Appletons' Cyclop%C3%A6dia of American Biography/Herkimer, Nicholas
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Appletons' Cyclop%C3%A6dia of American Biography/Herkimer, Nicholas

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HERKIMER, Nicholas, soldier, b. about 1715; d. in Danube, N. Y., 16 Aug., 1777. His name, as commonly written, is an anglicized form of the German Herchheimer. His father, a native of the Rhine Palatinate, was one of the patentees of the tract called Burnet's field, in what is now Herkimer county, N. Y. Nicholas became at the age of thirty a lieutenant of militia, and was in command at Fort Herkimer when the French and Indians attacked German Flats in 1758. He afterward lived in the Canajoharie district, was commissioned colonel in 1775, became chairman of the committee of safety of Tryon county, and a year later was made a brigadier-general in the New York militia. He was a man of energetic character, and one of the most prominent and widely respected of the German citizens of the province, and by identifying himself with the popular cause contributed an element of strength to the movement throughout central New York. He had become schooled in the methods of Indian fighting in the French war. In 1776 he led an expedition against Sir John Johnson's force of Tories and Indian allies. His alert and vigorous nature is exemplified in the following curious order, the spelling of which proves that his acquaintance with the English language was very slight: “Ser yu will orter your bodellyen do merchs Immiedietlih do ford edward weid for das brofiesen and amonieschen fied for on betell. Dis yu will disben yur berrell from frind Nicolas herchheimer. To Carnell pieder bellinger, ad de plats, ochdober 18. 1776” [Sir : You will order your battalion to march immediately to Fort Edward, with four days' provisions and ammunition fit for one battle. This you will disobey at your peril. From your friend, Nicolas Herchheimer. To Colonel Peter Bellinger, at the Flats, October 18, 1776]. After the fall of Ticonderoga and the retreat of Gen. Schuyler to the Hudson, Burgoyne threatened to capture Albany and join his forces with Howe's in the east. When the co-operating force, led by Col. Barry St. Leger, and consisting of British regulars, New York loyalists, and Brant's Indians, had invested Fort Schuyler, or Fort Stanwix, as it was originally called, which stood near the present site of Rome, N. Y., Herkimer marched to the relief of the latter place at the head of the militia of Tryon county. St. Leger's force, which had marched up the St. Lawrence, crossed over to Oswego, and passed through the Mohawk valley. It consisted of about 800 white troops and 1,000 Indians, while Col. Gansevoort had only 750 men in Fort Schuyler. Gen. Herkimer, when setting out for the relief of the garrison, sent word to Col. Gansevoort, in order that he might arrange a sortie at the moment when the relieving force came up. The plan failed, because the militia were delayed in the march. Herkimer decided then to move cautiously, but allowed his judgment to be swayed by the reproaches of the younger officers. Col. St. Leger had knowledge of Herkimer's approach, and sent a detachment to intercept the militia, who were 1,000 strong. As they advanced in hasty march through a wooded ravine near Oriskany, the British regulars in ambush at the other end and the Indians on both sides opened fire. The rear-guard of the Americans, cut off from the main body, was dispersed, many of them were taken prisoners, and the supply-train was captured. Herkimer's horse was killed, and he was severely wounded. His subordinates urged him to retire, but he, declaring that he would face the enemy, seated himself beneath a tree, and issued his orders while smoking a pipe. His men, experienced in Indian warfare, separated into groups of two or three, and sought the shelter of trees and rocks. After a long and obstinate fight, and an impetuous sally from the fort, led by Col. Willett, the Indians retreated, and after them the British troops. The intelligence of the approach of another relief party caused St. Leger to raise the siege and hasten back to Canada soon after the battle. About one third of the militia fell on the battlefield, and as many more were mortally wounded or carried into captivity. Herkimer was carried on a litter to his house, thirty-five miles away. The wound that he had received in the leg rendered amputation necessary, but the operation was unskilfully performed, and he died ten days afterward. Congress, in October, 1777, ordered a monument to his memory, but it was not erected. In 1827 Gov. De Witt Clinton urged on the New York legislature the duty of building a monument to the hero of Oriskany, but the bill failed. He repeated the suggestion in his last annual message in 1828, with the same result. In 1844 Judge William Campbell, author of the “Annals of Tryon County,” sought without success an appropriation from congress to redeem the pledge of the old congress. He renewed the proposition in the succeeding congress, supported by a petition from the New York historical society. After the centennial celebration of the battle of Oriskany, the Oneida historical society, presided over by Horatio Seymour, brought the subject again to the attention of congress, and $4,100 was voted, being the original appropriation of $500, with simple interest. The sum was increased to $10,000 by private subscriptions and an additional appropriation made by the New York legislature in 1882. The foundation is of limestone, and the pedestal and obelisk of granite. The total height of the monument is 85 feet. On each side of the pedestal is a bronze tablet 6 by 4½ feet. One represents the wounded general directing the battle; another the conflict between Indians and white men; another contains the dedication; and the fourth the names of 250 out of the 800 men in the battle. These tablets were the work of the National fine art foundry of New York city. (See illustration above.) — His nephew, John, jurist, b. in Herkimer county, N. Y., in 1773; d. in Danube, N. Y., 8 June, 1848, was a member of the state house of representatives from 1800 till 1808, and as major in the war of 1812 commanded a battalion of New York volunteers in the defence of Sackett's Harbor on 29 May, 1813. For several years he was a judge of the circuit court, resid- ing at Danube. He was elected to congress as a Democrat in 1816. After removing to Meriden, N. Y., he was again sent to congress in 1822, and re-elected for the following term.

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