It was a huge event by the standards of our hobby, despite being organized on the same weekend as an annual reenactment at Old Sturbridge Village that is usually among the largest in New England. There are no official returns, but there were likely as many as 1,000 reenactors present, with 350-400 muskets on the American side from what I could see and another 150 distaff and non-combatants belonging to the army. It was likely somewhat similar (perhaps a tad less under arms) on the British side.
The weather was extremely hot and humid, producing a number of (thankfully non-fatal) heat casualties, but the rain held off until the final minutes of our battle on Sunday and most of us had broken camp before then in anticipation of the violent thunderstorms that followed many of us home.
It was also an event that, although long on our regiment's schedule and one of just 2 national events this year for the Continental Line and British Brigade umbrella groups in our hobby, when the returns came back for the 1st NJ it turned out only my partner and I had confirmed we would be going. As a result the unit scratched.
Undeterred, although my better half wisely elected to stay at home, I promptly did something I had been meaning to do for a while and paid my dues to join our sister unit the 2nd NJ. I love these guys, and had an outstanding time.
This was the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany, a brutal fight in 1777 between Tryon County NY militia regiments and their Oneida Iroquois allies under General Herkimer against a force of Loyalists, Hessian Jaegers and a much larger assemblage of British-allied Iroquois warriors. There were a number of battle scenarios planned for the reenactment, covering both Oriskany and other engagements in the Saratoga campaign as well as a hypothetical defense of besieged Fort Stanwix.
It was an opportunity for hundreds of us on both sides to field as militia, and I greatly enjoyed seeing our Royalist adversaries dressing down for the occasion. I accepted delivery (by a Major of Royal Marines, no less) of a fabulous new green wool frock coat made by fellow 1st NJ member Heather Clark Vogeley of Pennock & Hyde, with custom-made Death Head wool thread buttons by Cheryl Childress of Blue Cat Buttonworks. I cannot speak highly enough to the quality of these talented craftspeople. The wool was deliciously soft and a close color match to the buttons, and the coat lined in natural linen as I had requested. It is a gorgeous look, but given the weather we experienced, I opted to use it for evening wear though it is appropriate for less formal uses. Instead, I went into battle in a used natural linen coat I picked up last June at Rock Ford, and was I glad to have it with temperatures in the mid to high 90s and relative humidity upwards of 75%!
Our hosts were Mitch Lee as Col. Commandant and the 1st New York Regt. (Continental), shown here at left along with General Herkimer on horseback. My hat is off to them for putting together a successful and in some respects unique experience under such challenging conditions.
For one thing, the order of battle initially seemed to be madness, with untried commanders promoted from the ranks to lead mixed companies of units from the deep south to the midwest to Canada who had never served together before. It proved to be the work of a mad genius in the case of the 4th Company (David Skorka's) of Klock's 2nd Regiment, for I have seldom made so many good friends or been in a group that performed so well together on and off the field.
The 2nd New Jersey under veteran NCO and now Captain David Skorka fielded three muskets and a musician (Chuck Beale, Adam Young and myself with William Crawford as our drummer). The 2nd NJ were in the first platoon with 2 fine men from the Hillsboro (NC) District Militia and three members of the Wisconsin-based 4th MA with Terry Chatfield acting as Sgt. along with Michael Tapavica and Nicole Dickman as Debora Sampson in the flesh. The other platoon was lead by Chase Paterson acting as Sgt. with half a dozen of his fellows from Ontario who field as a light company of the 2nd CT when playing at RevWar. This company was capably of firing on the spot, extending the line for light infantry fighting, and performed with great elan and distinction in all three of our engagements during the weekend and I am now friends on Facebook with the majority of them (the photo of our company in column is a detail from one taken by Lisa Gambacorta of the 1st NY).
