Continued from Part I

The US Constitution proved a remarkably forward-thinking document for its day, encoding individual liberties.  Many historians state that the delegates used the ancient Roman republic and Greek democracy for their examples.  While evidence of this exists, I believe they relied on their established roots with the Magna Carta and English common law.  Some erroneously claim that the Constitution limits the rights of the individual; in fact it limits the power of government.

Most of the Founding Fathers believed government little more than a “necessary evil,” and that they must control its power.  Any time that a government passes a law it restricts the liberty of the individual, no matter how just the law.  As stated previously, in the world of the Founding Fathers they witnessed the “tyranny” of “despotic monarchs” in Europe.  They wanted none of this for America and developed “federalism” for establishing the powers of federal, state and local governments.

Ironically today, most Americans seemingly want government interference in their lives, as long as they receive entitlements.  Americans of the 18th Century jealously guarded their individual liberties, while many Americans today comfortably become wards of the state.  Increasingly today the federal government usurps the power the Constitution reserved for the states and the people.  I believe the broad powers assumed by government today go well beyond the intent of the Founding Fathers.

The federal government assumed the responsibility for “providing the common defense,” however little changed for our Armed Forces.  Thus continued a congressional tradition of inadequately fielding, arming and supplying military forces for defending our country, which continues today.

While the federal government assumed responsibility for recruiting they still assigned quotas for the states.  This prevented one state from achieving too much power and enforcing its will on the others.  The fear of a “standing army” still overruled any foreign or domestic threat, and the strength of the First US Regiment remained 700.  Little changed with the previously described mismanaged administration of the Army, and soldiers still suffered.  The Department of Navy did not exist and the few naval vessels did not adequately defend our national interests.

Internationally, most of the European monarchs viewed America’s “republican ideals” as a threat, particularly in their colonial empires.  Defeating these ideals meant that they must work against the new nation at every opportunity.  Little foreign investment occurred because of this and the continuing political and economic chaos in the US.  England and Spain still encroached on American territory and instigated Indians tribes against the western settlers.  France, angry over the unreliability of America as an ally, proved as disruptive as England and Spain.

American authority expanded no further than its diminutive military power, and the westerners began looking elsewhere.  British and Spanish agents circulated in modern Kentucky and Tennessee, fomenting the secessionist sentiment among the settlers.  Both promised an end of the Indian raids and economic benefits from declaring themselves “subjects” of their respective kings.  The American settlers, seeing no relief from an impotent federal government, drifted dangerously toward seceding from the new Union.

Achieving peace on the frontier required negotiations with the various Indian tribes that lived in the region.  Unfortunately overcoming the hatred from decades of brutal warfare between the settlers and the Indians proved difficult.  Each viewed the other as “barbarians,” and neither understood the others’ cultural differences.  American negotiators deceitfully found willing “chiefs,” got them drunk and obtained their “marks” on treaties.  Equally deceitful, the Indians sold the Americans the land of tribal enemies for inciting warfare.  Under the loose tribal political structure, individual Indians did not feel themselves bound by the word of a “chief.”  Many settlers on the frontier likewise did not feel themselves bound by the treaties signed by federal government officials.

Again, the Indians did not feel themselves bound by any agreement between the Americans and British.  Something that British officials exploited for keeping the various tribes under their influence and hostile toward the Americans.  British agents dominated the trade with the tribes and provided arms and ammunition for raiding the American settlements.  The Americans lacked the military power for impressing the Indians, defending the settlers and ending the British influence.

Governor Arthur St. Clair of the new Northwest Territory (all US territory west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River) negotiated a treaty with the Indians in January 9, 1789.  Of doubtful legality, a council of about two hundred Indians, only four of them principal chiefs, signed over most of the present state of Ohio.  Most of the other Indians repudiated the treaty and vowed continued warfare against the “Kentucky people.”

If possible, the level and brutality of warfare increased as a confederation of Indian tribes formed under the Miami chief, Michikinakwa, Little Turtle in English.  The son of a chief, Little Turtle fought as a British ally during the American Revolution.  He earned his position as war chief by defeating an expedition under the French adventurer, Agustin de la Balme.  Little Turtle led the attack on de la Balme, killing him and thirty others, establishing his reputation as a war leader.  He then led attacks on Kentucky settlers throughout the subsequent time, enhancing his reputation among the Indian tribes.  Little Turtle wanted the Ohio River as the boundary between the Indians and the US.  He evolved as one of the most charismatic leaders of the tribes of this region, eclipsed only by Tecumseh.

The new federal government must demonstrate its power, for maintaining its survival in a harsh world.  In 1790 the Congress authorized military action by President Washington against the Miami Confederacy.  Unfortunately the campaign proved a failure for a number of reasons, mostly a lack of preparedness.

The American frontier of this period proved as difficult for military operations as any foreign operation today.  Support troops did not exist, therefore civilian contractors ran the Army’s transportation and supply systems.  Many of these contractors proved incapable of their responsibilities, incompetent and several proved corrupt.  Since they owned the animals and wagons they often balked at taking them on campaigns, fearing the loss of property.  Military officers possessed no authority for forcing the participation of the contractors or confiscating their property on these campaigns.

Congress authorized the mobilization of several hundred militiamen for augmenting the small force of regulars.  Unfortunately for economic reasons the Congress only mobilized them for a short term, which did not allow for sufficient training.  When the militia arrived, the quota did not contain the experienced “frontiersmen” of the frontier legend.  Most of them arrived as unarmed substitutes unfamiliar with both military operations and living in the forests.  Furthermore, most of them refused any form of discipline and proved ineffective during the campaign.

