Cherry Valley Massacre – 11/11/1778

US History |

When it comes to the military, both past and present, officers in command must make decisions that can result in a sounding victory or in utter defeat. Making the best choice possible relies heavily on those in charge of collecting as much intelligence as possible and passing that along to their commander. Once delivered, a course of action is made to agree with the intelligence provided or consider it inconsequential. Such was the choice for Patriot Colonel Ichabod Alden on November 11th, 1778 when his intelligence officer provided information that a hostile force was approaching. The choice the Colonel had to make would be a life or death decision; unfortunately, he made the wrong choice.

When Ichabod was given a report that hostile forces were approaching to attack, he made the decision that the information was incorrect and did not prepare appropriately. The result of his decision led to a combined group of Native Americans and Loyalists commencing an attack in the snow and it was a success. More than 40 Patriots were killed, including the Colonel, and roughly 70 prisoners were captured in what has become known today as the Cherry Valley Massacre. The battle occurred east of Cooperstown, NY which is now called Otsego County.

Alden was from Duxbury, Massachusetts who was a New Englander and his military command began when he joined the Plymouth militia prior to serving in the 25th Continental regiment at the time of the siege of Boston that followed the attack at Concord and Lexington in 1775. Afterwards, Ichabod was placed to be in charge of the 7th Massachusetts Regiment in Cherry Valley, NY where he discovered he was out of his depth strategically because the state had a deep divide between Patriots and Loyalists; a significant presence of a Native American military only complicated the situation there. All of these factors would lead up to the scenario of whether or not Alden would be able to trust the intelligence given to him and avoid any costly decisions.

Given the information that the local natives were devising an attack on them, Alden ignored the warning in which the 200 to 300 men that were stationed to protect Cherry Hill would be outmatched by the 600 Iroquois that were led by the proficient command of Chief Joseph Brant. Also with them were 200 men that were known as Butler’s Rangers and their leader was Loyalist Major Walter Butler; ironically, these Rangers trained by Colonel John Butler who was Walter’s father.

Adding to the irony was that precisely three years prior to this so-called slaughter that was committed by discontented Iroquois on November 11th, 1775, the missionary Samuel Kirkland was asked by the Continental Congress to pass on the “Gospel amongst the Indians,” and prove “their affections to the United Colonies…thereby preserving their friendship and neutrality.”

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