History of Wyoming/Letter XVII
The first at bright beams of a January sun, leading up the new year, lighted a scene at Wyoming of white and cold and placid beauty. Hill and valley were glad in virgin snow. Smoke rose, curling to the skies from hundreds of cottages. Barns surrounded by stacks of wheat showed that the staff of life was abundant. Cattle and sheep foddered from stacks in the meadow, or sheltered in rude sheds, sleek and thriving, gave evidence that they shared in the super abounding plenty of these fertile plains. The deep mouthed watchdog barked fiercely as the sled, drawn by a smart span of horses, with jangling bells and its merry load of girls and lads, going to some quilting, singing meeting, wedding, or other merry-making, passed swiftly by. The "sogers’ wives, and the sogers’ widows" were well provided for. Coffee was little-known, but the fragrant and exhilarating cup of tea graceed the table, on which smoked the buck-wheat cake, and the luscious honeycomb, the venison steak , and the well preserved shad. If, perchance, a furlough had allowed some of Ransom and Durkee's men to visit their wives and little ones, the broiled chicken, the well fatted roasting pig, or the delicious turkey, bade them a thousand times welcome. Neighbors would flock into hear-how they whipped the British at Millstone, and took an hundred horses! How Porter, poor fellow, and the gallant Matthewson, were cut in two by cannon balls. How General Washington ("and did you see General Washington? Would, in the enthusiasm that beloved name inspired, burst from a dozen tongues.) How General Washington, at Germantown, rode right into the mouths of the British cannon as it were. The wearied scouts would come in, while others set off on tours of duty, creating little excitement, as no immediate danger impended, all seeming quiet above. Meanwhile the flail sounded merrily on the thrashing floor-the flax break and hatchell were in active requisition-the spinning wheel buzzed its round-while the shuttle sped its rapid flight. The arrival of the postman from Hartford created a sensation throughout the whole settlement. Such was the dawning of 1778 upon Wyoming, as pictured to the writer by a grey-headed survivor from that day.
Burgoyne had surrendered. It was a happy event, but many of the sagacious old man feared that the Indians, released from service and the northeast, would now turn their dreaded arms upon the southern and western frontiers; and who so hated, or exposed, as the people on the Susquehanna.
Under the recent law, requiring, since the Declaration of Independence, a new oath of allegiance to the state of Connecticut, instead of the king, one hundred freemen had been sworn in and recorded, beginning with the name of Nathan Denison, Esq., in the previous September, in open town meeting, and now, April 13, 1778, 120 more appeared, and took the oath of fidelity; making in all 269.
John Dorrance was chosen collector of the State Tax.
Nathan Denison and Anderson Dana, were elected members to the assembly, to be holden at Hartford, in May.
On the 21st of April, another town meeting was warned, and prices fixed on articles of sale and service of labor, in accordance with a recommendation of the Legislature. To qualify the curious, we will quote 20 items:-
Good yarn stockings, a pair, 10 s.
Laboring women, at spinning, a week, 6 s. Winter fed beef, a pound, 7 d. Taverners, for dinner, of the best, per meal 2 s. Metheglin, per gallon 7 s. Beaver skins, per pound 18 s. Shad, a piece 6 d. Beaver hats, of the best 4 l. Ox work, for two oxen, per day, and tackling 3 s. Good hemp seed, a bushel 15 s. Men's labor, at farming, the three summer months, per day 5 s. 3d. Good check flannel, yard wide 8 s. Good tow and linen, yard wide 6 s. Good flannel, do 5 s. The above to be woven in a 36 reed, etc. Tobacco, in and hank or leaf, per pound 9 d. Taverners, for mug of flip, with two gills of rum in it 4 s. Good barley, per bushel 8 s. Making, and setting, and shoeing horses all round 8s.$1 33 Eggs, per dozen 8 d. Strong beer, by the barrel 2 l.
From which we deduce several conclusions, namely:-That shad and eggs were plenty, as they were cheap-that tobacco, hemp and barley were extensively cultivated, and articles of considerable traffic-that the once popular, but now exploded, flip, had been introduced from New England, a most agreeable but pernicious beverage-that the luxury of Beaver hats, costing more than $13, had become fashionable, indicating considerable wealth-that metheglin was manufactured for sale, and therefore honey was abundant-that, in conclusion, the prices fixed to more than 100 articles, are proof of extensive production, trade and prosperity.
An ancient document, of great interest, was found among the papers of Anderson Dana, Esq., being the Commission from the General Assembly and Governor of Connecticut, fixing the judicial establishment of Westmoreland for 1778, as was the annual custom. The names of judges and justices, with those of Governor Trumbull, and Secretary Wyllys, only are in manuscript, the remainder being printed. It is in perfect preservation, except that a few words of the printed matter are defaced by frequent folding. We insert it.
