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George Rogers Clark and his Illinois campaign online

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put to death any man who refused to march. The order was
greeted with another shout, and the men rushed after their
dauntless leader. Strong as he was, Clark found himself fail-
ing before he reached the middle of the plain, and as there were
no trees or bushes for the men to cling to, he began to fear that
many would drown. He directed the canoes to hurry back
and forth, picking up the men who were weak and numb with
cold. At the same time he ordered some of the stronger men
forward with instructions to send back word that the water was
getting shallower, and when they got to the wood to cry out

[38] Dillon's "Indiana," p. 143.


"land!" The stratagem had the desired effect; the strong
helped the weak, and they renewed their struggles to reach the
wood. There the water was no shallower, but the exhausted
men could cling to the trees or float upon logs until they were
picked up by the canoes. The strongest men reached the
shore almost exhausted. "Many," says Clark, "would reach
the shore and fall with their bodies half in the water, not being
able to support themselves without it." The day had grown
warm, and, under the influence of the sunshine and the fires
built by those who reached the shore first, the men soon
revived. Fortune began to smile upon them. Their boats
captured an Indian canoe in which some squaws and children
were taking provisions to town. In it they found a quarter of
a buffalo, some corn, tallow and kettles. Broth was made and
served to the famished soldiers. The spirits of the party rose
rapidly, and the past hardships became matters of jest. In the
afternoon they crossed a lake in their canoes, marched a short
distance, and rested in a belt of timber with Vincennes in full
view. From a hunter who was taken prisoner, it was learned
that the tow r n was still in ignorance of the approach of the
Americans and that it was full of Indians.

The situation in which the little army now found itself was
critical in the extreme. A few hours would determine its
fate, and it was victory or death. Retreat was out of the
question. Behind them lay miles of flood, which, in their
exhausted and half-famished condition, they could not re-pass.
In front of them was a town filled with Indians and British
soldiers. Capture meant torture at the hands of the savages.
Their only hope was in the success of a bold play to secure
possession of the town. The Willing had not arrived, and no
assistance could be counted upon from that direction. As they
were sure to be discovered before night, Clark determined to
begin operations at once. He knew that the inhabitants of the
town were favorable to the Americans, or at least lukewarm in


their attachment to the British, and he knew also that Chief
Tobac, with whom a treaty had been made some time before,
was on hand, and had openly avowed his friendship for the Big
Knives. Encouraged by those circumstances to hope for
assistance from the town, he began his operations by sending
the following proclamation to the inhabitants, using his
prisoner for a herald :

To the Inhabitants of Post Vlncennes:

Gentlemen Being now within two miles of your village,
with my army, determined to take your fort this night, and not
being willing to surprise you, I take this method to request
such of you as are true citizens, and willing to enjoy the liberty
I bring you, to remain still in your houses; and those, if any
there be, that are friends of the king, will instantly repair to
the fort and join the hair-buyer [39] general, and fight like men.
And if any such as do not go to the fort shall be discovered
afterward, they may depend on severe punishment. On the
contrary, those who are true friends of liberty may depend on
being well treated ; and I once more request them to keep out
of the streets. For every one I find in arms on my arrival 1
shall treat him as an enemy. [40]

[Signed] G. R. CLARK.

Clark was a little disturbed by the fact that nothing had
been heard from the fort, not so much as a drum beat. He
feared that his information had not been reliable; that the
enemy knew of his presence and was expecting him. But the
suspicion did not deter him from acting. With marvelous
cunning, he took advantage of favorable circumstances to
deceive the people as to the strength of his army, and so timed
his manoeuvres that the deception could not be discovered
until it was too late for the discovery to have any effect upon
the inhabitants. The ground around Vincennes was uneven,

[39] Alluding to Governor Hamilton's reward for scalps and not for
prisoners. After Hamilton had been taken prisoner and sent to Virginia,
where he was "placed in irons and detained long after other prisoners had
been paroled, the council investigated the charge against him and
reported that he had offered such rewards, and had been guilty of great
cruelty. See "Jefferson's Writings," vol. L, pp. 226-8. The matter is
treated at length in the "Narrative and Critical History," vol. vi., pp.

