Chronicles of Border Warfare
No sooner had the adventurous advance of Col. Clarke, and the success with which it was crowned, become known at Detroit, than preparations were made to expel him from Kaskaskias, or capture his little army, and thus rid the country of this obstacle to the unmolested passage of the savages, to the frontier of Virginia.
An army of six hundred men, principally Indians, led on by Hamilton the governor of Detroit—a man at once bold and active, yet blood-thirsty and cruel, and well known as a chief instigator of the savages to war, and as a stay and prop of Tories—left Detroit and proceeded towards the theatre of Clarke’s renown. With his force, he calculated on being able to effect his purpose as regarded Col. Clarke and his little band of bold and daring adventurers, and to spread devastation and death along the frontier, from Kentucky to Pennsylvania. Arriving at Fort St. Vincent, on the Wabash, about the middle of December, and deeming it too late to advance towards Kaskaskias, he repaired its battlements and converting it into a repository for warlike implements of every description, he detached the greater part of his force in marauding parties to operate against the settlements on the Ohio river, reserving for the security of his headquarters only one company of men.
While these alarming preparations were being made, Col. Clarke was actively engaged in acquiring an ascendancy over the neighboring tribes of Indians; and in endeavors to attach them to the cause of the United States, from principle or fear. The aid which had been voted him, fell far short of the contemplated assistance, and had not yet arrived; but his genius and activity, amply compensated for the deficiency. In the heart of an Indian country, -- remote from every succor, -- and in the vicinity of powerful and hostile tribes, he yet not only maintained his conquest and averted injury, but carried terror and dismay into the very strong holds of the savages. Intelligence of the movement of Hamilton at length reached him, and hostile parties of Indians soon hovered around Kaskaskias. Undismayed by the tempest which was gathering over him, he concentrated his forces, with drawing garrisons from other towns to strengthen this, and made every preparation to enable him to endure a siege, and withstand the assault of a powerful army. The idea of abandoning the country never occurred to him. He did not despair of being able to maintain his position, and he and his gallant band resolved that they would do it, or perish in the attempt. In this fearful juncture, all was activity and industry, when the arrival of a Spanish merchant who had been at St. Vincents brought information of the reduced state of Hamilton’s army. Convinced that a crisis had not arrived, Clarke resolved by one bold stroke to change the aspect of affairs, and instead of farther preparing to resist attack, himself to become the assailant. For this purpose, a galley, mounting two four pounders and four swivels, and having on board a company of men, was dispatched, with orders to the commanding officer, to ascend the Wabash and station himself a few miles below St. Vincents, allowing no one to pass him until the arrival of the main army. Garrisoning Kaskaskias, with militia, and embodying the inhabitants for the protection of the other towns, Colonel Clarke set forward on his march across the country, on the 7th of February, 1779, at the head of one hundred and thirty brave and intrepid men.
Such was the inclemency of the weather, and so many and great the obstacles which interposed, that in despite of the ardor, perseverance and energy of the troops, they could yet advance very slowly towards the point of destination. They were five days in crossing the drowned lands of the Wabash, and for five miles had to overcome every difficulty and arrived before St. Vincent on the evening of the twenty-third of February and almost simultaneously with the galley.
Thus far fortune seemed to favor the expedition. The army had not been discovered on its march, and the garrison was totally ignorant of its approach. Much however yet remained to be done. They had arrived within view of the enemy, but the battle was yet to be fought.
Sensible of the advantage to be derived from commencing the attack, while the enemy was ignorant of his approach, at seven o’clock he marched to the assault. The inhabitants instead of offering opposition, received the troops with gladness and surrendering the town, engaged with alacrity in the siege of the fort. For eighteen hours the garrison resisted the repeated onsets of the assailants; but during the night succeeding the commencement of the attack, Colonel Clarke had an entrenchment thrown up within rifle shot of the enemy’s strongest battery, and in the morning, from this position poured upon it such a well directed shower of balls, that in fifteen minutes he silenced two pieces of cannon without sustaining any loss whatever. The advantages thus gained, induced Hamilton to demand a parley, intimating an intention of surrendering. The terms were soon arranged. The governor and garrison became prisoners of war, and a considerable quantity of military stores fell into the hands of the conqueror.
During the continuance of the siege, Colonel Clarke received information that a party of Indians which had been detached by Hamilton to harass the frontiers, was returning and then near to St. Vincents with two prisoners. He immediately ordered a detachment of his men to march out and give them battle—nine Indians were taken and the two prisoners released.
