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American Revolutionary War Battles

The Battle of Cobleskill

June 1, 1778 at Cobleskill, New York

Battle Summary

The Battle of Cobleskill was also known as the "Cobleskill Massacre". It was a raid on the frontier settlement of Cobleskill, New York. The battle, having taken place in the modern-day village of Warnerville, marked the beginning of a phase in which Loyalists and Iroquois, encouraged and supplied by British authorities in the Province of Quebec, raided and destroyed numerous villages on what was then the United States western frontier of New York and Pennsylvania.

A small party of Iroquois entered Cobleskill and drew the local defenders into a trap set by a much larger party of Iroquois and Loyalists under the command of Joseph Brant. After killing a number of the militia and driving off the remainder, Brant's forces destroyed much of the settlement.

New York's defenders retaliated against Brant's actions against Cobleskill and other communities by destroying Iroquois villages later in the year, and Continental Army forces destroyed more Iroquois villages in the Sullivan Expedition of 1779.

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Facts about the Battle of Cobleskill

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Capt. William Patrick and consisted of about 60 militia and Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Joseph Brant and consisted of about 200-300 Iroquois and Soldiers.
  • Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 22 killed, 8 wounded, and 5 captured. British casualties was approximately 25 killed.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was a British victory. The battle was part of the Northern Theater 1778-82.

Prelude

In October 1777, with the failure of British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne's campaign to the Hudson after the Battles of Saratoga (First and Second), the war in upstate New York became a frontier war. British leaders in the Province of Quebec supported Loyalist and Native American partisan fighters with supplies and armaments.

During the winter of 1777–78, Brant and other British-allied Indians developed plans to attack frontier settlements in New York and Pennsylvania.

In February 1778, Brant established a base of operations at Onaquaga (present-day Windsor, New York). He recruited a mix of Iroquois and Loyalists estimated to number between two and three hundred by the time he began his campaign in May. One of his objectives was to acquire provisions for his forces and those of John Butler, who was planning operations in the Susquehanna River valley.

The settlement of Cobleskill, New York consisted of 20 families living on farms spread out along Cobleskill Creek. It was part of the Schoharie Creek area, which was a significant source of food for the Patriot war effort. Its principal defense was the small local militia under Captain Christian Brown.

When attacks by the Iroquois were rumored to be coming in the spring, the militia appealed for additional defenses. Continental Army Colonel Ichabod Alden sent a company of 30-40 men from his 7th Massachusetts Regiment, under Captain William Patrick, to reinforce the militia.

Battle Begins

On May 30, Brant laid a trap for Cobleskill's defenders in the morning. He sent forward a small number of natives as a lure. Patrick's force and the local militia spotted them near the southern edge of the settlement. Despite Brown's warning that the Indians might be setting a trap, Patrick pressed forward as the natives withdrew, engaging them in a running battle.

After about one mile, Brant sprung his trap. Patrick's company was engulfed by Brant's larger force. The death of Patrick and his lieutenant so damped the ardor of the Americans. Brown ordered a retreat.

The retreat became a rout and continued until what was left of Browns force was well beyond the settlement. They retreated with great precipitation to Fort Clinton.

As the soldiers streamed past George Warners house, from which they had been drawn into an ambush, three of Patricks men and two of Browns militia took refuge inside. Their action cost them their lives but may have saved those who escaped.

Being fired on from the house, the Indians halted to dislodge the Americans, by which the rest of the them gained time to make good their retreat. The house was set on fire, and three militiamen were burned in its ruins and two continentals were killed while attempting to make their escape from the burning building.

Aftermath

Following the battle, the Indians burned all dwellings in the settlement except an old log cabin belonging to George Warner, a Committee of Safety member who they may have hoped to capture when he returned home. The British laid waste the whole settlement on Cobleskill by burning houses, barns, stables & shooting such horses and cattle as they could not conveniently catch to take away with them.

Ten dwellings were burned at this time. With the barns and other out buildings, the total burned was 20, said Simms, citing a record of the Lutheran Church at Schoharie.

Brant continued to build his forces and raid frontier communities in the Mohawk valley. He considered following up the attack on Cobleskill with one on Cherry Valley, but because the militia was on high alert, he instead withdrew back to Iroquois territory. Cherry Valley was the scene of a massacre the following November by forces led in part by Brant.

New York Governor George Clinton, who had been considering operations against Onaquaga, enlarged those plans after the raid on Cobleskill and Brant's attack on German Flatts in September. In October, Continental and militia forces destroyed Onaquaga and Unadilla, another Indian village that supported Brant and Butler.

The settlers of Cobleskill who were rendered destitute by the action received £200 in compensation for their troubles. Settlers from many area communities began withdrawing to larger, better fortified communities like Cherry Valley (which began construction of a fort after the raid) and Schenectady.

This action and later ones by Brant and Butler contributed to the decision by the Continental Congress to authorize a major Continental Army expedition into Iroquois territory. Commanded by Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton, the 1779 expedition systematically destroyed the villages of Iroquois tribes fighting for the British, but did little to stop the frontier war.