Supplies arrived in the standard too little, too late scenario so familiar with frontier operations.  A mediocre officer, Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, commanded the First US Regiment mostly through political influence.  He received a brevet (temporary and without increased pay) promotion as a brigadier general, making him the commander of the expedition.  From his base at Fort Washington, near Cincinnati, Ohio, Harmar developed an ambitious two-pronged attack.  Harmar planned on leading the main effort himself, striking north from Fort Washington.

The second wing proved even more difficult, launched from far away Fort Knox, near modern Vincennes, Indiana.  Troops and supplies for this effort must first descend the Ohio River and then ascend the Wabash River.  This consumed too much time and resources, hindering the effectiveness of this operation from the beginning.  Nevertheless, Major John Hamtramck marched from there with 50 regulars and about 300 Kentucky militiamen on September 30, 1790.

Harmar marched on the same day with about 320 regulars and about 1,100 militiamen from Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  This army blundered north, losing horses and equipment as it went, hardly resembling an organized military campaign.  An unknown number of deserters, mostly militia, reduced the number of combatants that actually reached the objective.

Hamtramck’s wing fared even worse, beginning the campaign on half-rations and reaching their first objective on October 10th.  Although they found only an empty village, with no live Indians, the militia threatened a mutiny.  Facing this mutiny, further reduced rations and an estimated hostile force of 750 Indians, Hamtramck turned back.

Harmar reached the main Indian camp at Kekionga, near modern Fort Wayne, Indiana on October 14th, the same day Hamtramck withdrew.  The next day Harmar divided his command into three wings and attacked the village, falling immediately into an ambush.  Almost immediately the surprised militia bolted for the rear, leaving the outnumbered regulars vulnerable and confused.

The first battle of the “United States Army” ended in defeat as a numerically inferior force ambushed them.  This ambushed force consisted of about 30 regulars and 180 militiamen, opposed by an estimated 130 Indians.  Only nine militiamen stood with the regulars, and almost all of them died, along with twenty-two regulars.  This defeat demoralized the remaining militia, many of whom threatened mutiny if Harmar continued the campaign.  It further fostered a deep resentment of the regulars for the militia, a resentment that endured for years thereafter.

Restoring some semblance of order, Harmar broke camp and continued the campaign on October 20th.  The Army destroyed five largely unoccupied Indian villages, burning huts, crops and any other possessions found.  These “easy victories” restored some of the militia’s confidence and Harmar saw hopes of success.  He hoped that this destruction of these Indian towns “would break up the Indians’ base of operations.”  However, it seemingly caused the opposite effect as the Indians laid another ambush.

On October 21st Harmar planned another complicated maneuver, again beyond the capabilities of his mostly militia troops.  Harmar learned that about 120 warriors reoccupied the ruined village of Kekionga and threatened his rear as he withdrew.  One of the militia officers, Colonel John Hardin, smarting from the poor performance of his troops, suggested this attack.  Hardin, a veteran of the Revolution and Indian warfare in Kentucky, hoped for reestablishing his reputation as an “Indian fighter.”

Unfortunately Indian scouts watched the entire movement of the 400 American troops as they advanced.  At the initiation of the ambush most of the militia fled once again, leaving the sixty regulars alone.  Almost all of them died, including their commander, Major John Wyllys, with their bodies abandoned.  One militia officer, Major John Fontaine, ordered a charge and spurred his horse into the Indians, firing his pistols.  When he turned, he found only one of his men, Private George Adams, followed him.  Adams escaped with five wounds, while no one saw the seriously wounded Fontaine again.

With his troops’ morale rapidly deteriorating, and the October weather turning colder, Harmar began his withdrawal on October 23rd.  At one point during the withdrawal Harmar used a show of force from his regulars for quelling a militia mutiny.  The dispirited command arrived at Fort Washington November 3rd and Harmar amazingly declared “victory.”

However, the facts belied that news, including scathing reports from several of Harmar’s subordinate officers.  The results of the expedition forced Harmar’s resignation from the Army, although a court of inquiry subsequently cleared him of misconduct.  Little Turtle emerged as a charismatic leader of the region’s Indian tribes and the frontier warfare increased.  The Indians became more dependent on the British for supplies, who offered them food and shelter at Detroit.

The new American government appeared weak and the American military seemed incapable of defending the nation.  Dissatisfied with their neglect by the Congress, including not receiving pay for most of 1790, veteran soldiers left when their enlistments expired.  Besides, they experienced a high casualty rate, mostly because militia units deserted them, and sought the comforts of civilian life.

With Harmar gone Washington must appoint a new commander for the Army, someone with more experience.  He commissioned Governor St. Clair a major general and gave him command of the Army.  St. Clair arrived in Philadelphia on November 8th, and seemingly courted this appointment through political influence.  He possessed vast military experience, beginning as a British officer during the Seven Years War in 1757.  St. Clair served on the Louisburg and Quebec campaigns with the 60th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Americans.  Remaining in America following this war he joined the Continental Army and ended the war as a major general.  However, his war record remains somewhat controversial marked by his abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga without a fight in 1777.

Unfortunately by the time of the current crisis St. Clair suffered from advancing age, gout and obesity.  If he possessed any drive as a younger officer, it eroded as he grew older.  However, he wanted the job when no one else seemingly wanted it, which meant something.  Washington appointed him, the Senate approved him and St. Clair accepted the command in March, 1791.

