The Hall Battle
The Battle of Johnstown
By James F. Morrison
This article was written in 1991 and one of many donated by the author to post for the GenWeb project. Due to the length of the article (15 pages in all) it has been divided - the history of the battle (this page), Rosters of Men, Rev. War Pensioners excerpts & Letters to Head- Quarters. They have been separated only for the purpose of keeping web pages relatively short and easy to load. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. appear as they appear in documents transcribed from.
On October 11, 1781, Major John Ross and Captain Walter Butler with twenty-five men from the 8th Regiment, one hundred men from the 34th Regiment, thirty men from the 84th Regiment, 120 men from the Kings Royal Regiment of New York, 150 men from Butlers Rangers, forty men from Captain Leakes Corps., twelve Chasseurs and 130 Indians totaling a force of 607 men left Oswego on their way to the Mohawk Valley.
Major Ross and his men arrived in the Mohawk valley on October 24th, and they attacked and plundered Currytown and took several inhabitants prisoner. Major Ross and his men afterwards headed for Warrensbush (now Town of Florida).
Late that afternoon Colonel Marinus Willett who was in command at Fort Rensselaer on arriving word of this invasion from some of the Currytown settlers, sent messengers to Forts Clyde, Paris and Plank for additional troops while he gathered troops and supplies at Fort Rensselaer.
Major Ross with his detachment arrived a few hours before daylight on October 25th at Warrensbush. At the first ray of sunshine the enemy attacked and burned Warrensbush. About one oclock Ross and his men with great difficulty crossed the Mohawk River which was swollen from the recent heavy rains.
A scouting party from Fort Johnstown under Lieutenant Isaac Saulkill was sent out to find the enemys whereabouts and strength. Saulkill and his men fell in with a party of Ross men near Tribes Hill and Saulkill was killed and the rest dispersed. Ross now headed for Johnstown.
That morning Colonel Willett was joined by Major Abraham Copeman with about seventy-five men from Fort Plank and Fort Clyde. Colonel Willett with his men, wagons and a three pound brass cannon left Fort Rensselaer and crossed the Mohawk River to Caughnawaga where he was joined by men from Fort Paris and Caughnawaga. Colonel Willett was informed that a case of ammunition was lost in the crossing. Willett sent Sergeant William Wallace and William Feeter to Johnstown to reconnoiter the enemys movements.
Captain John Little at Fort Johnstown gathered another scouting party to search for the enemy. Captain Little with Lieutenant Zepheniah Batcheler, Sergeant John Eikler, Sergeant Henry Shaw, Corporal Jacob Shew, Privates John Brothers, Peter Yost Jr., David and John Moyer with four others left the fort in search of the enemy. Sergeant Wallace and Feeter joined Little and the scouting party shortly after they left the fort.
Shortly after the scouting party left the fort, Major Ross and his men appeared before the fort. Stephen Shew then on sentry duty fired at them and the men in the fort turned out to defend it. After a few minutes of musket and cannon fire the enemy retreated from the fort. Stephen Shew, Jacob Covenhoven, Jeremiah Crowley, Isaac and Jeremiah Mason with several others pursued the enemy through the Village of Johnstown when they were joined by Captain Little and the scouting party. Captain Little ordered the garrison back to the fort while he and his men would follow the enemy. Wallace went to give Willett the intelligence of Ross movement.
Wallace met Colonel Willett about a mile from Johnstown and informed him of the enemys movements. Willett with his men marched to Fort Johnstown and arrived there a few minutes after the garrison returned. Jeremiah Crowley, Jacob Covenhoven, Isaac and Jeremiah Mason with a few others joined Willett making his force 412 men and they left Fort Johnstown with only eleven men to guard it.
Colonel Willett sent major Andrew Fink with about fifty men to reinforce Captain Little and his party. Captain Little was hit in the right shoulder and the scouting party with their wounded Captain took to the woods. Here another brief exchange of musket fire took place and Sergeant Eikler was killed. Major Fink and his men now joined the scouting party.
Colonial Willett and his men arrived at the field where the enemy had encamped. Willett and his men now charged the enemy pushing them into the woods. Major Fink with his men and the scouting party finding themselves greatly outnumbered left the woods and joined Colonel Willett just as he arrived on the field. Fink and his men took position at the cannon which was placed on Willetts right wing and under the command of Captain and Rew Moody.