History records but few enterprises, which display as strikingly the prominent features of Military greatness, and evince so much of the genius and daring which are necessary to their successful termination, as this; while the motives which led to its delineation, were such, as must excite universal admiration. Bold and daring, yet generous and disinterested, Colonel Clarke sought not his individual advancement in the projection or execution of this campaign. It was not to gratify the longings of ambition, or an inordinate love of fame, that prompted him to penetrate the Indian country to the Kaskaskias, not that tempted him forth from thence, to war with the garrison at St. Vincent. He was not one of
"Those worshippers of glory,
Who bathe the earth in blood,
And launch proud names for an after age,
Upon the crimson flood."
The distress and sufferings of the frontier of Virginia required that a period should speedily be put to them to preserve the country from ravage and its inhabitants from butchery. Clarke had seen and participated in that distress and these sufferings, and put in requisition every faculty of his mind and all the energies of his body, to alleviate and prevent them. Providence smiled on his undertaking, and his exertions were crowned with complete success. The plan which had been concerted for the ensuing campaign against the frontier of Virginia, threatening to involve the whole country west of the Allegheny mountains in destruction and death, was thus happily frustrated; and he, who had been mainly instrumental in impelling the savages to war, and in permitting, if not instigating them to the commission of the most atrocious barbarities, was a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. So justly obnoxious had he rendered himself by his conduct; that a more than ordinary vigor was practised upon him; and by the orders of the governor of Virginia, the governor of Detroit was manacled with irons, and confined in jail.
Far different was the termination of the enterprise entrusted to the conduct of General McIntosh. It has been already seen that, the approach of winter forced the main army to retire to the settlements into winter quarters before they were able to accomplish anything, but the erection of Fort Laurens. Colonel Gibson, the commandant of the garrison, though a brave and enterprising officer, was so situated, that the preservation of the fort, was all which he could accomplish; and this with no little hazard of failure, from the very superior force of the enemy, and the scarcity of provisions for the subsistence of the garrison. So soon as the Indians became acquainted with the existence of a fort so far in their country, they put in practice those arts which enable them, so successfully to annoy their enemies.
Early in January, a considerable body of savages approached Fort Laurens unperceived, and before the garrison was apprized that an Indian knew of its erection. In the course of the night they succeeded in catching the horses out side of the for; and taking off their bells, carried them into the woods, some distance off. They then concealed themselves in the prairie grass, along the path leading from the fort, and in the morning commenced rattling the bells, at the farther extremity of the line of ambushment, so as to induce the belief that the horses were there to be found. The stratagem succeeded. Sixteen men were sent out to bring in the horses. Allured by the sound of the bells, they kept the path, along which the Indians lay concealed, until they found themselves unexpectedly in the presence of an enemy, who opened upon them a destructive fire from front and rear. Fourteen were killed on the spot, and the remaining two were taken prisoners.
On the evening of the day on which this unfortunate surprise took place, the Indian army, consisting of eight hundred and forty-seven warriors, painted and equipped for war, marched in single file through a prairie near the fort and in full view of the garrison; and encamped on an adjacent elevation on the opposite side of the river. From this situation, frequent conversations were held by them with the whites, in which they deprecated the longer continuance of hostilities, but yet protested against the encroachment made upon their territory by the whites, and erection of a fort and the garrisoning soldiers within their country, not only unpermitted by them, but for some time before they knew anything of it. For these infringements on their rights, they were determined on prosecuting the war, and continued the investiture of the fort, for six weeks. In this time they became straitened for provisions, and aware that without a fresh supply of them, they would be forced to abandon the siege, they sent word to the commandant of the garrison, by a Deleware Indian, calling himself John Thompson, (who, though with the whites in the fort, was permitted by both parties to go in and out, as he chose) that they were desirous of peace, and were willing to enter into a negotiation, if he would send them a barrel of flour and some tobacco. Scarce as these articles had actually become in the garrison, yet Col. Gibson complied with their request, hoping that they might be induced to make peace or withdraw from the fort, and hopeless of timely succors from the settlements. Upon the receipt of those presents, the Indians raised the siege and marched their army off, much to the relief of the garrison, although they did not fulfill their promise of entering into a treaty.