Justice and gratitude demand a tribute to the praiseworthy spirit of the wives and daughters of Wyoming. While their husbands and fathers were on public duty, they cheerfully assumed a large portion of the labor, which females could do. They assisted to plant, make hay, husked and garnered the corn. As the settlement was mainly dependent on its own resources for powder, Mr. Hollenback caused to be brought up the river, a pounder; and the women took up their floors, dug out the earth, put it in casks, and run water through it, (as the ashes are leached). Then took ashes, in another cask, and made ley-mixed the water from the earth with weak ley, boiled it, set it to cool, and the saltpetre rose to the top. Charcoal and sulfur were then used, and powder produced for the public defense.
Early in this spring, Congress was apprised of a meditated attack on Wyoming. From Niagara, and the Indian country adjacent to, and within the town of Westmoreland, rumor followed rumor, that the British and Indians were preparing an expedition for the destruction of the settlement. Defenseless as the position was known to be, and exasperated as the enemy were, by the efforts of the people in the cause of independence, nothing could be more probable than such a design. The only considerable post above the Blue Ridge, Wyoming was an important barrier between the savages and the German settlements below those mountains; and could that place be desolated, bands of the enemy could easily penetrate the Great Swamp, and make incursions into Northhampton and Berks, and immediately after striking a blow, hide themselves in those almost impenetrable forests, withdrawing thereby, those numerous and useful levies of men and provisions, which those populous and patriotic counties yielded to the army of his Excellency. Independent, therefore, of a just regard to the pledge noticed, and without considering the interests of the people, policy would seem to have dictated the taking early and ample measures to defend Wyoming. General Schuyler wrote to the Board of War on the subject. The officers and men earnestly plead and remonstrated, that their families, left defenseless, were now menaced with invasion, and averted to the terms of their enlistment. History affords no parallel of the pertinacious detention of men under such circumstances. Treachery is not for a moment to be lisped, and yet the malign influence of the policy pursued, and the disastrous consequences, could not have been aggravated, if they had been purposely withheld. Nothing could have been more frank and confiding, more brave and generous, than the whole conduct of the Wyoming people from the beginning of the contest; and it is saying little to aver that they deserved, both at the hands of Congress and Connecticut, a different requital. Connecticut could ill spare them. To her, they were inestimable. Mercy, Justice, and policy, plead in vain.
All the Indians in the valley had been recalled; and several white persons from Tunkhannock and Wyalusing, had joined in the enemy.
In this state of things, Congress again interposed its authority for the protection of Wyoming. March 16, 1778, "Resolved, that one full company of its foot, be raised in the town of Westmoreland, on the east bank of the Susquehanna, for the defense of the said town, and the settlement on the frontiers, and in the neighborhood thereof, against the Indians and the enemies of these states; the said company to be enlisted to serve one year from the time of their enlisting, unless sooner discharged by Congress."
Several reflections arise out of this extraordinary resolution. In the first place, it establishes the fact that Congress was apprised of the danger from Indians, early in March, for it is predicated on a report of the Board of War, of a previous date, and had been sometime under consideration. 2d. It is difficult to conceive how a company, then to be enlisted from among the inhabitants, could add any strength to the defense; for if at all, the enemy would probably come before they would have time to be disciplined, and a company, so enlisted, would not increase the force a single man. After so many had enlisted, and were away with the army, it sounds strange and almost unnatural to assume that more could be spared from the purposes of agriculture, the scout, and social protection!
But Wyoming seems to have been doomed by a selfishness, which cannot be designated except by terms which respect forbids us to employ.
The resolution proceeds-"that the company find their own arms, accoutrements, and blankets." But the difficulty was in obtaining them. Durkee and Ransom's men had armed themselves, and from the scant supply in the Valley, had taken away the best. Individual enterprise had been able, very imperfectly, to supply the deficiency.
In the month of May, scouting parties began to be met by those of the enemy, who hovered around the settlements at a distance of 20 miles, seeming intetd to prevent all communication with the upper country, and it is presumed to cut off all chance of learning the preparations making for the descent, rather than to do mischief. No families were attack-no houses burned. Shots were exchanged rarely, as the enemy rather kept aloof than courted battle; but one of the Wyoming men, William Crooks, coming out of a house near Tunkhannock, abandoned by John Secord, who had gone to the enemy, was shot dead at the door. This was the first life taken at Westmoreland by the Indians.