Congress, which bore much of the blame for the failed expedition, made only superficial changes.  First it doubled the size of the Army adding the Second United States Regiment in April, 1791.  However, in an economic move, Congress reduced the already low pay of soldiers and deducted clothing and rations from this amount.  Volunteers proved slow in assembling and veterans left when their enlistments expired, leaving the Army under strength.  Again, why serve in the primitive frontier conditions and suffer high casualties for low pay and poor provisions.  Besides, a shortage of labor existed in the comfortable eastern cities, and earning high wages did not possess the dangers of Indian warfare.

When the regular regiments embarked upon the next campaign both achieved only about 50% of their authorized strength.  A substantial number consisted of recent recruits, lacking in the training and discipline needed.  However, they proved the best soldiers on the campaign and stood their ground against hopeless odds.

Congress “addressed” the continuing problem with the civilian-managed Quartermaster Department, which meant that they did little.  They did fire some of the most inept and corrupt of the contractors, however the replacements proved little better.  For economic reasons Congress obtained the supplies from stocks left over from the Revolution, most of it unserviceable.  Transportation proved the biggest obstacle on the frontier meaning that food and other supplies arrived late.  The frontier settlements lacked the resources for supplying the needs of the Army, meaning that supplies came from the east.

The circumstances provided England and Spain a golden opportunity for achieving their goals against the US.  A delegation of Indians arrived at Detroit and demanded increased British aid in defeating the Americans.  Fortunately for the Americans, the Indians addressed a subordinate officer, and no one with the authority for changing policy.  This communication reached the British governor of Canada in Quebec two months later, who also lacked the authority.

Winter weather closed communications from Quebec, forcing the delay of communications with London until March, 1791.  The governor did not receive a reply until September, 1791, almost one year after Harmar’s campaign.  Fortunately both England and Spain focused their priorities on the continuing troubles from the French Revolution.  At any rate, both nations still armed and instigated their allied Indian tribes, but hesitated at providing troops.

The various Indian tribes also missed an excellent opportunity because of enduring inter-tribal rivalries.  The Miami Confederacy also included Shawnee, Delaware, Pottawatomie, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Ottawa and smaller contingents from other tribes.  However, the Iroquois Confederacy, who dominated the region for decades, remained neutral because they resented the growing power of the Miami.  South of the Ohio River the Cherokee attacked settlers in modern Kentucky and Tennessee, but few of them allied themselves with the Miami.  The Creeks, aided by the Spanish, attacked the frontiers of Georgia and South Carolina.  Their rivals, the Chickasaw and Choctaw, sided with the Americans and sent scouts for aiding the Americans.

St. Clair began organizing his expedition, mostly repeating the same mistakes of the previous campaign.  Before he departed Philadelphia he received sound advice from President Washington, “beware of surprise.”  Events demonstrate that he did not heed these words, or at least did not enforce this advice on his subordinates.  He established his headquarters at Fort Washington and awaited both troops and supplies, neither of which he currently possessed.

Congress, once again for economic reasons, augmented the Army with the mobilization of short-term militia.  Repeating the mistakes of the Harmar campaign, they did not call for them in time for proper training and discipline.  Expecting 3,000 militiamen from several states, enlistments proved unsatisfactory, with initially 2,500 recruited.  However, even these numbers proved overly optimistic and they arrived at Fort Washington in small groups throughout the summer.  Many did not make it past Pittsburgh and missed the campaign altogether, something they did not regret.

Supplies trickled in, and proved inadequate for the needs of the Army for a long expedition.  The contractor, William Duer, and his agent, Israel Ludlow, proved incompetent and more interested in making a profit.  They did not purchase adequate rations, nor did they purchase the required horses for transporting the provisions.

The small arms used by the troops arrived with most of them needing immediate repair.  Cartridge boxes and other individual equipment arrived from storage at West Point with visible mold.  Tools needed for building roads and a line of forts proved entirely too few for the needs of this expedition.  Nevertheless, Congress pressured St. Clair into launching his expedition without the necessary supplies and improper training of his force.

While he awaited both men and supplies St. Clair approved two militia raids into Indian territory north of the Ohio River.  He hoped that raiding deep into their homelands might demonstrate the vulnerability of their villages and persuade them toward peace.  One of these under Brigadier General Charles Scott, a veteran of the Revolution and competent leader, consisted of about 750 mounted Kentuckians.  It crossed the Ohio on May 19, 1791 and struck the Wea Indian villages on the Wabash River ten days later.  Fortunately for Scott, most of the warriors departed for joining the Miami, leaving mostly women and children in these villages.  After burning the villages and destroying the crops, Scott’s men delivered their prisoners into US Army custody at Fort Steuben, across the Ohio from Louisville, Kentucky.

Viewed as an American victory, this raid did force most of the Wabash Indians from the Miami Confederacy.  With their homes and provisions destroyed, most of them made peace with the Americans in early 1792.  However, most of the remaining hostile Indians viewed this raid on mostly women and children as an outrage.

A second raid, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson, who participated in the first, departed on August 1st.  Wilkinson, briefly mentioned earlier, another veteran of the Revolution, took over 500 mounted Kentuckians again toward the Wabash villages.  A vain man, with a dark history of intrigue and deceit, Wilkinson hoped that this raid might enhance his national reputation.

Originally from Maryland, Wilkinson enlisted in the Continental Army where he met Washington, St. Clair, and more importantly Major General Horatio Gates.  Gates, a former British officer, believed himself a better commander than Washington and lobbied Congress for the position.  Wilkinson served as Gates’ aide for a time and became associated with the “Conway Cabal,” a sinister plot against Washington.  Somehow he avoided the scandal and finished the war as a brigadier general.

