Benedict Arnold Saves the Day Twice – Continued

OK where were we? Oh yes. General Philip Schuyler is falling back southward through the Hudson Valley before the army of Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, which includes 6,000 British regulars and more than 1,000 auxiliaries.

General Barry St. Leger, with 800 tories and British regulars and more than 1,000 Iroquois warriors has defeated the colonial militia in the Mohawk Valley and threatens to take Schuyler in the rear, so to speak, allowing Burgoyne to link up with General Howe in New York and split the colonies in two.

St. Leger just has to capture Fort Stanwix, whose brave defenders have refused to surrender despite being greatly outnumbered and threatened with massacre by the Indians.

In response to urgent pleas from Schuyler for reinforcements, General Washington has sent one guy, Benedict Arnold, in hopes that he can save the day. Arnold’s heroics are legendary and Washington hopes he can raise enough troops to save Fort Stanwix.

This is all from an article by James Thomas Flexner in the February 1956 edition of American Heritage entitled “How a Madman Heleped Save the Colonies.”

Arnold is having trouble raising troops because the militia of the Mohawk Valley has already been defeated and General St. Leger has issued a warning that the whole valley will be massacred or enslaved unless the fort surrenders.

“The resulting terror was so great,” Flexner writes, “that Arnold, whose name usually worked like magic on militia levies, was able to add only some hundred frontiersmen to the few regulars he led.”

Arnold halted at German Flats (Herkimer, N.Y.) to “await reinforcements from some direction which hope said must exist, even if it was not visible. The crucial reinforcement arrived unheralded and unrecognized, raving and in irons.”

That would be our madman, Hon Yost Schuyler.

Hon Yost Schuyler was actually a distant cousin of the Continental General Philip Schuyler, but his parents had gone to live among the Iroquois. Their son Hon became famous because he was considered mad.

“Rising to strange exaltations, raving in unknown tongues,” Flexner writes, ” he appeared to the Indians to be in special contact with the supernatural powers, a prophet who spoke for the Great Spirit.”

He also made himself useful in other ways. On one occasion that we know of, Hon Yost was called upon to tomahawk two women accused of being witches. A sweet, sensitive, spiritual soul, he was one of the commanders of St. Leger’s Indian auxiliaries.

It turns out that the British had actually held a recruiting rally behind the patriot lines and Hon Yost had been captured. He was tried and convicted of being a spy and sentenced to hang. Then his mother and his brother Nicholas showed up to plead for his life. That’s when Arnold had an idea. I’ll let Flexner tell it:

“Arnold, his light eyes burning with menace from his dark face, asked Hon Yost if he could use his special powers to make St. Leger’s Indians flee. Instantly the shouting ceased and the meeting got down to efficient business. Hon Yost expressed complete confidence in his ability to save Fort Stanwix; Nicholas agreed to remain as a hostage until the result was known.”

Hon Yost borrows a musket and shoots some holes in his clothes to back up his story of a perilous escape from Arnold’s camp, then takes off into the woods. He enlists some friendly Oneidas to help him orchestrate his presentation.

He rushes into a tribal council of the Iroquois, raving loudly and incomprehensibly and pointing to the holes in his clothes. Gradually he begins to describe Arnold’s enormous army, saying they are as numerous as the leaves on the trees. Then one of the Oneidas appears with a belt of wampum from Arnold saying he has no beef with the Indians and will let them depart unharmed — if they desert the British.

Then one after another Oneidas appear “each with a more grievous tale.”

The last one tells of “a talking bird which had croaked from a dead tree that the Indians had better flee before it was too late.” That clinches the deal.

The Iroquois demand a retreat. When St. Leger refuses, they riot and loot the officers’ baggage, seize the rum supply and become, according to St. Leger, “more dreadful than the enemy.”

The Iroquois then attack the British, who flee in panic leaving their artillery, their supplies, their tents, and even their packs.

The defenders of Fort Stanwix, who were “steeling themselves for a last-ditch fight,” are amazed to notice a strange silence over the British lines. Scouts go out and find no one except a bombardier who had fallen asleep. The siege is lifted! The British have been routed by one guy.

This is good news for Arnold, too, because he had resolved to try to relieve the fort with his small force of several hundred men.

Well then Arnold went up and won the Battle of Saratoga, which is a great story in itself. He had been relieved of command by the loathsome General Horatio Gates, who had taken over for Schuyler, but Arnold charged onto the battlefield anyway and led several decisive charges that won the day for the Americans and led to Burgoyne’s surrender.

The victory at Saratoga and the careful manipulations of Benjamin Franklin convinced the French to enter the war on the side of the colonies.

And Hon Yost Schuyler? Well he was released and went back to the British and led several raids on the Mohawk Valley doing what he did best — killing defenseless people.