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Battle of Minisink Ford

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Minisink Battle Historical Society

The Battle of Minisink was a battle of the American Revolutionary War fought at Minisink Ford, New York, on July 22, 1779. It was the only major skirmish of the Revolutionary War fought in the northern Delaware Valley. The battle was a decisive British victory, as the colonial militia was hastily assembled, ill-equipped, and inexperienced.

Although British forces were largely concentrated on Manhattan Island, Joseph Brant, a Mohawk war chief and a Captain in the British Army, was sent along with his Brant's Volunteers on a quest for provisions, to gather intelligence on the Delaware in the vicinity of Minisink, and to disrupt the upcoming American Sullivan Campaign.

In July 1779, he received word that Kazimierz Pulaski's forces had moved into Pennsylvania, leaving much of the Delaware Valley undefended. Brant led his force of Loyalists and Iroquois raiders through the valley, with the goal of seizing supplies and demoralizing the colonists. With Brant's force of 60 tribesmen and 27 Tories disguised as Indians in pursuit, the settlers were forced to flee to more populated areas. On July 20, he reached Peenpack, which he attacked immediately. Brant ordered that "they should not kill any women or children" or Loyalists and to take prisoner any who surrendered. His raid was a crushing success and, leaving Fort Decker and the settlement in ruins, Brant and his force continued north along the Delaware River.

On the morning of July 22, the militia moved into position in the hills above the Delaware River, intending to ambush Brant's forces who were crossing at Minisink Ford. Hathorn split them into a group of skirmishers and two units comprising the main force. Before the ambush was set, however, Captain Bezaleel Tyler III of the militia, an experienced Indian fighter, fired at an Indian scout in Brant's party. This alerted Brant to the trap, and he quickly outflanked the two groups of colonials, many of whom fled.[4] Separated from the main unit and with his forces scattered, Hathorn was unable to regroup his men for a counterattack. He was forced to retreat, leaving Tusten and the Goshen militia surrounded and outnumbered. After several hours of continuous volleys, insufficient ammunition and close quarters caused the battle to devolve into hand-to-hand combat, at which the Iroquois excelled. At least 48 militiamen were killed, including Tusten himself. One rebel {Captain Wood} was captured. Brant's force, on the other hand, is believed to have lost only about seven men. Brant wrote of his casualties that three were killed and of the 10 wounded, 4 were dangerously wounded and possibly could not survive}. Although badly wounded, Hathorn survived, returning to Warwick to write his report of the loss to his superiors.

For forty-three years the remains of those who fell in the Battle of Minisink laid, scattered over the country, without a burial and "their bones suffered to whiten among the rocks of the mountain, after their flesh had been devoured by wild beasts, of some, perhaps before they were dead!" [Stone]

In 1822, the bones of the slain patriots were recovered from the battle field. A special committee availed themselves of every means to ascertain the number and names of the dead, appealed in public notices to the friends of the slain to communicate their names, and suggested that much care be taken in the accuracy of spelling them. The remains were interred in two walnut coffins and buried in a mass grave in the church yard of the First Presbyterian Church of Goshen.

After the battle, Brant and his men forded the Delaware and continued back to the ruins of Oquaga.[6] The raid failed to disrupt the Sullivan Campaign and three weeks later, the Continental Army sent 3,000 troops into upstate New York, destroying every Iroquois village in their path. Brant finally met his defeat in late August at the Battle of Newtown.

The people of the Precinct of Goshen (which preceded the forming of the Towns of Orange County) were unable to bury their dead for 43 years, as the battlefield was too distant and the way too dangerous. Some of the soldiers' widows attempted the trip, but were forced to turn back. In 1822, a committee was formed to travel to the battlefield and comb the area for remains. The few bones recovered were buried in a mass grave, first in Barryville and later moved to the village of Goshen.[3] A stone obelisk was erected for the centennial of the battle, engraved with the names of the dead.

In 1847, a burial was discovered in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania that is believed to be the remains of a casualty of the Battle of Minisink. The site now serves as a memorial tomb for unknown Revolutionary War soldiers.

Today, the site is Minisink Battleground County Park in Sullivan County a couple of miles north of the Hamlet of Barryville near the Roebling Bridge. There are no man-made structures contemporary to the battle, but the park contains several trails, monuments, picnic areas, and a visitors' center.

A monument was unveiled at the site and a ceremony, attended by over 15,000 people, was held to honor the fallen. The monument had the following inscription on the east side:
Erected by the Inhabitants of Orange County, July 22, 1822 Sacred to the memory of Forty-four of their Fellow Citizens, who fell at The Battle of Minisink, July 22, 1779 Despite enumerating 44, the other sides contained the names of 45 fallen patriots. The discrepancy is noted by Dawson.

In 1862, the original memorial was replaced with the current, more formal memorial designed and executed by John Vanderoot. This memorial was a gift from Dr Merritt H Cash whose father (Reuben Cash) survived the Wyoming Massacre (1778).

The NY Times published an article about the event and included a list of the 42 names inscribed on the monument.

Ruttenber and Clark list 43 names saying "Engraved on the monument to their memory at Goshen are the names, so far as known, of those who perished in the action."

Stickney notes "Of those actually engaged in the battle, forty-four were killed, according to Dr Wilson's account, while Dawson says that of the one hundred and forty-nine men who went out, only thirty returned."

Dawson writes "Of those who were in the battle, forty-five fell--some on the field, others in retreat; while many who had been wounded suffered a more terrible death, in the torments which their solitary and helpless condition produced. Of those who were cut off, before the fight began, there is no other account than that they, too, were "missing;" and as it is generally acknowledged that, of the one hundred and forty-nine who went out, only thirty returned, there is no doubt that they, too, fell a sacrifice to their own rashness."

It's worth noting: - Not all the names listed on the first monument are identical on the second monument. Some differences are in spelling (Ferguson/Forgerson, Masten/Mastin) while others are wholly different. Listed on the first but not on the second: Nathaniel Terwilliger, Jonathan Shepherd; On the second but not on the first: Timothy Barber, Joseph Rider. Some of these discrepancies may be attributed careless transcriptions. - At some time after the dedication, additional names were added and the monument today lists 46 fallen patriots. The names of the other fallen have been long lost to history.

Source: - Life of Joseph Brant-Thayendanege by William Leete Stone (1838) - An Outline History of Orange County By Samuel W Eager (1846-7) p498-499 - History of Delaware County: And Border Wars of New York By Jay Gould (1856) p101 - Battles of the United States: By Sea and Land, Volume 1 By Henry Barton Dawson (1858) - NYTimes "THE BATTLE OF MINISINK. The Eighty-Third Anniversary of the Battle Celebrated. Another Monument Erected in Goshen" 23 July 1862 - A History of the Minisink Region By Charles E. Stickney (1867) - History of Orange County, NY By Ruttenber and Clark (1881) p60

Find-A-Grave Minisink Monument