While the battle was at its height, rolling clouds had gathered and a drenching storm checked the combatants in their work of slaughter. The colonials were still fighting desperately, but for them the day was lost. After the few moments’ interval they re-formed their scattered ranks and resolutely faced the foe. No sooner, however, had the struggle again commenced than the noise of cannon came reverberating upon the moist air. The appointed messengers had arrived at Fort Stanwix, many hours late, and the signal had been given. Deceived by the cannonading and fearing that St Leger might be in distress, the loyalists rapidly drew off with their Indian allies, leaving their opponents on the crimson field. But so exhausted were the colonials by the fierce fighting they had experienced that they could not follow after the retreating army and were forced to move dejectedly down the Mohawk valley. Four hundred of their men had fallen in the battle, dead or wounded, nearly half the number that had entered the swampy ravine. On a litter of green boughs General Herkimer was carried to his stone house on the river, where, a few weeks after the cruel fight, he died with the same fortitude that he had shown when under fire.
The laurels for this victory at Oriskany rested with Captain Brant. He had commanded the greater part of the loyalist forces and his plan had placed the enemy at their mercy. Thanks to this success, the colonials had received a stunning blow, and Colonel St Leger’s army was possibly saved from an utter rout. But the Indians had paid a heavy price for their victory; many of their chiefs and warriors lay dead upon the field.
The siege of Fort Stanwix was kept up until August 22. By this time St Leger had reached a point one hundred and fifty yards from its outer wall. During the interval the word of Herkimer’s defeat had brought General Arnold with a strong body of militiamen to the rescue. While still some distance away this commander thought that he might create a false alarm in the English camp. A half-witted fellow, who went by the name of Hon-Yost Schuyler, had been captured and was in Arnold’s camp. He was freed on condition that he should go to the English camp and give an exaggerated account of the new force which was coming to the relief of Fort Stanwix. When he reached the camp Schuyler went first among the Indians, showing a coat riddled with bullets, and told of the host that was on its way. When asked how many there were, he pointed to the fluttering leaves above his head. The redskins always had a superstitious awe of this stupid fellow and now they were terror-stricken by his words and antics. Panic seized the besiegers. Perhaps Brant tried to quell the disorder, but, if he did, his efforts were in vain. St Leger himself seemed to share in the panic, for he beat a hasty retreat, following the road leading to Oswego. But the War Chief of the Six Nations—it is pleasant to relate—did not retreat with him. While St Leger journeyed to the north, Brant had called together a band of his willing followers. Then he took one of those flying marches which made him famous in border warfare. Crossing the territory of the enemy with great skill and daring, he hurried eastward, and in a short time he was in the camp of General Burgoyne on the banks of the Hudson.