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Oriskany Battlefield: Bloodiest Battle of the American Revolution

We have visited the Oriskany Battlefield several times. Unfortunately, this park is slated for closure by New York State, due to the state’s financial mismanagement troubles. I’m glad I took so many photos when we last visited. I hope you enjoy our visit.

Oriskany, NY, has the sad distinction of the location of the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution.

The Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site is located on Route 69, north of the small village of Oriskany, NY. The site used to hold reenactments of the battle, although in the past we have always missed them, and I am not sure they are held anymore. I’ve seen photos and they were incredible events, with hundreds of actors posing as British, Mohawk and Oneida Indians, Loyalists, and American Patriots.

Oriskany Monument

Oriskany Marker

There is an Oriskany Museum approximately 4 miles south of this battlefield, also on Route 69. The Battlefield is a memorial to those who fought in the War, and the Museum is more about the U.S.S. Oriskany aircraft carrier, with some information about the American Revolution. The Museum is worth seeing. We spent a delightful hour there, and I found out some really neat things about the U.S.S. Oriskany. You can read about it here.

When you drive in to the Battlefield Memorial Site, these signs greet you.

Battlefield Sign

Dignity

The Battlefield site is plain and somber. The state has tried to keep it looking a lot like what it must have appeared as in 1777. When we last went in 2004, the fields were mown; today, swaths of wild grasses and weeds surround the trails that take you to key points of the battle. I don’t know if this au natural look is intentional, or due to neglect. I think it looked better when the place was trimmed. It looks too unkempt now.

Fields

The site has “play-by-play” markers posted along the trail.

4 Military Road Marker

5 Ambush Marker

2 Rally Marker

Ambushed Educational Post

The now-infamous ravine is where Mohawk Indian Joseph Brant (his birth name was Thayendanegea) led the raid of British soldiers and Tories against the Patriots. Brant and his crew were a vicious bunch, leading all sorts of horrendous massacres against settlers (especially the Cherry Valley Massacre). British General John Burgoyne (hiss hiss) found great use for the Iroquois Indians. He wrote a lovely poem for us Patriots, letting us know his intentions in his “Burgoyne’s Orderly Book”:

“I will let loose the dogs of hell,
Ten thousand Indians, who shall yell
And foam and tear, and grin and roar,
And drench their moccasins in gore:
To these I’ll give full scope and play
From Ticonderog to Florida…”

…. Nice.

Anyway, the ravine is very overgrown now. We had to jump over the weeds that wanted the trail back.

In the Ravine

The events of the battlefield unfolded the first few days of August 1777. Those summer days were typical Upstate New York days– so hot and humid that the forest literally steamed with heavy gasps of respiration. The American Patriots–led by General Nicolas Herkimer– and their noble allies, the Oneida Indians, were hurrying from Tryon County (Little Falls, NY, area) to Fort Stanwix (in what is now Rome, NY). They were coming to the aid of the fort, which was under siege by the British armies. Their march was a three-day, 40-mile slog through dense woods and swamps. By the time they reached this point in Oriskany, they were only six miles from Fort Stanwix. We could only imagine how laborious this trudge through the depths of the Mohawk Valley had been.

The tiny trail we followed led us about 50 feet down and across a small footbridge. This was the site where the Patriots stooped down to sip the cool water and wash their sweaty heads. It was at this moment, while the Americans’ backs were turned, that Brant’s crew attacked them. The Indians and Loyalists had been waiting in the woods for them.

In the Woods

Loyalists (also known as Tories) were Americans– they sympathized with the British and refused to join the fight for independence. Families were split apart over these political tensions. My own husband’s ancestors fought here at this battlefield, these Loyalists and Patriots. Many of the battles of Upstate New York were brothers fighting against brothers, and sons against fathers. This made the bloodshed more tragic. The Indians were not immune, either– the Iroquois Six Nations had been wrent when the tribes joined the British except for the faithful and pious Oneida tribe and the Tuscaroras. The Oneidas suffered horribly during the Revolution for their faithful alliance with the Patriots.

Patriot General Herkimer’s militia men fiercely fought the Brant crew. Herkimer was shot –mortally wounded– but continued to direct the battle from under a tree. War is truly hell. It must have been horrible. Losses were very bad– 450 of 800 Patriots and Oneidas died. 150 Loyalists and Mohawks perished. At Fort Stanwix in Rome (where these American Patriots and Oneida Indians were headed), there’s a reenactment video of this historic moment. It’s stunning, and really gives the viewer an idea of how chaotic and vicious this attack was.

