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Blackbear 11-01-2005 09:18 PM

Battle of Oriskany receiving a second — and third — look
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1/NEWS01_ (http://www.uticaod.com/apps/pbcs.dll...D=/20051031/NE

Battle of Oriskany receiving a second — and third — look

Photo by Painting by FC YOHN / Courtesy of Utica Public Lib
General Nicholas Herkimer, wounded on ground, leads a force of militiamen to
the relief of the besieged Fort Stanwix in Rome. He was ambushed by British
and Indian forces at Oriskany. Seriously wounded in one of the bloodiest
battles of the Revolutionary War, Herkimer continued to direct his men. Herkimer
died of his wounds Aug. 17, 1777.

Monday, Oct 31, 2005

_Patrick Corbett_ (mailto:pcorbett@utica.gannett.com)
ORISKANY — A cable television network and a pair of local amateur historians
are shedding new light on the Battle of Oriskany from two directions.

The History Channel is scheduled to broadcast a program on the battle Dec.
5. The show is set to focus on the history behind the battle, but Joseph
Robertaccio of Utica and Edward Kupiec of Barneveld were inspired by the network's
investigators to take a second look at where the battle occurred.

The story that fascinates the two men unfolded on Aug. 6, 1777. About 800
Tryon County militiamen and 60 Oneida Indians woke that day to begin the third
day of march to help the besieged Fort Stanwix. Loyalist troops and their
Iroquois Indian allies ambushed them after most of the militiamen had crossed a
creek in a deep ravine about two miles west of what is now the village of

Five hundred of the volunteer militiamen and Oneidas under Gen. Nicholas
Herkimer died in the six-hour battle, as volleys of Loyalist musket fire cut
down the lead troops. Iroquois warriors' spears, tomahawks and war clubs took
more of the patriots in hours of close combat. Herkimer fell to a sniper's
musket ball.

The site is dotted with historical markers where key events of the battle
supposedly took place. The Oriskany Monument obelisk was erected in 1884, and
the newest interpretive signs were put up in 1990.

"Of all the signs ... there's only two in the right spot," said Robertaccio,
a longtime volunteer and loyal supporter of the battlefield, said based on
the research he and Kupiec did,

Robertaccio said he and Kupiec uncovered evidence indicating:

•Where General Herkimer was shot.

•Where he sat with his shattered leg to command the surrounded militiamen.

•The route of the military road the ill-fated command followed into the

Nancy Demyttenaere, who oversees the battlefield site on the Rome/Whitestown
border for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation,
said the History Channel sent researchers to the site last spring to try to
find out why the melee was the bloodiest conflict of the American Revolution.
Their conclusions will be broadcast on the "Battlefield Detectives" program.
The producer and director did not respond to e-mail requests for information
about their findings.

"Oriskany is a story of success and failure of leadership," Demyttenaere
said, and military officers frequently visit the battlefield to learn from the
actions of leaders on both sides.

Robertaccio said he dug through old documents, drawings and photographs from
the 1800s, while Kupiec, a retired Air Force photo interpreter, pored over
satellite images and aerial photographs.

Their justification for relocating the spot where Herkimer was shot suggests
the level of research done.

"We have a statement by the guy who tomahawked the man who shot him and the
guy next to the general, who saw it happen," Robertaccio said.

The two read and reread descriptions by battlefield survivors and their
families, accounts by British officers and even the poem "The Song of Harkemer's
Battle," which they say may have been written by Marinus Willett, who was
second-in-command at Fort Stanwix.

They also took a second look at transcripts of the post-battle trial of Col.
Fisher, or Vissher, whose 200 militiamen fled the battlefield and left
Herkimer and the main body surrounded by the enemy.

Demyttenaere relishes the sleuthing of people like Robertaccio and Kupiec.

"There are always people looking for X marks the spot," she said. "Joe and
Ed are like bloodhounds at finding new information."

"We have differences of opinion," on some of their conclusions, she said,
but that is part of historic interpretation.

"We know more about (the battlefield) than they did in the days after Aug.
6, 1777," because of the passionate investigations of people like Robertaccio
and Kupiec, she said.

Robertaccio said their findings "are the tip of the iceberg. We built on the
work of others."

Demyttenaere said any new findings also have to "honor all the values of the
storyline" that has existed for nearly 2 1/2 centuries. That must include
the heroism and sacrifice of Herkimer and the citizen soldiers and Indians who
followed him, she said.

"This is one of the richest, most culturally diverse historic sites (of the
American Revolution)," she said.

No one knows that better than Robertaccio. On the 217th anniversary of the
battle, he chaired a two-day remembrance weekend to celebrate the Oneida
Indian Nation's role in the conflict. After the event, Oneida Nation
Representative Ray Halbritter reflected on the unique alliance.

"The Oneidas made the difficult decision to remain true to their new
American neighbors," he wrote, "believing in principle that taxation without
representation and domination by the King of England was intolerable and wrong.

"The decision to support the Colonists pitted Indian brother against Indian
brother, as the remaining four members of the original Iroquois Confederacy
decided to remain neutral or sided with the British."

Sadly, the battle that helped unite America split apart a Native American
nation that had existed for hundreds of years, he said.

The Oneidas' aide to the American military throughout history is observed
each November, during Native American Heritage Month.

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