The opening engagement was a reenactor-only affair that took place before the public were admitted to the site. We mustered in what was already proving to be an extremely warm morning at 8:30 and formed up as 4 regiments of Tryon County (NY) Militia to represent the relief column that was heading to Fort Stanwix to blunt St. Leger's thrust down the Mohawk to join up with Burgoyne's Army. General Herkimer was harangued by his officers for his reluctance to march through heavily wooded country the last few miles to the fort due to the large number of hostile Iroquois that could be waiting in ambush. Against his better judgement and in the face of accusations of cowardice he ordered the army to wheel from line into column and lead us out of the valley where we were encamped and up to a high ridged and the entrance to a deep and forested ravine that we subsequently entered in a column just two files wide. It was eerie as the idle talk fell away and the only sounds were the rustle of the marching soldiers and the occasional clink of a tin cup or stray drum beat. We knew they were there, on either side of us, and paused from time to time facing back to back away from the column. We did see a few heads and shoulders watching us in the gloom, but whether it was our native allies or the enemy was not fully resolved until a single shot rang out from the right and then a general engagement began.
Skorka's 4th Company faced left and fired several volley's at the ridge above us, though it was unclear there there was much firing coming back at us from that quarter although we could see loyalist units in the road ahead firing directly on our column. We advanced toward the embankment in open order firing on the spot by platoons, and then saw movement from the left that could have been militia from the enemy or our column. We were urged to climb the hill by a man in a gray frock coat who proved to Captain Bob Allegretto in militia mufti who urged us to support his company that was in danger of being cut off as it worked along our flank.
The 2nd CT needed no further urging, and I being near them moved up as well to gain the ridge, followed shortly by the rest of our company. We found a force of 4th New Jersey Loyalist greenjackets to our front, and Captain Bull's war party on our flank and rear, so we took on the greens back to back with Allegretto's men and held our ground firing from cover. I took a hit to the arm midway through the fight and was adamant that, however things transpired, I was not to be left behind to the scalping knives of the foe. Those down in the ravine had it worse than those who fought upslope to engage our attackers. Our aggressiveness bought us time but when the ceasefire was called it was not yet clear whether we could hold them off much longer or were fated to be pushed back to the embankment or overrun.
It was a long, hot march back to camp, and once we had replenished our water I announced that whether or not we were campaigning light without a dining fly, we needed shade and I was going to construct a brush arbor. I took out my new fascine knife and was joined by Adam Young with a beautiful forged tomahawk and Chuck Beale with an ax. Together we felled several ash saplings and fashioned 9 poles from their stems, We dragged them back to our camp and used a spade and many broken wooden tent staves to shim them into place.
While busily employed at this task, my fascine knife blade suddenly parted company with its handle, narrowly grazing my arm as it flew back after a cutting stroke with the back blade. Up to this point, the curved cutting side had performed brilliantly, but on closer examination I found the tang did not extend far enough into the handle to absorb the stress of a chopping blow on the back edge. The excellent craftsman who made this knife promptly agreed to fix it for me at no cost and to extend the tang and add at least one more pin and a hickory handle, and I look forward to having it back in good working order in a couple of weeks.
In any event, we continued to work in the oppressive heat and humidity to erect our brush arbor, and everyone in the 2nd NJ camp including Fallon Sarafin and Lauren Curtis Skorka who had prepared a nourishing split pea soup for our noon repast helped to complete it. The resulting arbor was a life saver, and although it was neither plumb nor able to withstand the strong winds that came through after midnight, it was an authentic solution to the problem of finding shade in camp and became a welcome spot for us and others in the 4th company to shelter that afternoon before the next fight.
Our next fight was loosely based on the Battle of Freeman's Farm during the Saratoga Campaign, and for this we took the field as regulars though still in our lightest clothing. I still wore my linen coat but took my bayonet along in place of my fascine knife. I was also very glad to have my handmade brown wool felt fantail hat by Morgan Shea of Blackleaf Leather and Hats as it provided good shade. We were meant to depict Learned's Brigade, and marched in column up to the ridge but then turned right, passing the ruins of the estate's Gelston Castle that had been destroyed some time ago by fire. We also discovered that the public had been enjoying such delicacies as corn dogs and ice cream from vendors located in this vicinity, and sorely wished they accepted Continental script as we marched by. We proceeded down the trail, with one flanking company driving back a small force of Highlanders we found on the road. Finally, we turned into a field, where the 4th Company was positioned at the right wheel of Jim Stinson's artillery piece. He and his gunners engaged in a duel with an enemy field piece across a field of chest-high grass while we stood in support. We could see several grenadier companies on the enemy right, but nothing to our front at the center, and shortly we were order forward into the grass to flush out whatever may have been lurking there.
