Another American Disaster!

December 4, 2012

The Shawnee scouting for the Americans moved up the Maumee River ahead of General Winchester. They discovered that Roundhead and Muir had left the area and were headed back to Canada. However, the area was infested with pro-British warriors. On October 8th Captain Lewis, Logan and a few other scouts were attacked by Main Poc and a large party of Potawatomi. They escaped without injury beating a hasty retreat back to the American lines.

For the next two months Captain Lewis, Logan, Captain Johnny, Bright Horn, The Wolf and a few other Ohio Shawnee ranged across the region of northwestern Ohio sending intelligence back to the Big Knives. It was doubly dangerous work. They not only had to contend with roving enemy war parties but also roaming detachments of Big Knives who were carrying out Harrison’s orders to clear the area of First Nations people. The Big Knives were randomly destroying all First Nations’ towns they came across, burning them to the ground and destroying their winter supplies of corn. The Americans, especially the Militia, did not distinguish between enemy or friendly “Indians” but operated on the axiom “any dead Indian is a good Indian.”

In the third week of November Shawnee scouts were gathering intelligence on the rapids of the Maumee when they were attacked by an enemy war party. They all managed to escape but Captain Johnny, Logan and Bright Horn became separated from the others and spent the night eluding the enemy by hiding out in the thick Ohioan forest. The three made their way back to the main American camp but their late arrival cast suspicions on them. They were accused of being captured by the enemy and had secured their safe release by providing intelligence on American troop numbers and movements.

The three left the Big Knives camp on November 22nd moving up the Maumee on foot. They intended to prove their loyalty by bringing back either a prisoner or scalps. Some distance up the river on the north bank they encountered s a war party of Potawatomi and Ottawa travelling on horseback. It was led by Winamek and Alexander Elliott who was the son of the old British Indian Agent Matthew Elliott.

The American scouts tried a rouse. They pretended to be pro-British Shawnee trying to get back to Tecumseh’s forces on the Wabash. Winamek and Elliott were suspicious, especially Winamek because one of the three looked strangely familiar. However, they offered to escort them to the British camp. During the trip they kept them under close guard but did not take their guns.

Along the way it dawned on Winamek who the familiar looking Shawnee was. It was Logan so he suggested to Elliott in private that they be disarmed and bound. But he was overheard and the threesome suddenly opened fire killing Winamek,Elliott and one of the Ottawa warriors and wounding another. They seized the dead men’s horses and raced back down the Maumee to the Big Knives camp but they did not escape unharmed. Logan was shot in the abdomen and Bright Horn was wounded in the arm. Bright Horn would recover but on November 24th Logan succumbed to his injury.

By this time winter had set in. Winchester was inching his way down the Maumee to his ordered rendezvous point at the rapids. It was bitter cold and they were ill equipped. Many were suffering from various degrees of frost bite. Most of his Kentucky volunteers had arrived in the early fall with only summer clothing. The regulars were short of winter supplies as well. He had to deal with much complaining from the troops about the slow progress and lack of action as well as a high desertion rate. Even the threat of having to “ride the wooden horse”, a most barbaric punishment, failed to discourage defectors. Deserters who were caught were made to straddle a two-by-four or small log while two soldiers shook it violently up and down causing the prisoner extreme pain. This was not exactly what the men had signed up for!

Finally on January 10, 1813 they arrived at the rapids. Harrison had suggested to Winchester that he wait and not move forward but he did not order it. On June the 13th desperate appeals arrived for help from “marauding Indians” from Frenchtown a small village on the River Raisin some forty miles up the trail towards Detroit. The British had a small garrison of men there along with one hundred or so warriors.

Winchester held a council with his officers and all agreed to act on the calls for assistance. After all, the British only had a small force there which could easily be overwhelmed and any victory over the British after the disasters of Michilimackinac, Detroit and Queenston would instantly make national heroes out of those who claimed it. Besides, their supply line back to Amherstburg or Detroit was choked with deep snow. Frenchtown was the only community south of Detroit and would make the perfect site for launching an all out offensive across the frozen Detroit River to take Fort Malden. Winchester “seized the moment”.

On January 17th Winchester sent Colonel Will Lewis forward with 350 troops hastily followed by Colonel John Allen with 110 more. They reached the Raisin on January 18th and quickly dispatched the 200 British Militia and their 400 warrior allies but at a cost of thirteen killed and fifty-four wounded. They set up camp in the midst of the village, some twenty houses set out in rows on the north bank of the frozen river. Behind the row houses were garden plots protected on three sides by a row of pickets made of split logs sharpened on the top ends. The east side of the area was open leaving a large part of the American line vulnerable. They settled in to wait for Winchester to arrive with the rest of the western branch of Harrison’s army.