During the time the Indians remained about the fort, there was much sickness in the garrison; and when they were believed to have retired, the commandant detached Col. Clarke, of the Pennsylvania line, with a party of fifteen men, to escort the invalids to Fort McIntosh. They proceeded but a small distance from the gate, where they were attacked by some Indians, who had been left concealed near the fort, for the purpose of effecting farther mischief, A skirmish ensued; but overpowered by numbers and much galled by the first fire, Col. Clarke could not maintain the conflict. With much difficulty he and three others reached the fort in safety; and the rest of the party were all killed.
Col. Gibson immediately marched out at the head of the greater part of the garrison, but the Indians had retreated as soon as they succeeded in cutting off the detachment under Col. Clarke, and prudence forbade to proceed in pursuit of them, as the main army was believed to be yet in the neighborhood. The dead were however brought in, and buried with the honors of war, in front of the fort gate.
In a few days after this, Gen. McIntosh arrived with a considerable body of troops and a supply of provisions for the garrison. While the savages were continuing the siege, a friendly Indian, had been dispatched by Col. Gibson to acquaint Gen. McIntosh with the situation of Fort Laurens, and that without the speedy arrival of a reinforcement of men and an accession to their stock of provisions, the garrison would have to surrender; or seek a doubtful safety by evacuating the fort and endeavoring to regain the Ohio river, in the presence of an overwhelming body of the enemy. With great promptitude the settlers flocked to the standard of Gen. McIntosh, and leading pack horses, with abundance of provisions for the supply of the garrison at Fort Laurens, commenced a rapid march to their relief. Before their arrival, they had been relieved from the most pressing danger, by the withdrawal of the Indian army; and were only suffering from the want of flour and meat. A manifestation of the great joy felt upon the arrival of Gen. McIntosh, had well night deprived them of the benefit to be derived from the provisions brought for them. When the relief army approached the fort, a salute was fired by the garrison, which, alarming the pack horses, caused them to break loose and scatter the greater part of the flour in every direction through the woods, so that it was impossible to be again collected.
The remains of those, who had unfortunately fallen into the ambuscade in January, and which had lain out until then,
were gathered together and buried* and a fresh detachment, under Major Vernon, being left to garrison the fort, in the room of that which had been stationed there during winter, Gen. McIntosh, withdrew from the country and returned to For McIntosh. In the ensuing fall, Fort Laurens was entirely evacuated; the garrison having been almost reduced to starvation, and it being found very difficult to supply them with provisions as so great a distance from the settlements and in the heart of the Indian country.
During the year 1778, Kentucky was the theatre of many outrages. In January, a party of thirty men, among whom was Daniel Boone, repaired to the Lower Blue licks for the purpose of making salt; and on the 7th of February, while Boone was alone in the woods, on a hunt to supply the salt makers with meat, he was encountered by a party of one hundred men and two Indians and two Canadians, and made prisoner. The savages advanced to the Licks, and made prisoners of twenty-seven of those engaged in making salt. Their object, in this incursion, was the destruction of Boonesborough; and had they continued their march thither, there is no doubt but that place, weakened as it was by the loss of so many of its men and not expecting an attack at that inclement season, would have fallen into their hands; but elated with their success, the Indians marched directly back with their prisoners to Chillicothe. The extreme suffering of the prisoners, during the march, inspired the savages with pity, and induced them to extreme and unusual lenity towards their captives. In March, Boone was carried to Detroit where the Indians refused to liberate him, though an hundred pounds were offered for his ransom, and from which place he accompanied them back to Chillicothe in the latter part of April. In the first of June, he went with them to the Scioto salt springs, and on his return found one hundred and fifty choice warriors of the Shawanee nation, painting, arming and otherwise equipping themselves to proceed again to the attack of Boonesborough.
Hitherto Boone had enjoyed as much satisfaction, as was consistent with his situation, and more than would have been experienced by the most of men, in captivity to the Indians; but when he found such great preparations making for an attack on the place which contained all that he held most dear, his love of family, his attachment to the village reared under his superintending hand, and to its inhabitants protected by his fostering care, determined him to attempt an immediate escape. Early on the morning of the 16th of June, he went forth as usual to hunt. He had secreted as much food as would serve him for one meal, and with this scanty supply, he resolved on finding his way home. On the 20th, having travelled a distance of one hundred and sixty miles, crossed the Ohio and other rivers, and with no sustenance, save what he had taken with him from Chilicothe, he arrived at Boonesborough. The fort was quickly repaired, and every preparation made to enable it to withstand a siege.
