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Marker in Honor of Sullivan Expedition
Wyalusing Borough Cemetery
Donated by Daughters of the American Revolution in 1914
Source: Wyalusing Rocket, July 29, 2004

Remembering Sullivan's March through Region 225 Years Ago - by Pete Hardenstine - 7/29/2004
Wyalusing Rocket, Wyalusing, PA

In the spring of 1779, George Washington faced a dilemma.
While his Continental Army kept watch over the main British force based in New York City, he was forced to deal with the Indian and Tory threat to his rear.
On July 3, 1778, an enemy force of approximately 1,000 Iroquois and Tories under the command of Major John Butler culminated a summer of terror along the North Branch of the Susquehanna River with an assault on the fertile Wyoming Valley.
The Wyoming Valley Massacre claimed an estimated 160 to 320 lives
Washington’s solution was to split his force, sending nearly a third of his tiny army on a punitive raid into Iroquois country.
The expedition, under the command of Gen. John Sullivan, left its mark on Wyoming and Bradford counties as well as the Finger Lakes region where the force waged a scorched-earth attack against the Iroquois homeland.
Sullivan’s March began in Wilkes-Barre on July 31, 1779—225 years ago.

 


Susquehanna River
Wyalusing Rocks Lookout on Left
Along Route Taken by Sullivan's March
Source: Aerial Photograph Taken by Lyle Rockwell
November 12, 2010

 

Frontier under Siege
In the summer of 1778, the British army, which had spent the previous winter encamped in Philadelphia, marched across New Jersey to return to New York.
A hard-fought battle with Washington’s army at Monmouth, NJ, during the march convinced the British leadership that the Continental army was dramatically improved despite its hard winter at Valley Forge.
With its main force bottled up in New York, the British government sought to exploit a perceived Patriot weakness.
The frontier to Washington’s rear was vulnerable to Indian raids, especially in the northern Susquehanna River valley.
From its base in Fort Niagara, the British encouraged the Iroquois Confederation to assault the vulnerable settlements.
At the least, the Indian raids would slow the flow of foodstuffs from the rich agricultural country to Washington’s army.
Urged to assault people of “every age, sex and condition,” the Iroquois were willing allies of the British.
As early as January 1778, the Indian threat became obvious in what is now Bradford County.
Lemuel Fitch of Standing Stone was kidnapped from his home that month and eventually died in captivity near Niagara.
At Wyalusing, Amos York was taken captive in February, and Nathan Kingsley was kidnapped in March.
In late March, Col. Dorrance and a force of 150 men arrived from the Wyoming Valley to evacuate the settlers in the Wyalusing area.

On May 20, a large Indian raid struck Wysox.

In June, a force of 400 Indians and 400 Tories under Butler departed Tioga, the current site of Athens, and headed downriver with its sights set on the Wyoming Valley.
This group was reinforced by 200 Seneca warriors near the mouth of Bowman’s Creek.

On June 30, the raiders fought a skirmish with a party from Fort Jenkins.

On July 3, Butler demanded the surrender of all forts, Continental soldiers and stores in the Valley.

A Patriot force instead moved out to engage the enemy, but was routed.
Many of the captives were brutally murdered in captivity by the Iroquois leader Queen Esther.
In the aftermath, Butler’s Indians claimed taking 227 scalps, while Col. Nathan Denison of the Connecticut militia reported 301 dead.
While Butler and his main force returned victorious upriver on July 8, the last of the settlers in the Wyoming Valley headed for safety by July 18.

In September, Col. Thomas Hartley and 200 men led a raid from Fort Muncy up the Sheshequin Trail to take the fight to the Indians.
After a skirmish near Canton, Hartley reached current day Ulster where he destroyed Queen Esther’s village.
Retiring down the Susquehanna, Hartley fought off an assault on Indian Hill on Sept. 29. He lost four who were killed and had 10 soldiers injured in the attack.