After the war Wilkinson became involved in the tobacco trade in Kentucky, with commerce down the Mississippi river cut off.  He made a trip downriver, bribed some Spanish officials, met some unscrupulous people and became “Agent 13” for Spain.  Wilkinson further became involved in Kentucky politics, making many influential friends and became part of the “Spanish Conspiracy.”

His intrigue and dealings with Spanish officials also brought him some powerful enemies and he sought retribution through military accomplishments.  Again, Wilkinson struck villages of mostly women and children, and stirred up a “hornets’ nest.”  He burned the village of L’Anguille, the capital of Little Turtle’s Eel River Miami, who vowed a vengeance.

On August 7, 1791 St. Clair moved his untrained and undisciplined army of 2,300 men six miles north, bivouacking at Ludlow’s Station.  He hoped that removing the army from the “distractions” of nearby Cincinnati might improve their health and training.  It further reduced the number of deserters, many of whom signed on with passing boat crews for higher wages.

Exasperated by still inadequate troops, rations, other supplies and transportation, St. Clair left there on September 17th.  Already more than five weeks behind schedule, the army slowly cut its trail north on half-rations.  Furthermore, a growing dissension among the senior officers threatened the “good order and discipline” needed for waging a war.

About 200 “camp followers” also hindered the expedition’s progress, and also consumed the meager amount of supplies.  This group consisted of mostly soldiers’ families, laundresses and sutlers, the forerunners of today’s Post Exchange (PX) system.  It also consisted of an unknown number of “women of ill repute,” who served the soldiers’ “other needs.”  These people delayed the march and required protection, which lengthened the column and thinly spread the soldiers.

A detachment of Chickasaw joined St. Clair’s column against their hated enemies, the Miami.  Their benefit at providing reconnaissance for St. Clair, and defeating the Miami scouts might prove invaluable.  However, St. Clair did not trust them and sent them on a distant scouting mission that ultimately served no purpose.

As St. Clair’s expedition moved north, the weather turned colder and the terrain proved more difficult.  This army averaged about five miles of travel per day and the undisciplined men frequently left the column.  Stragglers and deserters often became the victims of the Indian scouts who observed the march almost from its beginning.  Building the necessary forts required an average of two weeks labor apiece, and the army built two, Forts Hamilton and Jefferson.  Performing this intensive labor and the necessary marching severely taxed the men living on half-rations.  As the officers bickered, the militia grew more mutinous and the “fighting spirit” of the army declined.

The long line of communication caused further delays as the army must frequently stop and await the arrival of supply convoys.  The pack animals suffered from a lack of forage and the civilian packers turned them loose for grazing.  Indian scouts stole them at random, which further exacerbated the transportation problem.  Subsequently the troops left behind a considerable amount of tents and other baggage, reducing their shelter from the worsening weather.

On October 31st, St. Clair made a fateful mistake that provide a series of “what if” scenarios for military historians.  About sixty militiamen deserted the camp, vowing the capture of an enroute supply convoy.  With the army severely suffering from hunger and a lack of flour, St. Clair detached his best unit, the First US Regiment, in pursuit.  The 300 regulars, under Major Hamtramck, marched away, not for capturing the deserters, but for securing the critical supply convoy.  This departure left St. Clair with about 1,500 troops and kept his best troops from the ensuing battle.

At sunset on November 3, 1791 St. Clair made camp on the Wabash River, 97 miles north of Fort Washington.  The campsite proved a poorly drained site on low, wet ground and all of it wooded.  As the troops cleared the ground for a camp a light snow fell, making the misery worse.  Camped in the heart of Indian territory, St. Clair did not take all the proper precautions for guarding against attack.  The nervous sentries fired throughout the night at supposed Indians, preventing any rest for the troops.

An advanced guard of Kentucky militia under Captain Jacob Slough ambushed six or seven Indians, killing at least one.  The men remained in place and fifteen minutes later a larger force of Indians approached looking for the hidden Americans.  Unsuccessful, they continued toward the American camp, followed shortly by a much larger war party.

Shaken by the appearance of so many Indians, Slough and his men stealthily left their positions and reentered the American camp.  Slough informed his commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Oldham, who in turn informed Brigadier General Richard Butler.  Here the advance warning provided by Slough failed because of the personality conflicts between senior officers.  Butler, the expedition’s second-in-command, did not inform St. Clair of the approach of these Indians.  He strongly disliked St. Clair and still resented the callous treatment he received from the major general.

As reveille awoke the camp, St. Clair still knew nothing of the danger facing him as hundreds of Indians surrounded him.  Butler made no attempt at informing his commander of the presence of the large number of Indians near the camp.  Oldham, who also knew of the Indians, just received a verbal reprimand for not sending out morning patrols.  Once finished with the “morning parade,” St. Clair dismissed the men for preparing their breakfast.  He planned on remaining here until the First US Regiment returned with the much needed supplies.  Besides, his command arrived too late and too tired the previous evening for constructing proper fortifications.  After breakfast the men must begin work on the  fortifications for defending against a possible attack, until the First US Regiment returned.  Private Robert Bradshaw, a Kentucky militiaman, stood near a campfire with his comrades when he saw the Indians.  He fired his rifle at them and the Indians immediately responded with a volley that killed most of Bradshaw’s comrades.

The Indians immediately launched their attack, firing from all directions on the men preparing their breakfasts.  Caught by surprise, most of the militia fired one volley then fled the battlefield, throwing away their weapons.  Indians immediately chased them down and tomahawked them killing hundreds of them.

