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   The Battle of Oriskany

    The Battle of Oriskany

From the earliest times, the Dillenbeck family has distinguished itself in service to its country.  One of the first times this occurred was at a critical battle of the Revolutionary War, one which would prove to be instrumental in the final defeat of the British troops.


During the Revolutionary War, the British strategy was to divide the North and South Colonies by controlling the New York Colony. They planned to do this by a three-pronged attack:
  1. Major General John Burgoyne would come south from Canada and down the Champlain Valley.
  2. General Sir William Howe would come up the Hudson Valley from New York City.
  3. General Barry St Leger was to attack Albany by marching from Oswego down the Mohawk Valley.


On his way from Oswego down the Mohawk Valley, General Barry St Leger attempted to capture Fort Stanwix (modern-day Rome, NY). Americans in the Tyron County Militia and the Oneida Indian Alliance, under the command of General Herkimer, were being sent as reinforcements for Colonel Ganesvoort and his troops at the Fort.

Along the way to the Fort, they camped outside the village of Whitesboro in the neighborhood of Oriskany. From this camp, General Herkimer sent 3 men to the Fort to let them know that they were coming. Colonel Gansvoort was to fire three cannons to confirm the message was received. Unfortunately, however, the messengers were delayed and did not get to the Fort until the next day.

General Herkimer's troops wanted to advance even though the cannon signal had not been heard, but the General wanted to wait for reinforcements. His officers, Cox and Paris, along with several other men, called the General a "Tory and a coward." His officers were vehement in their eagerness to press forward. After their implications of disloyalty to the rebel cause and cowardice, Herkimer gave in and finally ordered his men to proceed.

At 10 a.m., after traveling a few miles, Herkimer and his men were ambushed by Tories and Mohawk Indians. The Indians circled them and proceeded to cut off not only the baggage and ammunition wagons, but the rear guard under Colonel Vischer. Colonel Vischer's troops turned and fled, but to no avail for they were pursued by the Indians and suffered high casualities.


Acting Captain Andrew Dillenbach (the monument lists him as Captain Andreas Dillenbach), one of Herkimer's officers, declared he would never be taken alive. He likely knew the way that the Indians tortured prisoners of war. During the ambush, three Tories attacked him. One seized his gun, but the Captain managed to wrestle it from him and felled him with the musket butt. He then shot the second one, and thrust his bayonet through the third. At that fleeting moment of victory, a musket ball struck him in the head.

Stories passed down by the family say that the gun which killed the Captain was shot by a Tory neighbor who had grown up with Andrew and who had lived on the farm adjoining the Old Dillenbach Homestead. He had previously asked his friends in case he did not survive, to take his silver shoes and knee buckles and pocketbook to his wife. His buckles and pocketbook were removed and then they carried his body to a field of tall wheat to prevent his body from being found and scalped.


John Dillenbeck and John G. Sellenbeck (later spelled as Dillenbeck) were also participants in the battle.


During the battle, General Herkimer was shot through the leg and his horse was killed. He had his men carry him beneath a large beech tree where he directed the battle. For forty-five minutes, there was great disorder. Then the colonists formed themselves into small circles to repel enemy attacks. At times, the firing of muskets silenced and the men fought hand to hand to the finish. Suddenly, there was a heavy downpour of rain with lightning and thunder. This kept up for over an hour and both sides sought refuge among the trees.


The rain was believed to be a bad omen by the Mohawk Indians. They felt it was a message from the Great Spirit and were refusing to fight anymore. When the fighting resumed, the Indians suffered a great number of casualities. Then Major Watts arrived with reinforcements made up primarily of loyalists who had previously fled Tyron County and now returned to fight against their former neighbors.

Paying heed to the Great Spirit's warning, the Indians withdrew from battle. Hand to hand combat continued between the Tories and the Americans. The Fort finally got the message and shot their cannons three times. Sir John Johnson heard the cannons and ordered his men to pull back and re-form. Chief Brant, who knew of the orders, gave his signal to retreat, and the Indians quickly did so.


Of the 800 Americans involved,
  • 250 were killed at the battle
  • 250 were mortally wounded
  • 50 were captured
On the other side
  • The Indians lost 23 of their chiefs
  • The Indians lost 68 warriors
  • Another 68 Indians were wounded
  • A few Indians were captured
  • The Tory force lost 33
  • There were 41 Tories wounded

The Battle of Oriskany has been described as the most severe and, for the numbers involved, one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. It was certainly a turning point in the war.

General Herkimer returned to his home where his leg had to be amputated; within 10 days, he died--probably from blood loss and an unskilled amputation.

A monument was erected at the battle site on August 6, 1884. Even today you can visit it and see that the Dillenbeck name figures prominently on it.

Websites about the Battle of Oriskany:

It is also possible to visit a restored Fort Stanwix. Plan to spend a few hours touring the facility. A video presentation does a great job of telling the story of the fort. See what life was like during that important period in our history.

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Last Revised: June 02, 2011