Read Chapter XX - Enlisted Men of The Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley, free online book, by James Otis, on

On the morning after General Arnold’s arrival, when we learned that the reinforcements which had been sent to us at Fort Schuyler were to be marched directly back to the main army then at Stillwater, the Minute Boys held a conference to decide what should be done, for it was in my mind that each member of the company had a right to discuss freely the question that must be settled without delay.

We knew that Peter Sitz was to return to Cherry Valley as soon as he could make ready for the journey, and I was of the belief that Jacob desired to accompany his father; but never a word had passed between us on the subject.

From all we could hear concerning affairs in the Mohawk Valley, it seemed much as if the senseless panic among St. Leger’s force had resulted in breaking up the combination between the British and the Indians, in which case Thayendanega would not be able to ravage the country nearabout Cherry Valley, as he had doubtless counted on.

When I considered the matter, with a sickness for home in my heart, it seemed much as if my proper place was with my parents, and there, if trouble should come, I would be able to strike a blow in defence of those I loved; but while listening to the conversation of the soldiers, and being brought to understand how sorely the colonists needed the aid which should come from their midst, I said to myself that strong, hulking lads like our Minute Boys ought to be ashamed to do other than remain in the service, doing their part in showing the king that we would have no more of his misrule.

It seemed to me that Sergeant Corney was averse to talking with any of us concerning the future, for, as soon as it was known that we must decide at once upon some course, he kept aloof whenever he heard two or three discussing the question of what we Minute Boys ought to do, now that we were no longer needed at Fort Schuyler.

I have thus set down that which was in my mind at the time, not that it is of any especial importance, but to the end that he who reads may understand how undecided I was as to what my company had best do at such a time; and I believe every person will realize that a lad’s love for country must be great when it prompts him to turn his back on home and loved ones after having passed through as many dangers as had our boys from Cherry Valley.

During the evening previous I had notified all the members of the company that we would meet in the barracks at eight o’clock in the morning to decide what course should be pursued, and considerably before the time set every lad was in waiting; but Sergeant Corney did not put in an appearance.

We had come to consider him as the head and front of the Minute Boys, and his absence at such an important time seemed odd, to say the least.

“I believe he has it in mind to join General Arnold’s force,” John Sammons said, when the hour for the conference had come and passed without the sergeant’s having shown himself, and the idea of such a possibility brought a strange sensation of loneliness to my heart.

Then Jacob suggested that the old man might have been detained against his will at headquarters, and I proposed that the lad go at once to learn if such was the case.

He did not absolutely refuse to obey what might have been considered as an order from the captain, but tried to shift the duty by saying: 

“It would be of more avail for you to go, Noel, if so be the old man really has it in mind to enlist under General Arnold.  You have ever been a favorite of his, whereas I am little more than an outsider, who has caused you an’ he much trouble an’ sufferin’.”

The lad did not really believe his own statements, but made them simply to shift the duty to my shoulders, for it was a bold and might be considered an impertinent act for us to presume to advise or urge one of so much and so varied experience as Sergeant Corney.

I set off without further parley, and to my great surprise found the old man on the parade-ground talking idly with Peter Sitz.

“Had you forgotten that the company was called together at eight o’clock this mornin’?” I asked, as if in surprise.

“Not a bit of it, lad.”

“Then why didn’t you come to the barracks?”

“I knew you lads had somewhat of importance to decide, an’ wasn’t countin’ on goin’ where I might be said to have influenced you.”

“But don’t you reckon yourself as belongin’ any longer to the company?”

“I didn’t count on bein’ able to pass myself off for a boy, even among blind men,” the old soldier said, with a laugh, and I cried, hotly: 

“That isn’t answerin’ my question, sergeant.  Is there any good reason why you should stand stiffly here while we’re tryin’ to make up our minds what to do?”

“Yes, lad, I believe there is.”

“What may it be, if you’re willin’ to tell us?”

“It shouldn’t be hard to guess.  All my life long I’ve followed soldierin’ as another man follows a trade, an’ I’m not the one who ought to speak when lads are makin’ up their minds as to the future, lest I say that which pleases me, an’ may not be the best thing for them.”

“Answer me one question squarely, Sergeant Corney, without beatin’ about the bush.  Do you think we’re too young to enlist as soldiers, if it so be the lads decide that the Minute Boys ought to do all they can for the Cause?”

