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Battle of Newtown

Coordinates: 42°02′43″N 76°44′00″W / 42.045278°N 76.733333°W / 42.045278; -76.733333
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Battle of Newtown
Part of the American Revolutionary War

View from the summit of Sullivan Hill, looking into Hoffman Hollow
DateAugust 29, 1779
Town of Ashland / Town of Elmira,
Chemung County, New York
between the present-day city of Elmira, NY and the village of Waverly, NY
42°02′43″N 76°44′00″W / 42.045278°N 76.733333°W / 42.045278; -76.733333
Result American victory
 United States  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
John Sullivan
James Clinton
Enoch Poor
Edward Hand
William Maxwell
John Butler
Walter Butler
Joseph Brant
Fish Carrier
3,200 Continental regulars
2 companies of militia
9 artillery pieces
200-250 Butler's Rangers
300-350 Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Munsee Delaware
14 British regulars (8th Regiment of Foot)
Casualties and losses
8 killed
31 wounded
12 Iroquois & 3 British killed
9 Iroquois & 3 British wounded
2 British captured

The Battle of Newtown (August 29, 1779) was the only major battle of the Sullivan Expedition, an armed offensive led by Major General John Sullivan that was ordered by George Washington to end the threat of the Iroquois who had sided with the British in the American Revolutionary War. Opposing Sullivan's four brigades were 250 Loyalist soldiers from Butler's Rangers, commanded by Major John Butler, and 350 Iroquois and Munsee Delaware. Butler and Mohawk war leader Joseph Brant did not want to make a stand at Newtown, and instead proposed to harass the enemy on the march, but were overruled by Sayenqueraghta and other Indigenous war leaders.

This battle, which was the most significant military engagement of the campaign, 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 the Delaware village of Newtown. The slope of the hill was covered with pine and a 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.

Iroquois and British Preparation[edit]

In May 1779, in response to rumours of a planned American invasion of Iroquois territory, Butler, accompanied by five companies of Butler's Rangers and a detachment of the 8th Regiment of Foot, left Fort Niagara and established a forward operating base at Kanadaseaga located near the northern end of Seneca Lake.[1] In the middle of August, Butler accompanied by about 300 Seneca and Cayuga warriors led by Sayenqueraghta, Cornplanter, and Fish Carrier moved south to the Chemung River where they were joined by Joseph Brant and Brant's Volunteers, as well as a number of Delaware.[2]

Butler and Brant suggested that, because of the size and composition of Sullivan's forces, harassment raids would be more effective than making a stand. They were overruled by Sayenqueraghta, Cornplanter and the Delaware who selected a position on the north side of the Chemung River for an ambush.[1]

The Rangers and their native allies hastily constructed a horseshoe-shaped camouflaged breastwork of logs about 150 feet (46 m) up the southeast spur of the hill, within musket range of the road. The hill was used as both an observation point and a barrier to the approach of the Continental Army.

Expedition and battle[edit]

On August 26, 1779, Sullivan left Fort Sullivan, where the two columns of his army had converged, with an estimated 3200 well-armed troops. They marched slowly up the Chemung River with the intention of destroying the towns and crops of the Six Nations in central New York. Mid-morning on Sunday, August 29, about ten miles upriver from Fort Sullivan, the advance guard, three companies of riflemen formerly with the Provisional Rifle Corps of Col. Daniel Morgan, drew close to Butler's position. Suspecting an ambush, they halted and scouted the area. Between eleven and eleven-thirty they discovered the hidden breastwork and immediately notified Brigadier General Edward Hand. Hand dispatched his light infantry to take up firing positions behind the bank of Baldwin Creek. The defenders made 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. 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 a position on Major Butler's flank. 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 northeastern flank and then facing left in preparation for a full ahead assault upon the enemy. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Edward Hand's brigade and the remainder of Maxwell's brigade 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 six three pounders, two howitzers, and a cohorn posted on a rise near the road, would open fire on the breastwork.[3] The guns would signal General Hand to feint an attack upon the center of the horseshoe, at which time the brigades to the northeast would swing inward, climb to the summit of the hill and turn to the left to attack the rear of the breastwork. 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 the ultimate result was a defeat for Butler's Rangers and their Indigenous allies. 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 Butler and the Iroquois to escape. The artillery barrage opened well before Poor and Clinton were in position which forced the Rangers and Iroquois back from the breastwork before they could be encircled. While some of the defenders turned and ran, the main body of Butler's forces skirmished with the Americans as they withdrew.