A few days afterwards a party of six, out on duty, were fired upon about four miles below Tunkhannock. Miner Robbins, and Joel Phelps were wounded; but regaining their canoes, escaped down the river. Robbins lingered until the next day, and died. Phelps recovered. These incidents increased the alarm already distractingly painful. But any event soon occurred up more exciting importance. Two Indians, formerly residents of Wyoming, and acquainted with the people, came down with their squaws on a visit, professing warm friendship; but suspicions existed that they were spies, and directions were given that they should be carefully watched. An old companion of one of them, with more than Indian cunning, professing his attachment to the natives, gave his visitor drink after drink of his favorite rum, when, in confidence, and the fullness of his maudlin and heart, he avowed that his people were preparing to cut off the settlement, the attack to be made soon, and that they had come down to see and report how things were. The squaws were dismissed, but the two Indians arrested, and confined in Forty Fort.
Now the distress and alarm rose almost to frenzy. To remain so entirely exposed, to have their throats cut, and their children's brains dashed out by the savages, without an effort for protection was not to be endured.
Dethick Hewitt had been appointed Captain to enlist the new continental company, but the order was looked upon as little better than a mockery. The people in the outer settlements fled to the forts; and the wives of the soldiers sent messages, calling upon them, by every tender tie, to come home and protect them. Still Congress and Connecticut, with more than Egyptian obstinacy, would not let the companies depart. Beyond all question they ought, as early as May, to have been ordered to Wyoming. Almost instantly, on hearing this last news, the companies became nearly disorganized. Every commissioned officer but two resigned, and more than 25 of the men, with or without leave, left the ranks, and hastened to the valley. Imperious necessity, above all earthly law, consecrated the deed. That they did not all return shows the influence of discipline and their love of order.
Congress, by these measures, was compelled to interpose. On the 23rd of June, only seven days before the arrival of the enemy, they resolved, "that the two independent companies lately commanded by the two captains, Durkee and Ransom, which were raised in the town of Westmoreland, be united, and form one company."
A preamble states that the number of men remaining was 86, commissioned officers and privates. The two commissioned officers, made 88. Battle, sickness, and the vicissitudes of war, had reduce the companies to about 60 men each-of course nearly 30 must have returned on leave given, or assumed.
Simon Spalding, a valuable officer, was appointed Captain, Timothy Pierce and Phineas Pierce, lieutenants. The Board of War directed, (it is believed) the new company to march to Lancaster, and soon after, but too late, to Wyoming.
A vote was also passed that Hewitt's men should receive pay for their arms, accoutrements and blankets, but so tardy was the order, that few of them lived to hear of the benevolent design.
The concentration of the enemy at Newtown and Tioga, (the latter a part of Westmoreland town,) and the preparation of boats and canoes, being known, every man who could bear arms, was called into service, and trained. Two deserters from the British army were in the Valley, one by the name of Pike, who had fled from Boston several years before; the other named Boyd, a fine active young fellow, from Canada. The latter, a sergeant, was particularly useful in training the militia. Large bodies were sent up the river as scouts, and as the Yankee Woodsmen, crossing the streams on fallen trees, would run over the roaring flood within the agility of a wild cat, the two foreigners, sitting astride on a log, hitching themselves awkwardly across, excited great merriment among their companions. Both these names will appear conspicuously on another page. The forts were now filled with women and children. Every company of the militia was ordered to be ready at a moments warning,-all was bustle and anxiety. Care sat on every brow, and fear on many a heart to firm to allow a breath of apprehension to escape from the lips. The one and only cannon the four-pounder, was in Wilkes-Barre Fort. Having no ball, it was kept as an alarm gun. The indispensable labors of the fields were performed by armed man. Soon and certainly the attack would be made, was known; but the precise time could not be calculated, for the enemy could descend the river slightly swollen, at the rate of five miles an hour, and could therefore be in the settlement in less than a day from leaving the rendezvous. So usually is there a rise of water in summer, that the "June fresh" is a familiar phrase, and had, it was supposed, been fixed upon for their embarkation.
Leaving the lovely and unprotected valley in all its blooming beauty, the fields waving with the burden of an abundant harvest, but the people, like covey of partridges, cowering beneath a flock of blood sensing vultures, that soared above, ready to pounce on their prey; or like a flock of sheep huddled together in their pen, while the prowling wolves already sent in their inpatient howl across the fields, eager for their victims; we proceed to state one of the most imprudent attempts at treachery and deception, ever recorded. It is known the Indian prides himself on his cunning. It is equally honorable by stratagem to take a scalp, as by force. So secure were they of Wyoming, that the whole expedition seems to have been a matter of sport, a holiday gambol with the savages. The Senecas were the nation principally concerned in the expedition, although detachments from the Mohawks, and other tribes, accompanied them. While the enemy were concentrating at the rendezvous, a delegation of Senecas chiefs, daringly presuming on the stolidity of Congress, repaired to Philadelphia, ostensibly to negotiate, really to amuse, put them off their guard, and prevent any troops being sent to the threatened frontier. Nor did the bold and dexterous chiefs leave the city, until the fatal blow was struck, as an extract from the journals will show. "July 8, 1778.-Resolved, that the Board of War be directed to send for the Seneca chiefs that have lately quitted Philadelphia, and inquire whether the Seneca Nations, as such, have committed hostilities against us"
The Chiefs refused to return. Why should they? Their errand was accomplished! A motion was made July 17, that General Schuyler be directed, "to take effectual measures for detaining the Seneca Chiefs at Albany," but it was decided in the negative.
