General Sullivan may have been a meticulous organizer, but he was sparing in his reports from the field to his commander in chief. Washington had no news from Sullivan between the Battle of Newtown and the end of the campaign (though he did have rumors) and the tone of his communications to the general became increasingly impatient. On October 5th he wrote: "I have not received a line from you since the 30th. Augt. which I can no otherwise acct. for than by a miscarriage of letters. I am altogether unacquainted with your movements since the battle at Newtown and have only common report for your having advanced to Conosadaga, and returning to Teoga." The strategic situation had changed, and Washington needed Sullivan's Brigades to keep the British from sending troops from New York to the southern theater, where Count D'Estaing had arrived with a French fleet.
Washington had urged in a letter on September 15th that Sullivan's campaign be short and decisive:
"The advantages we have already gained over the Indians in the distruction of so many of their settlements is very flattering to the expedition. But to make it as conclusive as the state of your provisions and the safety of your army will countenance, I would mention two points which I may not have sufficiently expressed in my general instructions, or if I have, which I wish to repeat. The one is, the necessity of pushing the Indians to the greatest practicable distance, from their own settlements, and our frontiers; to the throwing them wholly on the British enemy. The other is, the making the destruction of their settlements so final and complete, as to put it out of their power to derive the smallest succour from them, in case they should even attempt to return this season."
Whether or not Sullivan received this letter before composing his report to Congress on September 30th, he was highly mindful of politics and the need to cast his campaign in the best possible light. The opportunity to take Niagara never developed, and his dealings with neutral Iroquois were decidedly heavy-handed. Certainly there was no opportunity to listen to entreaties for peace from an enemy that withdrew before his army's advance as Washington had once considered a possible outcome. He took pains to demonstrate the challenges of the campaign:
"It is with pleasure I inform Congress that this army has not suffered the loss of forty men in action or otherwise since my taking the command; though perhaps few troops have experienced a more fatiguing campaign. Besides the difficulties which naturally attend marching through an enemy's country, abounding in woods, creeks, rivers, mountains, morasses and defiles, we found no small inconvenience from the want of proper guides, and the maps of the country are so exceedingly erroneous that they serve not to enlighten but to perplex. We had not a person who was sufficiently acquainted with the country to conduct a party out of the Indian path by day, or scarcely in it by night; though they were the best I could possibly procure. Their ignorance, doubtless arose from the Indians having ever taken the best measures in their power to prevent their country's being explored. We had much labor in clearing out the roads for the artillery, notwithstanding which, the army moved from twelve to sixteen miles every day when not detained by rains, or employed in destroying settlements."
The enemy had not been destroyed in battle, but the measure of this campaign was the destruction of the Iroquois heartland. "The number of towns destroyed by this army amounted to 40 besides scattering houses. The quantity of corn destroyed, at a moderate computation, must amount to 160,000 bushels, with a vast quantity of vegetables of every kind. Every creek and river has been traced, and the whole country explored in search of Indian settlements, and I am well persuaded that, except one town situated near the Allegana, about 50 miles from Chinesee there is not a single town left in the country of the Five nations."
Despite these achievements, part of Sullivan's problem was his own personality. Boatner's Encyclopedia of the American Revolution reveals that Sullivan demanded a "semipolitical endorsement" of his campaign from his officers" and that my ancestors Colonel Elias Dayton (commander of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment) and his son Jonathan Dayton, Sullivan's 2nd Aide de Camp) refused to sign. I can only speculate as to their reasons, but as Colonel Dayton was favorably mentioned in the report I suspect they were more critical of being used politically than by the conduct of the campaign itself.
Washington forwarded Sullivan's official report to Congress with a brief mention at the close of a letter dealing with political and military matters:
"The inclosed letter from Major General Sullivan, and the other papers herewith transmitted, came to hand on the 6th instant. I have taken the first moment of leisure since their receipt to send them forward. I congratulate Congress on his having completed, so effectually, the destruction of the whole of the Towns and settlements, of the hostile Indians, in so short a time, and with so inconsiderable a loss in men."
I have not been able to confirm whether it was this report that Sullivan secured endorsements for, though it seems most likely, and Washington would have seen that for the political ploy that it was. In any even, it was Sullivan's last command of the war, as he resigned in poor health at the end of that November.
Sullivan's campaign is remembered as everything from genocidal to indecisive. There are more historical markers to Sullivan's expedition along New York roadways than to any other event in State history. That winter was one of the most brutal of the era and despite British support for the destitute Iroquois at Niagara disease and hunger were rampant. It was hardly the end of border warfare, however, as Tory Indian raids were renewed in 1780 and continued to strike across the northern frontier until the end of the war.
The most dramatic and lasting result of the campaign was that it opened up the Iroquois heartland for American settlement and lead to the dispossession of the Six Nations after the end of the war. The Iroquois league was broken both by the loss of territory and by the fratricidal nature of their alliances with British or Patriot interests. Many of the journals kept by Sullivan's men describe the use to which the landscape through which they marched could be put if civilized and settled. My ancestors Jonathan Dayton and Aaron Ogden speculated western lands after the war (with Dayton Ohio located in part of his vast holdings).
I began this series of posts with the part played by my ancestors firmly in mind. Unlike many of their fellow officers they left no personal journals of the campaign, but it has been possible to tease out the roles that they played, and given their positions as field and staff officers they were deeply involved in its conduct. It was a dirty war on the frontier, certainly more difficult for modern memory to wrap in patriotic bunting as it was in the 19th century at the Centennial celebration. In their own time there were few who describe the campaign as heroic. There was little contemporaneous doubt, however, that it was necessary. For my part, it has been important to witness an event in our war of Independence that defies simple characterization and to acknowledge my ancestors who took part as more complex than simple patriots.