Winchester arrived on the 20th of January with another 350 soldiers raising the total to over 800 Kentucky Militia and 175 regulars. Winchester settled himself in at a house on the south side of the river about a quarter mile from the main bivouac and no one gave a second thought to a possible British response!

General Proctor received word that the Americans had taken Frenchtown and were amassing troops there. He had to make a decision and make it on his own. Communication lines were down because of the winter conditions. Proctor was a slow, plodding man not quick to make any hasty decisions. But this time he acted out of character. Perhaps he was inspired by his former commanding officer Isaac Brock. He called to muster every available man and crossed the frozen Detroit leaving the invitation for all First Nations warriors to join them. Roundhead sent war belts to the scattered encampments around Amherstburg. Many of the warriors that had been gathering there were Potawatomi who had been displaced by Winchester’s Kentucky marauders and Miami who had suffered the depredations at Mississinewa.

Trudging through the deep snow on the 21st of January Proctor’s force of 597 men and three six pounders were passed by Roundhead and Splitlog’s 700 warriors on snowshoes gliding over the deep snow drifts covering Hull’s road between Detroit and Frenchtown. Winchester got word of the advancing horde but chose to ignore it not believing they would attempt such a difficult trek.

The town was laid out on the east side of the road. The warriors arrived first in the early hours of January 22nd intent on retribution for the atrocities committed in the fall against their villages. Splitlog and Walk-In-The-Water left the roadway on the west side swinging around to attack from the west. Roundhead did the opposite. After positioning themselves they crouched waiting for Proctor to arrive which he did just before dawn.

The Essex Militia led by John Baptiste Askin joined Splitlog on the west side of the town. The old Shawnee war chief Bluejacket now in his sixties was with them. Proctor setup his battle line of regulars between Roundhead and Splitlog’s warriors and placed his six cannons in the front. The Big Knives were now surrounded on three sides with only the frozen Raisin to their backs. The attack began at the morning’s first light.

The sound of gunfire and the flash of muskets filled the air. The roar of Proctor’s cannons only added to the din. Winchester arrived disheveled his uniform had been quickly pulled over his nightshirt. The American right line had crumpled under Roundhead’s relentless fire. Winchester along with Allen and Lewis tried vainly to rally the troops and form a new line but they were forced back across the river’s slick ice.

Suddenly panic set in. The right line had devolved in a chaotic rush for the road to the west and escape. Many cast their arms aside as they bound through the deep snow pursued by Roundhead’s screeching warriors. Many of the Big Knives were caught and shot or tomahawked on the spot. Allen did not survive. Wounded in the leg he had limped off for a couple of miles but could go no further. A Potawatomi chief, probably Blackbird, also known as Le Tourneau, noticed his officer’s uniform and signaled to another warrior he wanted to take Allen prisoner but the other warrior moved in for the kill. Allen lunged at the wild eyed warrior with his sword running him through. The chief then shot Allen dead and took his scalp.

Winchester and Lewis fared better. They were captured and brought to Roundhead. The warriors demanding their payback wanted him to execute Winchester at once but Roundhead saw the value in keeping the American General alive and took both officers to Proctor.

The warriors were in a most foul mood exacting a take-no-prisoner policy. Unarmed prisoners were being shot or tomahawked then scalped one after the other in front of Winchester and Lewis. This prompted Winchester to sign a note ordering Major George Madison who was commanding the Kentucky Militia on the American left to surrender even though they were holding well and returning fire from behind the pickets. Madison would not comply unless Proctor personally agreed to protect them from the warrior’s fury. He did but later broke that promise.

The fighting ended and the tallies were done. Proctor suffered heavy casualties considering the advantage he held for the whole battle. He lost twenty-four killed and 158 wounded. The high rate was mostly attributable to his placement of his cannons. By placing them in front of his line he opened it up to Americans firing at the big guns and the gunners were left vulnerable to their own regulars who were behind them. For this he was censured but still promoted to Brigadier-General.

American casualties were worse at 300 killed and twenty-seven wounded. The balance of Winchester’s army except for thirty-three who escaped were taken prisoner including Winchester himself. One of the escapees, a Private John J. Brice, did so by discarding his shoes so that his tracks in the snow looked like a warrior’s wearing moccasins. He was the first to make it back to the Maumee and deliver the distressing news. Harrison was despondent. His entire left wing had been annihilated and his invasion plan stopped dead in its tracks.

