The Battle of Chemung is little known, but it was a crucial engagement in the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. It was the first conflict between Continental troops under Gen. Sullivan and it directly led to the subsequent Battle of Newtown. These battles and the overall Sullivan-Clinton Campaign were crucial for the Continental war effort as they led to the fracture of the British, Loyalist, and their Native American allies on the New York Frontier lessening the threats and distractions associated with the almost constant raiding of American settlements. The Battle of Chemung set the stage for the British and their allies' collapse at the Battle of Newtown and the rest of the campaign. Although more Continentals died in the Battle of Chemung, it showed their ability to react and repel the frontier tactics of Butler's Rangers and his Native American allies.
To better understand the Battle of Chemung's effect on the Sullivan-Clinton campaign, researchers at the Public Archaeology Facility of Binghamton University and Cornell University established the Chemung Battlefield Archeological Project. The Chemung Battlefield Archeological Project is a collaborative project involving the Public Archaeology Facility at Binghamton University, researchers from Cornell University, and Native American historians. The project is an addition to the Newtown Battlefield Archeological Project. The goal for both projects is to develop a long term preservation plan protecting the integrity and overall landscapes for both battlefields. The initial steps for this have already been made for the Newtown Battlefield (PAF Newtown Project 2010). For the Chemung Battlefield, a similar historical research study and field survey was conducted. The results of this study are presented here. The American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) has funded the initial steps of this project detailed in this report.
The Chemung Battlefield was not considered as part of the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program's 2007 Revolutionary War and War of 1812 study (NPS 2007). The study did recognize the nearby Newtown Battlefield (ABPP Number NY 230). The report seems to consolidate the Newtown and Chemung battlefields into the overall Newtown Battlefield (NPS 2007: 73, 87, 95, and 116). This has often occurred in histories of the Revolutionary War given the spatial overlap and short amount of time between the two battles. General Sullivan marched his troops into the Chemung Valley for the Battle of Chemung on August 13, 1779. Sixteen days later, General Sullivan returned to the Chemung Valley with Brigadier General Clinton's forces to fight the Battle of Newtown. As both battles occurred in the Chemung Valley, they shared the same landscape and many of the same defining features. These features include the Native American trail, Narrow Hill, the area of the Village of New Chemung, the Chemung Ambuscade, and the Swamp (See Chapter 6 and PAF 2010). Although the two battles occupied a similar space, they were very different battles from the participants to the combatants' use of the battles' defining features. Each battlefield must be addressed in terms of its own history, context, and significance.
Local community residents and landowners pressed for recognition of the separate contexts for these two battles. Community members supported the recognition of the Newtown Battlefield as a National Historic Landmark, but felt the Battle of Chemung also merited such recognition. Based on the Public Archaeology Facility's previous Newtown study (PAF 2010), these landowners asked the Public Archaeology Facility to help them achieve this goal of recognition. This research project is an outgrowth of this collaboration of landowners and the Public Archaeology Facility and its colleagues. The goal of this study is to conduct an intensive historic and mapping study into the Battle of Chemung in order to get the Chemung battlefield list on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service American Battlefield Program's awarding of the grant for this study has initiated the recognition of the significance of the Chemung Battlefield. The placement of the Chemung Battlefield on the National Register will help to ensure its national recognition.
As a first step on a path to preservation for the battlefield, this project included detailed documentary research to identify the defining features related to the Battle of Chemung, and project researchers conducted a KOCOA (Key Terrain, Observation, Cover/Concealment, Obstruction, and Avenue of Approach/Retreat) analysis of the battlefield's terrain. The results of the historical research and field survey presented in this report suggest that although some defining features have been disturbed or destroyed, the general landscape has good integrity. Future field surveys and ground truthing are proposed to refine the boundaries of the battlefield and its defining features. It is important to note that this study has included historic and archival research as well as field mapping. No archeological survey or excavation occurred as part of this research. Chapter 8 discusses research questions and defines a research design for future archaeological testing.
