Letters to Head-Quarters


The following letters were included with the Battle of Johnstown article written by James F. Morrison.  They appear in the form as contained in his piece.  They have been separated only for the purpose of keeping web pages relatively short and easy to load.  Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. appear as they appear in documents transcribed from.


Philadelphia Nov. 17




    SINCE I had the honor of addressing your Excellencey this morning, I have received the inclosed papers from Major-General Lord Stirling, by which Congress will perceive that the enemy have been compleatly disappointed in their designs on the northern frontiers of this State, and defeated with considerable loss. The address, gallentry, and perservering activity exhibited by Col. Willett on this occasion, do him the highest honor. The conduct of Major Rowley, and the brave militia under his command, at a critical moment, merits particular commendation. I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your Excellencey’s most obedient servant.

W. Heath


His Excellencey the President of Congress: Extract of a letter from Major-General Lord Stirling, dated Saratoga, Nov. 6, 1781.

    I have received a letter from Col. Willett, copy of which is inclosed. The returns he alludes to were never sent. The vigilant, prudent conduct of this officer, through the whole affair was such he reflects the highest honor upon the military character; and the essential service he has done his country will give him a pleasing remembrance in every honest breath. The number he has taken, killed and wounded, with the distressed situation in which he left them, will amount short of a total defeat; eight days march will scarcely bring them to a country where they can be supplied with provisions.


Fort Rensselaer Nov. 2, 1781

My Lord,

    Having just returned from pursuing the enemy, my first business is to acquaint your Lordship of the particular transactions that have taken place in this quarter, from the time of their first appearance.

    Eight o’clock, P.M. on the 24th ult. I received advice that a considerable body of the enemy were discovered in the upper part of the Mohawk district every means was instantly taken to collect the force of the country in order to oppose them without loss of time, so that by one o’clock the following day I was within two miles of Fort Hunter, with between four and five hundred levies and militia; there I learnt that the enemy, having burnt several houses and barns at Warrensbush, had crossed the river at a ford some distance below, and were marching to Johnstown. This obliged me to cross the river as soon as possible, and march by the shortest route to the place wither they were directing their course. When within two miles of Johnstown, I was informed they were already there, had halted; and were bust killing cattle belonging to the inhabitants. Thus situated, I was determined to attack them as soon as possible; and ordered the left wing of the few troops I had, to perform a circuit throught the woods, and fall upon their right flank, while the right wing advanced in front.

    A few minutes brought us in view of them. The troops of this wing were pushed on to a field adjoining to the one possessed by the enemy, where they displayed to the right, and advanced in a line towards them, who retired with precipitation to a neighbouring woods, closely pressed by our advance, which began to skirmish with them; while the remainder of the wing was advancing briskly in two columns.—In this pleasing situation without any apparent cause, the whole of the wing turned about and fled, nor was it possible to rally them. A field piece, which was left on a height at a small distance from the wood, to secure a retreat, was abandoned, and fell into the hands of the enemy. At this critical period our left wing, commanded by Major Rowley, of the Massachusetts State, and composed of the militia of this county, except about sixty of the levies of the above State, made their appearance in the enemy’s rear.

    These soon regained everything our right wing had lost, and more. Night came on, and the enemy retired into the woods, leaving a great number of their packs behind them. After marching six miles, they encamped on the top of a mountain. By information from prisoners who made their escape from them in the night, it appeared to be their intention to strike at the frontiers of Stone Arabia in order to furnish themselves with provisions. This induced me to march to that place the next morning, where we remained all that day and night, without hearing any thing further from them, than that they were pointing their route further into the wilderness. I was now sure they were unable to make any sudden stroke below the Little Falls, and in consequence, on the morning of the 27th, I removed to the German Flatts, in order to be between the enemy and their boats, which they had left on Oneida-Creek. On my way I learnt; that the party which I had detached to destroy them, had returned without doing their duty. The 28th was passed in furnishing the choicest of the troops with five days provision., and sixty Oneida Indians, who had this day joined me. It now appeared clearly, that the enemy having given up the hope of returning to their boats, were directing their march to Buck’s island, or to Osswagewa. The troops intended to pursue them, to the amount of 400, besides Indians, crossed the Mohawk at Fort-Herkimer, and encamped in the woods. The day following we marched upwards of 20 miles north, into the woods, through a snow-storm, and about 8 o’clock, A.M. on the morning of the 30th, we fell in with the enemy, between the rear-guard and a detachment of 40 men with some Indians. These it was intended should procure a fresh supply of provisions, and follow after their troops, who were to continue their route. Some of this party were taken, some killed, and the rest dispersed. Their main body set out on a trot in Indian file, and were pursued as warmly and closely as possible, until quite night. Our pursuit they but once endeavored to resist, which was at a very bad ford on Canada Creek, wher they left Major Walter Butler and several more. (This is the same Butler who commanded the massacre at Cherry-Valley in November 1778.) We have lost but one man in the pursuit. Our Indians were very useful, and behaved with their usual alertness upon such occasions. Your Lordship knows they are the best cavalry for the service of the wilderness. Strange as it may appear it is true, that not withstanding the enemy had been four days in the wilderness with only half a pound of horse-flesh per man per day, yet, in this famished situation, they trotted 30 miles before they stopped. Many of them indeed fell a sacrifice to such treatment. Their packs and blankets were strewed through the woods. All their horses, except five which were sent a considerable distance forward in their van, with their wounded and a few prisoners fell into our hands.

