Description

    Benedict Arnold announces the relief of Fort Stanwix, 1777, one of the final nails in Burgoyne's coffin

    [Benedict Arnold]. Period Fair Copy of Benedict Arnold Letter to Horatio Gates. Two pages, 8" x 12", "Fort Schuyler," August 24, 1777. This letter is a contemporary manuscript copy of Arnold's letter to Horatio Gates informing him of the relief of Fort Schuyler (Stanwix). Integral address leaf trimmed off, laid into a slightly larger sheet, usual folds, moderate toning, else very good.

    Together with the defeat of the British at Bennington, the relief of Fort Stanwix by the enterprising Arnold was one of the keys to the American success at Saratoga in October 1777. Burgyone intended St. Leger's Expedition as a diversion to divide American forces opposing his column of British, Germans and their Native American allies advancing southward from Montreal to Albany. St. Leger's forces advanced up the St. Lawrence from Montreal to Lake Ontario where they turned southward to threaten Albany from the west. Fort Stanwix, located at the head of navigation on the Mohawk River, 110 miles west of Albany, stood in the way. St. Leger's force of 2,000 began besieging Fort Stanwix, manned by about 550 men under Colonel Peter Gansevoort, on 2 August. After a relief column under the command of Nicholas Herkimer was repulsed at Oriskany on 6 August, Arnold led a detachment of about 800 Massachusetts and New York Continentals to relieve Fort Stanwix - a move that critically weakened the American forces opposing Burgoyne's army of 7,000 at Fort Edward, only twenty-four miles away from the American base at Stillwater. Arnold departed on 9 August arriving about a day's march from Fort Stanwix on the 23rd. Realizing he lacked sufficient force to force St. Leger out by force, Arnold devised a ruse. He recruited a local mentally challenged man by the name of Hon Yost who Arnold had captured with a group of Tryon County loyalists. Host recruited several friendly Oneidas and went among St. Leger's Indian allies telling exaggerated stories about Arnold's strength. Host's credibility was helped by the fact that the local Indians regarded Host, who was prone to raving in strange tongues. Already sour on the pace of the expedition, the Indians abandoned St. Leger. As they comprised half of his force, St. Leger had no choice but raise the siege and retreat. Arnold arrived at For t Stanwix the same evening. The next morning he composed the following dispatch that reads, in full (with original spellings retained without comment):

    "Dear General, I wrote you Yesterday that the Enemy had retreated from this Place At 5 o'Clock this Evening by a forced March of twenty two Miles thro a thick wood I reached this Place, in Expectation of harassing the Enemy on their Retreat. Col. Gansevoort had anticipated my Design my sending out a small Party who brought in four Royals, and a considerable quantity of Baggage with a Number of Prisoners, and Deserters. The Enemy went off with the greatest Precipitation, leaving their Tents standing, their Provisions Ammunition &tc. which has fell into our Hands. - I have sent out a Party of faithful Oneidas this Evening, and ordered out five hundred Men early in the Morning as far as the Oneida Lake. On their Return I will make all possible Dispatch to join you, which I hope to effect the last of this Month. Colonel Ganseveoort who commanded at this Post, as well as his Officers, and Men deserve great applause for their spirited Conduct and vigoruous Defence - their Duty having been very severe, and has been performed I am told, with the greatest Chearfulness. As Colonel Gansevoort has suffered much by the Severity of the Siege, I have permitted him to go to Albany untill you think proper to order him to return. The Oneidas and Tuscadoras have been exceedingly friendly to us in the present Dispute - The other Tribes of the six Nations are Villains, & I hope will be treated as Such. I believe this Post is out of Danger this Year, but as the Works require considerable Labor to compleat them, I shall leave six hundred Men in Garrison I am dear General your affectionate B. Arnold."

    The retreat of St. Leger's force and the relief of Fort Stanwix altered the balance of power in Northern New York. With the failure of St. Leger, and the defeat at Bennington on 16 August, Burgyone was becoming trapped as American forces concentrated against him at Saratoga - the news of the two victories helped swell the American ranks. In the two battles at Saratoga that would ultimately seal Burgyone's doom, Arnold would serve gallantly and decisively - angering his cautious commander Horatio Gates who gave Arnold little credit for the victory. Gate's deliberate omissions of Arnold's contribution to the battle would become one of the numerous slights and insults that would lead him to turn coat in 1780 - sealing his place in American history as a traitor.

    An original copy of this letter in Arnold's hand was forwarded by Gates to George Washington. That letter now resides at the Library of Congress in Washington's papers. However this example includes a sentence not found in the Library of Congress example. The second to last paragraph ("The Oneidas and Tuscadoras have been exceedingly friendly to us in the present Dispute - The other Tribes of the six Nations are Villains, & I hope will be treated as Such.") is not present in the copy found in the Papers of George Washington at the Library of Congress. This would suggest one of two scenarios. The first would suppose that Arnold sent more than one original to Gates (It was a common practice in the eighteenth century to send multiple copies of a communication to ensure safe delivery). If Arnold only sent one dispatch, this copy may have been copied from a version Arnold never sent by one of his own staff officers. Why Arnold chose not to include this line in his original is unknown - though he may have wanted to remain more diplomatic and not further alienate the still powerful Six Nations - most of whom sided with the British after a futile effort to remain neutral in the contest.


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    April, 2015
    9th Thursday
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