Officers of the Second US Regiment tried forming their men into ranks, but the stampeding militiamen disrupted the formation.  They also trampled many of the regular officers, leaving these men confused and largely leaderless.  However, the regulars formed ranks and briefly stopped the Indian advance, and even counterattacked three times with bayonets.  Unfortunately they proved too few in number and the Indian gunfire decimated their ranks.  The artillery further hindered the Indian attack until the Indians killed or wounded most of the gunners.

A major “what if” develops here about the absent First US Regiment doubling the number of regulars on the field.  Supposedly the presence of the expedition’s best troops strengthens the counterattack and prevents the ensuing massacre.  While possible, I believe it just traps more American troops in the crossfire established by the Indians.

For all of his incompetence, St. Clair emerged from his tent and valiantly tried organizing his demoralized troops.  Although suffering from gout he moved among the men, losing two horses from gunfire in the process.  Unfortunately most of the soldiers proved beyond motivation by this time and many of them milled around the center of the camp.  Some even huddled inside their tents, as if that saved them from the Indians.  It did not, and the Indians took advantage of their passivity by killing them in massive numbers.  Among the casualties, the mortally wounded General Butler, whose dereliction of duty largely caused this debacle.  Colonel Oldham also fell with a mortal wound, perhaps as punishment for his negligence as well.

Fearing the annihilation of his command, St. Clair ordered a breakout attack toward the south end of his encircled camp.  This attack almost failed until the attack turned east off the road and surprised the Indians.  Most of the survivors ran through the woods with all semblance of military formation gone.  Major John Clarke eventually formed a weak rearguard of the remnants of the Second US Regiment and delayed the Indians.  The Indians gave up the pursuit after about four miles and sought easier prey among the abandoned wounded.

The Indians then returned and plundered the American camp in celebration of their victory.  Here they mutilated the dead, tortured and killed the wounded, witnessed by Stephen Littel from a hiding place.  While sources vary, most of them state that fewer than one thousand Indians conducted this surprise attack.  The charismatic Little Turtle achieved a previously unknown level of organization and discipline among this loose confederation of warriors.

In a little over three hours the Americans lost almost 600 killed, almost half of the force engaged.  Total casualties of soldiers, civilian contractors and female “camp followers” exceeded 900, with most of the wounded abandoned.  This remained the worst disaster experienced by American forces throughout the long period of Indian wars, yet remains largely unknown.  Proportionately, it remains the worst military disaster suffered by the US Army throughout its history.

The routed army moved much faster in retreat than it advanced, reaching Fort Washington on November 8th.  Panic spread along with the news of the disaster, and the demoralized soldiers recounted tales of Indian brutality.  The next day St. Clair wrote his report for Secretary of War Henry Knox, detailing the extent of the losses.  Desertion occurred at a phenomenal rate and troops eagerly sought discharges when their enlistments expired.  Many officers, disgusted with the conduct of the campaign, resigned their commissions, leaving the remaining troops mostly leaderless.

On the frontier the savagery of Indian warfare increased, with many frontier families returning east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Allegiance with either England or Spain looked more favorable for many of the western settlers given the defeat of American arms.  The self-serving James Wilkinson, now a US Army brigadier general, assumed command of the troops at Fort Washington.  He did perform a valuable service at restoring the combat readiness of the troops remaining on the frontier  Wilkinson kept the forts built by St. Clair open and built another midway between the existing two, Fort St. Clair.  He also took an expedition and hastily buried most of the dead on St. Clair’s battlefield.

In Philadelphia this disaster caused the first congressional investigation in history and required the testimony of several survivors.  The heated committee hearings proved more than incompetence by St. Clair, who demanded a court of inquiry.  Although exonerated of all charges, the scandal forced St. Clair from the Army, resigning his commission as a major general.  He once again became the governor of Northwest Territory, a position where he proved more competent.

Besides investigating St. Clair, the hearings revealed deeper problems throughout the entire War Department and the negligence of Congress regarding military matters.  Much of the focus proved the inadequacy of short-term militia enlistments and their refusal of accepting military discipline.  The Quartermaster Department received scathing reports for incompetence, corruption and the inability of meeting its obligations.

To be continued.

Review of Founding Fighters

founding-fighters.jpgThis review will appear in an upcoming issue of On Point.

Cate, Alan C. Founding Fighters: The Battlefield Leaders Who Made American Independence. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006. 264pp. ISBN: 0-275-98707-8 $49.95

Founding Fighters is an interesting new book from former infantry officer and history professor Alan C. Cate, and is published by Praeger Security International. Cate explores an often-overlooked area of study on the American Revolution, the generals who made the core of commanders of the Continental army and their influence on the war’s prosecution and outcome. Cate seeks to indict academic history that he notes often overlooks the major players of the revolution (dead white men) in favor of minorities and other overlooked stories. While he does not state that the stories of minorities are not important, Cate offers his book as a more traditional history that will delight readers.

Cate explores several high-ranking officers in the Continental army through his work. Each officer is profiled via a detailed biography that chronicles their careers prior to the war, their exploits during the war, and, in most cases, their post-war careers. The book is well organized and the introduction provides the reader a brief, but detailed account of the Revolutionary War. This allows readers unfamiliar with the period to read and understand this book, which is beneficial to all readers.

After the helpful introduction to the war, Cate presents detailed biographies of several notable Continental officers and their contributions to the American victory. Some of the officers he chose to examine are a well-known group: Richard Montgomery, Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, Benedict Arnold (Arnold’s treason not withstanding), John Paul Jones, Francis Marion, Ethan Allen, Daniel Morgan, and George Rogers Clark. These men and the others Cate examined played significant roles during the Revolution and make this work quite refreshing.