[40] "Major Bowman's Journal."


the low hills running obliquely toward the town. The low
ground was covered with water, but water was no obstacle to
Clark's men. Setting out just before sunset, he marched and
countermarched his army on the lowlands in such a manner
that to the crowds watching the approach there appeared to be
a long and unbroken column advancing. His men had cap-
tured some mounted hunters, and the officers, on the prisoners'
horses, trotted back and forth as though directing the move-
ments of a great body of men. The colors of the troops had
been fastened upon long poles, and they were allowed to show
a long distance apart, over the tops of the low slopes, to make
it appear as though company after company was coming up.
In that manner they moved along until it became dark; then,
suddenly changing their course, they approached the town,
over a plain covered with water breast deep, at a point where
they could not have been expected. A detachment was sent to
make a demonstration against the fort, while the balance of the
army invested the town, which surrendered without opposition.
Some of the inhabitants had buried ammunition to keep it out
of the hands of the British, and now produced it with offers of
assistance. Chief Tobac volunteered to furnish a band of
Indians to aid in the attack, but Clark declined his offer and
accepted only a few volunteers from among the inhabitants.
The friendly inhabitants had conveyed word to the Americ.m
prisoners in the fort that Clark was coming, but had kept the
information from the British, who did not dream of an attack
until the firing by Lieutenant Bay ley's detachment began, and
then it was at first supposed to be the work of drunken
Indians. In Butler's "Kentucky" an amusing anecdote is told
about the beginning of the attack. It was well known that
Captain Helm, who was a prisoner in the fort, had a great
fondness for apple toddy, and it was thought that he would
have some brewing on his hearth. When the location of his
quarters had been ascertained, one of Clark's men asked and


obtained permission to shoot at the chimney and knock down
some mud and sticks. The toddy was on the hearth, and the
mud, falling into it, spoiled it. Helm, as soon as the firing
began, jumped up and exclaimed that Clarke's men had

arrived, and would take the fort, but added that the "d d

rascals 1 ' had no business to spoil his toddy. A heavy fire was
kept up on both sides all night, but not much damage was
done. Clark had placed his men in rifle pits within thirty
yards of the walls, where the cannon could not be trained upon
them, and, under cover of the darkness, had thrown up an
earthwork across the road one hundred and twenty yards in
front of the main gate. "In a few hours," says Clark, "I found
my prize sure. Certain of taking every man that I could have
wished for, being the whole of those that incited the Indians to
war, all my past sufferings vanished; never was a man more
happy." [41] Even Major Bowman enjoyed the situation in
spite of his hunger. "The cannon played smartly," he says.
"Not one of our men wounded. Men in the fort badly
wounded. Fine sport for the sons of liberty." In the morn-
ing the firing became still hotter, and was kept up until nearly
9 o'clock. Clark had purposely allowed a scouting party to
get back into the fort, in order not to have it out among the
Indians, and to impress the British with his confidence; but
learning that it had taken two prisoners, who were supposed
to have letters for him, he decided to demand the surrender of
the fort at once, to prevent the letters from being destroyed.
He, therefore, sent a flag of truce with the following character-
istic letter: [42]

Sir: In order to save yourself from the impending storm
that now threatens you, I order you immediately to surrender
yourself, with all your garrison, stores, etc., etc. For if 1 am
obliged to storm, you may depend on such treatment as is due
to a murderer. Beware of destroying stores of any kind, or

[11] "Campaign," p. 70.
[42] "Memoirs."


any papers or letters that are in your possession, or hurting one
house in town for, by heavens! if you do, there shall be no
mercy shown you.

[Signed] G. R. CLARK.

Governor Hamilton immediately replied: "Lieutenant-
Governor Hamilton begs leave to acquaint Col. Clark that he
and his garrison are not disposed to be awed into any action
unworthy of British subjects."

