Monday, June 20, 2011
THE BITTER WOODS
6 August 1777. 800 Mohawk Valley militiamen and Oneida scouts ambushed on their way to lift the siege of Fort Stanwix. Their enemy: Iroquois Indians loyal to the Crown, British and Hessian soldiers, but mostly their Mohawk Valley neighbors. Fellow colonists like themselves; many of them their relatives.
Once the ambush was sprung, the Patriots and their former friends and relatives fought in hand-to-hand combat. One of the bloodiest and most important battles of the American Revolution was fought not 20 miles from my doorstep. And it was fought by many of my own ancestors.
When the Crown forces finally left the field, the Tryon County Militia was no more. Over half their number was killed, wounded or missing. The casualties were such that not a single household in the Mohawk Valley was left unscathed. Every citizen had lost a father, brother, cousin, or an uncle.
You would never know that men died here, or cried out in rage and pain. It is so peaceful; the only sounds that intrude are from the cars speeding down Route 69. Even those modern machines seem a world away from the ground where so many suffered, and where so much blood was shed.
For what did they fight so hard? Independence. Freedom. The idea that this nation should be free from a master an ocean away. To make our own laws and determine our own course.
This summer, we will celebrate the Fourth of July. Time for another picnic or barbecue, maybe? Fine. Please don't forget why we really celebrate. I urge you to visit Oriskany Battlefield. Read up on it. Try to imagine fighting for an ideal so precious, you would be willing to give your life for it.