Proctor feared an imagined approach of Harrison leading an overwhelming army. He bivouacked the American wounded in several of the town’s houses under a very light guard. When he began loading Canadian casualties on sleighs for the haul back to Amherstburg the American surgeon inquired as to why the American sick and wounded were being left behind. Proctor responded that there were not enough sleighs and he must take care of his own first. So the surgeon complained about the light guard given the number of warriors there and their mood. Proctor is said to have replied “the Indians make excellent doctors”.

The U.S. Army surgeon was right. Proctor should have left a reasonable guard for the Kentucky wounded. Part of the booty from the victory at Frenchtown was the town’s supply of liquor and a few of the young warriors drank more than their fair share. Angry and inebriated they began to go from house to house taking out their anger on the sick and wounded prisoners. Their chiefs tried to intervene but were unable to control the enraged young men.

Sometime during the night the light guard, a Major Reynolds plus three interpreters slipped away. A warrior appeared in the room of one of the wounded soldiers speaking fluent English. This could very well have been Wawanosh, a young Ojibwa from Aamjiwnaang, who was known to have an excellent command of the English language. He was asking for intelligence on Harrison’s movements and strength. When he left he made the off handed remark that he was sorry but some of the more mischievous young men would be doing some bad deeds that night. It was a prelude of things to  come.

By the morning the warriors were ransacking the homes for loot. They were looking especially for more whiskey. They begin to strip the sick and wounded of their clothing and in their excitement, fueled by liquor and their hatred for the Big Knives, began to shoot or tomahawk then scalp the helpless Kentuckians.

Captain Nathaniel Hart wounded, half dressed and barefoot was dragged from the home where he was being cared for. While awaiting his fate he recognized one of the warriors surrounding him as the English speaking one from the night before. He knew that he would recognize the name of William Elliott, Matthew Elliott’s son. William was a captain in the Essex Militia so Hart exclaimed that William had promised to send his personal sleigh remove him to  his home at Amherstburg. The bilingual warrior replied that Elliott had lied and there would be no rescue. Hart made him an offer. Take him to Amherstburg and he would give him a horse and one hundred dollars. The warrior replied that he could not because he was too badly wounded.  Then what were their intentions inquired Hart. The reply was chilling. You are all to be killed!

The massacre lasted most of the morning as the drunken, infuriated warriors moved from house to house looting and killing. When the macabre news reached the Americans it was another in a long line of interracial incidents that helped solidify their hatred of First Nations people. This particular incident gave rise to the battle call of the Kentucky Militia, “Remember the Raisin!”

NEXT WEEK:  Queenston Heights

Supernatural Support for Tecumseh

September 29, 2012

Tecumseh left the less than enthusiastic Choctaw with his Shawnee, Kickapoo and Winnebago delegation and crossed the Tombigbee River into Creek country. Here his message would find a much friendlier reception. The two nations were tied by intermarriage. Tecumseh even had relatives of his own living in Creek towns and villages.

Big Warrior, the leading civil chief of the Upper Creek nation, was attending a major conference at the Creek town of Tuckabatchee when Tecumseh arrived. There were delegates already there from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminole nations.  Many were already familiar with The Prophet’s message of return to traditionalism having traveled north to Prophetstown to hear it. This along with a ready-made audience of various nations in a country so closely related to the Shawnee afforded Tecumseh the perfect forum to deliver his own message of a pan Indian confederacy.

Something else heralded Tecumseh’s coming that September. A comet appeared in the night sky. It was understood to be a sign from the spirit world pointing to the greatness of Tecumseh. After all, Tecumseh’s name meant Shooting Star.

There was also another delegation at the conference. It consisted of Americans led by the Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins. He was there to proposition the Creek with the government’s intention to build another road through their territory. Big Warrior was no friend of Hawkins and the Creek were still seething about a federal road being imposed upon them six years earlier. Hopoithle Mico or Tame King, the leading chief from the Upper Creek town of Tallassee, had sent a message of protest to President Madison and received the reply that his protest was unreasonable. They cut the road anyway.

Now Hawkins was here regarding a second road. The Creek resisted. Negotiations went nowhere for three weeks until finally Hawkins laid out in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t there to ask them for permission but to inform them that the cutting had already begun. He laid out the terms of payment and left.

Tecumseh let Hawkins make his presentation while remaining silent about his own mission to the Creek nation. He needed a good example of American arrogance and Hawkins provided it. Now it was his turn to address the council.

The delegation from the north mesmerized the conference first with their elaborate war dance followed by Tecumseh’s charismatic oratory. Many eagerly received his vision. This vision of a warrior confederacy and the Prophet’s vision of a total return to traditionalism gave rise to the Red Sticks. They were a warrior society that would go on to lead the most desperate First Nation rebellion the United States would ever see.