Major Bowman takes time to remark that while the nego-
tiations were pending the men were served with a breakfast,
"it being the only meal of victuals since the i8th inst." After
that the Major appears to have had enough to eat, since he
makes no more remarks about provisions. Governor Ham-
ilton having refused to surrender, the firing was renewed with
increased vigor, but the Americans were at a great advantage.
Every one of them was an expert marksman to whom a man's
head was a target too big ever to be missed. Captain Helm told
the British soldiers to keep away from the loopholes or the
Virginians would shoot their eyes out, and they soon found
that he spoke the truth. The Americans, sheltered behind
buildings and earthworks, completely surrounded the fort,
and the instant a soldier ventured near a loop-hole, a dozen
bullets sped toward him with deadly aim. Several of the
soldiers fell with their eyes shot out, and the garrison became
disheartened. They wished to surrender, because they feared
that if they were captured they would be made to suffer for
the Indian barbarities brought down upon the Americans in
the past by their leader. As their spirits fell, those of the
besiegers rose. They wanted to storm the fort, and it was
with difficulty that they could be restrained from exposing
themselves. Late in the afternoon Governor Hamilton sent
a flag with a proposal for a truce of three days, and asked for
a conference with Colonel Clark at the gate of the fort. Clark
replied that he could not agree to any terms except immediate
surrender at discretion, but would confer with him if he


desired at the village church, which stood about eighty yards
from the fort. Hamilton met him there, accompanied by
Major Hay, and Captain Helm, who was a prisoner at the
fort. Clark was accompanied by Major Bowman. While
they were conferring a thing happened which greatly increased
the alarm of the soldiers at the fort. A party of Indians who
had been sent to the falls of the Ohio for scalps was seen
returning, and a company of Americans, commanded by Cap-
tain Williams, went out to meet them. "The Indians, mistak-
ing the men for friends, came on with demonstrations that
denoted a successful raid. The Americans encouraged them
until they had them in their power, then killed two on the spot,
wounded three and took the rest prisoners. The captives
were ordered put to death. Two who were found to be white
men were liberated, but the others were tomahawked and
their bodies thrown into the river. [43] This action threw
the soldiers in the fort into terror. The negotiations at the
church did not progress very satisfactorily. Hamilton pro-
posed to surrender upon condition that he and his men be
allowed to go to Pensacola on parole, but as Clark wanted to
get the "Indian partisans," as he called them, into his hands,
he declined to accept the conditions. A long conversation
ensued which showed that there was distrust and hatred on
both sides, and negotiations were finally broken off. Hamil-
ton started to return to the fort, but after he had gone a few
feet turned, and asked Clark to give him his reason for refusing
to accept the conditions he had suggested. Clark replied that it
was because he knew that the principal part of the Indian
partisans of Detroit were with him in the fort, and he wanted
to be at liberty to put them to death or treat them as he saw
fit. Major Hay, who had been paying close attention, said,

[43] Hamilton in his report, which has been printed in the Canadian
Archives and in the Michgan Pioneer Collections, enlarges upon the
barbarity of the act. Clark says he permitted it because he wanted to
show the Indians' that the British would not protect their friends, and it
had the desired effect.


"Pray, sir, who is it that you call Indian partisans?" "Sir,"
replied Clark, "I take Major Hay to be one of the principals."
"I never," continues Clark, "saw a man in the moment of exe-
cution so struck as he appeared to be pale and trembling,
scarcely able to stand. Hamilton blushed and, I observed,
was much affected by his behavior. Major Bowman's
countenance sufficiently explained his disdain for the one and
his sorrow for the other." Some moments elapsed without a
word being spoken on either side. Then Clark said he would
reconsider the matter, and there should be no hostilities until
the negotiations were ended. Before sunset the following
terms of surrender had been agreed to : [44]

I Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton engages to deliver up
to Colonel Clark, Fort Sackville [45], as it is at present, with
all the stores, etc.

II The garrison are to deliver themselves as prisoners of
war; and march out with their arms, accoutrements, etc.

Ill The garrison to be delivered up at ten o'clock

IV Three days time to be allowed the garrison to settle
up their accounts with the inhabitants and traders of this place.
V The officers of the garrison to be allowed their neces-
sary baggage, etc.

Signed at Post St. Vincents, 24th Feb'y, 1779.

Agreed for the following reasons: the remoteness from

succor, the state and quantity of provisions, etc. ; unanimity of

officers and men in its expediency; the honorable terms

allowed ; and lastly, the confidence in a generous enemy. [46]


Lieut.-Gov. and Superintendent.

