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The Battle of Oriskany was a small but important battle early on in the American War of Independence. It was a significant engagement of the Saratoga campaign that culminated with the disastrous (for the British) defeat and surrender of the British army. Some consider the Battle of Oriskany to be a turning point in the war and helped set the stage for the Battle of Saratoga.

Today the battlefield is preserved in the Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site. It is an important stop for anyone retracing the decisive Saratoga campaign in Upstate New York. The American War of Independence would be eventually settled with the surrender of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis' army at Yorktown (which is an important Colonial Historical Park today).

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Clash Of The Patriot Militia, Loyalists, & Allied Indians

The British force was made up of Loyalists and several hundred Indian allies from several Indian nations as well as some Hessians (it lacked regular British soldiers). They ambushed an American party that was on its way to relieve the siege of Fort Stanwix.

  • Date: August 6, 1777
  • Outcome: Indecisive

The American force numbered around 800 men for the Tryon County militia and some 60 Oneida warriors (thus, it was a battle without British and Continental regulars). The Oneidas were the only Haudenosaunee nation to side with the Americans.

  • Patriot Commander: Militia General Nicholas Herkimer
  • Loyalist Commanders: Sir John Johnson and Col. John Butler
  • British Allied Indian Commander: Mohawk Joseph Brant

As the battle was mostly between Patriots, Loyalists, and allied Indians, it is possible to view the battle as representative of some civil war aspects of the Revolutionary War. The distinction between the British and Americans was not always clear-cut.

Combatants' Strength:

  • American Strength: 800 Militiamen and 60 Allied Oneida Warriors
  • British Strength: 500 Loyalists, Allied Indians, & Hessians

While the forces were not large, the percentage causality figures of them were very high.

Related: Revolutionary War Era Sites in Boston You Didn't Know About

Outcome & One Of The Revolutionary War's Most Deadly Battles

The ambush was deadly, with the Patriots losing suffering around 451 casualties (including their commander) and the British and Indians losing around 150 dead and wounded. Having suffered more than half of the force as dead and wounded, the militia retreated back to Fort Dayton.

The outcome of the battle was ambiguous. Despite the brutal hand-to-hand combat, the Loyalist force was forced to withdraw. The Loyalist success in the ambush was partly offset by a damaging sortie from Fort Stanwix that sacked the Loyalist camps and disheartened the allied Indians.

  • American Losses: 385 Killed, 50 Wounded, 30 Captured
  • British Losses: 7 Killed, 21 Wounded/Missing/Captured
  • British Allied Indians: 65 Killed or Wounded

The Battle of Oriskany is known as one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution (these battles were on a much smaller scale than the massive and bloody battles of the Civil War). Ominous foreshadowing to the Battle of Gettysburg that would claim around 50,000 casualties, including around 8,000 dead.

Related: Guide To New England's Most Important Revolutionary War Sites

Visiting The Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site Today

Today the site is marked by the Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site. The site is located in Oneida County in Upstate New York. It is just south of Rome, New York, where a major attraction is the reconstructed Fort Stanwix.

There is an obelisk and some plaques that mark the battlefield and explain what happened and the participants in it. Visit the park at any time of the year, but come in the summer season to visit the site's visitor center.

The monument was dedicated in 1884 and has been designated a New York State historic site since 1957 and a National Historic Landmark since 1963.

  • Address: 7801 State Route 69 Oriskany, NY
  • Visitor Center Opening Hours: 10.00 am to 4.00 (7 Days a Week)
  • Visitor Center Season: April 1 to October 31
  • Admission Fee: Free

There are plenty of other attractions in the area to learn about the region's colonial, revolutionary, and other histories. Local attractions include Oriskany Village Museum (2.6 miles away), Rome Historical Society (4.9 miles away), Fort Stanwix National Monument (5 miles away), Old Fort Schuyler/Bagg's Tavern (8.9 miles away), and Steuben Memorial State Historic Site (13 miles away).

Visiting the Oriskany State Historic Site is best done as part of a larger tour of the Upstate New York Revolutionary War battlefields and points of interest.