Tecumseh left Creek territory bolstered by his success. However, there was yet to be another even more dramatic supernatural sign of his stature and his power. Shortly after his departure a series of major earth tremors occurred. Labelled the New Madrid earthquakes they would be among the severest ever felt on the North American continent. The first arrived on the night of December 16, 1811. The epicenter was in Arkansas south of the town of New Madrid, Missouri. The town was destroyed.  The vibrations made steeple bells ring out in Charleston, South Carolina. They lasted until February of 1812 and for a time the Mississippi reversed course and ran backwards!

The First Nations of the south-east were terrified. A legend grew up that Tecumseh had predicted the collapse of the middle world and its recreation. Word spread that Tecumseh had prophesied that when he returned to Detroit he would stomp his foot and make the earth tremble. These great events fed warrior societies like the Red Sticks and they took ownership of the visions of Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet.

Tecumseh crossed the Mississippi in December and was in Osage country when the tremors began. The Osage were not so anti-American as some of the south-eastern First Nations. Therefore, they were not so quick to ascribe American aggression as the root cause of the quakes. Instead they believed the cause was their general falling away from traditionalism to accept American culture. It was the Prophet who would get credit for the proper interpretation of events.

Tecumseh moved on to spread his message among his own people the Missouri Shawnee as well as the Delaware but ran into the same roadblocks as he did with the Osage. When he returned to the Mississippi he headed north through Fox country to the territory of the Santee Dakota Sioux all the time sharing his vision of a pan Indian confederation to stop American aggression. He even hinted at military aid from the British. The Dakota sent red wampum to the Sauk and Winnebago indicating their approval of Tecumseh’s message and their willingness to go to war.

Tecumseh’s journey was coming to an end. He retraced his footsteps  down the Mississippi then turned east heading for home. He traveled through Illinois territory also speaking at Kickapoo, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa villages. Some chiefs were unwilling to receive his vision but many others joined the Confederacy. All in all the sojourn to gain adherents was a success. However, what would confront him when he arrived home at Prophetstown in late January turned satisfaction at his success to feelings of utter despair.

NEXT WEEK:  Disaster at Prophetstown


The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 1

July 9, 2011

United States’ Indian policy grew out of the idea that because First Nations fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War they lost the right of ownership to their lands when Britain ceded all territory east of the Mississippi. First Nations were told that the United States now owned their territories and they could expel them if they wished to do so. This right of land entitlement by reason of conquest stemmed from the hatred of “Indians” which had been seething for decades and the arrogance instilled by victory over the British. They needed First Nation’s lands northwest of the Ohio River to sell to settlers in order to raise much-needed revenue. But the impoverished new nation could not back up their new policy. So they took a different tact.

In March of 1785 Henry Knox was appointed Secretary of War and he began to institute a new policy. He proposed to Congress that there were two solutions in dealing with the First Nations. The first was to raise an army sufficient to extirpate them.

However, he reported to Washington and Congress that they didn’t have the money to fund such a project. The estimated population of the First Nations East of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes was 76,000. The Miami War Chief Little Turtle’s new “Confederation of Tribes” were quickly gaining numbers and strength and they were determined to stop American advancement at the Ohio. To try to beat them into submission not only seemed infeasible but immoral. He argued it was unethical for one people to gain by doing harm to another people and this could only harm America’s reputation internationally.

The second solution, which he favored, was to return to the pre-revolutionary policy of purchasing First Nation Lands through the cessation treaty process. In order to sell this idea to Washington and Congress he pointed out that the First Nations tenaciously held on to their territories and normally would not part with them for any reason. This was because being hunting societies the game on their lands supported their population. But, as proven in the past, time and again, when too many settlers moved into their territories game became scarce. Because the land was overrun by whites and ruined as a hunting territory they would always consider selling their territory and move their population further west

In 1785 an Ordinance was passed by Congress dividing the territory north and west of the Ohio River into states to be governed as a territory. In 1787 this Ordinance was improved upon by passing the Northwest Ordinance appointing Major General Arthur St. Clair governor of the new territory. The new Ordinance covered a huge tract of land encompassing the present-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Land would now be purchased and hostilities would cease unless “Indian” aggression were to provoke a “just war”. America was determined to expand westward as its very existence depended upon it. Clearly there would be “just wars”.

The first of these cession treaties was signed at Fort Harmar in 1789. This small cession did little to change the minds of the First Nations Confederacy. Hostilities continued provoking the first of the “just wars”. In 1790 President Washington authorized St. Clair to raise troops to punish Little Turtle’s  Confederacy of Miami, Shawnee, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa nations. He raised an army of 1,200 militia and 320 regulars and set out from Fort Washington, Cincinnati, under the command of Brigadier General Josiah Harmar.

