In May of 1778, nearly 50 Oneida troops arrived at Valley Forge, led by 20-year-old Marquis de Lafayette. Gen. George Washington, expecting the British troops to evacuate Philadelphia, put Lafayette in command of 2,200 men to find out what the British were planning. The Oneidas were assigned to a special detachment of scouts to advance Lafayette’s troops and left Valley Forge on May 19.
Lafayette stopped that night at Barren Hill, about 12 miles from Philadelphia, set up camp and sent out the Oneida and American scouts to reconnoiter. The British, who outnumbered the American contingent four-to-one, were aware of Lafayette’s encampment and marched out the same night.
On the morning of May 20, the Oneidas and their American counterparts met the front of one of the British lines and engaged in a brief but bloody battle. The gunfire was heard by the following army who quickly realized the British were upon them. They retreated, still firing and under heavy attack. This battle allowed Lafayette to make a speedy retreat with minimal losses. Washington publicly praised his tactic as “timely and handsome.” If not for the Oneida and American scouts bravely engaging the British, nearly a fifth of the American army could have been lost. Many believe the entire course of the war would have been different if this trap by the British army had not been evaded.