The next morning at TO o'clock the conditions of the capit-
ulation were carried out. Clark had had one man wounded:
seven had been wounded in the fort. Governor Hamilton
had made a favorable impression upon Clark and his men. "I

[44] "Major Bowman's Journal."

[45] The English had renamed the fort, Fort Sackville.

[46] In his report Governor Hamilton excuses himself for paying Clark
that compliment on the ground that he desired to flatter him in order to
secure kind treatment for the wounded.


was happy," says Clark, "to find that he never deviated, while
he stayed with us, from that dignity of conduct which became
an officer in his position." Two days after the surrender, The
Willing arrived, its men greatly chagrined that the capture
should have been made without their assistance. They
brought with them a government express with dispatches con-
taining the welcome news that the battalion was to be com-
pleted, and supplemented by an additional one in the spring.
On the day after the surrender a detachment of sixty men,
under the command of Captain Helm, was sent up the river
in three boats to intercept some boats coming with goods and
provisions from Detroit. They traveled about one hundred
and twenty miles, surprised the boats and captured them with-
out firing a shot. Seven boats, loaded with goods worth
10,000, were secured, and Philip Dejean, grand judge of
Detroit, was taken prisoner, with M. Adimar, the commissary,
and thirty-eight others. Clark, who regarded Vincennes only as
a stepping stone toward Detroit, put 800 worth of the goods
aside for the use of the soldiers he proposed to take with him
on the expedition, and divided the rest among the people. On
March 7th, Captain Rogers and Captain Williams set out from
Vincennes with Governor Hamilton, Major Hay, Captain
Lamoth, Judge Dejean and twenty-two subordinate officers
and privates to conduct them to the falls of the Ohio, and
thence to Williamsburg. There the subordinates were soon
released, but Hamilton and his principal associates were
imprisoned in irons for some months, occasioning no end of
diplomatic correspondence, until they were finally released on
the recommendation of General Washington, who considered
their imprisonment a violation of the conditions of the terms
of the surrender. [47] Thus ended this most remarkable
campaign which was fraught with so much importance to the

[47] "Diplomatic Correspondence," vol. ii., p. 333. "Washington's
Writings," vol. vii., pp. 240, 291, 317, 407. "Jefferson's Works," vol. i.,
pp. 226-237, 258, 267.


future of the young Republic. It not only added the force of
conquest to the colonies' charter claims to the vast territory,
but immediately put an end to the Indian hostilities and by
exalting Clark in the opinion of the savages, made it possible
for him to make treaties with them that were of the greatest
benefit in the development of the conquered country.


It would not be possible in this brief paper to follow in
detail the subsequent career of this extraordinary man, nor
would it be a pleasing task if it were possible. From this
crowning point he would have to be followed step by step in
a downward career until he sank at last in poverty and distress
into the grave, unrewarded, and, comparatively speaking,
unknown among the great benefactors of his country. A
hasty survey will suffice. His cherished project of taking
Detroit was destined never to be accomplished, but he set
about preparing for the expedition with his usual energy. As
soon as his business at Vincennes had been arranged he went
to Kaskaskia, and there occupied himself settling the affairs of
the Illinois country. While he was there the Indians pre-
sented him with a tract of land, two and one-half leagues
square, on the west side of the falls of the Ohio, the site of
Virginia's subsequent grant to Clark and his officers. In
October, 1778, Virginia had established the County of Illinois
and in December had appointed Colonel John Todd as county
lieutenant, but until his arrival some months later, the gov-
ernment of the same rested in Clark's hands. When Todd
arrived in the following May and a system of government was
established, which had an important bearing on the subsequent
boundary question, Clark turned with joy to his plans for the
conquest of Detroit, only to be bitterly disappointed by the
failure of Virginia to furnish him the men he needed. He
had assurances of a large number of troops which he was to


