Theodore Roosevelt.

The Winning of the West, Volume 4 Louisiana and the Northwest, 1791-1807 online

. (page 4 of 25)
Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe Winning of the West, Volume 4 Louisiana and the Northwest, 1791-1807 → online text (page 4 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was the only line of retreat. The artillery had already been spiked and
abandoned. Most of the horses had been killed, but a few were still
left, and on one of these St. Clair mounted. He gathered together those
fragments of the different battalions which contained the few men who
still kept heart and head, and ordered them to charge and regain the
road from which the savages had cut them off. Repeated orders were
necessary before some of the men could be roused from their stupor
sufficiently to follow the charging party; and they were only induced to
move when told that it was to retreat.

The Troops Break through the Indian Ring.

Colonel Darke and a few officers placed themselves at the head of the
column, the coolest and boldest men drew up behind them, and they fell
on the Indians with such fury as to force them back well beyond the
road. This made an opening through which, said Van Cleve the packer, the
rest of the troops "pressed like a drove of bullocks." The Indians were
surprised by the vigor of the charge, and puzzled as to its object. They
opened out on both sides and half the men had gone through before they
fired more than a chance shot or two. They then fell on the rear, and
began a hot pursuit. St. Clair sent his aide, Denny, to the front to try
to keep order, but neither he nor anyone else could check the flight.
Major Clark tried to rally his battalion to cover the retreat, but he
was killed and the effort abandoned.

Wild Rout of the Army.

There never was a wilder rout. As soon as the men began to run, and
realized that in flight there lay some hope of safety, they broke into a
stampede which soon became uncontrollable. Horses, soldiers, and the few
camp followers and women who had accompanied the army were all mixed
together. Neither command nor example had the slightest weight; the men
were abandoned to the terrible selfishness of utter fear. They threw
away their weapons as they ran. They thought of nothing but escape, and
fled in a huddle, the stronger and the few who had horses trampling
their way to the front through the old, the weak, and the wounded; while
behind them raged the Indian tomahawk. Fortunately the attraction of
plundering the camp was so overpowering that the savages only followed
the army about four miles; otherwise hardly a man would have escaped.

Story of Van Cleve the Packer.

St. Clair was himself in much danger, for he tried to stay behind and
stem the torrent of fugitives; but he failed, being swept forward by the
crowd, and when he attempted to ride to the front to rally them, he
failed again, for his horse could not be pricked out of a walk. The
packer, Van Cleve, in his journal, gives a picture of the flight. He was
himself one of the few who lost neither courage nor generosity in the

Among his fellow packers were his uncle and a young man named Bonham,
who was his close and dear friend. The uncle was shot in the wrist, the
ball lodging near his shoulder; but he escaped. Bonham, just before the
retreat began, was shot through both hips, so that he could not walk.
Young Van Cleve got him a horse, on which he was with difficulty
mounted; then, as the flight began, Bonham bade Van Cleve look to his
safety, as he was on foot, and the two separated. Bonham rode until the
pursuit had almost ceased; then, weak and crippled, he was thrown off
his horse and slain. Meanwhile Van Cleve ran steadily on foot. By the
time he had gone two miles most of the mounted men had passed him. A
boy, on the point of falling from exhaustion, now begged his help; and
the kind-hearted backwoodsman seized the lad and pulled him along nearly
two miles farther, when he himself became so worn-out that he nearly
fell. There were still two horses in the rear, one carrying three men,
and one two; and behind the latter Van Cleve, summoning his strength,
threw the boy, who escaped. Nor did Van Cleve's pity for his fellows
cease with this; for he stopped to tie his handkerchief around the knee
of a wounded man. His violent exertions gave him a cramp in both thighs,
so that he could barely walk; and in consequence the strong and active
passed him until he was within a hundred yards of the rear, where the
Indians were tomahawking the old and wounded men. So close were they
that for a moment his heart sunk in despair; but he threw off his shoes,
the touch of the cold ground seemed to revive him, and he again began to
trot forward. He got around a bend in the road, passing half a dozen
other fugitives; and long afterwards he told how well he remembered
thinking that it would be some time before they would all be massacred
and his own turn came. However, at this point the pursuit ceased, and a
few miles farther on he had gained the middle of the flying troops, and
like them came to a walk. He fell in with a queer group, consisting of
the sole remaining officer of the artillery, an infantry corporal, and a
woman called Red-headed Nance. Both of the latter were crying, the
corporal for the loss of his wife, the woman for the loss of her child.
The worn-out officer hung on the corporal's arm, while Van Cleve
"carried his fusee and accoutrements and led Nance; and in this sociable
way arrived at Fort Jefferson a little after sunset."