The enemy numbering about 400 British provincials, consisting of Col. John Butler's Rangers, a detachment of Sir John Johnson's Royal Greens, the rest being Tories, from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, together with six or seven hundred Indians, having descended the Susquehanna from Tioga point, landed not far below the mouth of Bowman's Creek, on the west side of the river, in a north direction, about 20 miles above the Valley, (by the river, which here makes a large bend, the distance would have been nearly 30 miles.) Securing their boats they marched across the Peninsula, and arrived on the western mountain, on the evening of the 29th, or morning of the 30th of June. At Fort Jenkins, the uppermost in the Valley, and only a mile above Wintermoot’s, there were gathered the families of the old patriot, John Jenkins, Esq., the Hardings and Gardiners, distinguished for zeal, with others. Not apprised of the contiquity of the savages, on the morning of the 30th of June, Benjamin Harding, Stukely Harding, John Harding, a boy, James Hadsell, James Hadsell, Jr., Daniel Weller, John Gardiner and Daniel Carr, eight in all took their arms and went up about three miles into Exeter, to their labor. Towards evening, at an hour when aid could not be expected, they were attacked. That they fought bravely was admitted by the enemy. Weller, Gardiner and Carr, were taken prisoners. James Hadsell, and his son James, Benjamin and Stukely Harding, were killed. John Harding, the boy, threw himself in the river, and lay under the willows, his mouth just above the surface. He heard with anguish the dying groans of his friends. Knowing he was near, the Indians searched carefully for him. At one time they were so close that he could have touched them.
This was the opening of the campaign.
Col. Zubulon Butler, then at home, by common consent assumed the command of the Connecticut people. On the first of July he marched, Col. Denison, and Lt. Col. Dorrance, being also in command, with all his force, from Forty Fort to Exeter, where the murders of the preceding day had been perpetrated. The two Hardings, it appeared, must have contended to the last, for their arms and faces were much cut, and several spear holes were made through their bodies. Instead of shooting, it is probable the intention was to take them prisoners. All were scalped, and otherwise mutilated. Two Indians, who were watching the dead, expecting that friends might come to take away the bodies, and they might obtain other victims, were shot; one where he sat, the other in the river to which he had fled. Zubulon Marcy’s rifle, it was supposed, killed one of them, and subsequently, he was waylaid and hunted for several years, a brother of the Indian killed, swearing he would have revenge. The bodies were removed and decently interred near Fort Jenkins, where many years after, Elisha Harding, Esq., caused a stone to be raised to their memory, with this inscription:-
"Sweet be the sleep of those who prefer death to slavery."
After Col. Z. Butler returned, Col. John Butler, passing through a notch in the mountain, near Wintermoots, took possession of the Fort without opposition. Mr. Daniel Ingersoll, who was present, on learning the approach of the enemy, began to prepare for resistance, and his wife seized a pitch fork to aid, but the Wintermoots gave them to understand Col. Butler would be at home there, and Ingersoll found himself a prisoner. This Fort, beautifully situated on the upper river flat, from which gushed an abundant spring of pure water, was admirably calculated by the convenience of the enemy, for whose special-purpose it was erected. The Wintermoots had built amid the suspicions of the neighbors, and without the consent, but had, at the same time, in other respects conducted so discreetly as to give no ground for arresting them.
The same evening, a detachment under the command of Capt. Caldwell was sent to reduce Fort Jenkins. Originally, the garrison consisted of 17, mostly old men; four of whom were slain, and three made prisoners, so that no means of resistance being left, the stockade capitulated.
Early the next morning, Mr. Ingersoll was sent under an escort of one white man and one Indian, to Col. Zubulon Butler, demanding the surrender of Forty Fort, and the Valley.