    In this situation I left the unfortunate Major Ross; unfortunate I call him, for he was surely so in taking charge of so fine a detachment of men to execute so dirty and triffling a piece of business as he was sent on at such immense hazard and exquisite toil. To fatigue the brave troops any longer, appeared unnecessary. The enemy, who continued their flight a great part of the night, had got greatly the start of us, and almost certain destruction appeared before them.—A seven days march, rivers passable but upon rafts, a barren wilderness, in an inclement season of the year, to be encountered with, before they can obtain any provisions; besides, our situation, had we pursued them a day or two longer, might become little better than theirs; for our Indians, and many of the troops, in order to pursue them with greater vigor, had thrown aside their blankets and provisions, which were now 20 miles or more in the rear; in fine, we left them in a situation, perhaps, more suited to their merit than a musket ball, a tomahawk, or captivity.

    I shall not attempt to give your Lordship an account of the whole of the enemy’s loss, from the beginning to the end of the affair. The fields of Johnstown, the brooks and rivers, the hills and mountains, the deep and gloomy marshes throught which they had pass; these must tell, these only can tell; and perhaps at least the officer, whoever he is, that detached them on this paltry expedition. The desolate region they traversed in their flight, while we were pursuing them, lies upwards of 30 miles north of Fort-Schuyler.

    It would be wrong in me to close this letter, without assuring your Lordship that the troops in general, who were with me on this service, supported the great fatigues they had to encounter, with a soldier-like fortitude. To Andrew Finck; Esq; formerly a Captain in Col. Van Schaick’s regiment, but at present a Magistrate in this county, who performed the service of a Brigade-Major, I am under great obligations for his particular attention, great dilligence, and manly deportment, through the whole of this expedition.

    Inclosed is a particular return of the force of the enemy; returns of our killed and wounded, and such as shall be proper to transmit to your Lordship, shall be sent forward as soon as collected. I remain, with sentiments of the greatest esteem and respect, your Lordship’s very humble servant,

Marinus Willett


The Hon. Major-General Lord Stirling

Force of the enemy; taken from Walter Butler’s pocket book

    Eighth Regiment 25, Thirty-Fourth ditto 100, Eighty-Fourth ditto Highlanders 30, Sir John’s 120, Lake’s Independent 40, Butler’s Rangers 150, Yagers 12, Indians 130. – Total 607

Published by order of Congress


Source:  The Providence Gazette and Country Journal, Saturday, December 1, 1781, Vol XVIII, No. 935

Contributed May 2, 1999 by Douglas J .Weaver. He is researching the following names in Fulton, Montgomery & Herkimer Counties: BAUMAN, CLAUS/CLAUSE, FREDERICK, GOODRICH, HILLEGAS/HELLINGAS, MEYER, SMITH, WEAVER, WELLS.


Battle of Johnstown

Rosters of Men who fought in the Battle of Johnstown on October 25, 1781

Some Revolutionary Soldiers' Pensions excerpts who fought in the battle of Johnstown

Return to Fulton County NYGenWeb


Copyright 1999, James F. Morrison
Copyright 1999, Douglas Weaver, Jeanette Shiel
All Rights Reserved.

Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:36:43 PDT