The Revolutionary War
(American War of Independence)
The Battles of Chemung and Newtown
This article barely touches the surface of the rich history that took place in the Chemung River Valley. The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to the general reader. There are many articles, books and websites dedicated to this subject.
If you live in Chemung County, you probably know about the Battle at Newtown. Newtown, located where East Elmira is today was actually miles from the battle. The fighting did not occur in Newtown but rather east of Newtown in the general area of the Village of Lowman, Town of Ashland and in the Town of Chemung. For many years it was considered one battle. However recent information has come to light and experts agree there were two battles. One fought in the Town of Chemung, near the Village of Lowman border, The Battle of Chemung. The second being fought in the Village of Lowman, The Battle of Newtown.
The Revolutionary War, known as the The American War of Independence, (1775 - 1783) was a difficult time for the colonists and impacted the early pioneers of the Chemung Valley as they attempted to establish farms and businesses. If you lived in one of the 13 colonies, you were involved in the war in one way or another. The British held the support of the Six Nations of the Iroquois and of many colonists who were opposed to the rebellion. Fort Niagara was the main point of contact between the British and Iroquois who together with the Loyalists, (who were colonists sympathizing with the British), engaged in military operations on behalf of King George III.
Fort Niagara became known as the base of raiders who terrorized the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania. In 1777, John Butler a Loyalist from Mohawk Valley organized a military unit and led his Rangers and Six Nations Allies into a raid on the Wyoming Valley of PA and the Cherry Valley of New York. The colonial farmlands of New York and Pennsylvania were important sources of supply for the Continental Army. The Continental Congress were aware of the danger of these backwoods attacks, producing serious effects on the strained American Military. The Six Nations Villages were important sources of supply to the British.
To counter the raids from Niagara and to punish the Six Nations for their allegiance to the King, the Continental Congress detached a large part of the Continental Army in 1779. Under the direct orders of General George Washington, the main body gathered in Pennsylvania by General John Sullivan. A smaller body gathered in the Mohawk Valley by General James Clinton. Using the river systems, the Continental Army marched into Iroquois Country and eventually within eighty miles of Fort Niagara. Scouts who were sent by General Sullivan from the Tioga Point Fort in Athens, PA reported the Old Chemung Village to be empty and deserted. A New Chemung Village had been established 3 miles further up the river in a north westerly direction, past the narrows along the river. This Village was known as the Iroquois War Town.
A state historical marker describes this area: "From this hidden stronghold, British, Indians and Tories, ravaged the frontier from the West Branch to the Mohawk. Destroyed by Sullivan-Clinton Expedition, August 13, 1779". A state historic marker located in the center of town reads: "Old Chemung Indian Village Destroyed By General Sullivan. August 13, 1779".
As described by Merrill Douglas in the Article: Dig Seeks Traces of Battlefield August 13, 1779
The Battle of Chemung was part of the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition, a 1779 campaign of the Continental Army against British loyalists and the pro-British Iroquois. Gen. John Sullivan’s troops were camped at Tioga Point, near the present-day Athens, Pa., when scouts brought word of the settlement at New Chemung.
The village served as a base for various raiders, including, loyalists, Delaware and other Native Americans allied with the British. “It was also a traveling stop for loyalist refugees from New York City and Philadelphia who were making their way to Canada,” Jacobson says.
The Continentals stormed New Chemung on Aug. 13, 1779, only to find that all the occupants had fled. Heading west in pursuit, a detachment of soldiers encountered a group of Delaware warriors waiting in ambush about a mile away. The Continentals fought off the Delaware and then returned to New Chemung, where they burned the village to the ground.
The article can be read in it's entirety at: https://discovere.binghamton.edu/features/chemung-5607.html
A descriptive article on the Battle of Chemung, with excerpts taken from soldiers diaries and authored by Steve Collward: http://www.captainselinscompany.org/pdfs/Battle%20of%20Chemung.pdf
As posted on Wikipedia:
On August 26, 1779, Sullivan left Fort Sullivan, where the two columns of his army had converged, with an estimated five thousand well armed and now freshly provisioned troops. They marched slowly up the Cayuga branch of the Susquehanna to destroy the towns and crops of the Six Nations in western New York. On Sunday, August 29, just ten miles upriver from Fort Sullivan, the advance guard, three companies of riflemen formerly with the Provisional Rifle Corps of Col. Daniel Morgan, reached the area at mid-morning. Suspecting an ambush, they halted and scouted the area. Between eleven and eleven-thirty they discovered the hidden breastworks and immediately notified Brigadier General Edward Hand. He dispatched his light infantry to take up firing positions behind the bank of Baldwin Creek and fire into the breastworks, prompting the defenders to make several unsuccessful attempts at luring the Continentals into an ambush. As the extended army continued to arrive and assemble, Sullivan called a council of war with his brigade commanders, which began at three in the afternoon. Together they devised a plan of attack.
