killed, and you mean to sacrifice us
"Nothing more was needed to complete the panic. It was in vain that Sir
John and St. Leger coaxed and threatened the savages. They were already
filled with fear, and while a certain number deliberately ran away, taking
their squaws with them, others drank rum until they were drunk, and began
to assault the officers."
That is the story as has been set down by others, and I have already told
what we ourselves saw. All which seemed so unaccountable to us at that
time, would have been as plain as the sun at noon-day had we possessed the
key to the seeming riddle.
On the morning after General Arnold's arrival, when we learned that the
reinforcements which had been sent to us at Fort Schuyler were to be
marched directly back to the main army then at Stillwater, the Minute Boys
held a conference to decide what should be done, for it was in my mind
that each member of the company had a right to discuss freely the question
that must be settled without delay.
We knew that Peter Sitz was to return to Cherry Valley as soon as he could
make ready for the journey, and I was of the belief that Jacob desired to
accompany his father; but never a word had passed between us on the
From all we could hear concerning affairs in the Mohawk Valley, it seemed
much as if the senseless panic among St. Leger's force had resulted in
breaking up the combination between the British and the Indians, in which
case Thayendanega would not be able to ravage the country nearabout Cherry
Valley, as he had doubtless counted on.
When I considered the matter, with a sickness for home in my heart, it
seemed much as if my proper place was with my parents, and there, if
trouble should come, I would be able to strike a blow in defence of those
I loved; but while listening to the conversation of the soldiers, and
being brought to understand how sorely the colonists needed the aid which
should come from their midst, I said to myself that strong, hulking lads
like our Minute Boys ought to be ashamed to do other than remain in the
service, doing their part in showing the king that we would have no more
of his misrule.
It seemed to me that Sergeant Corney was averse to talking with any of us
concerning the future, for, as soon as it was known that we must decide at
once upon some course, he kept aloof whenever he heard two or three
discussing the question of what we Minute Boys ought to do, now that we
were no longer needed at Fort Schuyler.
I have thus set down that which was in my mind at the time, not that it is
of any especial importance, but to the end that he who reads may
understand how undecided I was as to what my company had best do at such a
time; and I believe every person will realize that a lad's love for
country must be great when it prompts him to turn his back on home and
loved ones after having passed through as many dangers as had our boys
from Cherry Valley.
During the evening previous I had notified all the members of the company
that we would meet in the barracks at eight o'clock in the morning to
decide what course should be pursued, and considerably before the time
set every lad was in waiting; but Sergeant Corney did not put in an
We had come to consider him as the head and front of the Minute Boys, and
his absence at such an important time seemed odd, to say the least.
"I believe he has it in mind to join General Arnold's force," John Sammons
said, when the hour for the conference had come and passed without the
sergeant's having shown himself, and the idea of such a possibility
brought a strange sensation of loneliness to my heart.
Then Jacob suggested that the old man might have been detained against his
will at headquarters, and I proposed that the lad go at once to learn if
such was the case.
He did not absolutely refuse to obey what might have been considered as an
order from the captain, but tried to shift the duty by saying:
"It would be of more avail for you to go, Noel, if so be the old man
really has it in mind to enlist under General Arnold. You have ever been a
favorite of his, whereas I am little more than an outsider, who has caused
you an' he much trouble an' sufferin'."
The lad did not really believe his own statements, but made them simply to
shift the duty to my shoulders, for it was a bold and might be considered
an impertinent act for us to presume to advise or urge one of so much and
so varied experience as Sergeant Corney.
I set off without further parley, and to my great surprise found the old
man on the parade-ground talking idly with Peter Sitz.
"Had you forgotten that the company was called together at eight o'clock
this mornin'?" I asked, as if in surprise.
"Not a bit of it, lad."
"Then why didn't you come to the barracks?"
"I knew you lads had somewhat of importance to decide, an' wasn't countin'
on goin' where I might be said to have influenced you."
"But don't you reckon yourself as belongin' any longer to the company?"
"I didn't count on bein' able to pass myself off for a boy, even among
blind men," the old soldier said, with a laugh, and I cried, hotly:
"That isn't answerin' my question, sergeant. Is there any good reason why
you should stand stiffly here while we're tryin' to make up our minds what
"Yes, lad, I believe there is."
"What may it be, if you're willin' to tell us?"
"It shouldn't be hard to guess. All my life long I've followed soldierin'
as another man follows a trade, an' I'm not the one who ought to speak
when lads are makin' up their minds as to the future, lest I say that
which pleases me, an' may not be the best thing for them."
