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Remembering Sullivan's March Part II

Photo by Pete Hardenstine

A marker, presented by the Daughters of the American Revolution, stands at the corner of the Wyalusing Cemetery. Two soldiers from Gen. John Sullivan's 1779 expedition are believed to be buried somewhere in the immediate area.

(Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part story commemorating the 225th anniversary of Sullivan's March.)

With Indian and Tory raids threatening the Pennsylvania and New York frontiers, Gen. George Washington ordered Gen. John Sullivan to organize a force to move up the Susquehanna River from the Wyoming Valley into the Iroquois homeland in New York to wage a scorched earth campaign.

Sullivan's force departed Wilkes-Barre on July 31, 1779 and slowly moved up the valley, reaching Black Walnut on Aug. 4.

The next day, the force arrived at Wyalusing where it camped until Aug. 8.

Sgt. Martin Johnson of the 2nd New Jersey regiment died on Aug. 5 at Wyalusing. The body of a soldier from Gen. Phillip Van Cortlandt's regiment who had died at Black Walnut was brought up to Wyalusing and buried along with Johnson near the Kingsley home.

The exact location of the burial sites is unknown, but it is believed to be somewhere in or near the current Wyalusing cemetery.

A hard storm forced Sullivan's troops to remain in Wyalusing an extra day before resuming the march north.

Upriver to Tioga

Sullivan advanced to Standing Stone on Aug. 8 where legend says that soldiers fired a cannon at the stone in the river that gave the community its name.

After a stop at Wysox, the army reached Sheshequin on Aug. 9.

That day, Col. Thomas Proctor took a small force across the river to destroy an Indian village—Newychaannick—at the mouth of Sugar Creek. Twenty log homes were destroyed in the raid.

On Aug. 11, the force reached Tioga where it began constructing Fort Sullivan which would serve as a base of operations.

While waiting for Gen. James Clinton to arrive from Otsego Lake, NY, with five more regiments of Continental troops, Sullivan sent a force to Chemung where after a brisk fight that resulted in 20 American casualties, including seven deaths, an Indian village was destroyed.

On Aug. 22, Clinton finally reached Tioga. Clinton's force, combined with Sullivan's, meant that a third of Washington's Continental Army was poised to strike at the Indian-Tory threat.

Four days later, 4,000 troops, 1,000 horses and nine artillery pieces departed Fort Sullivan, heading up the Chemung River.

A force of 250 soldiers, along with a number of women and children who had accompanied the march from Wilkes-Barre, stayed to defend the fort.

Battle of Newtown

On Aug. 29, Sullivan's force faced its largest resistance yet—a 700-man body commanded by Tory commander John Butler and Chief Joseph Brant, an Iroquois leader.

The 400 Indians and 300 Tory Rangers had erected a breastwork at Newtown, an Indian village just east of present day Elmira on the eastern shore of the Chemung River.

While Gen. Edward Hand's infantry took up position in front of the breastwork, Sullivan brought up Proctor's artillery.

A large hill to the right overlooked the breastwork.

Sullivan detached Gen. Enoch Poor's and Clinton's brigades on a flanking movement to capture the hill. His intention was to coordinate the assault so that Hand's frontal attack and the flanking movement would strike the enemy position at the same time as the artillery opened fire.

The flanking assault was delayed by swampy ground and stubborn resistance from Indians on the hill.

Nevertheless, Proctor's artillery scared off many of the Indians, while the final attack, uncoordinated as it was, drove off the rest of the enemy forces.

Sullivan lost four dead and 39 wounded in the battle.

Only 11 Indians were found dead, while Butler reported two Tories killed.

Scorched Earth

The victory ended all formal resistance to Sullivan's expedition.

Sending his artillery back to Fort Sullivan to lighten his supply train, Sullivan put his force on reduced rations for the ensuing raid into the Iroquois heartland.

Moving up the east side of Seneca Lake, Sullivan's men burned crops and destroyed Iroquois villages at will.

By Sept. 7, they reached the site of present day Geneva.

Advancing into the Genesee Valley, Sullivan detached a small advance force under Lt. Thomas Boyd to scout for enemy forces.

On Sept. 13, Boyd's force stumbled into a group of 600 Indians and Tories lying in wait for Sullivan's main body. Only nine of the 26-man party survived the attack, but Sullivan was alerted and Butler's force pulled back to Fort Niagara.

On Sept. 30, Sullivan's force returned to Tioga to much celebration.

Four days later, Fort Sullivan was destroyed and the force departed Tioga.

After camping at Wysox, most of the force loaded itself on boats and made quick time downriver to Wyoming where it landed on Oct. 7.


Sullivan reported that 40 Indian villages had been burned. The expedition cut down orchards, destroyed corn crops in the field and grain stores.

By Sullivan's estimate, over 160,000 bushels of corn were destroyed.

The Iroquois—an estimated 5,000—were forced to rely on their British allies at Niagara for shelter and food during the winter of 1779-80.

The expedition didn't stop the Indian raids on the frontier, but the number and intensity of the attacks were greatly reduced.

Some historians have argued that the Sullivan Expedition wasn't as successful as it could have been.

Part of Washington's original plan had opened the door for Sullivan to advance to Fort Niagara and eliminate that post as a source of encouragement and supply for the raiders.

Joseph R. Fischer in his work, A Well-Executed Failure, an analysis of the Sullivan Campaign, bluntly states that while the march lessened the Indian threat, the seizure of Fort Niagara would have been the only way to safeguard the frontier.

Nevertheless, a grateful Continental Congress voted a resolution thanking the officers and men for their efforts.

Two years later, Washington's army accepted the British surrender at Yorktown that effectively ended the Revolutionary War.

Sullivan's expedition bought Washington valuable time and, in the long run, provided this area with much of its rich history.

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