(The engagement occurred along a tall hill, now called Sullivan Hill and part of the Newtown Battlefield State Park. The hillside, running southeast to northwest next to the Chemung River, was a mile long at its crest, which rose 600 feet (180 m) above the road at its base leading into Newtown. The slope of the hill was covered with pine and dense growth of shrub oak. Hoffman Hollow, a marshy area of small hillocks and thick stands of trees, was just to the east of the hill. A small watercourse, called Baldwin Creek, ran through the hollow and emptied into the Chemung River (referred to as the Cayuga branch in Sullivan's reports). The creek followed the hill northwest on the opposite side from the river and had steep western banks.
The British and Indian forces had placed themselves in horseshoe-shaped camouflaged earthworks about 150 feet up the southeast spur of the hill, within musket range of the road. The hill was used by the British as both an observation point and a barrier to the approach of the Continentals against the Cayuga towns of Nanticoke and Kanawaholla, situated on the site of the present-day Elmira, New York.)
The 1st New Jersey Regiment, commanded by Colonel Matthias Ogden, was detached from Brigadier General William Maxwell's New Jersey Brigade and sent west along the Chemung River to execute a flanking maneuver on the Loyalist-Indian forces. Similarly, the New York Brigade of Brigadier General James Clinton and the New Hampshire Brigade of Brigadier General Enoch Poor were dispatched together eastward, along a circuitous route through Hoffman Hollow, with the mission of approaching the hill's eastern flank and then facing left in preparation for a full ahead assault upon the enemy. Meanwhile, the unified forces of Sullivan's Pennsylvania and New Jersey brigades remained behind at the ready, bolstered by a provisional regiment composed of all the light infantry companies in the expedition. At the end of the first hour, the artillery of ten guns posted on a rise near the road, would open fire on the breastworks and the areas between them. These guns would signal General Hand to feint an attack with that provisional regiment upon the center of the horseshoe, at which time the brigades to the east would swing inward, assault the summit of the hill and turn their attack to the left and rear of the breastworks. When the guns of Poor's and Clinton's attack were heard by Hand, his brigade would storm the works, supported by Maxwell's brigade, putting the defenders in a crossfire.
The plan was complex and conceived on short notice but executed with vigor. The ultimate result was a resounding defeat for both the British Loyalists and the Iroquois at their side. Crossing the swampy marsh (which Sullivan termed a "morass") in Hoffman Hollow slowed the advance of Poor's and Clinton's brigades, disrupting the timing of the plan, and this provided just enough delay to allow the joint Loyalist-Iroquois forces to escape encirclement.
Nearly all of the Continentals' casualties occurred in the attack of Lt-Col George Reid's 2nd New Hampshire Regiment. Assigned to the extreme left of Poor's assault formation, it climbed where the slope was steepest and lagged considerably behind the rest of the brigade. Joseph Brant led a counterattack of Indians and nearly encircled Reid. The next regiment in line, the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment of 28-year-old Lt-Col Henry Dearborn, about-faced, fired two volleys and attacked down the hill. Clinton, whose brigade was climbing the hill below and slightly to the right of Poor, sent his 3rd and 5th New York Regiments to help, and the counterattack was crushed.
After the raid by General Sullivan on the Chemung Village, Sullivan returned to Tioga Point (Athens), PA. There his army joined forces with that of General Clinton's, August 27, 1779. The largest battle of this expedition took place in the Chemung Valley, The Battle of Newtown, near Lowman/Wellsburg, Sunday, August 29, 1779. As many as 5,000 on both sides engaged in a battle that ensued for three hours. Less than 25 were killed. The Iroquois defeated, retreated to the north.
With winter approaching and lack of supplies, General Sullivan retired his troops to Pennsylvania. Sullivan was satisfied that he had dealt the Iroquois and British a severe blow, destroying all villages and crops on their expedition. By 1794, the British were involved in a new European War. Butler's Rangers and many of the Loyalist Soldiers received land grants around Lake Ontario and the Six Nations had lost most of their land.
The following photographs were taken at Newtown Battlefield during a war reenactment. August 2004