On the morning of Friday, the third, Mr. Ingersoll was again dispatched from Wintermoots to Forty Fort, accompanied as before, by two attendants, one Indian and one white man, both as guards and spies. The motive was perfectly comprehended, and the duty only undertaken because it would have been death to refuse. His guards did not allow Ingersoll a word with Col. Butler, or Denison, out of their hearing. Effectual care was taken that he should communicate nothing that he had discovered while a prisoner. But his guides had, by this means, an opportunity to see, partially, the condition of the Fort, the number, and more than either, the spirit and bearing of the Connecticut people. A surrender of all the forts, the public property, Hewitt's company and the Valley, was the least that was demanded, and of course refused. On his return, Col. Z. Butler called a council of war, and opinions were freely expressed. Many, and among the rest, Col. Butler, Col. Denison, and Lt. Col. Dorrance, were of opinion, that a little delay would be best-that the alarm of the sudden eruption would subside-that the absent militia companies would arrive, and that Capt. Spalding's company, supposed to be on its march, might be hoped for, and would be a great consequence-probably decisive of the issue. To these wise and weighty considerations, it was replied:-That the enemy had now been three days in the town-that they were fast carrying on their work of conquest and murder. Two forts had surrendered, and the cruel butchery of the Hardings, and their companions, was dwelt on. They would not be idle if we were supposed to be still. The Valley would be destroyed, piecemeal. All the craft and the upper part were in their possession. They could cross at Pittston, take that fort in spite of Capt. Blanchard, and murder the inhabitants. What then would prevent them from marching to any other point? Our little army could not be kept long together. Unless led to action, each man would fly to the protection of his own family. As to Spalding coming, no one doubted his hearty goodwill, but those who had detained him so long, would not be apt, now, to accelerate his coming. There was no certainty when he would arrive. We must depend on God and ourselves. To attack and defeat the enemy was the only hope of salvation for the settlement. A large majority accorded with these sentiments; and the minority, though with reluctance, finally yielded their ascent, and some time afternoon, the column, consisting of about 300 men, old men, and boys, marched from the Fort. The little army consisted of six regular companies:-
1st. That of Capt. Dethic Hewitt, called regulars, but precisely like the rest of the militia, for they were just enlisted. He mustered about forty men.
2d. Capt. Asaph Whittlesey’s company from Plymouth, consisting of 44 men.
3d. Capt. Wm. McKarrican's company, from Hanover, numbered about forty men. Being also the schoolmaster, and little used to war, though a brave, active and valuable man, he gave up the command to Capt. Lazarus Stewart; Rosewell Franklin was his lieutenant.
4th. The Lower Wilkes-Barre company, commanded by Capt. James Bidlack Jr., consisting of 38 men.
5th. The Upper Wilkes-Barre company, commanded by Capt. Rezin Geer, smaller, but the number not known.
6th. The Kingston company, commanded by Capt. Aholiab Buck, lieutenant Elijah Shoemaker, second in command.
In addition to those in the trainbands, the Judges of the Court, and all the civil officers who were near, went out. Many old men-some of them grandfathers-took their muskets and marched to the field. For instance, the aged Mr. Searle, of Kingston, was one. Having become bald, he wore a wig. Taking out his Searle learned he buckles, he said to his family, "if I fall, I shall not need them. If I come back, they will be safe here."-Nothing could have been more incongruous, more pitiably unfit, then the mingling of such aged men in the rough onset of battle. Dire was the necessity that compelled it. The old gentleman had a number of grandchildren. Several boys, from 14 to 16, are known to have been on the field. There was a company at Pittston, of thirty or forty men, under Capt. Blanchard, stationed at the Fort, to guard the people gathered there. To leave them, and march to Forty Fort, would be to expose them to certain destruction, for the enemy were in sight, on the opposite bank of the river. Capt. Franklin's company, from Huntington and Salem, had not arrived. The other companies of the regiment were at Capouse, and at the "Lackaway" settlement, too far off to afford assistance. So there were about 230 enrolled men, and 70 old people, boys, civil magistrates, and other volunteers.
Every movement of Col. Z. Butler was watched by a vigilant and wary foe. No sooner had the march commenced than the news was communicated to Col. John Butler, at Wintermoot's, who immediately dispatched a messenger up to Fort Jenkins, for the party there, who were destroying the defenses, to hasten down, for the Yankees were coming out to battle. This was between two and three o'clock. A few sentinels alone were left at Forty Fort; and one of these by the name of Cooper, more brave and obedient to orders, said "our people need all their strength on the field. If defeated or successful, my being here will do no good." And he hurried off to join his neighbors.
Miss Bennett, (since Mrs. Myers,) was one of the crowd of women and children who had resorted to the Forty Fort. After the troops had been gone about an hour and a half, three men were seen, spurring their jaded horses up the road. As they came to the gate and dismounted, the sweat flowed from the panting flanks of their generous deeds. Two of them were Capt. Durkee and Lieutenant Pierce. In a moment they learned the state of things. "We are faint-give us bread; we have not broken our fast today." Such provisions as were at hand were placed before them. Pierce was a lieutenant in Capt. Spalding's company, then about forty miles off, through the Great Swamp. They had ridden nearly all night. Having snatched a morsel food, they hasten to the field.