A vivid painting of Herkimer at this moment, The Battle of Oriskany, by E. N. Clark, hangs upstairs in the >Utica Public Library (a GREAT library; boy, I wish they got more support and funding).

The obelisk at the Battlefield honors the dead. Listed on the monument is a relative of an ancestor of my husband’s, who was the only Patriot in my husband’s old family of Tories. Brother fought against brother. (My husband’s ancestors fled to Canada after the War.) My grandmother would be rolling in her grave if she knew I married a man whose ancestors were Tories! But my husband, a Patriot now, has been redeemed ;).

memorial names

It is a sober memorial.

No one actually won this battle. The Americans suffered a horrific loss, but they did prevent Brant’s men from reaching Fort Stanwix. It is a surety that if the Patriots had not staved off Brant, Fort Stanwix would have fallen to the British.

3 Homes Marker

There was a large monument erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, in honor of the Unknown Soldiers who fought and died.

Unknown Soldiers

General Herkimer died several days later. He died from a botched amputation of his wounded leg. At the Herkimer House Museum, his old Bible is displayed, open to Psalm 38 which he wanted to read just before his death.

Psalm 38:1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.

3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

5 My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
and meditate treachery all day long.

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!”

17 For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!

Herkimer’s efforts were not in vain. So although the Americans suffered tremendous loss, they did detain Brant’s group from getting to Fort Stanwix in Rome, where British General St. Leger was laying seige. Because of the failure of the British to gain ground in Fort Stanwix and in Oriskany, as well as some other typical British blunders, Burgoyne’s Three-Pronged-Attack on Albany collapsed. Burgoyne was captured in Saratoga. When the French heard of this American victory, they decided to aid our cause, and sent money, ships, and troops our way (most notably, to Yorktown). We can see the importance of this small battle today, but back then in the heat of things, it must have been hard to endure the loss. We are ever grateful that they hung on.

At the Battlefield site, we visited a small visitor’s center. The last time we visited, in 2004, the center was closed, so this was a real treat to finally go in.

Oriska Visitor Center

This flag perked us up!

Don't Tread on Me

Outside the center was the coolest car I’d ever seen. A hybrid!! We quietly snuck in it for a quick photo.

In the Hybrid

Sources:
www.earlyamerica.com/review/1998/brant.html
It was fun to explore the area, fun to run down the trails and imagine life back then. But all the while the cloud of sobriety hangs above, reminding us that this little battle was more than just a little battle. These valiant men were fighting not for land or wealth, but for an idea: the right to live free and the right to our inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. These men weren’t blindly struggling, as so many pawns do in war (“the sport of kings”). These guys knew what they were fighting for, and they did it for posterity– for us!

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (50)

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  1. […] our visit to the Oriskany Battlefield Memorial Site, we drove south on Route 69 to the Oriskany Museum. Unfortunately, the museum building was closed. […]

  2. […] Oriskany Battlefield Memorial Site, Oriskany, NY: Home to the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution. Our visit here was filled with moments of swelling patriotic pride, and great sadness as we realized the tragedy that occurred here. […]

  3. […] of civil clashes between patriots and loyalists. Besides the 100+ battles fought here, there were terrorist raids by British, Loyalists, and their Indian allies. So much of the Mohawk Valley was burned that this […]

  4. Jasper Boyer says:

    Ive been researching my ancesters and found that a direct decendent is listed on the monument

  5. Jasper, that is amazing! There are actually a few people I know whose ancestors perished here.

  6. […] outing to the Oriskany Battlefield, an Independence War site in upstate New York, in the post Oriskany Battlefield: Bloodiest Battle of the American Revolution at New York […]

  7. Dalena Nichols says:

    Please tell me how to get a list of the names on the Oriskany Memorial.

  8. Zebra says:

    Thanks for posting these pics. My umpteenth Great Grandfather, William Mereness, died at this battle. His son, John Mereness, fought with him and he survived the battle. He was a young teenager when he fought along side his father. I can’t imagine how he felt when he saw his father killed. They all sacrificed so much their country and their freedom……and we are the grateful beneficiaries.