“Not a bit of it; it strikes me your company has shown that it may be of value in any army, an’ I’ll go bail Colonel Gansevoort will agree with me.  What say you, Peter Sitz?”

“Speakin’ for my Jacob, he’s shown that his services are not to be despised in sich warfare as we’re like to have in the valley; but it must be for him to say what he’ll do, without word or look from me.”

Now it was that I began to understand what these two were driving at.  They were minded that we of the company should decide the question before us without aid from them, and it was not difficult to guess that, in their opinion, the Minute Boys ought to remain where they could do the best service for the colony.

However, I was determined that they should be present while we discussed the matter, and by dint of much coaxing finally succeeded in my purpose.

When we were all together I put the matter before the lads to the best of my ability, asking each to say if he was minded to go home at once, or whether he would be willing to regularly enlist in the American army, and before any other could speak John Sammons made a suggestion which showed him to be a lad of rare good sense.

“It seems to me that it would be a good idea to first learn whether we’re wanted in the army.  There’s hardly one among us of an age to be taken as a recruit, an’ if they won’t let us enlist as a full company, allowin’ our own officers to remain in command, I for my part would rather go home.”

There could be no question but that very many of us shared John’s ideas, and then came the question as to how we might learn what we wanted to know.

This we could not determine upon until Peter Sitz said, quietly: 

“Most likely Colonel Gansevoort can tell you in short order; but, if he can’t, he won’t be long in findin’ out from General Arnold.”

This was just the suggestion we needed, and then came the question as to who would go to the commandant.  I flatly refused, because it would look too much as if I was eager to hold my rank as captain, and after considerable tongue-wagging it was decided that Jacob should tackle the job, his father agreeing to go with him to headquarters.

While these two were absent we talked much among ourselves, and I soon learned that every member of the company was willing to remain in service if it could be done as regularly enlisted men, holding together as a separate company.

Sergeant Corney would take no part in the discussion.  He flatly refused to give an opinion until after the matter had been fully decided; but I knew full well the old man would remain with us, even though we were only a company of boys.

Then Jacob and his father returned, and there was no need of further talk.

“The commandant says that we have only to present ourselves before General Schuyler in order to be enlisted as we desire,” Jacob reported.  “He promises to write a letter to the general at once, telling him of how much service we have been here in the fort, an’ agrees to provide us with provisions for the march, with two baggage-wagons to haul the stores.  We’re to have from the plunder gotten out of St. Leger’s camp all we may need in way of an outfit, so that we’ll really show up before the commander equipped for service without cost to the colonies.”

Thus the matter was settled.  With such a generous offer from the commandant never a member of the company could have hung back had he so desired; but I am proud to say that each and every one of them was eager to join the army, since it might be done as regular soldiers.

Then it was that Sergeant Corney had his say, and he was by no means niggardly with words.

First he congratulated us on having performed such good service that the commander under whom we served was pleased to do all in his power to give us a good send-off, and then declared that he had rather enlist with us than in any regiment of the army.  If we had decided to go to Cherry Valley, it was his purpose to join General Arnold’s force; but now that he could remain with the Minute Boys he was content.

We were proud lads that day, for it seemed as if every officer and soldier in the fort was eager to give us some word of praise, and those with whom we had served watched jealously when our equipment was being selected from the plunder of the British camp, lest we might not get the best of everything.

We had our hands full of business making ready for the march, when Reuben Cox came shyly up to where Sergeant Corney and I were looking after the stowage of goods in the wagons, and said to me in a half-whisper, as if fearing others might hear him: 

“I don’t reckon your company is any place for a man who has shown himself sich a sneak as I am, eh?”

“Would you like to go with us?” I asked, in surprise, and pitying from the bottom of my heart the man who was so deeply repentant.

“That I would, Captain Campbell.  It may be in time I can live down my record, providin’ there be any one who’ll look to what I may do, instead of always thinkin’ of what I have done.”

“But the men in the fort have been kind to you of late, Cox?” I said, questioningly.

“Ay, that they have, considerin’ what I’ve done, an’ how nearly I came to workin’ the worst of harm to all hands here; but I can see by their eyes that they’re always thinkin’ I may play the same dirty game agin, though God knows I’d stand at the stake with never a whimper till the life was burned out of me rather than do one of them another wrong.”

Had I felt at liberty to decide the matter then and there, Cox would have been a member of the Minute Boys without further parley; but it was only right I should consult the others, therefore I told him to come again within an hour, when I would give him an answer.