1.1 Overview of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign and the Battle of Chemung
The Sullivan-Clinton campaign was pivotal to the outcome of the American Revolution. Throughout 1778 and 1779, Native American warriors allied with the British raided American settlements throughout the New York and Pennsylvania frontier. In response, local militia and American settlers raided Native American villages. The nature of these raids and fighting was violent. Villages, settlements, and farms were burned and pillaged. Some residents were left homeless, while others were killed. The Wyoming Massacre, Cherry Valley Massacre, and Colonel Van Schaick's attack on Onondaga villages were some of the most violent episodes of frontier combat. The fighting reflected a conflict broader than the context of the American Revolution. Some of the raids were a reaction to illegal white settlements on Native American lands that were in direct violation of the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Beyond this transgression, the conflict between the British and the fledgling American nation strained alliances with the Haudenosaunee1 (Iroquois) Confederacy and divided loyalties within and between Confederacy Nations. Individual, rather than Confederacy-approved, alliances undermined the position of Haudenosaunee neutrality. The Grand Council decided that the Confederacy would still remain neutral, but those individuals who chose to fight would suffer the consequences of their decision on their own. In the end, the consequences of these decisions were suffered by most Haudenosaunee Nations regardless of the decisions made by others.
Raids and retaliatory violence became a critical threat for New York's Governor George Clinton and the settlers on the frontier. It also became an impediment for the Continental Army. Soldiers often left to defend their homes, and raids destroyed crops and supplies that were meant for the Continental Army. General George Washington launched the Sullivan-Clinton campaign as a means to end the frontier fighting. He ordered Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton to conduct a scorched earth campaign against the British allied Native Americans in the summer of 1779. The campaign was a three prong attack with Gen. Sullivan marching from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, General Clinton coming south from Otsego Lake in New York, and Gen. Broadhead marching across the western frontier from Fort Pitt. Generals Sullivan and Clinton formed the main force in the campaign when they merged at Tioga Point in Pennsylvania, and advanced into Iroquois country burning virtually every village and farm field they encountered.
General Sullivan was the first to reach Tioga Point. His forces established Fort Sullivan as a base of operations for the campaign while waiting for General Clinton. Scouts informed General Sullivan that the British allies were making a stand at the Village of Chemung, but were in a state of confusion. Sullivan saw this as an opportunity to engage the enemy while waiting for Clinton's troops. His strategy was to make a speedy attack on Chemung and so he ordered the healthiest and quickest troops to make the march. They set out the night of August 12, 1779 with limited supplies. After marching throughout the night, the troops arrived at the Village of New Chemung on the morning of August 13th. The village was abandoned. While troops torched the village and the surrounding farm fields, a detachment of troops searched for traces of the escaped villagers. About two miles west of the village, the Continental detachment was ambushed by British allied warriors. The Continentals were able to counter attack and force the warriors to retreat. The Continentals fell back to the remains of New Chemung and then to Fort Sullivan to wait for General Clinton's arrival. During the march and the subsequent fighting, the Continentals saw the area of the Village of Newtown and hints to the defenses being constructed there.
The Battle of Newtown was fought about two weeks after the Battle of Chemung. The core of the battle of Newtown was west of the Chemung Battlefield, but the two battles were in the same valley and as such share the same general landscape. Some of the natural and cultural features, such as the swamp and the Native American trail, were integral to both battles. However, the battles had diverse goals and participants that necessitated the use of different strategies and tactics on both sides. These differences also meant that although the battles shared the same landscape, the combatants used the landscape- specifically the battles' defining features differently.
Before the Sullivan-Clinton campaign, Butler's Rangers and his allied Native American warriors had successfully used a strategy of ambushing the local militia. They used the landscape and their warriors to entrap the local militia and subsequently ambush them. It will be shown in this report that the Native American warriors were attempting to use this same strategy to draw the Continentals into an ambush at the Chemung Ambuscade. However, the larger numbers and training of the main Continental forces, worked against such a strategy. Butler's Rangers and their native allies used a form of this strategy again at the Battle of Newtown and were also met with failure.
Although not totally defeated at Newtown, the British and their Native allies retreated across the Iroquois territory keeping just in front of the Continentals on their way to Fort Niagara. Their defeats at Chemung and Newtown had left the British allies weakened and without a formal plan to retaliate forcing them into a general retreat from their villages. Gen. Sullivan continued his march following the retreating British forces and non-combatant Native Americans fleeing from their destroyed villages. The Continentals left a scorched trail around Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, and west to Genesee Castle. The British Rangers and their Native allies managed one other major attack on the Continentals, this being against a scouting party at Gathtsegwarohare (Groveland). The campaign's advance ended as the Continentals ran low on supplies. This scarcity of resources was minimal when compared to the outcomes experienced by the British allied Iroquois. The destruction of their villages and crops left them with nothing, and they became dependent on the British at Fort Niagara over the winter of 1779-1780. Hundreds, possibly thousands, died during one of the most brutal winters on record.