The Remnant of the Army Reaches Cincinnati.
Exultation of the Victors.

Before reaching Fort Jefferson the wretched army encountered the regular
regiment which had been so unfortunately detached a couple of days
before the battle. The most severely wounded were left in the fort;
[Footnote: Bradley MSS. The addition of two hundred sick and wounded
brought the garrison to such short commons that they had to slaughter
the pack-horses for food.] and then the flight was renewed, until the
disorganized and half-armed rabble reached Fort Washington, and the mean
log huts of Cincinnati. Six hundred and thirty men had been killed and
over two hundred and eighty wounded; less than five hundred, only about
a third of the whole number engaged in the battle, remained unhurt. But
one or two were taken prisoners, for the Indians butchered everybody,
wounded or unwounded, who fell into their hands. There is no record of
the torture of any of the captives, but there was one singular instance
of cannibalism. The savage Chippewas from the far-off north devoured one
of the slain soldiers, probably in a spirit of ferocious bravado; the
other tribes expressed horror at the deed. [Footnote: Brickell's
Narrative.] The Indians were rich with the spoil. They got horses, tents,
guns, axes, powder, clothing, and blankets - in short everything their
hearts prized. Their loss was comparatively slight; it may not have been
one twentieth that of the whites. They did not at the moment follow up
their victory, each band going off with its own share of the booty. But
the triumph was so overwhelming, and the reward so great, that the war
spirit received a great impetus in all the tribes. The bands of warriors
that marched against the frontier were more numerous, more formidable,
and bolder than ever.

In the following January Wilkinson with a hundred and fifty mounted
volunteers marched to the battle-field to bury the slain. The weather
was bitterly cold, snow lay deep on the ground, and some of the
volunteers were frost bitten. [Footnote: McBride's "Pioneer Biography,"
John Reily's narrative. This expedition, in which not a single hostile
Indian was encountered, has been transmuted by Withers and one or two
other border historians into a purely fictitious expedition of revenge
in which hundreds of Indians were slain on the field of St. Clair's

Kentucky Volunteers Visit the Battle-field and Bury the Dead.

Four miles from the scene of the battle, where the pursuit had ended,
they began to find the bodies on the road, and close alongside, in
the woods, whither some of the hunted creatures had turned at the last,
to snatch one more moment of life. Many had been dragged from under the
snow and devoured by wolves. The others lay where they had fallen,
showing as mounds through the smooth white mantle that covered them. On
the battle-field itself the slain lay thick, scalped, and stripped of
all their clothing which the conquerors deemed worth taking. The bodies,
blackened by frost and exposure, could not be identified; and they were
buried in a shallow trench in the frozen ground. The volunteers then
marched home.

News of the Disaster is Sent to Washington.

When the remnant of the defeated army reached the banks of the Ohio, St.
Clair sent his aide, Denny, to carry the news to Philadelphia, at that
time the national capital. The river was swollen, there were incessant
snowstorms, and ice formed heavily, so that it took twenty days of toil
and cold before Denny reached Wheeling and got horses. For ten days more
he rode over the bad winter roads, reaching Philadelphia with the evil
tidings on the evening of December 19th. It was thus six weeks after the
defeat of the army before the news was brought to the anxious Federal

The young officer called first on the Secretary of War; but as soon as
the Secretary realized the importance of the information he had it
conveyed to the President. Washington was at dinner, with some guests,
and was called from the table to listen to the tidings of ill fortune.
He returned with unmoved face, and at the dinner, and at the reception
which followed, he behaved with his usual stately courtesy to those whom
he was entertaining, not so much as hinting at what he had heard.

Washington's Wrath.

