The Battle of Klock's Field

October 19, 1780 at St. Johnsonville, New York

Battle Summary

The Battle of Klock's Field, aka the Battle of Failing's Orchard, the Battle of Nellis Flatts, or the Battle of Stone Arabia. It was an encounter between Albany County, New York militia and a British-supported expedition of Indians and Loyalists led by Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Johnson and Captain Joseph Brant.

Facts about the Battle of Klock's Field

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Gen. Robert Van Rensselaer and consisted of about 1,500 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Col. John Johnson & Chief Brant and consisted of about 1,000 Soldiers and Indians.
  • Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 39 killed and 2 captured. British casualties was approximately 40 captured.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was an American victory. The battle was part of theĀ Northern Theater 1778-82.


After defeating Colonel John Brown at Stone Arabia, Johnson dispersed his forces in small bands to a distance of five or six miles in every direction to pillage the country. He desolated Stone Arabia, and, proceeding to Klock's Field near the present village of St. Johnsville, halted to rest.

General Van Rensselaer was now in close pursuit of Johnson with a strong force, having marched rapidly up the south side of the river, and was joined by Captain McKean with some 80 volunteers, together with a strong body of Oneida warriors, led by Chief Louis Atayataronghta, who had been commissioned a lieutenant-colonel by Congress. With these additions, the command of Van Rensselaer numbered about 1,500 men.

Arriving at Keder's ford, Van Rensselaer found that Johnson had stationed a guard of 40 men to dispute his passage. Approaching that point he halted, and did not again advance until the American guard had been withdrawn. Continuing his march, still on the south side of the river, while the Americans was actively engaged in the work of death and destruction on the north, Van Rensselaer arrived opposite the battle-ground where Brown had fallen, before the firing had ceased.

Battle Begins

At about 11:00 A.M., and the Americans came to a halt, about 3 miles below Garoga Creek, still on the south side. While there, some of the fugitives from Colonel John Brown's regiment came running down, and jumping into the river, forded it without difficulty.

As they came to the south bank, Van Rensselaer inquired whence they came. One of them, a militia officer named Van Allen, replied that they had escaped from Brown's battle. "How has it gone?" - "Colonel Brown is killed, with many of his men. Are you going there?" "I am not acquainted with the fording place," said Van Rensselaer . He was answered that there was no difficulty in the case. Van Rensselaer then inquired of Van Allen if he would return as pilot, and the reply was promptly in the affirmative.

Hereupon, McKean and Louis, the Oneida chief, led their respective commands through the river to the north side, expecting the main army immediately to follow. At this moment Dubois, of the State levies, rode up to Van Rensselaer, who immediately mounted his horse, and, instead of crossing the river, accompanied the Colonel to Fort Plain, some distance above, to dinner as it was understood.

Meantime, the baggage-wagons were driven into the river, to serve in part as a bridge for the main body of Van Rensselaer's forces, and they commenced crossing the stream in single files. The passage in this way was not effected until 4:00 P.M., at which time Van Rensselaer returned from Fort Plain and joined them just as the last man had crossed over. Governor Clinton remained at the fort. As Van Rensselaer arrived at the water's edge, Louis, as the Oneida chieftain was called, shook his sword at him and denounced him as a Tory.

Arrived at the north side, Col. William Harper took the liberty of remonstrating with the General at what he conceived to be a great and unnecessary delay, attended with a needless loss of life and property on the part of the inhabitants who had been suffered thus long to remain unprotected. From that moment Van Rensselaer moved with due expedition. The troops were set in motion, and marched in regular order, in 3 divisions, with the exception of the Oneida warriors and the volunteers under McKean, who regulated their own movements as they pleased - showing no disposition, however, to lag behind. The advance was led by Col. Morgan Lewis.

Anticipating that he would be compelled to receive an attack, Johnson made his dispositions accordingly. His regular troops, Butler's Rangers, and the Tories less regularly organized, were posted on a small alluvial plain partly encompassed by a sweeping bend of the river. A slight breastwork had been hastily thrown across the neck of the little peninsula thus formed, for the protection of his troops, and the Indians under Thayendanega were secreted among the thick scrub oaks covering the tableland of a few feet elevation; yet farther north a detachment of German Yagers supported the Indians.