The Plan

With his rear, including his vital supply sources, threatened, Washington decided to act against the Indian and Tory threat.
Early in 1779, he developed a plan to take the fight to the Iroquois and, if all went well, force the British at Niagara to use their vital supplies to keep their Indian allies over the coming winter.
Giving the assignment to Gen. Sullivan, a veteran commander from New Hampshire, Washington’s orders were clear.
“The expedition you are appointed to command is directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and preventing their planting more…”
Sullivan was to gather 11 regiments at Easton, march across the Poconos to Wilkes-Barre and move up the Susquehanna to Tioga.
Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Gen. James Clinton was to bring five regiments downriver from Otsego Lake (modern day Cooperstown) and meet Sullivan’s main force at Tioga.

Out west, a single regiment under Col. Daniel Broadhead was to advance from Fort Pitt up the Allegheny River and, if possible, to meet up with Sullivan’s force.
In all, nearly a third of Washington’s army would be detached for the expedition.

Sullivan arrived at Easton on May 7, but the logistics of gathering and supplying such a large force on a wilderness march forced a lengthy delay.
It wasn’t until June 23, when a road had been completed over the Poconos, that Sullivan’s force departed Easton for Wilkes-Barre.



Sullivan’s March

On July 31, Sullivan was finally ready.
A force of 2,300 men, eight artillery pieces, 1,200 pack horses, approximately 800 cattle and 120 boats pushed off from Wilkes-Barre.
Col. Thomas Proctor commanded the flotilla of boats.
Three brigades, commanded by generals Edward Hand, William Maxwell and Enoch Poor, made up the force, along with Proctor’s artillery regiment that included two six-pounder cannon, four three-pounders and a pair of howitzers.
The Pennsylvanians, under Hand, was the vanguard for the advance along the east bank of the Susquehanna, usually staying a mile ahead of the main body.
Maxwell’s New Jersey brigade advanced along the right flank, while Poor’s brigade of New Hampshiremen and Massachusettsmen held the left flank.
A small group of 60 men under Capt. William Gifford advanced up the west side of the river.
The large force, encumbered by its huge supply train, moved slowly up the river.

By Aug. 3, it reached the mouth of the Tunkhannock Creek. On Aug. 4, it arrived at the Vanderlip and Williamson farms near current day Black Walnut.

 
A marker, presented by the Daughters of the American Revolution, stands at the corner of the Wyalusing Cemetery [Editor's Note: See the text on the plaque pictured at the end of this page]. Two soldiers from Gen. John Sullivan’s 1779 expedition are believed to be buried somewhere in the immediate area.

With Indian and Tory raids threatening the Pennsylvania and New York frontiers, Gen. George Washington ordered Gen. John Sullivan to organize a force to move up the Susquehanna River from the Wyoming Valley into the Iroquois homeland in New York to wage a scorched earth campaign.
Sullivan’s force departed Wilkes-Barre on July 31, 1779 and slowly moved up the valley, reaching Black Walnut on Aug. 4.
The next day, the force arrived at Wyalusing where it camped until Aug. 8.
Sgt. Martin Johnson of the 2nd New Jersey regiment died on Aug. 5 at Wyalusing. The body of a soldier from Gen. Phillip Van Cortlandt’s regiment who had died at Black Walnut was brought up to Wyalusing and buried along with Johnson near the Kingsley home.
The exact location of the burial sites is unknown, but it is believed to be somewhere in or near the current Wyalusing cemetery.
A hard storm forced Sullivan’s troops to remain in Wyalusing an extra day before resuming the march north.

 


Susquehanna River
Just North of Towanda, Bradford County
Route 220 on Left
Along Route Taken by Sullivan's March
Source: Aerial Photograph Taken by Lyle Rockwell
November 12, 2010

 

Upriver to Tioga
Sullivan advanced to Standing Stone on Aug. 8 where legend says that soldiers fired a cannon at the stone in the river that gave the community its name.
After a stop at Wysox, the army reached Sheshequin on Aug. 9.
That day, Col. Thomas Proctor took a small force across the river to destroy an Indian village—Newychaannick—at the mouth of Sugar Creek. Twenty log homes were destroyed in the raid.

On Aug. 11, the force reached Tioga where it began constructing Fort Sullivan which would serve as a base of operations.
While waiting for Gen. James Clinton to arrive from Otsego Lake, NY, with five more regiments of Continental troops, Sullivan sent a force to Chemung where after a brisk fight that resulted in 20 American casualties, including seven deaths, an Indian village was destroyed.