But when the last guest had gone, his pent-up wrath broke forth in one
of those fits of volcanic fury which sometimes shattered his iron
outward calm. Walking up and down the room he burst out in wild regret
for the rout and disaster, and bitter invective against St. Clair,
reciting how, in that very room, he had wished the unfortunate commander
success and honor and had bidden him above all things beware of a
surprise. [Footnote: Tobias Lear, Washington's Private Secretary as
quoted by both Custis and Rush. The report of an eyewitness. See also
Lodge's "Washington," p. 94. Denny, in his journal, merely mentions that
he went at once to the Secretary of War's office on the evening of the
19th, and does not speak of seeing Washington until the following
morning. On the strength of this omission one or two of St. Clair's
apologists have striven to represent the whole account of Washington's
wrath as apocryphal; but the attempt is puerile; the relation comes from
an eyewitness who had no possible motive to distort the facts. The
Secretary of War, Knox, was certain to inform Washington of the disaster
the very evening he heard of it; and whether he sent Denny, or another
messenger, or went himself is unimportant. Lear might very well have
been mistaken as to the messenger who brought the news; but he could not
have been mistaken about Washington's speech.] "He went off with that
last solemn warning thrown into his ears," spoke Washington, as he
strode to and fro, "and yet to suffer that army to be cut to pieces,
hacked, butchered, tomahawked, by a surprise, the very thing I guarded
him against! O God, O God, he's worse than a murderer! How can he answer
it to his country!" Then, calming himself by a mighty effort: "General
St. Clair shall have justice ... he shall have full justice." And St.
Clair did receive full justice, and mercy too, from both Washington and
Congress. For the sake of his courage and honorable character they held
him guiltless of the disaster for which his lack of capacity as a
general was so largely accountable.

The Blame for the Disaster.

Washington and his administration were not free from blame. It was
foolish to attempt the campaign the Northwestern Indians with men who
had only been trained for six months, and who were enlisted at the
absurd price of two dollars a month. Moreover, there were needless
delays in forwarding the troops to Fort Washington; and the commissary
department was badly managed. Washington was not directly responsible
for any of these shortcomings; he very wisely left to the Secretary of
War, Knox, the immediate control of the whole matter, seeking to avoid
all interference with him, so that there might be no clashing or
conflict of authority [Footnote: State Dep. MSS., Washington Papers. War
Dept. Ex. C., Washington to Knox, April 1, 1791.]; but he was of course
ultimately responsible for the little evil, no less than for the great
good, done by his administration.

Incompetence of St. Clair.

The chief blunder was the selection of St. Clair. As a commander he
erred in many ways. He did not, or could not, train his troops; and he
had no business to challenge a death fight with raw levies. It was
unpardonable of him to send back one of his two regular regiments, the
only trustworthy portion of his force, on the eve of the battle. He
should never have posted the militia, his poorest troops, in the most
exposed situation. Above all he should have seen that the patrols and
pickets were so numerous, and performed their duty so faithfully, as to
preclude the possibility of surprise. With the kind of army furnished
him he could hardly have won a victory under any circumstances; but the
overwhelming nature of the defeat was mainly due to his incompetence.



Demoralization Caused by St. Clair's Defeat.

The United States Government was almost as much demoralized by St.
Clair's defeat as was St. Clair's own army. The loosely-knit nation was
very poor, and very loath to undertake any work which involved sustained
effort and pecuniary sacrifice; while each section was jealous of every
other and was unwilling to embark in any enterprise unlikely to inure to
its own immediate benefit. There was little national glory or reputation
to be won by even a successful Indian war; while another defeat might
prove a serious disaster to a government which was as yet far from firm
in its seat. The Eastern people were lukewarm about a war in which they
had no direct interest; and the foolish frontiersmen, instead of backing
up the administration, railed at it and persistently supported the party
which desired so to limit the powers and energies of the National
Government as to produce mere paralysis. Under such conditions the
national administration, instead of at once redoubling its efforts to
ensure success by shock of arms, was driven to the ignoble necessity of
yet again striving for a hopeless peace.

Reluctance of the Government to Carry on the War.