1.2 Overview of Project Goals
The Battle of Chemung occurred between the present Hamlet of Lowman, New York and the Village of Sayre, Pennsylvania (Figures 1 and 2). The battle was included, but not detailed, in the American Battlefield Protection Program's survey of Revolutionary War Battlefields (NPS 2007). Since the battle has not been formally surveyed or mapped, the main goal of this project is to conduct historical research and field mapping to determine the study area, the core, and the overall boundaries of the battlefield. The core area is that portion of the battlefield that included direct combat or fighting. The study area includes the entire extent of the battlefield. Historic accounts and the presence of related material culture define the battlefield's extent. The study area includes not only the core, but also secondary areas, such as paths of advance, supply lines, observation posts, and paths of retreat- areas that were essential for the fighting of the battle, but might not have been directly part of the fighting. The battlefield's current landscape varies from residential and commercial properties near Sayre, Pennsylvania to agricultural fields at the western end of the battlefield. [text deleted] The remaining features related to the battle are terrain features, which have retained generally good integrity; any cultural features have been demolished or removed over the 230 years since the battle (Figure 16).
The research presented here is an initial step in reviewing the history directly related to the Battle of Chemung, and determining how Continental and British soldiers, as well as Native American warriors, saw the battlefield's landscape and how they used this landscape in their strategies and tactics. The analysis presented here is based on military terrain analysis or a KOCOA system. Such a system has been used by military historians at Gettysburg National Park and the ABPP to help in the interpretation of how battles unfolded. It is an analysis that reflects the concept of landscape as a resource that was used by officers and soldiers in their attempt to gain an advantage in battle, and influence the outcome of an encounter. Maximizing observable areas for oneself and limiting or obstructing the views and advance of the other side is one basis in such a battle strategy.
Figure 1. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
Figure 2. This page/map was intentionally deleted per the requirements of the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470hh) and its implementing regulations (49 FR 1027, Jan. 6, 1984).
For this project, the identification and interpretation of the battle's defining features started by reviewing a sample of the key journals, letters, maps, and other historic documents related to those who fought in the battle. A defining feature is a landscape (swamp, creek, or hill) or cultural feature (structure, road, or trench) that was integral in the fighting and progress of the battle. This research collected information on distances, locations of defining features, and historical context that in turn was applied to the present landscape. Field verification and mapping of defining features provided data on the integrity of these battlefield features. Integrity is influenced by many factors. A battlefield's landscape changes after the fighting ends as farmers return to farming the land, roads and railroads cut through the battlefield, and development encroaches on parts of the battlefield. The comparison of the soldiers' views of space to the current use of space helps to define what remains of the battlefield. The spatial inventory of features and their integrity helps to determine priorities for preservation.
Although the project's primary aim is preservation, the second goal is to provide a more inclusive history of the battle and the Sullivan-Clinton campaign. The Continental's perspective of the battle has been the primary one in the written record. British accounts and especially Native American perspectives have been relegated to a secondary role. The goal of the research conducted for this grant did not privilege one set of documents or sources related to the battle over another. Instead, the intent was to provide equal priority to Continental and British accounts, as well as Native American perspectives on the Campaign and Battle. Battles are not monolithic; they are a conflictive process between multiple sides each with their own goals and views of warfare. Interpreting the battle accurately requires that the research address these multiple perspectives. The inclusion of multiple historical views combined with innovative mapping using a geographic information system (GIS) approach, provides a more integrative and novel approach to understanding the battlefield and its features.
In our path to developing a preservation plan, we have worked to engage with various audiences. We are in continuing discussions with landowners and local preservation groups, such as the Lowman Historical Society and the Residents for the Preservation of Lowman and Chemung on how best to preserve the battlefield and meet the local community's needs. We are also in contact with descendents and descendent communities including Native American groups, and those whose ancestors fought with Continental forces. Some of the descendents are landowners in the area of the battlefield and have a stake in preserving the battlefield. We are also planning to have further public talks at the local historical societies. Given the nature of community in the area, these local historical societies are the best venue to meet with local residents about the history of Chemung and the progress of our research. We also plan to attend the next reenactment of the Battle of Newtown and to attend annually for at least the duration of the project.
The following sections will elaborate on the historical background from several perspectives, summarize the battlefield's defining features using KOCOA analysis, and present a research design that will assist with assessing integrity and development of a preservation plan for the Chemung Battlefield.
Haudenosaunee is the name preferred by Native Americans who are part of the six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.