Among many patriotic volunteers, justice requires that Anderson Dana, Esq., should be particularly mentioned. He had just returned from duty as a member of Assembly at Hartford. It is impossible that any man could have conducted with a more cheerful spirit, or a more animating zeal. Christopher Avery, Esq., one of the Justices of the Court, who had filled many important stations, and possessed a large share of public confidence, though exempt by law, took post beside his neighbors. Many officers are mentioned, who strictly held no command. Captains Durkee and Ranson were in the battle, and no doubt were referred to, and obeyed by the militia officers, but they held no official station.
As the American troops approached Wintermoot's, they perceived that the Fort was in flames. The motives for setting it on fire is not yet understood, probably to prevent its sudden assault and capture; probably to draw attention and conceal their number and movements.
At this point there are two plains, the Upper and Lower Flats, divided by a steep bank of about 15 or 20 feet in height; the Lower a rich sandy loam; the Upper a course gravel. The Fort was on the bank dividing the two plains.
Col. Zubulon Butler, on approaching the enemy, set forward Captains Ranson and Durkee, Leutenants Ross and Wells, as officers whose skill he most relied on, to select the spot, and mark off the ground in which to form the order of battle. When coming out, the column displayed to the left, and under those officers every company took its station, and then advanced in line to the proper position, where it halted, the right resting on the steep bank noted-the left extending across the gravel flat to a morass, thick with timber and brush that separated the bottom land from the mountain. Yellow and pitch pine trees, with oak shrubs, were scattered all over the plain. On the American right was Capt. Bidlack's company. Next was Capt. Hewitt's, Daniel Gore being one of his lieutenants. On the extreme left was Capt. Whittlesey’s. Col. Butler, supported by Major John Garrett, commanded the right wing. Col. Denison, supported by Lieut. Col. George Dorrance, commanded the left. Such was the ground, and such the order of battle. Everything was judiciously disposed, and conducted in a strictly military and prudent manner. Captains Durkee and Ranson, as experienced officers, in whom great confidence was placed, were stationed, Durkee with Bidlack on the right wing-Ransom and Whittlesey on the left. Col. Butler made a very brief address, just before he ordered the column to display. "Men, yonder is the enemy. The state of the Hardings tells us what we have to expect if defeated. We come out to fight, not only for liberty, but for life itself, and what is dearer, to preserve our homes from conflagration; our women and children from the tomahawk. Stand firm the first shot, and the Indians will give way. Every man to his duty."
The column had marched up the road running near the bank on which our right resting. On its display, as Denison led off his men, he repeated the expression of Col. Butler-"be firm, everything depends on resisting the first shot."
The left of the enemy rested on Wintermoot’s Fort, now on fire, and was commanded by Col. John Butler, who, divested of feathers and finery, appeared on the ground with a handkerchief tied on his head. A flanking party of Indian marksmen, were concealed among some logs and bushes under the bank. Johnson's Royal Greens, commanded by Capt. Caldwell, (if Johnson himself was not present,) formed on Butler's right. Indian marksmen filling the space between. The main body of the Indians, under Brandt, or Gi-en-gwah-toh, formed the right wing, and extended to the morass or Swamp.
From Wintermoot’s Fort, to the river in a straight line, was about 80 rods-to Menockasy Island, over the low Flats in a south-direction about a mile,. The weather clear and warm.
About four in the afternoon the battle began; Capt. Zubulon Butler ordered his men to fire, and at each discharge to advance a step. Along the whole line the discharges were rapid and steady. It was evident, on the more open ground the Yankees were doing most execution. As our men advanced, pouring in their platoon fires with great vivacity, the British line gave way, in spite of all their officers efforts to prevent it. The Indian flanking party on our right kept up from their hiding places a galling fire. Lieut. Daniel Gore received a ball through the left arm. "Capt. Durkee," said he "look sharp for the Indians in those bushes." Capt. D. steped to the bank to look, preparatory to making a charge and dislodging them, when he fell. On the British Butler's right, his Indian warriors were sharply engaged. They seem to be divided into six bands, for a yell would be raised at one end of their line, taken up, and carried through, six distinct bodies appearing at each time to repeat the cry. As the battle waxed warmer, their fearful yell was renewed again and again, with more and more spirit, it appeared to be at once their animating shout, and their signal of communication. As several fell near Col. Dorance, one of his men gave way; "stand up to your work, sir," said he firmly, but coolly, and the soldier resumed his place.
