Friday, July 3, 2009

British drum an object of storied history

The drum captured from the British on Aug. 22, 1777, is preserved at the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs. (Times Union)

This article reprinted from:

British drum an object of storied history
June 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm by Warren Roberts
(Distinguished Teaching Professor, University at Albany)

There is a story behind the British drum that was shown with Bruce W. Dearstyne’s May 31 Perspective article on the importance of New York history. It was left behind by a British army that was within 150 yards of Fort Stanwix in 1777 when a strange episode forced it to retreat.

The army under Barrimore St. Leger was moving down the Mohawk corridor to Albany, where it was to join the army of Gen. John Burgoyne that was moving down the Champlain-Hudson corridor. Neither army made it to Albany.

No one played a more important role in the repulsion of one British army and the defeat of the other than Benedict Arnold. He headed up the Mohawk with 1,200 men, to stop the much larger force of British regulars and Indians laying siege to Fort Stanwix.

His ingenious plan was for a somewhat daft distant cousin of Philip Schuyler, Hon Yost Schuyler, who in moments of excitement spoke in tongues and was regarded by Indians as a holy man, to meet with Mohawk Indians allied with the British.

He made his way to St. Leger’s camp and told the Indians about an army moving up the Mohawk. When asked how large it was, he rolled his eyes and looked upward, as if there were more men than leaves in the trees above. The Indians took flight, forcing the British army to abandon the siege of Fort Stanwix.

Having repulsed one British army, Arnold joined the battle with Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga.

The stunning American victory there was the turning point of the war. It persuaded France to support the American cause, a move that resulted in a fiscal crisis that led directly to the French Revolution. Some historians consider the Battle of Saratoga, fought along the Hudson River, the most important battle of the last thousand years; it saved the American Revolution and led to the French Revolution.

It is useful to keep this in mind as we celebrate the 1609 discovery of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. The drum shown with Dearstyne’s article is a physical object that is part of a New York story that is of no small historical importance.

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