Little Turtle retreated before Harmar’s lumbering army. He led Harmar deep into enemy territory where he had set a trap in the Maumee River valley near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. Harmar’s army was strung out in one long column. The trap was sprung and Little Turtle attacked Harmar’s flank killing 183 and wounding 31. Panic set in. Harmar retreated in disarray. Little Turtle pursued intent on wiping out the American army.  However, an eclipse of the moon the next night was interpreted as a bad omen so the pursuit was called off.

General Harmar claimed a victory but had to face a board of inquiry. The defeat was whitewashed but Harmar was replaced by General St. Clair who was a hero of the Revolutionary War. Little Turtle’s stunning success bolstered the ranks of the Confederacy. In 1791 St. Clair raised another army of 1,400 militia and 600 regulars. He marched them out of Fort Washington and took up a position on high ground overlooking the Wabash River.

Little Turtle and his war council decided take the Americans head on. Not their usually tactic it took St. Clair by surprise. Confederacy warriors scattered the Kentucky Militia. Other militiamen shooting wildly killed or wounded some of their own men. Bayonet charges were mowed down by fire from the surrounding woodlands. St. Clair tried to rally his troops but could not. With General Richard Butler, his commanding officer, wounded on the battlefield he ordered a retreat. It was no orderly one. Most flung their rifles aside and fled in a panic.

The American army was completely destroyed. Suffering nearly 1,000 casualties it would be the worst defeat ever suffered by the United States at the hands of the First Nations. Washington was livid. He angrily cursed St. Clair for being “worse than a murderer” and the defeat on the Wabash became know as St. Clair’s Shame. On the other hand First Nations’ hopes and confidence soared. 

NEXT WEEK: The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 2

The American Revolution – Part 4

June 26, 2011

The massacre at Gnadenhutten seethed just below the First Nations’ psyche. The Three Fires Confederacy finally reentered the war later in 1782. British Captain Alexander McKee raised a party of 300 “Lake Indians”, Shawnee and Wyandotte from Detroit for an expedition into Kentucky. They left Detroit in August and after a brief and unsuccessful raid on Bryant’s Station retreated to a hill at the Blue Licks on the middle fork of the Licking River.

They were being pursued by 200 militia led by Colonels Todd, Trigg and Boone as well as Majors Harlin and McGeary. The warriors chose the high ground at Blue Licks to lay an ambush. The ambush proved successful.

A short but fierce battle was fought and the rebel force was totally defeated. Casualties included 140 dead or wounded including most of their commanders. The warriors count was 10 dead and 14 wounded. Captured munitions and supplies only included 100 rifles as most were thrown in a deep part of the river during the rebel’s pell-mell retreat back to their station. Colonel Boone was the same Daniel Boone that as a young man took part in another headlong, panic-stricken retreat at Braddock’s rout. The Kentucky militia’s reckless pursuit even cost Boone’s son Israel his life.

The Revolutionary War ended the following year with the Americans emerging as the victors. The Treaty of Paris was signed between them and British totally ignoring their First Nation allies. Boundaries were drawn that are still in effect today. The British were only too willing to give up territories that were not theirs and the Americans were only too willing to accept them. The Revolutionary War was officially over but the battle for “Indian Lands” was just beginning.

The Iroquois complained bitterly. Captain Aron, a principal chief, delivered a speech to Brigadier General Alan McLean at a General Council held at Niagara. In it he said “they never could believe that our King could pretend to cede to America what was not his own to give, or that the Americans would accept from him what he had no right to grant.” Captain Aron rightly pointed out that the boundary between the First Nations and the colonies had been settled by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (now Rome, New York) in 1768 signed by Sir William Johnson. The boundary line ran from the head of Canada Creek near Fort Stanwix to the Ohio and this boundary had never been in dispute. He also reminded them “that the Indians were a free People subject to no power upon earth-That they were faithful allies of the King of England, but not his subjects, that he had no right whatever to grant away to the States of America, their right or properties without a manifest breach of all Justice and Equity”.

McLean wrote in his report to General Frederick Haldimand Governor of Quebec, “I do from my soul pity these People” for “the miserable situation in which we have left these unfortunate People”.

American Indian Policy was harsher than anything the First Nations had experienced before. They saw that the sale of land in their newly acquired territory could provide the necessary revenue required by the new federal government. So they took the position that the British had ceded all their lands west of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes to them. And because the First Nations had fought as allies of the British and the British lost the war their lands would be forfeited as well. This would include Oneida and Tuscarora lands even though they were American allies! 