It would be impossible to paint in too vivid colors the extreme
reluctance of the Government to enter into, or to carry on, war with the
Indians. It was only after every other shift had been vainly tried that
resort was had to the edge of the sword. The United States would gladly
have made a stable peace on honorable terms, and strove with weary
patience to bring about a friendly understanding. But all such efforts
were rendered abortive partly by the treachery and truculence of the
savages, who could only be cowed by a thorough beating, and partly by
the desire of the settlers for lands which the red men claimed as their
hunting grounds.

Peace Envoys Sent to the Tries.

In pursuance of their timidly futile policy of friendliness, the
representatives of the National Government, in the spring of 1792, sent
peace envoys, with a flag of truce, to the hostile tribes. The
unfortunate ambassadors thus chosen for sacrifice were Colonel John
Hardin, the gallant but ill-starred leader of Kentucky horse, who had so
often and with such various success encountered the Indians on the field
of battle; and a Federal officer, Major Alexander Trueman. In June they
started towards the hostile towns, with one or two companions, and soon
fell in with some Indians, who on being shown the white flag, and
informed of the object of their visit, received them with every
appearance of good will. But this was merely a mask. A few hours later
the treacherous savages suddenly fell upon and slew the messengers of
peace. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 238, 239, etc.; also
Marshall.] It was never learned whether the deed was the mere wanton
outrage of some blood-thirsty young braves, or the result of orders
given by one of the Indian councils. At any rate, the Indians never
punished the treachery; and when the chiefs wrote to Washington they
mentioned with cool indifference that "you sent us at different times
different speeches, the bearers whereof our foolish young men killed on
their way" [Footnote: Canadian Archives, Indian affairs, M. 2, p. 224.
The Michigan and Wisconsin historical societies have performed a great
service by publishing so many of these papers.]; not even expressing
regret for the occurrence.

Treachery of the Savages.

The truculent violence and bad faith of the savages merited severe
chastisement; but the United States Government was long-suffering and of
the forbearing to a degree. There was no attempt to avenge the murder of
the flag-of-truce men. On the contrary, renewed efforts were made to
secure a peace by treaty. In the fall of 1792 Rufus Putnam, on behalf of
the United States, succeeded in concluding a treaty with the Wabash and
Illinois tribes, [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 338.] which at
least served to keep many of their young braves out of actual
hostilities. In the following spring three commissioners - Benjamin
Lincoln, Beverly Randolph, and Timothy Pickering, all men of note, - were
sent to persuade the Miami tribes and their allies to agree to a peace.
In his letter of instructions the Secretary of War impressed upon them
the desire of the people of the United States for peace in terms that
were almost humiliating, and even directed them if necessary to cede
some of the lands already granted by the Indians at previous treaties.

Peace Commissioners Go to Niagara.
Failure of the Negotiations.

In May, 1793, the Commissioners went to Niagara, where they held
meetings with various Iroquois chiefs and exchanged friendly letters
with the British officers of the posts, who assured them that they would
help in the effort to conclude a peace. Captain Brant, the Iroquois
chief, acted as spokesman for a deputation of the hostile Indians from
the Miami, where a great council was being held, at which not only the
Northwestern tribes, but the Five Nations, were in attendance. The
commissioners then sailed to the Detroit River, having first sent home a
strong remonstrance against the activity displayed by the new commander
on the Ohio, Wayne, whose vigorous measures, they said, had angered the
Indians and were considered by the British "unfair and unwarrantable."
This was a preposterous complaint; throughout our history, whether in
dealing with Indians or with other foes, our Peace Commissioners have
invariably shown to disadvantage when compared with the military
commandants, for whom they always betray such jealously. Wayne's conduct
was eminently proper; and it is difficult to understand the mental
attitude of the commissioners who criticised it because the British
considered it "unwarrantable." However, a few weeks later they learned
to take a more just view of Wayne, and to thank him for the care with
which he had kept the peace while they were vainly trying to treat; for
at the Detroit they found they could do nothing. Brant and the Iroquois
urged the Northwestern tribes not to yield any point, and promised them
help, telling the British agent, McKee, evidently to his satisfaction,
"we came here not only to assist with our advice, but other ways, ... we
came here with arms in our hands"; and they insisted that the country
belonged to the confederated tribes in common, and so could not be
surrendered save by all. [Footnote: Draper MSS., Brant to McKee, Aug. 4,
1793.] Brant was the inveterate foe of the Americans, and the pensioner
of the British; and his advice to the tribes was sound, and was adopted
by them - though he misled them by his never-fulfilled promise of
support. They refused to consider any proposition which did not
acknowledge the Ohio as the boundary between them and the United States;
and so, towards the end of August, the commissioners returned to report
their failure. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 340-360.] The
final solution of the problem was thus left to the sword of Wayne.

