"I cannot but repeat my intreaties, that you will hasten your operations with all possible dispatch; and that you will disencumber yourself of every article of baggage and stores which is not necessary to the expedition. Not only its success but its execution at all depends on this. Tis a kind of service in which both officers and men must expect to dispense with conveniences and endure hardships. They must not and I trust will not expect to carry the same apparatus which is customary in other operations. I am persuaded that if you do not lighten yourself to the greatest possible degree, you will not only imminently hazard a defeat, but you will never be able to penetrate any distance into the Indian Country. The greater part of your provisions will be consumed in preparation, and the remainder in the first stages of a tedious and laborious march."
Summer was well advanced and Washington was losing patience with General Sullivan. Throughout the spring and early summer he had urged the General to initiate the campaign into the Finger Lakes region against the hostile Iroquois and their Tory allies but Sullivan delayed for more than a month at Easton while he built a military road over the Poconos and then nearly another six weeks at Wyoming while he gathered his forces and repeatedly requested supplies and support. Boats came daily upriver to provision the encampment: a flotilla of 134 of them on July 24th. The journals of fellow officers show my ancestor Col. Elias Dayton reached his command at the Wyoming encampment on July 9th, and General Maxwell's A.D.C. and Brigade Major Aaron Ogden only arrived in camp from Elizabeth Town on the 21st (bearing welcome letters and news that "Mad Anthony" Wayne had taken Stoney Point).
Sullivan's force in the Wyoming Valley eventually included three brigades with more than 2,300 soldiers, along with a couple dozen female camp followers, numerous teamsters, boatmen and guides. When the expedition finally left Wilkes-barre and headed upriver on July 31st, Sullivan had 120 boats, 1,200 pack horses (the skulls of which would later give name to the central New York town of Horse Heads), 800 cattle and 8 artillery pieces. It was a formidable column, well guarded on the flanks with scouts pushed out ahead and Col.Matthias Ogden's 1st New Jersey Regiment as the rear guard , but it was hardly lightened "to the greatest possible degree" as the Washington had wished.
If Sullivan had been slow off the blocks, the British and their allies were having difficulties of their own. News from Niagara brought intelligence of moves against them from the Allegheny (Brodhead) and anticipate attack up the Valley of the Mohawk, where a raid that April and the gathering of General James Clinton's troops reinforced concerns about a threat from that quarter. Still, in late July British Governor Frederick Haldimand in Quebec still had great doubts that Sullivan, tarrying in Wyoming, constituted a major threat:
"It is impossible that the Rebels can be in such force as has been represented by the deserters to Major Butler upon the Suscquehanna. He would do well to send out intelligent white men to be satisfied of the truth of those reports. If anything is really intended against the Upper Country I am convinced Detroit is the object, and that they show themselves and spread reports of expeditions in your neighborhood merely to divert the rangers and Indians from their main purpose - Major Butler should be aware of this." - quoted in H. Swiggett (1936); War Out of Niagara, pg. 191
They would soon learn their error, but still there was plenty of warning for the Iroquois to abandon their settlements in the line of Sullivan's march and for Loyalist and Indian forces to converge on the area and plan their resistance.
Most of the Loyalist commanders on the northern frontier were in the field to oppose Sullivan, and what they lacked in troops and supplies they made up for with their reputations as masters of hit and run raids and the reputed leaders of notorious massacres. Major John Butler, whose loyalist Rangers operated out of Niagara and had devastated the Wyoming Valley the year before, commanded the British and Tory forces. He was joined by fellow loyalists Walter Butler (his son), whose most notorious operation was the Cherry Valley Massacre, and Sir John and Guy Johnson. Captain MacDonald of the British army was also present with a few regulars, while the Iroquois leader was the remarkable Mohawk commander Joseph Brant. All told they had a few hundred Loyalist soldiers and perhaps 500-600 Iroquois from the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and Mohawk tribes. Still, the size of Sullivan's force and Clinton's moving down from Canajoharie to link up with the main column meant that they would need the right combination of terrain, tactics and surprise to successfully stand and fight. Tories and Indians shadowed the invaders, sniping at the column and harrying small and isolated parties, but were unable to slow the advance which proceeded at 8-10 miles a day upriver towards Tioga and the Finger Lake Country.
The men in Sullivan's command passed the charred settlements of the Wyoming Valley and saw what the enemy had wrought there. A Lieutenant in Ogden's 1st New Jersey recorded on August 9th:
"In this day's march we had several cattle killed by falling from a precipice - having about half a mile to pass along one of two hundred feet, and the path very bad. At the bottom, luckily, was the river; the boats on coming up had them dressed."
They reached Tioga two days later and prepared a defended garrison as an advanced base while waiting for Clinton's men to join them there. They found the Iroquois village of Chemung upriver abandoned - 30 40 bark longhouses and fields with over 1,000 bushels of corn put to the torch. There was a skirmish nearby with light casualties but the Indians and Tories pulled back before the charging Continentals could reach their place of concealment. General Clinton arrived on the 16th, and 10 days later Sullivan's strengthened force advanced in a hollow square with the cattle, packs horses and artillery contained within. The men unpacked the barrels of flour that their boats has ferried upriver and stitched their tents to make flour sacks for transport overland. Major John Burrowes of Col. Spencer's New Jersey Regiment noted in his journal; "The country continues mountainous and the road very disagreeable. The sight of Carriages in this part of the world is very odd, as there is nothing but a foot path."
It was exceedingly slow going, but three days later came the one significant battle of the campaign. The Tory and Indian force made its stand at Newtown, six miles down river from present day Elmira, and prepared an ambush behind log barriers anchored by the river and a high mountain. Sullivan's scouts discovered the enemy position, however, and the General plans his attack. We'll cover the battle and its aftermath in tomorrow's post.