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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
War with the Western Indians
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[The settlement of the valley of the Ohio, and of the adjacent regions north and south, steadily continued in the period succeeding the Revolution, the hardy frontiersmen pushing back the aborigines step by step, and daring all the terrors of savage reprisal in their unflinching advance. The assault on the fort at Boonsborough was succeeded by other actions, in several of which the Indians were victorious. On August 18, 1782, the whites suffered a bloody repulse at a point on the Licking River near the Blue Licks. Boone took part in this battle. Soon after, General Clark defeated the victorious savages, and burned their towns. From this time till 1790 the Indians continued hostile, and committed such ravages that General Harmer was sent, in the latter year, to punish them. The result was disastrous. Two actions took place, in both of which he was defeated, with severe loss in killed and wounded. Of the succeeding events we select a description from Steward's "History of America," more generally known, from an edition of it having been published by Henry Trumbull, as Trumbull's "History of the Indian Wars."]

In the fall of 1791, General St. Clair took command of the Western army, and marched against the Indians, who had assembled in great force on the Miami River. He met with a total defeat. The particulars of the fight, which was very sanguinary, will be given in his own words, which is taken from his letter to the Secretary of War:

"Yesterday, the remains of the army under my command got back to this place [Fort Washington]; and I have now the painful task to give an account of as warm and as unfortunate an action as almost any that has been fought, as every corps was engaged and worsted, except the First Regiment; this had been detached upon a service that I had the honor to inform you of in my last despatch, and had not joined me.

"On the 3d instant, the army had reached a creek about twelve yards wide, running to the southward of west, which I believed to have been the river St. Mary, that empties into the Miami of the lake; arrived at the village about four o'clock in the afternoon, having marched near nine miles, and were immediately encamped upon a very commanding piece of ground, in two lines, having the above- mentioned creek in front. The right wing, composed of Butler, Clark, and Patterson's battalions, commanded by Major-General Butler, formed the first line; and the left wing, consisting of Bedinger and Gaither's battalions, and the Second Regiment, commanded by Colonel Drake, formed the second line; with an interval between them of about seventy yards, which was all the ground would allow.

"The right flank was pretty well secured by the creek, a steep bank, and Faulkener's corps. Some of the cavalry, and their pickets, covered the left flank. The militia were sent over the creek, and advanced about a quarter of a mile, and encamped in the same order.

"There were a few Indians who appeared on the opposite side of the creek, but fled with the utmost precipitation on the advance of the militia. At this place, which I judged to be about fifteen miles from the Miami village, I had determined to throw up a slight work, the plan of which was concerted that evening with Major Ferguson, wherein to have deposited the men's knapascks, and everything else that was not of absolute necessity, and to have moved on to attack the enemy as soon as the First Regiment came up; but they did not permit me to execute either, for on the 4th, about half an hour before sunrise, and when the men had just been dismissed from parade (for it was a constant practice to have them all under arms a considerable time before daylight), an attack was made upon the militia, who gave way in a very little time, and rushed into camp through Major Butler's battalion, which, together with part of Clark's, they threw into considerable disorder, and which, notwithstanding the exertions of both these officers, was never altogether remedied. The Indians followed close at their heels; the fire, however, of the front line checked them, but almost instantaneously a very heavy attack began upon that line, and in a few minutes it was extended to the second likewise. The great weight of it was directed against the centre of each, where the artillery was placed, and from which the men were repeatedly driven with great slaughter. Finding no great effect from the fire, and a confusion beginning to spread from the great number of the men who were falling in all quarters, it became necessary to try what could be done with the bayonet.

"Lieutenant Drake was accordingly ordered to charge with a part of the second line, and to turn the left flank of the enemy. This was executed with great spirit, and at first promised much success. The Indians instantly gave way, and were driven back three or four hundred yards; but, for want of a sufficient number of riflemen to pursue this advantage, they soon returned, and the troops were obliged to give back in their turn. At this moment they had entered our camp by the left flank, having pursued the troops that were posted there.

"Another charge was made here by the Second Regiment, Butler and Clark's battalions, with equal effect, and it was repeated several times, and always with success; but in all of them many men were lost, and particularly the officers, which, among raw troops, was a loss altogether irremediable. In that I just spoke of, made by the Second Regiment and Butler's battalion, Major Butler was dangerously wounded, and every officer of the Second Regiment fell, except three, one of which, Captain Greaton, was shot through the body. Our artillery being now silenced, and all the officers killed, except Captain Ford, who was badly wounded, more than half of the army fallen, being cut off from the road, it became necessary to attempt the regaining it and to make a retreat if possible. To this purpose the remains of the army was formed, as well as circumstances would admit, towards the right of the encampment, from which, by the way of the second line, another charge was made upon the enemy, as if with the design to turn the right flank, but it was in fact to gain the road. This was effected, and as soon as it was opened the militia entered it, followed by the troops, Major Clark with his battalion covering the rear.