In a few days after, another, of those who had been taken prisoner at the Blue Licks, escaped, and brought intelligence that in consequence of the flight of Boone, the Indians had agreed to postpone their mediated irruption, for three weeks. This intelligence determined Boone to invade the Indian country, and at the head of only ten men he went forth on an expedition against Point creek town. Near to this place, he met with a party of Indians going to join the main army, then on its march to Boonesborough, whom he attacked and dispersed without sustaining any loss on his part. The enemy had one killed and two severely wounded in this skirmish; and lost their horses and baggage. On their return, they passed the Indian army on the 6th of August, and on the next day entered Boonesborough.
On the 8th of August, the Indian army, consisting of four hundred and fifty men, and commanded by Capt. DuQuesne, eleven other Frenchmen, and their own chiefs, appeared before the Fort and demanded its surrender. In order to gain time, Boone requested two days consideration, and at the expiration of that period, returned for answer, that the
* The bodies of these men were found to have been much devoured by wolves, and bearing the appearance of having been recently torn by them. With a view of taking revenge on these animals for devouring their companions, the fatigue party sent to bury their remains, after digging a grave sufficiently capacious to contain all, and having deposited them in it, they covered the pit with slender sticks, bark and rotten wood, too weak to bear the weight of a wolf, and placed a piece of meat on the top and near the centre of this covering as a bait. In the morning seven wolves were found in the pit, and killed and the grave then filled up.,
garrison had resolved on defending it, while one individual remained alive within its walls.
Capt. DuQuesne then made known, that he was charged by Gov. Hamilton, to make prisoners of the garrison, but not to treat them harshly; and that if nine of their principal men would come out, and negotiate a treaty, based on a renunciation of allegiance to the United States, and on a renewal of their fealty to the kind, the Indian army should be instantly withdrawn. Boone did not confide in the sincerity of the Frenchman, but he determined to gain the advantage of farther preparation for resistance, by delaying the attack. He consented to negotiate on the terms proposed; but suspecting treachery, insisted that the conference should be held near the fort walls. The garrison were on the alert, while the negotiation continued, and did not fail to remark that many of the Indians, not concerned in making the treaty, were stalking about, under very suspicious circumstance. The terms on which the savage army was to retire were at length agreed upon, and the articles signed, when the whites were told that it was an Indian custom, in ratification of compacts, that two of their chiefs should shake hands with one white man. Boone and his associates, consenting to conform to this custom, not without suspicion of a sinister design, were endeavored to be dragged off as prisoners by the savages; but strong and active, they bounded from their grasp, and entered the gate, amid a heavy shower of balls – one only of the nine, was slightly wounded. The Indians then commenced a furious assault on the fort, but were repulsed with some loss on their part; and every renewed attempt to carry it by storm, was in like manner, frustrated by the intrepidity and gallantry of its inmates.
Disappointed in their expectation of succeeding in this way, the savages next attempted to undermine the fort, commencing at the water mark of the Kentucky river, only sixty yards from the walls. This course was no doubt dictated to them by their French commanders, as they are ignorant of the practice of war, farther than depends on the use of the gun, and tomahawk, and the exercise of stratagem and cunning. The vigilance of the besieged however, soon led to a discovery of the attempt—the water below, was colored by the clay thrown out from the excavation, while above it retained its usual transparency; and here again they were foiled by the active exertion of the garrison. A countermine was begin by them, the earth from which being thrown over the wall, manifested the nature of their operations, and led the enemy to raise the siege, and retire from the country.
In the various assaults made on the fort by this savage army, two only, of the garrison, were killed, and four wounded. The loss of the enemy, as usual, could not be properly ascertained: thirty-seven were left dead on the field, and many were no doubt wounded.*
So signally was the savage army repulsed, in their repeated attacks on Boonesborough, that they never afterwards made any great effort to effect its reduction. The heroism and intrepidity of Boone and his assistants rendered it impregnable to their combined exertions to demolish it while the vigilance and caution of the inhabitants convinced them, that it would be fruitless and unavailing to devise plans for gaining admission into the fort, by stratagem or wile. Still however, they kept up a war of ravage and murder, against such as were unfortunately found defenceless and unprotected; and levelled combined operations against other and weaker positions.
The success of the expedition under Col. Clarke, though productive of many and great advantages to the frontier inhabitants did not achieve for them an unmolested security. Their property was still liable to plunder, and families newly arrived among them to be murdered to taken prisoner. Combined efforts were required, to put a period to savage aggression and a meeting of the soldiers was held at Harrodsburg to concern measures to effect that object. Their consultation resulted in a determination to carry the war into the enemy’s country; and as the Shawanees had been most efficient in waging hostilities, it was resolved to commence operations against their most considerable town.