He thanked me humbly, and was about to go away, when Sergeant Corney took him by the hand as he said: 

“What’s in the past can’t be brought back for the fixin’; but we’ve got in our own keepin’ the shapin’ of the to-morrows.  I’m thinkin’ you won’t go astray agin, Reuben Cox, an’ whenever I see a chance to speak a good word for you it shall be said.”

The man’s face lighted up wonderfully, and in my heart I thanked the old sergeant over and over for having been thus kind to one who, having committed the worst crime possible for a soldier, stood ready to give up his life cheerfully to the end that he might atone.

I called the lads together without loss of time, repeating to them what Cox had said, and again was I made glad when they agreed without hesitation to take him among us.

John Sammons was sent to bring up the new member of the company, and Sergeant Corney said, grimly, as he tried without avail to pucker his wrinkled face into a frown: 

“At this rate you’ll soon lose the right to call yourselves Minute Boys, because this ‘ere company is fast becomin’ a refuge for the aged and outcast.”

There was to be mourning as well as gladness among us on this the last day we were to spend in Fort Schuyler.

Toward noon a messenger from the general commanding came in, bringing with him the sad news that General Herkimer was dead of his wounds, or, perhaps I should say, because of his wounds.

As we were told, the general was safely taken to his home after the battle, being carried on a litter the entire distance.  The weather was very warm, and soon the wound became gangrenous.  Nine days after his arrival, a young French surgeon who had been with General Arnold’s force visited the house, and claimed that the injured limb should be cut off without delay, as the only means of saving the sufferer’s life.

The family doctor objected very strongly; but the general’s family had faith in the Frenchman, although it is claimed he had evidently been drinking heavily, and the leg was cut off.  The operation was performed so unskilfully that it was impossible to entirely check the flow of blood, and the Frenchman, indulging in more wine, became so badly intoxicated that, even had he known how, it would have been beyond his power to take the proper measures.

There was no other surgeon to be had, and toward the close of the day, when the brave old general came to understand that his end was very near, he asked for the Bible, from which he read aloud the thirty-eighth psalm, immediately afterward sinking back upon the pillow dead.

“Murdered if ever a man was!” Sergeant Corney cried, when the sad story had been brought to an end, and I was of the same opinion.

There are several forms of mutiny, and some of them are called by other names, but all as dangerous as they are wicked.  Because many of those who badgered the brave old soldier to his death paid the full penalty of their crime in the ravine under the hatchet or knife of the savages, it may not be well to say harsh words concerning them; but so long as I live there will always be anger in my heart whenever I hear their names mentioned.

During that evening, after everything had been made ready for the march at an early hour next morning, we lads gave to Peter Sitz messages for the loved ones at Cherry Valley, promising that we would never bring disgrace upon the settlement, and so burdening his mind with this matter and the other that, if the poor man remembered but the half of all the words we entrusted him with, he must have had a most prodigious memory.

Right proud was I when I marched out of the fort next morning at the head of my company, followed by the two baggage-wagons; but yet there was a sorrow in my heart because it seemed, in a certain degree, at least, as if by becoming regularly enlisted men we gave up our claim to the name of Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley.

Those under whom we served did not view the matter in the same light I did, however, for we kept the title we liked best during all the time we served in the army.

It would please me to set down here an account of the adventures which were ours after becoming enlisted men, but it must not be done, else I might never bring the tale to a close, for we saw very much during the time our people were convincing the king, and surely did our duty at Bemis Heights, otherwise our company would never have been mentioned in the flattering terms it then was.

It causes me most profound sorrow to say that our company was far away, fighting for the Cause to the best of our ability, when our homes at Cherry Valley were destroyed and many of our loved ones massacred by the fiendish savages, and there is always in my heart a cruel joy that we lads who had been trained by Sergeant Corney avenged that dastardly act of Thayendanega’s in such manly fashion that he must have remembered the reprisals to his dying day.

Then it was we showed ourselves to be Minute Boys of the Mohawk Valley in good truth, however we may have been spoken of elsewhere, and if it so be the good God spares my life sufficiently long I propose to set down the story of that vengeance, when more than one of us, sorely wounded, continued the chase, upheld even when exhausted nigh unto death by the thoughts of what our loved ones had been made to suffer by that wolf in human shape - Joseph Brant.