"The retreat in these circumstances was, as you may be sure, a precipitate one. It was, in fact, a flight. The camp and artillery were abandoned; but that was unavoidable, as not a horse was left alive to have drawn it off, had it otherwise been practicable. But the most disgraceful part of the business is that the greatest part of the men threw away their arms and accoutrements, even after the pursuit, which continued about four miles, had ceased.

"I found the road strewed with them for many miles, but was not able to remedy it, for, having had all my horses killed, and being mounted upon one that could not be pricked out of a walk, I could not get forward myself; and the orders I sent forward, either to halt the front or prevent the men from parting with their arms, were unattended to.

"The rout continued quite to Fort Jefferson, twenty-nine miles, which was reached a little after sunset. The action began half an hour before sunrise, and the retreat was attempted at half-past nine o'clock.". .

The defeat of General St. Clair took place within three miles of the Miami village. The loss on this occasion was about six hundred killed and wounded (said to be nearly equal to Braddock's defeat), with seven pieces of artillery and all the stores. General St. Clair had about eleven hundred men, had reason to expect an attack, and kept his men under arms all night, drawn up in a square. The attack commenced about dawn of day on all the lines, but principally on the rear line, which was composed of the militia. The Indians gave one fire and rushed on, tomahawk in hand. The militia gave way to the centre, and before the artillery could be brought into action the matrosses were all killed, and it fell into the hands of the enemy. It was retaken, but was useless for want of men to manage the pieces. The action was continued obstinately until nine o'clock, when the troops gave way. St. Clair rallied his men, and brought them off in tolerable order, with most of the wounded, to Fort Jefferson, thirty miles in the rear of the action. The enemy pursued five miles.

Few officers of distinction escaped, except General St. Clair, who had many narrow escapes. Eight balls passed through his clothes. The attack was conducted with as tonishing intrepidity on the part of the Indians. In a few moments the general's tent was surrounded. However, he was rescued by a party of regular soldiers, who repelled the enemy with fixed bayonets. .

[The Indians in this disastrous affair claim to have been four thousand strong, and to have lost but fifty-six warriors killed. They took no prisoners, but treated the wounded on the field with great inhumanity.]

A few weeks after the defeat of the troops under General St. Clair, General Scott despatched from the men under his command two spies to reconnoitre the enemy, who, when they arrived at the distance of a few miles from the fatal spot where the bloody action was fought, discovered a large party of Indians, diverting and enjoying themselves with the plunder they had taken, riding the bullocks, etc., and appeared to be mostly drunk. The men returned and communicated this most important information to General Scott, who immediately divided his troops into three divisions and advanced on the enemy by surprise. The contest was short, but victorious on the part of the American troops. Two hundred of the enemy were killed on the spot, all the cannon and stores in their possession retaken, and the remainder of the savage body put to flight. General Scott, losing but six men, returned to head-quarters in triumph, with most of the cattle, stores, etc.

General Scott gave the following affecting account of the appearance of the field on which the bloody action between the American troops under General St. Clair and the savages was fought: "The place had a very melancholy appearance. Nearly in the space of three hundred and fifty yards lay three hundred skull- bones, which were buried by my men while on the ground; from thence, about five miles on, the road through the woods was strewed with skeletons, muskets, etc."

[Their great success in the action described roused the Indians to continued acts of outrage and massacre, and in time they grew so bold and daring as to render all the frontier settlements insecure. It became necessary either to abandon the region or to subdue the savages. The government, three years after the defeat of St. Clair, took measures to effect the latter purpose.]

After the defeat of two armies, and the great suffering of the inhabitants, by the Indians, as related in the preceding chapter, our government came to the determination to adopt more effective measures for the protection of the Western frontiers. General Anthony Wayne was appointed to the command of the forces raised for that purpose, and ordered to proceed against the hostile Indians, who had assembled in great force on the river Miamis. He gained a decisive victory over them, which put an end to their depredations for several years. The particulars of the battle are related in the following official despatch from him to the Secretary of War:

"It is with infinite pleasure that I announce to you the brilliant success of the Federal army under my command, in a general action with the combined force of the hostile Indians and a considerable number of the volunteers and militia of Detroit, on the 20th of August, 1794, on the banks of the Miamis, in the vicinity of the British post and garrison at the foot of the rapids.