There are many positives to this book. The organization of the book into topical chapters groups each officer chosen along common features, from former service in the British army, to self-education, to frontier legends. In addition to learning about the men and their qualities, the reader learns more about the Revolution, as Cate chose a diverse group that represented the many different campaigns and important battles of the war. Cate draws upon many wonderful sources in this work, both primary and secondary that illustrates thorough research into the subject. The brevity of the work is a plus, as the reader enjoys details about our war for independence without being bogged down in a lengthy tome.

There are a couple of drawbacks to the book, but they do not detract from the worth of this work. The book would benefit from a couple of maps to aid readers unfamiliar with the war as to where the battles mentioned are located. In addition, while Cate seeks to add to the historiography on the American Revolution, given his criticism of academic history, he does not state what other scholars have said on the subject he covers with his work. A little background on the previous historical writing around the officers covered and what he adds would enhance the reputation of the work among professional historians. Again, these problems are minor, but addressing them would help make this book even better than it is already.

Overall, Cate has provided readers with a wonderful book that will educate them on the men who were instrumental in America gaining independence. While most are familiar with Washington, reading Founding Fighters will familiarize them with the other major players of the war. General readers and scholars should add this book to their list. Perhaps Alan Cate will someday write a work on the major leaders of the British army during the Revolution.

The Decisive Battles of the Frontier

My apologies for the long break between posts. The last post discussed a good series from the History Channel in its early days before it sold out to ratings. The series Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest examined the lives of four individuals important to the history of the Old Northwest. The History Channel produced another series a couple of years later that dealt with important battles on the frontier. Frontier: The Decisive Battles of the Old Northwest presents the story of four major battles/wars that shaped the early history of the United States well into the 19th century. Both series are well worth watching for history buffs and teachers for classroom use, as they present history well and captivate the viewer.

The first battle discussed in the series is the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 in South Carolina. The episode discusses the background history of the American Revolution, especially the Southern Theater, as well as the important figures involved. The episode discusses the Scotch-Irish frontier dwellers that comprised the Patriot force involved. In addition, the British commander of the Loyalist militia opposing the Americans, Patrick Ferguson, was chronicled. The show treated Ferguson well, noting his genius in military matters. Ferguson commanded units of British riflemen, designed rifles, and was described as one of the best marksmen in the British army. The show notes how Ferguson at one time had George Washington in his sight and could have easily killed him, but did not (one could dream up an incredible counter-factual history from that incident). The episode describes the brutality of the battle, as each side fought bitterly for the mountain, including the death of Ferguson. King’s Mountain is a classic example of the sheer brutality of frontier warfare, especially when adding the clannish feuds of the frontier in the mix.

The second episode deals with one of the most important battles of the Old Northwest for the young United States. The Battle of Fallen Timbers was a decisive victory for the American army in the wake of stinging defeats earlier at the hands of the Miami Indian confederacy. The episode notes the background leading up to the battle, discussing the defeats of Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair in 1790 and 1791. St. Clair’s Defeat is the battle that led to Fallen Timbers. On November 4, 1791, Arthur St. Clair’s force of militia and regular US troops were ambushed by the Indian force. The militia broke and ran, leaving the regular troops to hold out for several hours before being overrun and forced to retreat. The battle was a stinging defeat for the nation, as over 800 Americans were killed, which included over 600 soldiers and 200 camp followers (the wives and children of soldiers, as well as prostitutes). The United States army suffered heavily, loosing one-quarter of its standing strength, with the casualty rate amongst the soldiers involved being over 97 percent.

The episode discusses the story of William Wells, a white man who was captured by the Miami from his Kentucky home when he was twelve years old. The Miami chief Little Turtle adopted the boy as his son, and Wells married Little Turtle’s daughter. Wells fought with his adopted father at St. Clair’s Defeat, but would serve the American army after realizing that he could have killed his own kin in the battle. He rejoined his white family and offered his services to the new American commander tasked with avenging the American defeat and rebuilding the army, “Mad” Anthony Wayne.

Wayne reorganized the army, which he named “The Legion of the United States” and instilled strict discipline as he prepared his men for battle. Wayne used Wells as a scout, given Wells knowledge of the Indians. The Battle of Fallen Timbers began in August 1794 when Wayne attacked the Indian forces after waiting for a couple of days (the video noted that the Indians did not eat prior to the battle and Wayne was allowing them to starve) and caught them in a weakened state from lack of food. The Indians soon realized that they were facing a much stronger enemy and fled to a nearby British fort, only t find the gate locked, as the British did not want to involve themselves directly. The battle resulted in the United States gaining much of present-day Ohio via the Treaty of Greenville of 1795. In addition, it solidified American control of the Old Northwest given that the British had occupied forts in the area in violation of the Treaty of Paris.

The third episode discusses the major American victory in the last battle of the War of 1812, which occurred after the peace treaty was signed. The Battle of New Orleans pitted the rag-tag American force, comprising regular troops, militia, pirates, and others under Gen. Andrew Jackson against the British army (most fresh from victories against Napoleon in Continental Europe) under Gen. Edward Pakenham. The episode, like all the others, unpacks the background history of Jackson and the war, including Jackson’s campaigns against southern Indians. It also discusses the diverse makeup of his army.