meet at Vincennes, but when he arrived there in July he found
only thirty, instead of three hundred men, from Kentucky,
and no tidings of the men expected from Virginia. He sent
out officers to get recruits and went himself for the same pur-
pose to the falls of the Ohio, where Louisville had been estab-
lished. There he received a letter from Jefferson, then gov-
ernor of Virginia, stating that troops would be sent to him,
and suggesting the building of a fort below the mouth of the
Ohio River in order to strengthen the claim of the United
States to the country, out of which suggestion grew the build-
ing of Fort Jefferson, by Clark, in the following year. About
the time of the completion of Fort Jefferson, Colonel Byrd
made his famous raid into Kentucky with a force of Indians and
Canadians, retreating as quickly as he had come, because, it
has been said, he was shocked at the barbarity of the Indians,
but more likely because he feared that things would be made
unpleasant for him if he happened to meet Colonel Clark and
his warriors. Colonel Clark went to Harrodsburg, enlisted
a thousand men, and retaliated by destroying the Indian towns
on the Big and Little Miami, conducting his campaign with the
same secrecy and dispatch that he had shown in the Vincennes
campaign. Clark returned to the Ohio and spent his time
revolving the project of reducing Detroit, which he could not
put into execution because he had no men. Jefferson, who
was deeply interested in the matter, urged Washington to
furnish the necessary troops, and, in the latter part of Decem-
ber, Colonel Brodhead, in command of Fort Pitt, was ordered
to furnish Clark with the men and supplies that he needed,
Washington taking the precaution to instruct Colonel Brod-
head to see that no Continental officer outranked Clark, in
whom he had the greatest confidence, though he had never
seen him. [48] Brodhead's instructions did not reach him
until late in February. Meanwhile Benedict Arnold had

[48] "Washington's Writings," vol. vii., pp. 343-345.


begun his invasion of Virginia, which was practically defense-
less, and Clarke tendered his services to Baron Steuben. With
two hundred and fifty men, he lay in ambush for the enemy
and treated him to a taste of Western fighting that was not at
all to his liking. He then returned to Fort Pitt and spent
several months in a vain endeavor to get troops, Colonel Brod-
head being unable to spare the men promised him. He had
been made a brigadier-general, and at one time had hope of
getting enough men to start upon the expedition, but a- por-
tion of his expected troops, under Colonel Lochry, were
defeated by a party of Indians under the leadership of Joseph
Brant. The end of the year found him at the falls of the
Ohio bitterly lamenting the opportunity that was gone.
"Detroit lost for a few hundred men," he said in his disap-
pointment, and from the moment that the enterprise was
abandoned his star declined. At this point, at the early age of
twenty-nine, he ceased to be an important factor in Western
affairs. The following summer he led a successful but not
very brilliant expedition against the Indians on the Miami.
On July 2, 1783, he was dismissed from the service of the State
of Virginia with a letter of thanks from the governor. The
financial distress of the 'state was given ^s the reason for his
discharge, but chafing under the disappointments he had met,
and the wrongs he had suffered, he had taken to drink and
was fast becoming a wreck. Three years later he undertook
to lead an army of one thousand Kentucky volunteers against
the Indians, but he was a changed man and the expedition
failed. When the news of the failure reached Louisville, a
political enemy exclaimed, "The sun of General Clark's
military glory has set forever!" and the prediction was only
too true. In the thirty-two years of his subsequent life he
appeared in Western affairs only once, and that in an unfortun-
ate light. It was at the time of Genet's proposed expedition
against the Spanish possessions on the Mississippi. Clark


accepted a commission from the French minister, and under-
took to raise a force of Kentucky volunteers. Before the
project could be carried out, Genet was recalled and Clark's
commission was annulled. He never appeared in public life
again. He never married. In his declining years he suf-
fered from ill health. Rheumatic troubles, brought on no
doubt by the exposure he endured in his younger years, term-
inated in paralysis and caused him the loss of one limb. Poor
and neglected, he lived in the little home near the falls of the
Ohio, which was all that he ever received from this great gov-
ernment in return for his services, until the year 1814. Then
he removed to the home of his sister, Mrs. William Croghan,
at Locust Grove, where he died in February, 1818.

Clark had all the qualifications of a great leader. In
appearance he was tall and commanding, and in his demeanor
there was a dignity that compelled respect. There was no

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Online LibraryDaniel B StarkeyGeorge Rogers Clark and his Illinois campaign → online text (page 3 of 4)