Colonel Willett now sent Major Aaron Rowley with Captain Samuel Clark, Lieutenant Dudley Holdridge, Sergeant William Wallace, Privates Isaac Mason, Enos Morse, Henry Rightmyer, Nathaniel Sherwood, Abram Winston and 140 other men to gain the rear of Ross and hoping that with Ross between they could capture his entire force.
Shortly after Rowley left, Willetts right wing started to retreat and Ross with his men on seeing this took the advantage and charged causing panic in Willetts right wing and now they were in a full fight. Willett desperately tried to regroup his right wing but they did not listen to him. Now the left wing of Willetts command, holding the field alone was soon pressed by Ross now also took flight. Willett with his men retreated back to the Village of Johnstown and they took refuge in St. Johns Church.
Major Fink with his detachment with Captain Andrew Moody with his company of artillerymen with the cannon poured a heavy fire into the left wing of the enemy but Ross now turned his men and charged the cannon. Fink and his men with the artillerymen being outnumbered now also retreated from the field and joined Willett at the church.
Just then Rowley and his men arrived at their position behind the enemy and poured a heavy fire into them. The enemy now turned the cannon around and now fired it at Rowley and his men. Willett at the church hearing the fighting continuing knew that Rowley had reached his position and Willett rallied his men and returned to the field of battle.
Willett and his men charged the cannon and recaptured it but not before the enemy had spiked it with a brass nail in the priming hole and blowing up the ammunition wagon. Willett and his men pressed Ross, and fighting continued until darkness fell on the battlefield and with Ross and his men retreating from the battlefield.
The battle started about four oclock and lasted until darkness fell. The Battle of Johnstown was commonly called by the troops at the battle the Hall Battle or Willetts Battle. Ross had eleven men killed, eleven men wounded and thirty-two men were taken prisoners. Nicholas Herkimer one of the Loyalists captured and the rest of the prisoners were sent to Fort Hunter and from there they were sent to Schenectady. Willett had twelve men killed, twenty-four men wounded and five were taken prisoners.
Major Aaron Rowley, Captain Samuel Clark, Lieutenant Dudley Holdridge, Privates George Hackney, Daniel McVey and Abram Winston were seriously wounded and they were sent to the General Hospital at Albany. Jeremiah Mason with several others gathered the dead and they performed a mass burial for their fallen comrades. Nathaniel Sherwood one of the men wounded at Johnstown died from his wounds on October 27th.
Colonel Willett with his men marched to Fort Dayton where they were reinforced by about 100 men from Schenectady and about sixty Oneida Indians. On October 28th, Willett left the fort in pursuit of Ross. On October 30th, Willett skirmished with the rear guard of the enemy under Captain Walter Butler at West Canada Creek. After about fifteen minutes of fighting the enemy retreated leaving Butler and four other men behind dead. After pursuing them a short distance Willett and his men returned to Fort Rensselaer.
The papers collected by Hon. Thomas Sammons, the Revolutionary patriot, and known as the "Sammons papers" contain an account of the battle of Johnstown by Lieutenant William Wallace. He was the guide who evidently piloted the Tryon County militia detachment, under the command of Major Rowley, to take up their position in the rear of and attack Ross's force from behind while Col. Willett made the frontal attack. Willett's men were defeated but Rowley's soldiers made such a stubborn attack against three times their number that the enemy fled when Willett returned to the attack. It would seem from Wallace's narrative that the victory was entirely due to the regulars and local militia under Major Rowley, who was severely wounded. The date of the Johnstown battle was October 25, 1781.
Col. Willett's force numbered only 416 men and Ross had over 700. Hence Willett resorted to the strategy of an attack in the front and rear at the same time. His forces were evidently about evenly divided, giving about 200 men under Willett and 200 under Rowley. The latter had 60 Massachusetts regulars and about 150 Tryon County militia. Willett attacked Ross in front, evidently before Rowley got up. Greatly outnumbered, Willett's men were driven back to Johnstown shortly after which Rowley attacked Ross in the rear with great success and when Willett returned to the fight the enemy fled to the woods and the American victory of Johnstown was complete. After Willett was reinforced in Johnstown village by a party of Tryon militia, it is evident that over half of his force, which then numbered 500, were Mohawk Valley militiamen.