The episode examines the battle very well, noting surprise attacks by the Americans against the British. It then chronicles the main battle, describing the defensive fortifications erected by the Americans, as well as the valiant assault by the British against the entrenched Americans. The episode notes the staggering losses suffered by the British, including the loss of many officers, Gen. Pakenham among them. The episode notes how the battle secured the American position in terms of the peace treaty, and propelled Jackson to national prominence, with the culmination of his election to the presidency.

The final episode examines the last major conflict between Americans and Indians in the Old Northwest, the Black Hawk War in 1832 in Illinois and Michigan Territory. The war erupted when Black Hawk violated treaties and remained in the village of Saukenuk in 1830 and 1831 following hunting. In April 1832, his band crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois, which led the governor to claim that Black Hawk was invading his state. Illinois militia soon pursued Black Hawk, but were ambushed and fled in the Battle of Stillman’s Run. Even though only a few militia were killed, exaggerated claims of thousands of warriors sweeping across northern Illinois rallied whites to fight against Black Hawk. One of those who joined the fight was Abraham Lincoln. The episode notes the destruction of Black Hawk’s band at the Battle of Bad Axe, in which most of his band was trapped on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River and killed or captured most of those trapped. Black Hawk and some of his remaining followers surrendered soon after the battle and were sent on a tour of the country. The episode mentions how the war influenced many figures eventually significant to later history, including Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Zachary Taylor, and Winfield Scott.

Overall, this series is as good as the first Frontier series and covers important battles that are significant to the history of the early American frontier. It discusses the battles, places them in historical context, and presents the backgrounds of the events and principle  characters involved. It is a great resource for history teachers for use in the classroom and is worth checking out.

TV Documentary on the Legends of the Frontier

I must state that I believe that The History Channel has declined in quality over the years. When it started, the programming was of a higher quality. Then, the channel began to over emphasize the World War II period (not that this time is not important), specifically Nazi Germany, which earned it the nickname “The Hitler Channel”. Now, the programming has gone off the deep end, with shows like Monster Quest and The Universe, which is more in the realm of The Discovery Channel. It has led me to question, whether a new channel dedicated to history is needed to bring quality programming on history back. With that said, I would like write a bit about a great miniseries that was on The History Channel a few years ago and deals with the subject area of this site and is quite good. The show is known as Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest and it is one of two series, with the other series, Frontier: The Decisive Battles dealing with four important battles in the Old Northwest.

Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest focuses on four key figures of the history of the old Northwest. The first episode focuses on Robert Rogers and his rangers that battled the French and their Indian allies for the British during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The episode discusses Rogers’ early life, his service in the British army when he formed the rangers, and his later life. One of the pivotal events discussed in this episode is the attack on the Abenaki village at St. Francis in Canada in October of 1759, in which Rogers destroyed the village, killed many of the village inhabitants (accounts vary as to how many), and then trekking through the Vermont wilderness for days, struggling for food and survival. The episode provides a great amount of information about Rogers, his rangers, and links them to today’s ranger forces. This subject is a great start for this series.

The second episode deals with one of the pivotal events in the intervening years between the close of the French and Indian War and the start of the American Revolution, Pontiac’s Rebellion. Like the episode dealing with Rogers’ Rangers, Pontiac’s Rebellion examines the life of Pontiac, the Ottawa chief and his rebellion against the British in the Old Northwest in 1763. The rebellion began at Detroit and then spread to many other outposts in Michigan, and eventually to much of the old Northwest. The episode chronicles Pontiac’s life as well, including his death at the hands of fellow Indians.

The third episode chronicles the life and events surrounding one of the most important people in the old Northwest, at least from the American standpoint, George Rogers Clark. The episode, titled The Long Knives, examines the men behind Clark’s epic foray into the Illinois Country during the American Revolution. The episode discusses the training of Clark’s men in Kentucky and his easy captures of Kaskaskia and Cahokia in Illinois, as well as his initial capture of Vincennes, Indiana. The show chronicles Clark’s British opponent Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, known as the Hairbuyer, for his trade in American scalps, very well. Clark leaves only a small force at Vincennes, which allows Hamilton to retake the town and its fort, named Fort Sackville. Clark then leads an epic expedition across the cold winter prairie of southern Illinois, which includes several days of marching through chest-deep, frigid waters and huddling on mounds of mud, as the Wabash River was swollen and little dry land existed. Clark and his men, exhausted to the point of collapse, then lay siege to the fort and force its surrender. Clark’s expedition paves the way for securing the old Northwest for the Americans.

The final episode of the series deals with the life of Tecumseh and his efforts at a pan-Indian confederacy to drive out the American settlers in the early 1800s. Included in this episode is Tecumseh’s early life, including his fighting during St. Clair’s defeat and the Battle of Fallen Timbers, his brother, later known as “the Prophet”, fight against the whites, including the Battle of Tippecanoe with William Henry Harrison, service and death with the British in the War of 1812. The episode provides great insight into his service in the War of 1812 with the British army and death at the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

Overall, all four episodes in this series are worth watching, as they focus on important people in frontier America and the events surrounding them. Though the programming on The History Channel has declined some over the years, Frontier: Legends of the Old Northwest is one program that illustrates how historical programming on frontier America should be done.

Review of The First Way of War by John Grenier

I wrote the following review for On Point: The Journal of Army History and it will appear in an upcoming issue.

The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814. By John Grenier. Cambridge University Press, 2005. i-xiv, 232 Pp. Figures. Maps. Index. ISBN 0-521-84566-1. $30.00

Through gripping accounts taken from primary sources to maps of the regions in question, Air Force officer and Air Force Academy history Professor John Grenier argues and illustrates how America developed its unique military heritage and style of war making based upon irregular warfare. Specifically, Grenier examines the killing of non-combatants and destruction of crops and homes during the wars in the colonies as well as the American Revolution, the Indian wars of the early republic, and the War of 1812.