This proved to be a very strong force that rose up from behind a swale as we advanced, and included many of the line companies of the enemy army including (based on prisoners and casualties taken) the 43rd Rgt. of foot, the Royal Marines and the 1st NJV. They moved aggressively toward us, but Skorka's 4th Company performed prodigies and gave them one crisp volley after another by platoons and altogether while the rest of our regiment started to roll up the enemy's left flank. After a brief parley to remove yet another heat casualty (there were over a dozen that day) and a brief, taunting chorus of "Skorka's Raiders" just in case any of our friends the Grenadiers were in earshot, the fighting resumed and we drove the enemy from the field. It was one of the sharpest, fasted, most well executed battles I have yet experienced, and it forged our company into a singular unit rather than an amalgamation of unfamiliar ones. We were truly the lads and lass of the company Captain S. (The photo at left is by Terry Chatfield of the 4th MA).
That evening I put on my new finery and my black cocked hat and went with Captain Skorka and some of our fellows to meet our now quite friendly adversaries in John Van Vliet's grenadier company of the 35th Regt. of Foot. All has been well forgiven since the epic encounter in the wee hours of morning last year at Wyoming that has now become the stuff of legend, and we were treated to a splendid table and a platter of bangers and mash courtesy of the errant Batman Pve. McCamanaugh and the good lady Ruth. The men and women of the 35th are fine adversaries but even finer friends, and there was much song and good cheer all around until after sunset when we departed to seek refreshment at the evening's regularly scheduled jollification where there was still more drink and song, including a reprise of the Ballad of Skorka's raiders. My night ended at the dining fly of the German Regiment of our army, singing Scottish murder ballads and Thomas Paine's Liberty Tree before turning in.
The dawn broke with a strong, cooler wind though still very humid and with ominous predictions of rain and hail. It was determined that there would be just one battle that day instead of two (though I understand this decision was not fully understood by some units), and that we would be allowed to break down and pack much of our gear and camp if we moved our vehicles to the side before the public arrived. I left my tent standing but got the rest of my gear stowed. Usually on a Sunday the numbers are smaller than the previous day, but even with bad weather in the offing our company was only down by one man and there were plenty left on both sides to take the field.
This last fight was a "what if" scenario, and played out as an assault and defense on the besieged fort Stanwix. As the 2nd CT put on their "pretty hats", Col. Lee told Capt. Skorka that he would soon see why his company included Light Infantry. We went to the top of the ridge and our company was detached to protect a two gun battery with a panoramic view of the action. There was a long, sloping field below teeming with the enemy, and a sharp fight developing far beyond and off in the woods below as well. Despite my best efforts at cleaning my gun, it was so fouled by the humidity that it refused to fire, so after half a dozen volleys I became a casualty, and therefore a spectator, up on the ridge beside the guns where I enjoyed the show as a light rain began to fall. You can get a brief glimpse of what I saw in this clip I posted on Youtube. The rest of the company fought in open order, firing from the ridge and engaging the enemy as it charged and counter charged until just Captain Skorka and 4 diehards from the 2nd CT remained.
(The following two photographs were taken by Terry Chatfield of the 4th MA)
We marched back to camp in a light rain with our muskets at secure arms to protect the locks, and a short while later we were bidding goodbye to our new comrades and heading back to our lives in the modern world. It took me three hours of patient cleaning to get my musket back in order, but that was a smal price to pay for an experience that I am proud to have shared with such fine fellows. The level of professionalism, of good will despite adversity, and of ready friendship made the weekend spectacular and a grand success rather than a miserable disaster which could otherwise have been the result.
Huzzah for the 1st NY for giving us this opportunity!
Huzzah for the 2nd NJ for welcoming a kissing cousin of the 1st into their ranks as a true member of the "sloppy seconds" (even if he is too great a clothes horse and not yet sloppy enough to meet their standards).
Huzzah for the 2nd CT, the 4th MA, the Hillsboro Militia, and the many friends I now have in these units.
Huzzah for the 4th Company and the irrepressible Captain S!
(Photo credits from left to right below as follows - 1st picture by Jennie Sanders, next 2 pictures by Janice E. Smith;next picture by Kimberly Griffith; next picture by Terry Chatfied; and those after that by me).