"Answer me one question squarely, Sergeant Corney, without beatin' about
the bush. Do you think we're too young to enlist as soldiers, if it so be
the lads decide that the Minute Boys ought to do all they can for the
"Not a bit of it; it strikes me your company has shown that it may be of
value in any army, an' I'll go bail Colonel Gansevoort will agree with me.
What say you, Peter Sitz?"
"Speakin' for my Jacob, he's shown that his services are not to be
despised in sich warfare as we're like to have in the valley; but it must
be for him to say what he'll do, without word or look from me."
Now it was that I began to understand what these two were driving at. They
were minded that we of the company should decide the question before us
without aid from them, and it was not difficult to guess that, in their
opinion, the Minute Boys ought to remain where they could do the best
service for the colony.
However, I was determined that they should be present while we discussed
the matter, and by dint of much coaxing finally succeeded in my purpose.
When we were all together I put the matter before the lads to the best of
my ability, asking each to say if he was minded to go home at once, or
whether he would be willing to regularly enlist in the American army, and
before any other could speak John Sammons made a suggestion which showed
him to be a lad of rare good sense.
"It seems to me that it would be a good idea to first learn whether we're
wanted in the army. There's hardly one among us of an age to be taken as a
recruit, an' if they won't let us enlist as a full company, allowin' our
own officers to remain in command, I for my part would rather go home."
There could be no question but that very many of us shared John's ideas,
and then came the question as to how we might learn what we wanted to
This we could not determine upon until Peter Sitz said, quietly:
"Most likely Colonel Gansevoort can tell you in short order; but, if he
can't, he won't be long in findin' out from General Arnold."
This was just the suggestion we needed, and then came the question as to
who would go to the commandant. I flatly refused, because it would look
too much as if I was eager to hold my rank as captain, and after
considerable tongue-wagging it was decided that Jacob should tackle the
job, his father agreeing to go with him to headquarters.
While these two were absent we talked much among ourselves, and I soon
learned that every member of the company was willing to remain in service
if it could be done as regularly enlisted men, holding together as a
Sergeant Corney would take no part in the discussion. He flatly refused
to give an opinion until after the matter had been fully decided; but I
knew full well the old man would remain with us, even though we were only
a company of boys.
Then Jacob and his father returned, and there was no need of further talk.
"The commandant says that we have only to present ourselves before General
Schuyler in order to be enlisted as we desire," Jacob reported. "He
promises to write a letter to the general at once, telling him of how much
service we have been here in the fort, an' agrees to provide us with
provisions for the march, with two baggage-wagons to haul the stores.
We're to have from the plunder gotten out of St. Leger's camp all we may
need in way of an outfit, so that we'll really show up before the
commander equipped for service without cost to the colonies."
Thus the matter was settled. With such a generous offer from the
commandant never a member of the company could have hung back had he so
desired; but I am proud to say that each and every one of them was eager
to join the army, since it might be done as regular soldiers.
Then it was that Sergeant Corney had his say, and he was by no means
niggardly with words.
First he congratulated us on having performed such good service that the
commander under whom we served was pleased to do all in his power to give
us a good send-off, and then declared that he had rather enlist with us
than in any regiment of the army. If we had decided to go to Cherry
Valley, it was his purpose to join General Arnold's force; but now that he
could remain with the Minute Boys he was content.
We were proud lads that day, for it seemed as if every officer and soldier
in the fort was eager to give us some word of praise, and those with whom
we had served watched jealously when our equipment was being selected from
the plunder of the British camp, lest we might not get the best of
We had our hands full of business making ready for the march, when Reuben
Cox came shyly up to where Sergeant Corney and I were looking after the
stowage of goods in the wagons, and said to me in a half-whisper, as if
fearing others might hear him:
"I don't reckon your company is any place for a man who has shown himself
sich a sneak as I am, eh?"
"Would you like to go with us?" I asked, in surprise, and pitying from the
bottom of my heart the man who was so deeply repentant.
"That I would, Captain Campbell. It may be in time I can live down my
record, providin' there be any one who'll look to what I may do, instead
of always thinkin' of what I have done."
"But the men in the fort have been kind to you of late, Cox?" I said,
"Ay, that they have, considerin' what I've done, an' how nearly I came to
workin' the worst of harm to all hands here; but I can see by their eyes
that they're always thinkin' I may play the same dirty game agin, though
God knows I'd stand at the stake with never a whimper till the life was
burned out of me rather than do one of them another wrong."