It was near the close of the day when Van Rensselaer arrived, and the battle was immediately begun in the open field. Two of the advancing divisions of state troops, forming the left, were directed against the regular forces of Sir John on the flats, beginning their firing from a great distance with small arms only - the field-pieces not having been taken across the river. Colonel Dubois commanded the extreme right, which was so far extended that he had no enemies to encounter.

Next to him were McKean's volunteers and the Oneida Indians, whose duty it was to attack Thayendanega's Indians and the Yagers. These were supported by a small corps of infantry commanded by Colonel Morgan Lewis. The Americans' left was commanded by Colonel Cuyler of Albany. Sir John's right was formed of a company of regulars. His own regiment of Greens composed the centre, its left resting upon the ambuscaded Indians. The latter first sounded the war-whoop, which was promptly answered by the Oneidas. Both parties eagerly rushed forward, and the attack for the instant was mutually impetuous.

Dubois, though too far extended, quickly brought his regiment to the support of McKean's volunteers, who were following up the attack of the Oneidas. The hostile Indians manifested a disposition to stand for a few moments; but Dubois had no sooner charged closely upon them than they fled with precipitation to the fording place near the upper Indian castle (Danube), about two miles above - crossing the road in their flight and throwing themselves in the rear of the Greens as a cover. Brant was wounded in the heel, but not so badly as to prevent his escape.

The enemy' s regular troops and rangers, however, fought with spirit, although Johnson himself was reported by some to have fled with the Indians. On the flight of the Indians, Maj. Van Benschoten of Dubois' s regiment hastened to the General for permission to pursue the flying enemy. It was just twilight, and the indications were not to be mistaken that the best portion of the enemy' s forces were in confusion and on the point of being conquered.

The disappointment was great, when, instead of allowing a pursuit of the Indians, or charging upon the feeble breastworks on the flats, and thus finishing the battle, Van Rensselaer ordered his forces to retire for the night. His avowed object was to obtain a better position for a bivouac, and to renew and complete the battle in the morning - for which he fell back nearly three miles, to Fox' s Fort.

McKean and the Oneida chief Louis did not strictly obey orders, and early the next morning started off with their forces in pursuit. Johnson, with the Indians and Yagers, fled toward Onondaga Lake where they had left their boats concealed, his Greens and Rangers following. Van Rensselaer and his whole force pursued them as far as Fort Herkimer, and then McKean and Louis were ordered to press on in advance after the fugitives.

They struck the trail of Johnson the next morning and soon afterward came upon his deserted camp with the fires yet burning. Halting for a short time, Dubois came up and urged them forward, repeating the assurances of Van Rensselaer near approach and sure support. The Oneida chief shook his head and refused to proceed another step until Van Rensselaer should make his appearance. There was accordingly a halt for some time, during which a Doctor Allen arrived from the main army, informing the officer that the pursuit had already been abandoned by Van Rensselaer, who was 4 miles distant on his return march.


The bitter feeling among the troops and inhabitants of the valley against Van Rensselaer was intense, and charges of incompetency and even Toryism were freely made. It was even said that owing to family ties he had purposely allowed Sir John to escape from the toils in which the impetuosity of the American troops had surrounded him. However, the General was summoned before a military court and acquitted, - probably with the Scotch verdict "not proven."

Johnson reported that:
"Captain Macdonnell and Captain Brant exerted themselves on this occasion in a manner that did them honor and contributed greatly to our success. Captain Brant received a flesh wound in the sole of his foot near the former wound.

Before night they were forced to fight a sharp rear-guard action with a pursuing force of more than a thousand men under General Robert Van Rensselaer. They turned upon their assailants, drove them from their position, and crossed the river unmolested. During their raid they had destroyed thirteen grist-mills, many saw-mills, a thousand houses, and about the same number of barns, containing, it was estimated, 600,000 bushels of grain. The severity of the blow from a military point of view was freely acknowledged by their enemies. - CRUIKSHANK. And this in retaliation for General Sullivan' s impolitic expedition into the Indian country."

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