Illustration of the burning of the Delaware village of Newtown by Sullivan's forces on August 30, 1779

Nearly all of the Continentals' casualties occurred in the attack of Lieutenant Colonel George Reid's 2nd New Hampshire Regiment.[4] 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 Indigenous warriors and nearly encircled Reid. The next regiment in line, the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment of 28-year-old Lieutenant Colonel 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 turned back.

After razing two Munsee Delaware villages and destroying all crops in the vicinity, Sullivan's army turned north and over the next three weeks destroyed numerous abandoned Seneca and Cayuga villages.

Sullivan's Casualties[edit]

Sources differ as to the number of American casualties. Captain James Norris of the 3rd New Hampshire recorded three dead and 36 wounded during the battle.[5] In his report to George Washington, General Sullivan also reported three dead but increased the number of wounded to 39.[6] Five of the wounded died from their wounds within three weeks of the battle bringing the total to eight dead.[3][4]


  • Lieutenant Nathaniel McCauley (died August 30 following amputation of his leg)[4]
  • Private Abner Dearborn (nephew of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Dearborn died September 2)[7]
  • Sergeant Demeret and Corporal Hunter [4]
  • Josiah Mitchell, Sylvester Williams and two other privates.[4]


  • Major Benjamin Titcomb[6]
  • Capt. Elijah Clayes[6][8] (died November 30, 1779)
  • Sgt. Oliver Thurston[9]
  • 28 additional wounded[4][5]

Iroquois and British Casualties[edit]

Major Butler reported five of his Rangers killed or taken and three wounded as well as five killed and nine wounded among the Iroquois.[2] American sources reported two prisoners taken, and twelve dead natives including a woman.[3]


Monument constructed in 1912 and located in Newtown Battlefield State Park

In 1973 the Newtown Battlefield National Historic Landmark was established by the federal government, recognizing its significant history. The Landmark encompasses nearly 2,100 acres (850 hectares) in the towns of Ashland, Chemung and Elmira.

Today, the site of the battle is partially obscured by 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.

To commemorate the battle's 100th anniversary in 1879, a small parcel of land atop what is now known as Sullivan Hill was donated to create Newtown Battlefield Park. A 40 foot (12 m) fieldstone tower was built. This tower collapsed during a thunderstorm on August 30, 1911. That same year, 15 acres (6.1 hectares) of land including the park was deeded to the State of New York and named the Newtown Battlefield Reservation. A new 80 foot (24 m) granite obelisk monument was erected and dedicated in 1912. Further expansion eventually resulted in the creation of the 372 acres (1.51 km2) Newtown Battlefield State Park.[10]

The American Battlefield Trust and its partners have acquired and preserved an additional 68 acres (28 hectares) of the battlefield adjacent to the Newtown Battlefield State Park.[11]

In an effort to incorporate the Newtown Battlefield site into the National Park System, Congressional resolution H.R. 6866, which directed 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, was put forth for consideration by Congressman Randy Kuhl.[12] The bill stalled in January 2009 after being referred to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.[13]


  1. ^ a b Watt, Gavin K. (2019). No Despicable Enemy, 1779: The Continental Army destroys Indian Territory. Global Heritage Press.
  2. ^ a b Graymont, Barbara (1972). The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815600831.
  3. ^ a b c Mintz, Max M. (1999). Seeds of Empire: the American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 9780814756225.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Craft, David (1887). "Historical Address". In Cook, Frederick (ed.). Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779. Auburn, New York: Knapp, Peck & Thomson.
  5. ^ a b Cook, Frederick, ed. (1887). "Journal of Major James Norris". Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779. Auburn, New York: Knapp, Peck & Thomson.
  6. ^ a b c "To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 30 August 1779". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 17 February 2023.
  7. ^ Cook, Frederick, ed. (1887). "Journal of Lieut.-Col. Henry Dearborn". Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779. Auburn, New York: Knapp, Peck & Thomson.
  8. ^ Heitman, Francis Bernard (1967). 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.
  9. ^ Griffis, William Elliott (1910). The New Hampshire Brigade in the Sullivan Campaign. Concord, New Hampshire: New Hampshire Society, Sons of the American Revolution.
  10. ^ Venables, Brant (2012). "A Battle of Remembrance: Memorialization and Heritage at the Newtown Battlefield, New York". Northeast Historical Archaeology. 41 (8).
  11. ^ "Newtown Battlefield". American Battlefield Trust. Retrieved June 19, 2023.
  12. ^ "Text - H.R.6866 - 110th Congress (2007-2008): To direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to evaluate the significance of the Newtown Battlefield located in Chemung County, New York, and the suitability and feasibility of its inclusion in the National Parks System, and for other purposes". 12 September 2008.
  13. ^ "H.R. 6866". Congressional Chronicle. C-SPAN. Retrieved 10 February 2023.

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