Lieut. Wallace's account is a most interesting document relative to this important valley campaign and it is seemingly the best description of the Johnstown Battle that has come under the notice of the editor of this work (James F. Morrison). It was originally published in the Mohawk Valley Democrat of Fonda, and is here reprinted in full, as follows:
MOHAWK VALLEY DEMOCRAT, JULY 10, 1913
"Col. Willett, having sent Rowley on with the militia to come in the rear of Ross, continued his march with the state troops on the main road through the village of Johnstown to the Hall farm, where Ross had arrived a little before. When Willett advanced, Ross fell, back a short distance in the woods (and) formed an ambush. Willett's advance guard advanced in the woods while Willett formed his men on the Field, with his field piece for battle. His advance was repulsed with some loss. Ross ordered his men to leave their knapsacks where the ambush was formed and formed his men for battle. (He) advanced up to Willett on the field with his whole force (and) attacked him very furious. In a few minutes, Willett's men retreated and run in confusion to the village of Johnstown (and) left their field piece with the enemy. (The enemy) pursued Willett's men until near the village of Johnstown, about one mile. Ross *** (did not know) the militia was in his rear (and) expected he had defeated all the forces Willett had collected, so Major Rowley came on them unexpectantly, while some were as much as a mile apart looking for plunder. Willett and Ross had commenced their engagement about one o'clock. Rowley attacked Ross about two o'clock.
"Lieut. William Wallace , who brought on the Tryon County militia, (had been) appointed by Col. Willett as a pilot under the command of Major Rowley of Massachusetts. This detachment was sent from Col. Willett (over) the road leading to the river on the hill south of the village (of Johnstown) and crossed the creek near where Nicholas Yost's mill is and went onward till some distance above the Hall creek, when, comming near or by the clear lands they discovered the enemy in different places on the Hall farm.
"The enemy soon formed some of their men. Rowley's men advanced, fired on the enemy, (and) the enemy immediately advanced with some of their men to the right of Rowley along or near the Hall creek. Rowley ordered Wallace to meet them. Some of the men volunteered (and) they run to meet them. Wallace told the men not to fire till he told them, but one of his men fired and killed the officer (who) marched forward. When they fired from both parties, the enemy's detachment run. Rowley found the enemy collected (in) considerable force and stood. *** (He) then received a ball through the ankle. He was carried back and the enemy then retreated back of a fence where they were soon routed to another place where hey made a stand. The enemy, having left some men with a field piece they had taken from Willett, they were also attacked by some militiamen. They abandoned it, the ammunition was blown up (and) the field piece was no more used that day. The militiamen left the cannon and fell on the enemy (and) generally routed the enemy; but in some part of the scrimmaging (the enemy) drove the militia back. None of the militia left the field, they continued to prevent Ross from uniting his men together and, about sunset, Ross's men had all left the field and the militia gained a complete victory. About this time Willett returned from the village of Johnstown. The militiamen brought (in) about 40 prisoners, picked forth from scattered men of Ross's men - probably not above two or three taken together.
"Willett, when he fell back to the village, received about 100 of the Tryon County militia. Why this delay of Willett was is difficult to know --from two to six o'clock. (He had) a much superior force in the village to Rowley, after he was joined with 100 militiamen. After Major Rowley was wounded, it is difficult to know, who was commander. Some privates, where small parties met, assumed command. The officers, wherever they were, did their duty -- no confusion or none left the field until the enemy was completely drove from the field.
"Thus, for a second time, the militia of Tryon County defeated the enemy with a very inferior number. At Oriskany, the enemy were two to one in a battle of about five hours, were completely drove back (and) left Herkimer unmolested to make biers (litters) and carry their wounded off. With Ross left, then 250 (American soldiers) drove Ross from the field with seven or 800 men--like bulldogs, 'hold fast or die with the holt'."
Contributed May 2, 1999 by Douglas J .Weaver. He is researching the following names in Fulton, Montgomery & Herkimer Counties: BAUMAN, CLAUS/CLAUSE, FREDERICK, GOODRICH, HILLEGAS/HELLINGAS, MEYER, SMITH, WEAVER, WELLS.
Rosters of Men who fought in the Battle of Johnstown on October 25, 1781
Some Revolutionary Soldiers' Pensions excerpts who fought in the battle of Johnstown
Letters to Head-Quarters
Back to Fulton's Military Page
Return to Fulton County NYGenWeb
Copyright ©1999, James F. Morrison
Copyright ©1999, Douglas Weaver, Jeanette Shiel
All Rights Reserved.
Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:36:34 PDT