At the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix commissioners from the new nation told the Six Nations Iroquois that they were now masters of all “Indian lands” and could do with them as they wished. They demanded large cessions of Iroquois lands. The Iroquois delegates were in no position to resist. They were still divided by the late war and they were abandoned by the British so they acquiesced. They ceded their territory in western New York, Pennsylvania as well as all of their territory west of Pennsylvania although they were not authorized to do so. When they returned to their homes their leaders were livid. They refused to ratify the treaty but the Americans carried on as if it were valid.

At the treaty of Fort MacIntosh in 1785 the Americans announced their policy of force to the Wyandotte, Delaware, Ojibwa and Ottawa. They dictated the terms for large cessions of land. The Shawnee refused to make peace and the chiefs at Fort MacIntosh returned home to prepare for war.  

The Treaty of Paris made no consideration of First Nations and the new American Indian policy forced the British to provide for their Iroquois allies. To this end they purchased from the Mississauga two tracts of land for them to settle on in Canada. One tract of land contained 675,000 acres along the whole of the Grand River six miles deep on both sides. The followers of Chief Joseph Brant settled here while the followers of Mohawk Chief John Deserontyon settled on another large tract in the Bay of Quinte area . The other First Nations of Ohio and the newly designated Northwest Territories were prepared to fight on determined to hold on to their territories.

NEXT WEEK:  The Indian War of 1790-95

The Beaver War 1763 – Part 2

March 21, 2011

When the British had taken control of Fort Michilimackinac its new commandant Captain George Etherington sent dispatches throughout the territory commanding all French settlers to report to the fort. He wanted them to swear allegiance to the British Crown and for this he promised to take into consideration all of their needs as well as any complaints. The British would treat them as well as the French governor had.

Among the French in the area was Augustin de Langlade and his son Charles. This was the same Charles Langlade who had been at Pickawillany, Braddock’s rout and Fort William Henry. Etherington knew well of him so when the Langlades swore allegiance to the British he gave them command of the trading post at La Baye or Green Bay, Wisconsin.

At the end of the Frog Month the principle Ojibwa war chief Mineweweh and another chief named Madjeckewiss or Bad Bird gathered 400 Ojibwa warriors at Michilimackinac. Mineweweh had devised a strategem to take the fort as part of the Beaver War. They had feigned friendship with the British and offered to put on an exhibition baggataway or lacrosse on the Queen’s birthday. On June 2, 1763 they all gathered outside the fort for the spectacle. The captain and his second in command joined the Ojibwa spectators but the gates to the fort were left closed. Most of the spectators were Ojibwa women dressed in their long shawls. Little did Etherington realize that their colorful shawls concealed weapons for the warriors.

The game of lacrosse as played by the Ojibwa was a wild affair. There were little rules and the number of players on the field was only limited to the number of young men available. The ball would be struck by one side toward the opponent’s goal which was a line drawn at the end of the field. The players were struck with the sticks more than the ball so there was plenty of confusion accompanied with the din of loud whooping and yelling. With all the excitement it made for an engrossing spectator sport. 

The game began and several times the ball was thrown over the stockade and inside the fort where the garrison would toss the ball back over the wall and onto the playing field. Finally the captain ordered the gates opened so the players could retrieve the ball themselves. The next time the ball was thrown into the fort the players all rushed to the spectators, took hold of their weapons and then rushed into the fort. The soldiers were shocked and slow to act. The massacre was on!

Captain Etherington and his aide Lieutenant Leslie was captured immediately. The garrison  of 90 soldiers fell quickly suffering 70 killed and the other 20 taken prisoner. Etherington and Leslie were to be burned at the stake so a few days later the wood was prepared and the two were lashed to the poles.

Charles Langlade was at Michilimackinac at the time of the attack  to purchase supplies for the post at Green Bay. He was not only very influential with the Ojibwa but he was also an Ottawa war chief. Of course he was not taken prisoner but it all happened so fast that he was of little help to Etherington.

He had warned the commandant earlier, and several times, that he had heard rumours of treachery by the Ojibwa from his Ottawa friends at L’Arbre Croche. They were not in favor of the Beaver War, not because they liked the British so much as they were angry that Mineweweh had not invited them to take part in the surprise attack. Etherington dismissed Langlade’s warnings because he had called in Matchikuis, a chief of the Michilimackinac Ottawa, to ask him about the rumours. Of course he denied everything. Finally the captain ordered Langlade not to bring it up again calling the rumours ” the twaddle of old women”.

Langlade had left Michilimackinac the day it fell but returned with some of the Ottawa warriors from L’Arbre Croche just in time to save the two officers from the fire. When he took charge of the two officers he rebuked Etherington saying if he had listened to the “old women’s stories” he would not be in the humiliating position he was in with most of his garrison wiped out. Then he negotiated with Mineweweh for their safety and all twenty-two prisoners were sent under an armed guard of L’Arbre Croche Ottawa to Montreal. Fort Michilimackinac was left in Mineweweh’s hands.