On Aug. 22, Clinton finally reached Tioga. Clinton’s force, combined with Sullivan’s, meant that a third of Washington’s Continental Army was poised to strike at the Indian-Tory threat.

Four days later, 4,000 troops, 1,000 horses and nine artillery pieces departed Fort Sullivan, heading up the Chemung River.
A force of 250 soldiers, along with a number of women and children who had accompanied the march from Wilkes-Barre, stayed to defend the fort.



Battle of Newtown

On Aug. 29, Sullivan’s force faced its largest resistance yet—a 700-man body commanded by Tory commander John Butler and Chief Joseph Brant, an Iroquois leader.
The 400 Indians and 300 Tory Rangers had erected a breastwork at Newtown, an Indian village just east of present day Elmira on the eastern shore of the Chemung River.
While Gen. Edward Hand’s infantry took up position in front of the breastwork, Sullivan brought up Proctor’s artillery.
A large hill to the right overlooked the breastwork.
Sullivan detached Gen. Enoch Poor’s and Clinton’s brigades on a flanking movement to capture the hill. His intention was to coordinate the assault so that Hand’s frontal attack and the flanking movement would strike the enemy position at the same time as the artillery opened fire.
The flanking assault was delayed by swampy ground and stubborn resistance from Indians on the hill.
Nevertheless, Proctor’s artillery scared off many of the Indians, while the final attack, uncoordinated as it was, drove off the rest of the enemy forces.
Sullivan lost four dead and 39 wounded in the battle.
Only 11 Indians were found dead, while Butler reported two Tories killed.


Scorched Earth
The victory ended all formal resistance to Sullivan’s expedition.
Sending his artillery back to Fort Sullivan to lighten his supply train, Sullivan put his force on reduced rations for the ensuing raid into the Iroquois heartland.
Moving up the east side of Seneca Lake, Sullivan’s men burned crops and destroyed Iroquois villages at will.

By Sept. 7, they reached the site of present day Geneva.
Advancing into the Genesee Valley, Sullivan detached a small advance force under Lt. Thomas Boyd to scout for enemy forces.

On Sept. 13, Boyd’s force stumbled into a group of 600 Indians and Tories lying in wait for Sullivan’s main body. Only nine of the 26-man party survived the attack, but Sullivan was alerted and Butler’s force pulled back to Fort Niagara.

On Sept. 30, Sullivan’s force returned to Tioga to much celebration.

Four days later, Fort Sullivan was destroyed and the force departed Tioga.
After camping at Wysox, most of the force loaded itself on boats and made quick time downriver to Wyoming where it landed on Oct. 7.



Aftermath

Sullivan reported that 40 Indian villages had been burned. The expedition cut down orchards, destroyed corn crops in the field and grain stores.
By Sullivan’s estimate, over 160,000 bushels of corn were destroyed
The Iroquois—an estimated 5,000—were forced to rely on their British allies at Niagara for shelter and food during the winter of 1779-80.
The expedition didn’t stop the Indian raids on the frontier, but the number and intensity of the attacks were greatly reduced.
Some historians have argued that the Sullivan Expedition wasn’t as successful as it could have been.
Part of Washington’s original plan had opened the door for Sullivan to advance to Fort Niagara and eliminate that post as a source of encouragement and supply for the raiders.
Joseph R. Fischer in his work, A Well-Executed Failure, an analysis of the Sullivan Campaign, bluntly states that while the march lessened the Indian threat, the seizure of Fort Niagara would have been the only way to safeguard the frontier.
Nevertheless, a grateful Continental Congress voted a resolution thanking the officers and men for their efforts.
Two years later, Washington’s army accepted the British surrender at Yorktown that effectively ended the Revolutionary War.
Sullivan’s expedition bought Washington valuable time and, in the long run, provided this area with much of its rich history.
 
Contributed by Carol Hoose Brotzman
August 2006


You can learn more about the overall conflict between the Pennsylvania settlers and the combined British and Iroquois forces at Sullivan Clinton Campaign: Then and Now.

 


Plaque on Sullivan Marker
Wyalusing Borough Cemetery
Donated by Daughters of the American Revolution
Photo Courtesy of Carol Brotzman

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