Battle of Newtown
The Battle of Newtown (August 29, 1779) was a major battle of the Sullivan Expedition, an armed offensive led by General John Sullivan that was ordered by the Continental Congress to end the threat of the Iroquois who had sided with the British in the American Revolutionary War. John Butler and Joseph Brant did not want to make a stand at Newtown, but proposed instead to harass the enemy on the march, but they were overruled by Sayenqueraghta and other Indian chiefs. The Battle of Chemung (August 13, 1779) was the only other major battle of the Sullivan Expedition where the Continental force lost six dead and nine wounded.
This battle, which was the most significant military engagement of the Sullivan Campaign of 1779 and played a crucial role in America's Revolutionary War, took place at the foot of a hill along the Chemung River just outside what is now Elmira, New York.
The engagement occurred along a tall hill, now called Sullivan Hill and part of the Newtown Battlefield State Park. The hillside, running southeast to northwest next to the Chemung River, was a mile long at its crest, which rose 600 feet (180 m) above the road at its base leading into Newtown. The slope of the hill was covered with pine and dense growth of shrub oak. Hoffman Hollow, a marshy area of small hillocks and thick stands of trees, was just to the east of the hill. A small watercourse, called Baldwin Creek, ran through the hollow and emptied into the Chemung River (referred to as the Cayuga branch in Sullivan's reports). The creek followed the hill northwest on the opposite side from the river and had steep western banks.
The British and Indian forces had placed themselves in horseshoe-shaped camouflaged earthworks about 150 feet up the southeast spur of the hill, within musket range of the road. The hill was used by the British as both an observation point and a barrier to the approach of the Continentals against the Cayuga towns of Nanticoke and Kanawaholla, situated on the site of the present-day Elmira, New York.
Expedition and battle
On August 26, 1779, Sullivan left Fort Sullivan, where the two columns of his army had converged, with an estimated five thousand well armed and now freshly provisioned troops. They marched slowly up the Cayuga branch of the Susquehanna to destroy the towns and crops of the Six Nations in western New York. On Sunday, August 29, just ten miles upriver from Fort Sullivan, the advance guard, three companies of riflemen formerly with the Provisional Rifle Corps of Col. Daniel Morgan, reached the area at mid-morning. Suspecting an ambush, they halted and scouted the area. Between eleven and eleven-thirty they discovered the hidden breastworks and immediately notified Brigadier General Edward Hand. He dispatched his light infantry to take up firing positions behind the bank of Baldwin Creek and fire into the breastworks, prompting the defenders to make several unsuccessful attempts at luring the Continentals into an ambush. As the extended army continued to arrive and assemble, Sullivan called a council of war with his brigade commanders, which began at three in the afternoon. Together they devised a plan of attack.
The 1st New Jersey Regiment, commanded by Colonel Matthias Ogden, was detached from Brigadier General William Maxwell's New Jersey Brigade and sent west along the Chemung River to execute a flanking maneuver on the Loyalist-Indian forces. Similarly, the New York Brigade of Brigadier General James Clinton and the New Hampshire Brigade of Brigadier General Enoch Poor were dispatched together eastward, along a circuitous route through Hoffman Hollow, with the mission of approaching the hill's eastern flank and then facing left in preparation for a full ahead assault upon the enemy. Meanwhile, the unified forces of Sullivan's Pennsylvania and New Jersey brigades remained behind at the ready, bolstered by a provisional regiment composed of all the light infantry companies in the expedition. At the end of the first hour, the artillery of ten guns posted on a rise near the road, would open fire on the breastworks and the areas between them. These guns would signal General Hand to feint an attack with that provisional regiment upon the center of the horseshoe, at which time the brigades to the east would swing inward, assault the summit of the hill and turn their attack to the left and rear of the breastworks. When the guns of Poor's and Clinton's attack were heard by Hand, his brigade would storm the works, supported by Maxwell's brigade, putting the defenders in a crossfire.
The plan was complex and conceived on short notice but executed with vigor. The ultimate result was a resounding defeat for both the British Loyalists and the Iroquois at their side. Crossing the swampy marsh (which Sullivan termed a "morass") in Hoffman Hollow slowed the advance of Poor's and Clinton's brigades, disrupting the timing of the plan, and this provided just enough delay to allow the joint Loyalist-Iroquois forces to escape encirclement.
Nearly all of the Continentals' casualties occurred in the attack of Lt-Col George Reid's 2nd New Hampshire Regiment. Assigned to the extreme left of Poor's assault formation, it climbed where the slope was steepest and lagged considerably behind the rest of the brigade. Joseph Brant led a counterattack of Indians and nearly encircled Reid. The next regiment in line, the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment of 28-year-old Lt-Col Henry Dearborn, about-faced, fired two volleys and attacked down the hill. Clinton, whose brigade was climbing the hill below and slightly to the right of Poor, sent his 3rd and 5th New York Regiments to help, and the counterattack was crushed.
After razing three more towns and destroying all foodstuffs in the vicinity, Sullivan's army marched north during the next three weeks against demoralized opposition and successfully completed their campaign.
Historian Allan W. Eckert wrote:
The Battle of Newtown had certainly not been a bloody battle compared to others, but it was most certainly a significant one. This was the battle that broke the back of the Iroquois League...and the hearts of the people of the Six Nations.
Died of wounds:
- Capt. Elijah Clayes
- Lt. Nathaniel McCauley of 1st New Hampshire
- Three Corporals
- Two Privates
- One Sergeant
- Major Benjamin Titcomb
- Sgt. Oliver Thurston
- Numbers of wounded Privates are given from 20 to 39, with at least 27 in General Poor's Brigade and four others in the rest of the Army.
The Newtown Battlefield National Historic Landmark encompasses nearly 2,100 acres (8.5 km2) in the towns of Ashland, Chemung and Elmira. In 1973 the Newtown Battlefield National Historic Landmark was established by the federal government, recognizing its significant history.
In a drive to incorporate the Newtown Battlefield site into the National Park System, Congressional resolution H.R. 6866, which directs Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne to conduct a special resource study to evaluate the significance of the Newtown Battlefield and the suitability and feasibility of its inclusion in the National Parks System, has been put forth for consideration.
The site of the battle is today the Wellsburg exit of Interstate 86 and New York State Route 17. Several roadside signs in the vicinity of the interchange mark various troop locations. A tall monument now stands in a state park on a hillside near the position taken by Clinton and Poor's brigades. This hillside area, which overlooks the interchange, is now known as Newtown Battlefield State Park.
- Eckert, Allan W. (1978). The Wilderness War, Little Brown & Company, ISBN 0-553-26368-4, p. 444.
- Howeler, Warren (2008-09-17). "Kuhl weighs in on Newtown Battlefield". Morning Times newspaper. Retrieved 2009-02-05.[dead link]
- Eckert (1978), pp. 556-557, lists all the dead by name except two privates. He also states that "all but four" of the casualties came from Reid's regiment, but his source clearly states that "all but four of the wounded" were from Reid's.
- Eckert (1978), p. 445.
- Heitman, Francis Bernard. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 159. ISBN 9780806301761. Retrieved August 17, 2016.