"The army advanced to Roach de Bout on the 15th, and on the 19th we were employed in making a temporary post for the reception of our stores and baggage, and in reconnoitring the position of the enemy, who were encamped behind a thick bushy wood and the British fort.

"At eight o'clock on the morning of the 20th the army again advanced in columns, agreeably to the standing order of the march: the legion on the right, its right flank covered by the Miamis; one brigade of mounted volunteers on the left, under Brigadier-General Todd, and the other in the rear, under Brigadier-General Barbee. A select battalion of mounted volunteers moved in front of the legion, commanded by Major Price, who was directed to keep sufficiently advanced, and to give timely notice for the troops to form in case of action, it being yet undetermined whether the Indians would decide for peace or war.

"After advancing about five miles, Major Price's corps received so severe a fire from the enemy, who were secreted in the woods and high grass, as to compel them to retreat.

"The legion was immediately formed in two lines, principally in a close, thick wood, which extended for miles on our left, and for a very considerable distance in front, the ground being covered with old fallen timber, probably occasioned by a tornado, which rendered it impracticable for the cavalry to act with effect, and afforded the enemy the most favorable covert for their mode of warfare. The savages were formed in three lines, within supporting distance of each other, and extending for near two miles at right angles with the river. I soon discovered, from the weight of the fire and extent of their lines, that the enemy were in full force in front, in possession of their favorite ground, and endeavoring to turn our left flank. I therefore gave orders for the second line to advance to support the first, and directed Major-General Scott to gain and turn the right flank of the savages, with the whole of the mounted volunteers, by a circuitous route. At the same time I ordered the front line to advance and charge with trailed arms, and rouse the Indians from their covert at the point of the bayonet, and when up to deliver a close and well-directed fire on their backs, followed by a brisk charge, so as not to give them time to load again or to form their lines. I also ordered Captain M. Campbell, who commanded the legionary cavalry, to turn the left flank of the enemy next the river, which afforded a favorable field for that corps to act in. All these orders were obeyed with spirit and promptitude; but such was the impetuosity of the charge by the first line of infantry that the Indians and Canadian militia and volunteers were driven from all their coverts in so short a time that, although every possible exertion was used by the officers of the second line of the legion, and by Generals Scott, Wood, and Barbee of the mounted volunteers, to gain their proper positions, but part of each could get up in season to participate in the action, the enemy being driven in the course of one hour more than two miles through the thick woods already mentioned, by less than one-half their number.

"From every account, the enemy amounted to two thousand combatants. The troops actually engaged against them were short of nine hundred. This horde of savages, with their allies, abandoned themselves to flight and dispersed with terror and dismay, leaving our victorious army in full and quiet possession of the field of battle, which terminated under the influence of the guns of the British garrison. .

"The loss of the enemy was more than double that of the Federal army. The woods were strewed for a considerable distance with dead bodies of Indians and their white auxiliaries, the latter armed with British muskets and bayonets. We remained three days and nights on the banks of the Miamis in front of the field of battle, during which time all the houses and cornfields were consumed and destroyed for a considerable distance above and below the garrison, among which were the houses, stores, and property of Colonel M'Kee, the British Indian agent, and principal stimulator of the war now existing between the United States and the savages.

"The army returned to head-quarters on the 27th, by easy marches, laying waste the villages and cornfields for about fifty miles on each side of the Miamis. It is not improbable that the enemy may make one desperate action against the army, as it is said a reinforcement was hourly expected at Fort Miamis from Niagara, as well as numerous tribes of Indians living on the margins and islands of the lakes. This is an event rather to be wished for than dreaded whilst the army remains in force; their numbers will only tend to confuse the savages, and the victory will be the more complete and decisive, and which may eventually insure a permanent and happy peace. Total killed, thirty-eight; wounded, one hundred and one.

[Wayne's victory effectually quieted the Indians of that region. Sixteen years elapsed before another outbreak took place, that of the Indians of the Wabash, under the leadership of the celebrated Tecumseh. This was effectually silenced by the defeat of the savages by the army under General Harrison, at the battle of Tippecanoe, on November 6, 1811, in which the Indians were routed with great slaughter. The Indian leader, however, was not present at this battle, and survived to give trouble to the Americans in the war which soon after broke out with Great Britain.]

James Steward

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