Attitude of the British Becomes Progressively More Hostile.

The attitude of the British gradually changed from passive to active
hostility. In 1792 and 1793 they still wished the Indians to make peace
with the Americans, provided always there were no such concessions made
to the latter as would endanger the British control of the fur trade.
But by the beginning of 1794 the relations between Great Britain and the
United States had become so strained that open war was threatened; for
the advisers of the King, relying on the weakness of the young Federal
Republic, had begun to adopt that tone of brutal insolence, which
reflected well the general attitude of the British people towards the
Americans, and which finally brought on the second war between the two

Lord Dorchester's Speech.

The British officials in Canada were quick to reflect the tone of the
home government, and, as always in such cases, the more zealous and
belligerent went a little farther than they were authorized. On February
10th Lord Dorchester, Governor of Canada, in an address of welcome to
some of the chiefs from the tribes of the north and west said, speaking
of the boundary: "Children, since my return I find no appearance of a
line remains; and from the manner in which the people of the United
States push on and act and talk... I shall not be surprised if we are at
war with them in the course of the present year; and if so a line must
then be drawn by the warriors... we have acted in the most peaceable
manner and borne the language and conduct of the people of the United
States with patience; but I believe our patience is almost exhausted."
[Footnote: Rives' "Life and Times of James Madison," III., 418. A
verified copy of the speech from the archives of the London foreign
office. The authenticity of the speech was admitted at the time by the
British Minister; yet, extraordinary to say, not only British, but
American historians, have spoken of it as spurious.] Of course such a
speech, delivered to such an audience, was more than a mere incitement
to war; it was a direct appeal to arms. Nor did the encouragement given
the Indians end with words; for in April, Simcoe, the Lieutenant
Governor, himself built a fort at the Miami Rapids, in the very heart of
the hostile tribes, and garrisoned it with British regulars, infantry
and artillery; which, wrote one of the British officials to another, had
"put all the Indians here in great spirits" [Footnote: Canadian
Archives, Thomas Duggan to Joseph Chew, Detroit, April 16, 1794.] to
resist the Americans.

The British and Spaniards Join in Intriguing with the Indians.

The same official further reported that the Spaniards also were exciting
the Indians to war, and were in communication with Simcoe, their
messengers coming to him at his post on the Miami. At this time the
Spanish Governor, Carondelet, was alarmed over Clark's threatened
invasion of Louisiana on behalf of the French Republic. He wrote to
Simcoe asking for English help in the event of such invasion. Simcoe, in
return, wrote expressing his good will, and enclosing a copy of
Dorchester's speech to the Northern Indians; which, Carondelet reported
to the Court of Spain, showed that the English were following the same
system adopted by the Spaniards in reference to the Indians, whom they
were employing with great success against the Americans. [Footnote:
Draper MSS., Spanish Documents, letter of Carondelet, July 9,1794.]
Moreover, the Spaniards, besides communicating with the British, sent
messages to the Indians at the Miami, urging them to attack the
Americans, and promising help; [Footnote: Canadian Archives, letter of
McKee, May 7, 1794.] a promise which they never fulfilled, save that in
a covert way they furnished the savages with arms and munitions of war.

Effect of Dorchester's Speech.
The Indians Greatly Encouraged.

The Canadians themselves were excited and alarmed by Dorchester's
speech, [Footnote: Canadian Archives, Joseph Chew to Thomas Aston
Coffin, Montreal, February 27, 1794.] copies of which were distributed
broadcast; for the general feeling was that it meant that war was about

Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe Winning of the West, Volume 4 Louisiana and the Northwest, 1791-1807 → online text (page 4 of 25)