NEXT WEEK:  The Beaver War 1763 – Part 3

Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 3

February 13, 2011

In September Major Grant of the Highlanders asked Bouquet for permission to scout out the French fort and take any prisoners he might come across. Lieutenant-Colonel Bouquet consented so Grant left the advance post at Loyalhannon Creek with 800 Highlanders, Royal Americans and militia under his command.

They followed the horse trail used by Indian traders reaching their destination at about 2:00 am on the 14th. The darkness concealed their arrival. They took up position on a small hill about half a mile from the fort. This hill would be known hereafter as Grant’s Hill. Below them lay Fort Duquesne housing several hundred French regulars. Outside the fort slept hundreds of warriors from Detroit all unaware the enemy was perched above them. 

Grant’s first plan of attack was to immediately send Major Lewis and half the Virginians to attack the sleeping warriors in front of the fort. When the warriors responded they were to feign a retreat back to the hill where the rest of the force was spread out waiting for the pursuers. Just before dawn Lewis returned to report that the plan was quite impossible as his troops had gotten lost in the thick woods because of the darkness.

So he abandoned this plan as light was upon them. He sent Lewis with 200 men two miles to the rear to guard the supplies which had been left their with Captain Bullitt and a company of Virginians. Then he spread most of his force out along the tree line except for a company of Highlanders which he ordered out on the small plain between the forest and the fort. When the fog lifted he ordered the drums to play the reveille and the Highlander to play their bagpipes.

The warriors and French soldiers startled by the noise sprung into action. Soldiers poured out of the fort to attack the British positions head on. The warriors skirted along the banks of the two rivers and surrounded Grant’s hill. Many of them took up position on a larger hill behind Grant’s Hill and began to fire down upon Grant and the Highlanders that had stayed there.

Other warriors took to the woods and attacked Grant’s men spread out along the tree line from behind. Their fierce war whoops and unseen musket fire cracked among the dense forest. This so unnerved the British that they fell into a panic. They rushed into a disorderly retreat down the horse trail toward Lewis and the supplies.

Lewis heard the gunfire so rushed to join the battle. He took a more direct route through the forest while the main force retreated pell-mell down the horse trail. Unknowingly they passed each other. Grant was horrified when he reached the supplies and found no one there while Lewis rushed headlong into a much superior force of French and warriors. Grant was taken prisoner. Lewis was taken prisoner. Only 540 returned safely to Loyalhannon out of 813.

When James Smith’s adoptive father heard of the affair he said he was at a loss to explain the British actions. He said the art of warfare was to surprise and ambush the enemy while preventing the enemy from surprising and ambushing you. Grant had placed himself in position to do just that but instead alerted his enemy by drumming the reveille and playing on the bagpipes. He said the only way he could explain such an error was that they must have had too much brandy through the night before and had become intoxicated by dawn.

General Forbes was dismayed to say the least. He was especially disturbed that such an exercise was approved without his knowledge. However, they pressed on cutting the road as far as Loyalhannon where his whole army had gathered by November.

Meanwhile, Captain Ligneris, the commandant of Fort Duquesne had run out of supplies. He had to send most of his command back to Quebec keeping only a few hundred regulars to garrison the fort. He tried to convince the warriors from Detroit to stay on and fight one more battle but they felt it was far too late in the season and they had to rejoin their families for the winter hunt. This would be the last time the First Nations would back the French as allies in any great numbers. Fort Duquesne was left all but defenseless.

General Forbes who was very sick the whole campaign had to be carried from Raystown to Loyalhannon. The fall rained had ruined the road they had cut so far turning it to a sea of mud. Washington and Colonel Armstrong of the Pennsylvania Militia had cut the road to within a mile of the French fort but with the advance of winter and the deplorable condition of the road they decided to winter at Loyalhannon.

Then they received word from their scouts that Fort Duquesne was defenseless. They decided to press on and finish the campaign. On the night of November the 24th the advance guard camped along Turkey Creek. They were close enough to the fort that they heard the distinct rumblings of kegs of powder exploding in the distance. The explosions were coming from the direction of the fort.