For half an hour a hot fire had been given and sustained, when the vastly superior numbers of the enemy began to develop its power. The Indians had thrown into the Swamp a large force, which now completely out flanked our left. It was impossible it should be otherwise; that wing was thrown into confusion. Col. Denison gave orders that the company of Whittlesey should wheel back, so as to form an angle with the main line, and thus present his front, instead of flank, to the enemy. The difficulty of performing evolutions, by the bravest militia on the field, under a hot fire, is well-known. On the attempt the savages rushed in with horrid yells. Some had mistaken the order to fall back, as one to retreat, and the word, that fatal word, ran along the line. Utter confusion now prevailed on the left. Seeing the disorder, and his own men beginning to give way, Col. Zubulon Butler threw himself between the fires of the opposing ranks, and rode up and down the line in the most reckless exposure. "Don't leave me, my children, and the victory is ours." But it was too late.
Still on the fated left, men stood their ground. "See," said Westover to George Cooper, "our men are all retreating, shall we go?" "I'll have one more shot first," was his reply. At that moment a ball struck a tree just by his head, and an Indian springing towards him with his spear, Cooper drew up his rifle and fired, the Indians sprung several feet from the ground, and fell prostrate on his face. "Come," said Westover. "I’ll load first," replied Cooper-and it is probable this coolness saved them, for the great body of the savages had dashed forward after the flying, and were far in their rear.
Other right, one of his officers said to Capt. Hewitt, "the day is lost-see the Indians are 60 rods in our rear, shall we retreat?" "I'll be D -- -- D if I do," was his answer. "Drummer strike up," cried he, and strove to rally his men. Every effort was vain. Thus he fought, and there he fell!
Every captain that led a company into action was slain, and in every instance fell on, or near the line. As was said of Bidlack, so of Hewitt, Whittlesey, and the others; "they died at the head of their men." They fought bravely-every man and officer did his duty, but they were overpowered by threefold their force. In point of numbers the enemy was overwhelmingly superior.
Darius Spafford was just married to Miss Blackman. Receiving a death wound, he fell into the arms of his brother Phineas, by whose side he fought. "Brother," said he, "I am mortally hurt; take care of Lavina." Stephen Whiton, a young schoolmaster from Connecticut, was also a bridegroom, having recently married the daughter of Anderson Dana, Esquire. The father and son-in-law fell together.
The battle being ended, the massacre began.
A portion of the Indian flanking party pushed forward in the rear of the Connecticut line, to cut off retreat to Forty Fort, and then pressed the retreating army towards the river. Monockasy Island affording the only hope of crossing, the stream of flight flowing in that direction through fields of grain. Cooper, and those who remained near the line of battle, saw the main body of the Indians hastening after the fugitives.
At Forty Fort, the bank of the river was lined by anxious wives and mothers, awaiting the issue. Hearing the firing sharply continued, now, hope arose; but when the shots became irregular, and approached nearer and nearer, that hope sank in dismay. Lieut. Gore, whose arm was shattered early in the action, being intercepted in an attempt to retreat the way he had marched up, secreted himself and a thick covet of bushes and briars near the road, on the descending bank. The Indians ran past him, their attention directed to those who were flying through the flats. One stood very near, gazed a moment, drew up his rifle and fired. Raising a yell, he rushed forward, probably too scalp his victim.
At the river near the Island, the scene was exceedingly distressing. A few swam over and escaped. Closely pressed, many were killed in the river. Sergeant Jeremiah Bigford, a very active man, was pursued by an Indian into the stream with a spear; Bigford faced him, struck his spear from his hand, and seizing him by the neck, dashed him under his feet, where he would have drowned, but another savage rushed forward to his aid, and ran his spear through Bigford's breast, who fell dead, and floated away. A month afterwards his body was found seven or eight miles below, much decayed, but was recognized by a silver broach he wore, which, with a piece of the shirt with a spear hole, was preserved by his family for many years. One of the fugitives by the name of Pensil sought security by hiding in a cluster of willows on the island. Seeing his Tory brother come up, and recognize him, he threw himself at his feet, beg for protection, and proffered to serve him for life, if he would save him. "Mighty well!" Was the taunting reply. "You d--d rebel," and instantly shot him dead. It was a dreadful hour; men seemed transformed into demons. The worst passions raged with wild and desolating fury. All the sweet charities of life seemed extinguished. Lieut. Shoemaker, one of the most generous and benevolent hearted men, whose wealth enableed him to dispense charity and do good, which was a delight to him, fled to the river, when Windecker, which often fed at his board, and drank of his cup, came to the brink. "Come out, come out," said he, "you know I will protect you." How could he doubted? Windecker reached out left his hand, as if to lead him, much exhausted, ashore, and dashed his tomahawk into the head of his benefactor, who fell back, and floated away.