    • Seapower says:

      I am also a relative of John Mereness. Mereness was my grandmothers (father’s side) maiden name. I have submitted my documents so I may join the Sons of the American Revolution. I’m working to pass on this wonderful legacy to my grandchildren. You are so right when you acknowledge their supreme sacrifice for their country and for freedom.

  9. James Mereness Williamson says:

    I too am related to John and William Mereness, but our records end with John Mereness II. We would love to find out more information from “Zebra” regarding John Mereness and his family.

  10. Karen Windover, U.E. says:

    Hi all,

    There is a reenactment every year on the actual anniversary of the battle if you can make it. It is both moving and memorable.

    And, yes, I, as a descendant of both a “Tory” and a patriot, do attend as do a number of other Canadians.

  11. Lawrence Rinaldi says:

    No numbers of casualties and dead on ether side yet called the “Bloodiest battle of the American Revolution?” Today I heard that the battle of Bunker Hill was the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution. On that score, over thousand British soldiers were casualties and perhaps four to five hundred dead colonials. The number of British officers killed at Breed’s Hill made up one eighth of all British officers killed during the entire revolutionary war. The Battle of Breed’s Hill ended frontal assaults by the British since half their force were killed or made casualties. None of the signs shown here at Oriskany list total casaualties yet the claim of the “bloodiest” is made. The result is confusion for someone who lives on Breed’s Hill.

  12. SML says:

    I recently took my son here as we had two linear ancestors at the battle and they are on the monument (Georg Wagner and John Countryman). One took a musket ball. Both survived. Their pension papers detail their involvement. My son was fascinated and that’s hard to acomplish today given the Age of Nintendo and the Internet are here in force. I have heard many say you can still hear the screams if you listen.
    It was my third pilgrimage to the battlefield and I still am in awe. I am sure my son will take his children after I am gone and remember when we walked the fields and stood on the bridge.
    Don’t forget to visit Johnson Hall up above Fonda NY. There was a battle right next to it in 1780 and some of the Oriskany survivors fought there as well under Col. Marinus Willet.

    (We are all members of NSSAR and are from Pennsylvania; we take this stuff pretty seriously)

  13. Michele Gabelich says:

    How do I get a list of names on the memorial? At least one of my direct ancestors fought in the battle. Thanks.

    • Michele– Maybe you could contact the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). I think they have very good records of such things. Also, a search for “oriskany battlefield soldiers” on the Internet may pull up some helpful information for you. Other than that, you could always go to the park and read the names from the plaque. There are a lot of them.

  14. Zebra says:

    Not all of the men who fought at this battle are listed on the plaque. My two ancestors, a father and his young son, are documented as having fought at this battle, but neither are listed on the plaque. The father was killed and the 15 year old son survived this horrific battle. Too bad the memorial couldn’t be updated with current information. It seems a shame that so many who lost their lives aren’t recognized at the very place they should be. Somewhere, the scattered bones of my umpteenth great grandfather lie beneath the soil at Oriskany.

  15. Steve DeFlitch says:

    I have an extensive ancestory tree of John Mereness born March 12, 1762. I am looking for additional decendents of John. I am also very interested in the Mereness lives around this time. I am also willing to share any information with those looking for more information. It would be great to fill in some of the reasons for the travels from Mohawk, NY to Pittsburgh, PA. John is my wife’s 5th great grandfather. we currently live in Pittsburgh, PA.

  16. Lindsay says:

    You take great photos and it makes me feel like I’m walking along with you and your family! Yes, a trip to the Saratoga Battlefield is well worth it – the visitor’s center is great and the walk alone is beautiful although sad when you think about what happened along the way. I need to make it to Oriskany before it closes, too. I can’t believe that’s one they plan to close 🙁

    I find it ironic that we both wrote about battlefields yesterday: http://www.atrailingthought.com/2010-04-14/saratoga-battlefield-wilkinson-trail-the-turning-point

  17. Melinda Dickrell says:

    Thanks for sharing. I supposedly have ancestors (father and son) that died in this battle. I have a book about the masacre and what some of the indians did to our side was horrifying.

  18. Mary Morgan says:

    Wm. Mereness had a son John, He had a son Abram Issac who had a son Edwin James Mereness who had a son Heman Mereness who had a daughter Dorothy Mereness-my Mother. There were, of course other children but this is my line of descent…. I found this article about the Battle of Oriskany to be very interesting. I have never joined the DAR althought we have a family number.

