Fort Stanwix National Monument

Location: Rome, New York

Webpage: National Park

General Description: For thousands of years the ancient trail that connected Lake Ontario through Oneida Lake and Wood Creek to the Mohawk River to the Hudson River and the Atlantic coast passed through Oneida Carrying Place.  This is a 6 mile portage that connected Wood Creek to the Mohawk River.  For most of that time it was a trail used by the native Americans, which by the time of European colonization consisted of the Six Nations Confederacy or Iroquois Nation.  Control of this vital trade route was the site of many conflicts between the native Americans, English and French.  When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, the British built a series of forts along the Oneida Carrying Place from 1755-56.  However, after the French captured Fort Oswego in August, 1756 the other forts were burned by the British as they abandoned the area expecting a major assault by the French, which did not materialize.  When the British reestablished control of the Oneida Carrying Place two years later in 1758, they constructed a large star-fort on the high ground overlooking the portage in present day Rome, New York.  This new fort was named for the British commander ordered to construct it,  Brig. Gen, John Stanwix.  When the French and Indian War ended in 1763, France ceded all claims in North America east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain.  However, the Iroquois Nation, who had allied with the French, became increasingly dissatisfied with British policies and began a war for independence, Pontiac’s Rebellion.  This led to the Royal Proclamation of 1763 barring English expansion west of the Appalachians.  In 1768, Sir John Williams negotiated a treaty at the now abandoned Fort Stanwix with the Six Nations Confederacy that took all the lands east and south of the Ohio River.  The American Revolutionary War began in 1775 at Lexington and Concord and by 1776 was in full swing.  General Washington was ordered to rebuild Fort Stanwix, as well as, Fort Ticonderoga on Lake George, to protect the northwest territories from a British campaign from Canada.  The fort was renamed Fort Schuyler and set on the same footprint as Fort Stanwix.  The British offensive in the summer of 1777 was designed to split the northeastern colonies from the south using a three prong attack.  General Howe was to lead his army from New York City to meet up with General Burgoyne coming south out of Canada and Lt Colonel St. Leger from the west out of Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario.  These three armies were suppose to meet at Albany, New York.  However, General Howe decided to instead attempt to capture the Continental Congress by taking Philadelphia and Lt Col St. Leger got stopped at Fort Schuyler.  The British army under St. Leger consisted of 800 British, German, Canadian soldiers and American loyalists along with about 800 Iroquois Indians that had allied with Great Britain under the belief the British would limit further expansion into their territory.  However, St. Leger failed to bring large cannons with them believing Fort Schuyler to be still under construction and poorly manned.  However, he found Fort Schuyler to be a formidable defense and manned by 800 soldiers of the Continental Army.  Therefore, on August 3, he began a siege of the fort.  On August 6 the Tyron County Local Militia under Brig Gen Herkimer attempted to break the siege leading 800 men and a party of Oneida Indians to Fort Schuyler.  However, they were ambushed by loyalists and Indians near the Oneida village of Oriska, known today as the Battle of Oriskany.  This battle was the bloodiest conflict of the war between loyalists and patriots, as well as, Indians of the Six Nation Confederacy on both sides, thus pitting neighbors and family members against each other.  After devastating losses the militia was forced to withdraw and would have likely been wiped out except for the fact that Lt Col Willet let a sortie to rescue the militia from Fort Schuyler capturing a number of prisoners, destroying their camp and stealing most of their supplies.    The siege ended on August 23 when Continentals arrived under Maj Gen Benedict Arnold to reinforce the besieged garrison at Fort Schuyler.  This withdrawal, along with the failure of General Howe to make the planned move north to assist, ultimately doomed General Burgoyne’s attempt to capture Albany and led to his surrender at the Battle of Saratoga.  This major victory for the Americans effectively ended the British attempts to split the new nation, turning their attention to the loyalist support they had in the south.  Following the American Revolution, the state of New York continued to use Fort Stanwix (the name was changed back to remove confusion with the other Fort Schuylers) to negotiate land deals with the American Indians without the consent of the federal government.  Every year the Indians and New York representatives would meet at Fort Stanwix to make annual payments to the Indians for this land which allowed for the construction of canals beginning with a canal across the Oneida Carrying Place, known as Clinton’s Ditch.  Eventually this led to the construction of the Erie Canal which opened in 1827.  The town of Rome, New York grew up around and eventually over the remains of the fort.  As part of the Urban Renewal in the 1960s, these businesses were either bought or condemned by the city of Rome in order to begin the reconstruction of Fort Stanwix to attract tourists to the city.  Although the site was designated a National Monument in 1935, the site consisted of just a plaque until the city began rebuilding the fort.  Between 1974-1978 the fort was completely rebuilt with a new Visitor Center in 2005.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center is relatively new and it shows.  It is a beautiful building right in downtown Rome that gives a complete history of Fort Stanwix.  There are exhibits about each period of its history with a couple of continuously running videos about the key events.  It is very well done and should be visited before heading out to the reconstructed fort.

VisitorCenter

2) They have done a great job in rebuilding the fort giving visitors a real sense of its size and fortifications.  Many of the rooms inside the fort are laid out with reconstructed furniture, beds, and common items that would have been used at the time of the siege.  Be sure to stop at the Visitor Contact Station in the West Barracks where you will find two scaled models of the original Fort Stanwix and the rebuilt Fort Schuyler which you can compare along with a Park Service Ranger to answer any questions.

3) Although they are not certain what the mechanism was that raised the drawbridge over the dry moat, they had installed a system that was in common use at the time.  This mechanism used counter weights that would be rolled down a track on either side of the drawbridge in order to raise it.

DrawbridgeMechanism

4) The casemates along the north side of the fort were used for a number of functions including blacksmith, bakery, and officer quarters.

FortInterior1

5) The casemates on the east were for enlisted men and officers consisting of bunkbeds in each room.

6) The casemates on the south were for the common soldiers who slept on long beds or cribs, filled with straw that slept 10-15 soldiers side by side.  Although I had heard of this arrangement at other forts, this was the first time I was able to actually see the living conditions the common soldier had to live in.

EnlistedBunk

7) Finally there are the bastions and bombproofs at each of the four corners of the fort, which once again are set up as they were believed to have been used during the siege.  For example the southwest bombproof was used as a hospital during the siege and contains beds and medical equipment that would have likely been used.

Bombproof