Many prisoners were lured to shore by promise of quarter, and then butchered. The accurate Indian marksmen, sure of their prey, had coolly signaled out officers, and broke their thigh bone, it is supposed, as so many are found perforated, so as effectually to disable, but leaving the victim alive for torture. Capt. Bidlack was thrown alive on the burning logs of the Fort, held down with pitch forks, and there tortured till he expired. Prisoners taken under some promise of quarter, were gathered together, and placed in circles. Sixteen or eighteen were arranged around one large stone, since known as the bloody rock. Surrounded by a body of Indians, Queen Esther, a fury in the form of a woman, assumed the office of executioner with death maul, or tomahawk, for she used the one with both hands, or took up the other with one, and passing round the circle with words, as if singing, or counting with a cadence, she would dash out the brains, or sink the tomahawk into the head of the prisoner. A number had fallen. Her rage increased with indulgence. Seeing there was no hope, Lebbeus, Hammond, and Joseph Elliott, with a sudden spring shook off the Indians who held them, and fled for the thicket: Rifles cracked! Indians yelled! Tomahawk flew! But they escaped, the pursuers soon returning to their death sports. The mangled bodies of 14 or 15 were afterwards found round the rock where they had fallen, scalped, and shockingly mangled. Nine more were found in a similar circle some distance above.
Young Searles, age 16, fled, accompanied by William, the son of Asahel Buck, aged 14. Searles, almost exhausted, heard a person cry, "stop-you shall have quarter-we won't hurt you." Looking round, and almost inclined to surrender, he saw Buck stop, and yield himself: that moment a tomahawk struck him to the earth dead. Renewing his leap, from desperation, Searle escaped. "See," said one of the flying Yankees, who was pursued by a powerful Indian, and nearly exhausted. Richard Inman drew up his rifle, and the Indian dropped dead. Samuel Carey, a young man of 19, had crossed the river at the Island, where he was met by the Indians, who were already on the beach. At first they threatened him with death, placing a knife to his bowels, is if they had meant to rip him open; but he was spared, and taken to the Indian country. With a single other exception, he was the only person made prisoner in the battle, whose life was not sacrifice.
While the scene of suffering and wall was in progress, night threw her kindly mantle over the field, and darkness arrested the pursuit. Lieut. Gore, who had lain still, now heard the tread of men, and their voices in conversation. "It has been a sore day for the Yankees." "It has indeed-blood enough has been shed." So far he heard, and they passed on. He supposed it to be Col. J. Butler, and one of his officers.
Mr. Hollenback, who had swam the river, and so escaped, brought the anticipated tidings to Wilkes-Barre, and having learned the position of Capt. Spaulding, saddled his horse, and rode all night to apprise him of the state of affairs at Wyoming.
Col. Zubulon Butler repaired to the Wilkes-Barre Fort, and cast himself exhausted on the ground. Col. Dennison took up his quarters at Forty Fort, gathered a few soldiers who had come in-placed sentinels, and took all the precautions in his power, dedicated by prudence, to guard against surprise, and save the women in children. Tonight throughout the valley was one of inexpressible anguish and despair.
Although darkness had put an end to the pursuit, and most of the prisoners had been barbarously butchered, some who were supposed to be special objects of hate, were selected for slower torture and the execution of more savage vengeance. It may be some unguarded word-perhaps the refusal, in gone by years, of whiskey to any importunate Indians; some fancied, or real wrong; or, it is thought by some, to satiate the revenge of Indians who had lost relations in the fight: whatever may have been the motive, the vast depth of hell, boiling with demoniac passions, never could have devised or executed such horrid tortures, as many of the Connecticut prisoners were that night doomed to endure.
Under river bank, on the Pittston side, Capt. Blanchard, Esq., Whitaker, and Ishmael Bennett, attracted by fires among trees, on the opposite shore, took their station and witnessed the process of torture. Several naked men, in the midst of flames, were driven round a stake; their groans and screams were most piteous, while the shouts and yells of the savages, who danced around, urging the victims on with their spears, were too horrible to be endured. They were powerless to help or avenge, and withdrew, heartsick from a view of their horrid orgies-glad that they did not know who were the sufferers. This was more than a mile above Wintermoot's. On a battleground, the work of torture lasted till vengeance satiated and weary, dropped the knife and torch, from exhaustion. Col. John Butler, much agitated as the peculiar affluvium of human burning flesh came to his nostrils, said, in the hearing of Mr. Ingersoll, "it is not in my power to help it." In the morning, the battlefield was strewn with the limbs, and bodies torn apart, mangled and partially consumed.
About 160 of the Connecticut people were killed that day, and 140 escaped. The loss of the enemy was never known. "Early the next morning," says Mr. Ingersoll, "all the shovels and pick axes that could be mustered were taken out, and their dead buried in the swamp. Probably from 40 to 80 fell.
The transactions of the next day must be reserved for another letter.