Near 7 a.m. on August 13, 1779, Major General John Sullivan and his Continentals began their attack on the Village of New Chemung where the Munsee Delaware were residing and it became known as the Battle of Chemung. The Delaware were loyal to the Seneca and Cayuga and stood between the two clashing forces.
Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton, together made up The Sullivan-Clinton campaign. Their orders from General George Washington were to “lay waste” to the “hostile tribes of the six nations of Indians.” This coming after brutal attacks and raiding of American settlements. Two well-known massacres were Cherry Valley and Wyoming, conducted by Loyalists and British-allied Native Americans.
The British-allied forces had limited forces and supplies and strategically avoided the path of the Continental Army. Their plight of pillaging caused distractions within the Continental troops, with men wanting to leave the army to protect their homesteads. It threatened the American War effort.
Sullivan and his troops began their march from Wyoming Valley, while Clinton’s forces started out from Otsego Lake, traveling down the Susquehanna River. The two would meet at Tioga Point, at the confluence of the Tioga (Chemung) and Susquehanna Rivers. Fort Sullivan was built during this time.
Following reconnaissance and mapping of the route, on August 12, 1779, Sullivan ordered a march to attack the Village of New Chemung, known to harbor Loyalist raiding parties.
Brigadier General Edward Hand’s Brigade lead the front and consisted of the Independent Rifle Corps., Wyoming Independent Company, 11th Pennsylvania, German Regiment, and Wyoming Militia. Brigadier General Enoch Poor, followed next with his brigade the 1st New Hampshire, 2nd New Hampshire and 3rd New Hampshire Regiments. They consisted of the main body. Brigadier General William Maxwell followed with the 1st New Jersey, 2nd New Jersey, 3rd New Jersey and 5th New Jersey Regiments. They all followed under Sullivan’s command.
At 6 a.m. the morning of August 13th, old abandoned huts were found, remains of the Village of Old Chemung. At 7 a.m. Sullivan’s forces descended the hill overlooking the Village of New Chemung and surrounded the village, finding it abandoned. Throughout the campaign, no native village was ever taken in a surprise assault.
An officers’ account of the Village: “The Village was beautiful, containing 50 or 60 houses, built of logs and frames.” The village, was burned along with the crops, on both sides of the river. Hand’s light infantry moved west of the village and discovered a vacated Native American scouting camp on the trail to the Village of Newtown. A larger force followed the scouts’ trail, hoping to catch up with the villagers.
A group of 20 to 40 Delaware warriors, led by Captain Rowland Montour, son of Catherine Montour, ambushed the Continental patrol firing a few volleys at the Continentals, hitting mostly the light infantry and 11th Pennsylvania Regiment. Colonel Adam Hubley formed a front with the 11th PA Regiment and pushed up the ridge. Major Bush’s men formed a line and outflanked the Delaware warriors. Being attacked on the front and from the rear the Delaware retreated into a swamp. The Delaware were able to carry off their wounded and dead making casualty estimates difficult.
Continental casualties were: Captain Walker, Captain Carberry, Adjunct Huston, one guide and eight privates were wounded. One sergeant, one drummer and four privates were killed. The dead and wounded were placed on horseback and Sullivan immediately ordered withdrawal back to Tioga Point to Fort Sullivan, returning the night of August 13th. Casualty numbers vary and may have been as many as 7 killed, 16 wounded. The dead were buried at Fort Sullivan.
The Battle of Chemung was considered an early success for the Sullivan-Clinton campaign being the first combat between the Continentals and British-allied Native Americans and Loyalists. The Battle of Newtown would not take place until August 29, 1779, 16 days after the Battle of Chemung. Over 5,000 troops were present on that day.
Today the Battle of Chemung is considered to be a significant battle of the Revolutionary War by the American Battlefield Protection Program, National Park Service.
General Sullivan building a fort, 1779
Mary Ellen Kunst is the historian for the Town of Chemung. To see more of her writing and learn more about the town’s history, go to Historical Echoes.