* When the Indians retired from before Boonesborough, one hundred and twenty-five pounds weight of bullets were picked up by the garrison, besides many that stuck into he logs of the fort. – A conclusive proof that the Indians were not idle, during the continuance of the siege.
Two hundred volunteers were accordingly raised and when rendezvoused at Harrodsburg, were placed under the command of Col. Bowman, and proceeded against Chilicothe.
The expedition thus fitted out arrived by forced marches, near to Chilicothe in the evening towards the latter end of July 1779; and on deliberation, it was agreed to defer the attack ‘till next morning. Before dawn the army was drawn up and arranged in order of battle. The right wing led on by Col. Bowman, was to assume a position on one side of the town, and the left, under Capt. Logan was to occupy the found on the opposite side; and at a given signal both were to develop to the right and left, so as to encircle and attack it in concert. The party, led on by Logan, repaired to the point assigned, and was waiting in anxious, but vain expectation for the signal of attack to be given, when the attention of the Indians was directed towards him by the barking of their dogs. At this instant a gun was discharged by one of Bowman’s men, and the whole village alarmed. The squaws and children were hurried into the woods, along a path not yet occupied by the assailants, and the warriors collected in a strong cabin. Logan, being near enough to perceive every movement of the enemy, ordered his men quietly to occupy the deserted huts, as a momentary shelter from the Indian fires; until Col. Bowman should march forward. It was now light; and the savages began a regular discharge of shot at his men, as they advanced to the deserted cabins. This determined him to move directly to the attack of the cabin in which the warriors were assembled; and ordering his men to tear off the doors and hold them in front, as a shield, while advancing to the assault; he was already marching on the foe when he was overtaken by an order from Col. Bowman, to retreat.
Confounded by this command, Capt. Logan was for a time reluctant to obey it; a retreat was however directed; and each individual, sensible of his great exposure while retiring from the towns sought to escape from danger, in the manner directed by his own judgement; and fled to the woods at his utmost speed. There they rallied, and resumed more of order, though still too much terrified to stand a contest, when the Indians sallied out to give battle. Intimidated by the apprehension of danger, which they had not seen, but supposed to be great from the retreating order of Col. Bowman, they continued to fly before the Savages led by their chief the Black Fish. At length they were brought to a halt, and opened a brisk, though inefficient fire, upon their pursuers. Protected by bushes, the Indians maintained their ground, ‘till Capts. Logan and Harrod, with some of the men under their immediate command mounted on pack horses, charged them with great spirit, and dislodged them from their covert. Exposed in turn to the fire of the whites, and seeing their chief fall, the savages took to flight, and Col. Bowman continued his retreat homeward, free from farther interruption.
In his illy conducted expedition, Col. Bowman had nine of his men killed and one wounded. The Indian loss was no doubt less, only two or three were known to be killed. Had the commanding officer, instead of ordering a retreat when Logan’s men were rushing bravely to the conflict, marched with the right wing of the army to their aid, far different would have been the result. The enemy, only thirty strong, could not long have held out, against the bravery and impetuosity of two hundred back woodsmen, stimulated to exertion by repeated suffering, and nerved by the reflection, that they were requiting it upon its principal authors. Col. Bowman doubtless believed that he was pursuing a proper course. The gallantry and intrepidity, displayed by him on many occasions, forbid the supposition that he was under the influence of any unmilitary feeling, and prompted to that course by a disposition to shrink from ordinary dangers. His motives were certainly pure, and his subsequent exertions to rally his men and bring them to face the foe, were as great as could have been made by any one; but disheartened by the fear of unreal danger, and the trepidation of a flight, deemed to be absolutely necessary for their safety, they could not be readily brought to bear the brunt of battle. The efforts of a few cool and collected individuals, drove back the pursuers, and thus prevented an harassed retreat.
Notwithstanding the frequent irruptions of the Indians, and the constant exposure of the settlers to suffering and danger, Kentucky increased rapidly in population. From the influx of emigrants during the fall and winter months, the number of its inhabitants were annually doubled for some years; and new establishments were made in various parts of the country. In April 1779, a block house was erected on the present site of Lexington, and several stations were selected in its vicinity, and in the neighborhood of the present Danville. Settlements were also made, in that year, on the waters of Bear Grass, Green and Licking rivers, and parts of the country began to be distinguished by their interior and frontier situation.
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