In his introduction, Grenier discusses the history and historiography of military and specifically American military history, including the development of America’’s unique way of making war. He lists off several historians and works from the past that discuss this topic, which provide the reader with a good background on the subject presented in this work.

Grenier presents the history of American rangers through much of the work and he keeps the story in chronological order beginning with the wars in the colonies from 1607-1689, which occurred between colonists and Indian tribes. He brings to light how ranger companies were generational with sons often leading units that their fathers once led. He then moves into the wars on the continent between France and England in the eighteenth century as well as the lesser-known wars, noting the role that rangers and the tactics they used played in the conflicts in the mid-eighteenth century prior to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Grenier then breaks the flow of the work with a chapter dealing with the history of petite guerre in Europe. This story is important for understanding this work, but would better serve the work if it was the first chapter as in the current placement as the third chapter, it breaks the flow in a way that hurts the story that the author is presenting. This is not to say that the chapter does not belong as it does, but rather that it belongs in a different place within the larger work.

Grenier then examines America’’s way of war making in the French and Indian War. He notes that Britain realizes the need for American rangers, especially after Braddock’’s defeat, but that they are slow to realize this. Shortly after Braddock’’s defeat, various units of American rangers are formed in response, including one unit formed by Robert Rogers (the famous Roger’’s Rangers). He also notes how the British after initially relying on the rangers attempt to replace them, but fail. Finally, he concludes the chapter by examining how the British adapt the American way of war.

Grenier also examines the Revolutionary War period, primarily focusing on the war on the frontier, which includes stories about George Rogers Clark as well as the Northeast frontier. Grenier then examines the 1790s, which present great defeats and triumphs on the frontier from St. Clair’’s defeat to the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The story then carries into the early 1800s, focusing on events like the Indian war in the Northwest against Tecumseh and the Creek War to the south, finally ending in 1815.

Overall, Grenier’’s scholarship is quite good with many primary sources drawn together for this work, including the papers of Sir William Johnson, as well as many government documents. He also provides a good selection of maps and illustrations to aid the reader in understanding. His style is formal, but not beyond the general reading audience, which gives it a wider audience as both historians and general readers can understand the book. Though he is an Air Force officer, Grenier proves that he knows the subject well. His work adds greatly to the scholarship of both American history and US Army history. Both historians interested in the topic and general audiences will benefit from reading The First Way of War.

Thoughts on the PBS Documentary “The War That Made America”

My apologies for not keeping up with this site, but I hope to keep up with it, as I am reviewing a book dealing with the period, and I hope to get other writers involved.

I have been meaning to write something about the documentary “The War That Made America” for some time now. As one who enjoys good television programming on the subject of early American history, I not only own this show, but both “Frontier” series put out by the History Channel (back when it was good), as well as the A&E documentary “The American Revolution”, which is a classic (reviews on these will appear some day).

That said, I would like to highlight some of the good parts, as well as some of the bad with this program. The documentary is narrated very well by Graham Green, an Oneida actor who had ancestors that fought in the conflict. The documentary is packed with information and good living history excerpts. It examines the war from all sides and discusses many of the important figures and events of the war, though sometimes with only a mention. In addition to good narration and balance, the research is quite solid. Finally, the acting for the living history is good and certainly not as annoying as recent documentaries on The History Channel.

There are a couple of problems that I do have with this program. While the acting is quite good, the way it is presented is somewhat awkward. This is because in many of the scenes the main character in question (Washington, the Marquis de Montcalm, etc.) pulls a stunt out of Saved by the Bell, in which the scene seems to freeze with the actor portraying the character in question talking to the audience. While the tactic is interesting and makes the attempt to have a historical figure communicate with the audience, I believe that a traditional scene, similar to a movie would be more appropriate. This is only a small problem that does not negatively affect the value of this program much.

The other, more serious, problem is the portrayal of George Washington. The program portrays Washington as a brash and blundering young man. While this may be somewhat true based upon the events involving him and the ignition of the war, it must be noted that if he were so brash and blundering, how could he have secured a position as a major in the Virginia militia? Yes, his family was well off, but Washington did possess valuable experience.

In addition to the portrayal of Washington, another problem is the overt amount of attention paid to him by the program. While I certainly revere Washington and admire him, I also know that he was a minor player in the grand scheme of the war in America. More attention could have been paid to other aspects of the conflict, like the siege of Louisbourg.

Overall, while there are minor problems, I find this program to be very good and a useful tool for educators wishing to find a good program to show classes dealing with this period. I applaud PBS (which is a rarity given my views on their politics) on this fine program and encourage everyone to consider watching it.

A late, great colonial historian worth reading

Every now and then, an author comes around that is worth reading, even after death.  Howard Peckham is that author.  Peckham, who died in 1995 served as both a history professor at the University of Michigan and director of the Clements Library from 1953-1977.  He wrote numerous articles and several books during his life.  His most well-known book was Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (1948), which explored the famous Indian rebellion of 1763 led by Pontiac, in which he placed Pontiac in the context of a local leader within a greater anti-English movement by the Native Americans. 

Another well-known work by Peckham is The Colonial Wars, 1689-1763 (1964).  This book chronicles the history of the series of wars between the English and French, and their respective colonists in North America, as well as the Native Americans.  This work, though dated, is well worth reading in order to begin understanding much of the period covered by this site.  If one desires great reads by an accomplished historian, then consider reading Howard Peckham.