Had I felt at liberty to decide the matter then and there, Cox would have
been a member of the Minute Boys without further parley; but it was only
right I should consult the others, therefore I told him to come again
within an hour, when I would give him an answer.
He thanked me humbly, and was about to go away, when Sergeant Corney took
him by the hand as he said:
"What's in the past can't be brought back for the fixin'; but we've got in
our own keepin' the shapin' of the to-morrows. I'm thinkin' you won't go
astray agin, Reuben Cox, an' whenever I see a chance to speak a good word
for you it shall be said."
The man's face lighted up wonderfully, and in my heart I thanked the old
sergeant over and over for having been thus kind to one who, having
committed the worst crime possible for a soldier, stood ready to give up
his life cheerfully to the end that he might atone.
I called the lads together without loss of time, repeating to them what
Cox had said, and again was I made glad when they agreed without
hesitation to take him among us.
John Sammons was sent to bring up the new member of the company, and
Sergeant Corney said, grimly, as he tried without avail to pucker his
wrinkled face into a frown:
"At this rate you'll soon lose the right to call yourselves Minute _Boys_,
because this 'ere company is fast becomin' a refuge for the aged and
There was to be mourning as well as gladness among us on this the last day
we were to spend in Fort Schuyler.
Toward noon a messenger from the general commanding came in, bringing with
him the sad news that General Herkimer was dead of his wounds, or, perhaps
I should say, because of his wounds.
As we were told, the general was safely taken to his home after the
battle, being carried on a litter the entire distance. The weather was
very warm, and soon the wound became gangrenous. Nine days after his
arrival, a young French surgeon who had been with General Arnold's force
visited the house, and claimed that the injured limb should be cut off
without delay, as the only means of saving the sufferer's life.
The family doctor objected very strongly; but the general's family had
faith in the Frenchman, although it is claimed he had evidently been
drinking heavily, and the leg was cut off. The operation was performed so
unskilfully that it was impossible to entirely check the flow of blood,
and the Frenchman, indulging in more wine, became so badly intoxicated
that, even had he known how, it would have been beyond his power to take
the proper measures.
There was no other surgeon to be had, and toward the close of the day,
when the brave old general came to understand that his end was very near,
he asked for the Bible, from which he read aloud the thirty-eighth psalm,
immediately afterward sinking back upon the pillow dead.
"Murdered if ever a man was!" Sergeant Corney cried, when the sad story
had been brought to an end, and I was of the same opinion.
There are several forms of mutiny, and some of them are called by other
names, but all as dangerous as they are wicked. Because many of those who
badgered the brave old soldier to his death paid the full penalty of their
crime in the ravine under the hatchet or knife of the savages, it may not
be well to say harsh words concerning them; but so long as I live there
will always be anger in my heart whenever I hear their names mentioned.
During that evening, after everything had been made ready for the march at
an early hour next morning, we lads gave to Peter Sitz messages for the
loved ones at Cherry Valley, promising that we would never bring disgrace
upon the settlement, and so burdening his mind with this matter and the
other that, if the poor man remembered but the half of all the words we
entrusted him with, he must have had a most prodigious memory.
Right proud was I when I marched out of the fort next morning at the head
of my company, followed by the two baggage-wagons; but yet there was a
sorrow in my heart because it seemed, in a certain degree, at least, as if
by becoming regularly enlisted men we gave up our claim to the name of
Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley.
Those under whom we served did not view the matter in the same light I
did, however, for we kept the title we liked best during all the time we
served in the army.
It would please me to set down here an account of the adventures which
were ours after becoming enlisted men, but it must not be done, else I
might never bring the tale to a close, for we saw very much during the
time our people were convincing the king, and surely did our duty at Bemis
Heights, otherwise our company would never have been mentioned in the
flattering terms it then was.
It causes me most profound sorrow to say that our company was far away,
fighting for the Cause to the best of our ability, when our homes at
Cherry Valley were destroyed and many of our loved ones massacred by the
fiendish savages, and there is always in my heart a cruel joy that we lads
who had been trained by Sergeant Corney avenged that dastardly act of
Thayendanega's in such manly fashion that he must have remembered the
reprisals to his dying day.
Then it was we showed ourselves to be Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley in
good truth, however we may have been spoken of elsewhere, and if it so be
the good God spares my life sufficiently long I propose to set down the
story of that vengeance, when more than one of us, sorely wounded,
continued the chase, upheld even when exhausted nigh unto death by the
thoughts of what our loved ones had been made to suffer by that wolf in
human shape--Joseph Brant.