On this day in 1777, 800 of Patriot General Nicholas Herkimer’s militiamen from Tryon, County, New York, are ambushed as they attempt to relieve Fort Stanwix (now Rome, New York), which was occupied by the British. Herkimer was mortally wounded during the ensuing fight and died 10 days later.
Herkimer hailed from a Palatinate German community in the Mohawk River Valley of New York and had gained experience as a militia captain during the Seven Years’ War. He led the Tryon County Committee of Safety beginning in 1775 and later added a post as colonel of the county militia to his responsibilities. After independence, he became a brigadier general in the New York state militia.
When Herkimer learned that the British had taken Fort Stanwix in July 1777, he called the largely immigrant German county militia to gather at Fort Dayton (now Herkimer, New York), to begin the 40-mile westward march to the besieged Stanwix. On August 6, with the Patriots still en route to Fort Stanwix, a mixed party of British regulars and Mohawk Indians launched the ambush known as the Battle of Oriskany, during which Herkimer was wounded and his horse was shot.
As depicted in a painting by F.C. Yohn, Herkimer is reputed to have propped himself against a tree, lit a pipe and rallied his men to avoid a panicked retreat. When they departed the field, they transported Herkimer to his home, where he endured the amputation of his leg, only to die of complications from the operation on August 16, 1777, at age 49. His home in what is now Danube, New York, is a state historic park and the town of Herkimer and Herkimer County, New York, were named in his memory.