  19. Ron Planck says:

    Is there a website that names those who were killed? Looking for birth,marriage and children data on Corp.William Marinus, killed 6 Aug 1777, whose wife Mary received a pension.

  20. Caron Case says:

    Great photos and info! As you may know, NY is struggling with money and our Governor was talking about closing down some state parks. Oriskany being one. A recent newpaper article said that Oriskany had an operating budget of $10,000 a year. I have not been to Oriskany in years, but will be stopping by on our way from Fort Stanwix French and Indian War Encampment which is being held May 29 and 30th.

    • Hi Caron! I hope you enjoy the War Encampment! We went a few years ago, and it is a blast.

      Yes, I am devastated about Oriskany. $10,000 is not much at ALL, especially when you figure that one retirement pension for one state employee is 10 times that….

  21. Martha 9Mereness) Primerano says:

    I too am a Mereness, daughter of Helen Brown and Alfred h Mereness. My Grandfather was Glen E mereness, who’s father was Charles Mereness , who’s father was Abraham a Mereness.all from The Mohawk Valley, mainly ft plain area.Am looking to find out of any Indian ancestory . Any help would be appreciated. I love the pictures. Thank you. :>) Martha Mereness

  22. Richard says:

    I believe I am a decedent of William Mereness, killed at the Battle of Oriskany 6 Aug. 1777. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mereness. I’m trying to connect “officially” my lineage to William. Here is a web site with the most accurate “Roster of Oriskany Heroes” http://www.fortklock.com/namesoriskany.htm
    Richard Dexter

  23. Richard says:

    Many thanks for the web site Heroes of the Battle of Oriskany.
    I found William Mereness and have traced him to my grandmother Winnifred (Dexter, Reid) Mereness. I’m in the process of collecting the necessary documentation so I may join Sons of the American Revolution. I’m extremely proud of my heritage.
    Thanks again,
    Rich

  24. Richard says:

    Is there some place where I can find an authentic list of names that are on the Oriskany battle field monument?
    Thanks in advance,
    Rich
    “Beer is living proof that Gods loves us and wants us to be happy”
    Benjamin Franklin

  25. CAROLANN BOARDMAN says:

    DOES THE NAME GEORG SCHNELL CAUSE ANYONES EARS TO PRICK?
    I HAVE HIM KILLED IN THE BATTLE OF ORISKANY, BUT TO A LACK OF
    A KIA LIST I AM I A QONDREY. HE WAS DESENDED FROM THE
    PALATINES. SO HE MAY HAVE BEEN A TORY, BUT I’M HOPEING FOR A YANK. ANY HELP? HE WAS BORN IN STONE ARABIA, NEW YORK
    435-621-8418 OR horsemaster111@yahoo.com CAROLANN

  26. Mike says:

    The video I attempted to embed is part one of a four part documentary on the Battle of Oriskany that I made as a final project for a college course. This four part video is on YouTube. It has two experts in it on The Battle of Oriskany and both tells the story of the battle and gives a bit of a battlefield tour. I made this video in the first half of 2009.

  27. Mike says:

    Here is a link to part 1 of the video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zGS9sj6XS4

  28. elaine Sciolino says:

    thanks so much for your wonderful photo tour. My 4th grade daughter, Jaea, was assigned the Battle to report on for her Social Studies class. We are planning a road trip for this month and loved taking your tour first. We will also head to Rome to see the sights there.

  29. Dawn Mereness says:

    Martha (Mereness) Primerano
    We may be related. An Abraham A. Mereness was my great great grandfather. I am descended from his son Edwin; I know Edwin had a brother named Charles. They had a farm in Sharon NY. Abraham A.’s grandfather(also Abraham) moved to Sharon around 1786 from the Stone Arabia or Fonda region. I do not know how they are connected to the William Mereness (Marinus) who died at Oriskany. If this is the Mereness family you are descended from, we have another ancestor at the battle, Cornelius Van Alstyne, who was the great grandfather of Abraham A.
    Dawn Mereness

  30. Tom Tweney-UE says:

    I am a descendant of John Helmer and Conradt Becker who were members of the Loyalist Kings Royal Regiment of New York. They were cousins of the Helmer and Beckers fighting at Oriskany and quite possibly fighting there as well. Very Sad, brother against brother and cousin against cousin. My anscestor John Helmer had his farm on the Mohawk River confiscated for fighting on the Loyalist side and he and his family fled to Canada after the war, along with 1000’s of other Loyalists. I am entitled to use the UE after my name since I am a certified Loyalist descendant.