The next day the whole force marched on the French fort. The advance guard  was led by General Forbes being carried in a sling between two horses. They were followed by three columns. On the left Washington led the Colonial Militia and Bouquet led the Royal Americans on the right. The center column was commanded by Montgomery the new colonel of the Highlanders. When they arrived at the fort there was none. Ligneris had blown up the fortifications, burned the buildings and retreated up the Alleghany. He left nothing but a smoldering heap to conquer and no great victory to record. However, the campaign was still a great success because it gave the British the strategic ground at the confluence of the three great rivers in Pennsylvania. The following year they would construct Fort Pitt right beside the remains of Fort Duquesne and in later years it would sprawl into the important city of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

NEXT WEEK:  England Supplants France in North America 1760

Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 2

February 5, 2011

By May 1758 word has spread throughout the territories that the British under General Forbes was preparing to march on Fort Duquesne with an army of 7,000 men. This included 1,200 Highlanders, a detachment of Royal Americans with the balance made up of militia from Pennsylvania, Virgina, Maryland and North Carolina.

The Three Fires Confederacy which included Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi warriors gathered at Detroit in July. The Wyandotte joined them and they all marched off to the defence of Fort Duquesne. The memory of Braddock’s defeat fresh in their minds and the vast amount of plunder gotten drove the warriors on. Their design was a repeat of 1756.

The first decision was which route to take. Washington, being a loyal Virginian, favoured the road that Braddock had cut which led from Virgina. Forbes favoured a new road that would have to be cut through the Pennsylvanian wilderness. It would be a more direct route and only have to cross one range of the Alleghenies. There would be time enough to accomplish the road as Forbes planned to take his time advancing on the French fort. He knew the warriors there would tire of waiting for him and would have to abandon the field to return to their territories for their winter hunt. Thinking Washington’s argument was more politically driven than sound military strategy Forbes won out. By July the advance guard under Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Bouquet was camped near Raystown the site of present day Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Governor Vaudreuil sent supplies to Fort Duquesne with reinforcements to follow. Unfortunately, the supplies were at Fort Frontenac awaiting the reinforcements when Bradstreet arrived and captured them. The reinforcements were on their way from Montreal when they got word of the fall of Fort Frontenac, so with no supplies they returned to Montreal. There would be no help for the under garrisoned Fort Duquesne except for the warriors who arrived that summer.

 Meanwhile, Forbes had received word of the discontent of the Ohio First Nations. He enlisted the help of Christian John Post a Moravian missionary who knew the Delaware well, had lived among them and had married one of them. Most importantly he was well trusted by them. He arrived at the Delaware town of Kushkushkee north-west of Fort Duquesne where he met with chiefs King Beaver, Shingas and Delaware George. His message from the Governor of Pennsylvania was well received there so they took him to another town nearby.

Post got a different kind of reception there. The young warriors were in a nasty mood. Some wanted to kill him on the spot but others wanted to hear what he had to say. His message pleased them but they insisted he go with them to Fort Duquesne to deliver the message to the chiefs and warriors there. He resisted the dangerous proposal but the Delaware would accept nothing less.

When they arrived at the fort the French insisted he be turned over to them. The Delaware refused insisting that they all hear the words of the Governor of Pennsylvania. So all the First Nations and the French officers gathered outside the fort to hear what Post had to say. He informed the chiefs that General Forbes was on his way with a large army to drive the French from Ohio and that they should remain neutral in the conflict. The governor also invited them to renew the chain of friendship and peace with the British at a conference to be held at Easton, Pennsylvania. This displeased the French very much but there was nothing they could do but watch the Delaware leave with Post under their protection.

The whole Delaware nation met in council and decided that they would take hold of the peace-chain again if the invitation did not just come from Pennsylvania but from all the British provinces. This was done and the conference was held at Easton in October. The Iroquois Five Nations attended it with William Johnson along with the Delaware, Mohegans and a few other nations. The British were represented by delegates from most of their provinces. The result was that the invitation should be sent by wampum belts to all their allied nations to the west. The Moravian Post was given the task of delivering the belts. The French/First Nation alliance was beginning to disintegrate.

Post was at one of the Delaware towns meeting in council with the chiefs when a French officer from Fort Duquesne arrived. He had a belt to present them inviting them to come to the fort and help drive back Forbes. The belt was rejected with disdain. Chief Captain Peter took the French wampum string and threw it on the floor. He then took a stick and flung it across the room and the other chiefs kicked it around from one to the other. Captain Peter said that they had given their all for the French cause and had gotten nothing in return so they were determined not to help them fight the British again. He was referring to Montcalm’s betrayal the previous year.

The French officer was the escorted to a Grand Council that had been called. Post delivered messages of peace from the council at Easton. They were accepted with great pleasure by everyone except the French officer. He was ridiculed by the chiefs and warriors. One called Isaac Still pointed at him and said, “There he sits! The French always deceived us!” They all began to shout whoops of agreement. The officer could take no more. He left the council to return to Fort Duquesne to give his report. The overtures of peace were accepted all over Ohio as far as the Wabash River. The Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo and Miami were no longer allies with the French but were at peace with the British.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 3