  31. Donald J Van Epps says:

    Had two grandfathers survive this battle. Just happy to be here!!!!

  32. Oriskany was a deadly battlefield,but Bunker Hill in Boston was much bloodier. If you look at the State of NY sign on this site,it states Oriskany was “One of the bloodiest battles…”

    • Hi William. As far as I know, about 400 Americans were killed at Bunker (Breed’s) Hill. My ancestor survived the battle there. 🙂

      The battle at Oriskany saw about 450 dead. The battle at Oriskany was much, much more savage. Not only were the savage Mohawks Indians fighting, but this batttle was unique in that Patriot brothers and neighbors were killing Loyalist brothers and neighbors. It was also an ambush by the British rangers and Indians, who’d come back from slaughtering innocent people east of this location. While no battle is a cakewalk, Bunker Hill saw uniformed, regimented troops in battle. Oriskany saw tomahawks and brothers slaughtering each other. As far as I am concerned, the battle at Oriskany was THE bloodiest of the Revolution. The carnage was horrific.

  33. I went to the fort and the battlefield on June 10, 2011 and I made this video as a tribute:

    http://mohawkpalatines.blogspot.com/2011/06/tribute-to-battle-of-oriskany.html

    I am a direct descendant.

  34. dave petrie says:

    Interesting website. I have my family traced back to a relative in 1845 near Buffalo, NY. There were 13 Petrie`s at the battle, on some sites spelled Petry. General Herkimer was married to a Petrie. I know my 1845 relative was from the Alsace Lorraine region of Germany, and believe the men from the battle were also. If anybody has any info connecting the family tree, or ideas I would appreciate it. Thanks. Dave

    • JHA says:

      I hate to break this to you, but General Nicholas Herkimer was married to Maria Dygert, sister of Peter S Dygert and after her death married Peter’s daughter Maria. It was Nicholas’ father, Jost Herkimer, that married Catherine Petrie. Reference: Early Families of Herkimer, New York, by William V.H. Barker, pp. 126-127.

    • Carol Storke says:

      My ancestor, Augusta Jemima Petrie was born about 1815 in probably Buffalo. She married Francis Fauche there in 1837. Her father was supposedly English and mother German. Any connection to the Petries of Herkimer and Oriskany battle?

  35. Charles Christian says:

    My wife is a direct descendant of Col. Peter Bellinger. He played a key part in the battle. I am a long time SAR member and I think it is time she joined the DAR.

    My daughters, son and grandchildren are also direct descendants of course.

  36. Tom Loughlin Jr says:

    Thank you for this wonderful posting.
    Tom Loughlin Jr.Utica (SAR eligible…)

  37. ronald s kessler Jr. says:

    hello to all members of the oriskany battle.i have been looking into two men on the monument at the battle field.they are john kessler and adam kessler . i don’t know if the were related but i was told that if i could get to herkimore historical i would be able to see the mustard papers in which they had to sign to part of herkimore’s army.the papers also would have the mother and father’s name on the papers,that would make things a little easier to look up for family .thanks so much for the posting and any information i can get would help out greatly

  38. When a battle is referred to as “The bloodiest battle”,it means “the” bloodiest battle,not for one side,but in the total amount of casualties.
    The English had about 1500 casualties at Bunker Hill, they attacked the hill three times,finally conquering it with a fierce bayonet charge and in that attack against Americans who had,on average,only 8 rounds of ammunition, hence Col. Prescotts command “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes”
    Bunker Hill was THE bloodiest battle of the Revolution.

  39. Alan Barr says:

    I am a descendant of William Mereness. I have some information from the DAR records of Marjorie H. Kastuck. I can trace him back through my father’s side of the family. I stopped by at this park a number of years ago. If anyone is related and has any ideas how to join SAR, let me know.

  40. drew bellinger says:

    ever since i was a child i heard about Col.Peter Bell[nger from my grandfather.Im glad the battle and those brave patriots are being remembered so.I dont see much in history books about it.

  41. Jon Clark says:

    Thats Tragic!

  42. Bush says:

    My Great great 7 times fought at the Battle,Thank you Grandpa Grorge..even though the bastard Idians burned down your home-We won and got the Indians and Torries out of Montgomery County…..RIP