John Wayne, Colonel James Smith, and the Black Boys Rebellion

AlleghenyUprisingposterAllegheny Uprising, starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor, is an overlooked Revolutionary War movie.  I first watched the 1939 film as a kid on a local UHF station, but never quite realized how closely it tracked with the memoir of a colonial and Revolutionary War soldier, Colonel James Smith.  So, I decided to take a look.

For a significant portion of the last century, no actor signified “the American Century,” more than John Wayne. But, in the 1930s, he was a former-stuntman-turned-B-grade-actor churning out movies as a contract player for RKO Pictures.  Born in Iowa as Marion Morrison, Wayne’s family made its way to California during World War I and he eventually attended the University of Southern California as a pre-law student.  When an injury sidelined his football career, he did odd jobs in Hollywood for a friend-of-a-friend, eventually taking on bit parts and extra work before getting his first starring break in The Big Trail, a 1930 epic that flopped horrendously.  Morrison needed a more impressive name for the movie—Marion Morrison apparently not being heroic enough for the character he would portray. So, Morrison, still in his 20s, suggested Anthony Wayne after the Revolutionary War general himself.  The studio passed on “Anthony,” but settled on John Wayne.  Newly named, Morrison went back to work, settling for the lead in a bunch of forgettable westerns.

Continue reading “John Wayne, Colonel James Smith, and the Black Boys Rebellion”

Book Review: Peckuwe 1780, by John F. Winkler

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John F. Winkler, Peckuwe 1780: The Revolutionary War on the Ohio River Frontier, (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2018).   $24.00

I once read a review comparing Osprey Publishing’s monographs on particular battles, weapons, uniforms, or campaigns to “flash cards,” which made me smile.  As a kid, I somehow acquired stacks of flashcards laying out the technical specs of various military aircraft or ships and thought they were the greatest things since sliced bread.  Those were the days before Amazon or Barnes & Noble, when a kid had to depend on the local library and Waldenbooks for books about history, which they didn’t have in large numbers.  The Osprey monographs were a windfall of sorts when the local library started carrying them.  They’re not intended for an academic audience by any stretch, but can play a useful role in interesting popular audiences in places, people, and events that might otherwise prove too obscure or too intimidating for a young or casual reader.  So, when I came across John F. Winkler’s new monograph for Osprey, Peckuwe 1780, I snapped it up as much for sentimental reasons as for my interest in the American Revolution on the western frontier.

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George Rogers Clark Recaptures Fort Sackville, Part I

March to Vincennes (Wikimedia Commons)
March to Vincennes by Frederick Coffay Yohn, 1875-1933 (Wikimedia Commons–Most of Clark’s men would not have dressed in the blue uniforms visible here, but would have dressed in fur and buckskin like the individual in the middle of the picture.)

Last fall, I posted several pieces following British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s campaign in the Illinois territory as seen through the eyes of Captain Norman MacLeod.  MacLeod led an advance party stuck with the logistical and diplomatic mission of moving 33,000 pounds of supplies and trade goods south from Detroit in order to mobilize the local Indian tribes as British allies.  Hamilton’s campaign culminated with the successful capture of Fort Sackville (Vincennes, IN) on December 17, 1778.  Since it’s the 240th anniversary of the campaign, I thought I’d continue the series by shifting to the American perspective, particularly that of Virginia Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark and one of his Captains, Joseph Bowman.  This is not a campaign history by any stretch.  It’s meant more to be considered in combination with portions of MacLeod’s diary that appeared last fall.  Taken together, they might give rise to a few different ideas about the Americans and British fighting the Revolution on the frontier.

Although he planned to recapture the entire Illinois territory, Hamilton decided to winter at Fort Sackville and resume his campaign in the spring.  He dismissed the bulk of his force, settling in at the fort with just under 100 men.  Normally, this would have been a prudent choice.  Hamilton did not expect Clark to retake the field until spring brought about the customary campaign season and dispersing his army eased the logistical burden of maintaining so many men idle in the wilderness.  Hamilton had under-estimated the meddle of his adversary.

Continue reading “George Rogers Clark Recaptures Fort Sackville, Part I”

Revolution on the Ohio Frontier: Fort Laurens

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The Museum at Fort Laurens, Ohio

For much of the American Revolution, the British waged war on their rebelling colonists in the Ohio River Valley via proxy, relying on western Indian nations (Shawnee, Wyandot, Mingo, Chippewa, Ottawa, and others) to attack isolated American settlements and villages across the Ohio River.  The Continental Congress, already unable to meet the needs of its own army along the coasts, could offer little in the way of assistance. So, frontier defense largely fell upon the local militia.  They adopted a two-pronged strategy: 1) build forts and blockhouses along the frontier, giving settlers a place of safe haven when Indian raiding parties were about, and 2) preemptive raids against Native American villages in an attempt to disrupt their preparations for raids against the settlers.

In 1777, however, Congress realized that more aggressive measures were required: the war would have to be carried against the heart of British power at Detroit, from where the British coordinated, supplied, and rewarded Native American raids. With that in mind, Congress and Continental authorities at Pittsburgh began planning an offensive to capture the British post between Lakes Huron and Erie.  First, they would need to secure the continued neutrality of the Delaware Indian nation in the Muskingum River Valley, which today is in Eastern Ohio. Second, they would need to build a substantial network of forts capable of sustaining an overland offensive. Building a new fort in Delaware territory would serve both goals.

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Hamilton Recaptures Fort Sackville: Norman MacLeod’s Campaign Journal, December 17, 1778

(An occasional series highlighting British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s march south from Detroit to recapture Vincennes (Indiana) on its 240th anniversary through the entries in Captain Norman MacLeod’s diary.)

Fort Sackville Map Inset, (Nova Scotia Archives and Record Management, Wikimedia Commons)
Fort Sackville Map Inset, Nova Scotia Archives and Records, (Wikimedia Commons)

As Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s army arrived on the lower Wabash, the river widened and deepened, enabling his much-fatigued army to spread out and make better progress to Vincennes and Fort Sackville.  All along the way, the governor’s efforts to grow his army through the addition of Indian allies had largely succeeded, not only increasing his numbers but improving his intelligence about the American forces awaiting him.  Those were paltry, indeed.

Continue reading “Hamilton Recaptures Fort Sackville: Norman MacLeod’s Campaign Journal, December 17, 1778”

Norman MacLeod’s Campaign Journal, November 27, 1778

(An occasional series highlighting British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s march south from Detroit to recapture Vincennes (Indiana) on its 240th anniversary.)

As fall progressed, cold set in and the weather began to catch up with Hamilton’s advancing army.  By November, it regularly dealt with freezing rain, snow, mud, and ice on the river and nearby trails.  MacLeod’s November 27th entry alludes to a few of those logistical challenges and the rather low opinion that the captain had of American soldiers, which began to place higher in MacLeod’s thinking as the army neared the territory so recently conquered by George Rogers Clark.

“Embarked at eight as usual, met with Great fields of ice this day But pretty good water.  So that we made us of our Oars only in two Rapids where most of the men was obliged to drag especially those in Boats because they draw more water than the Perogues, besides this the channels in the River are as if cut Purposely for no other Craft than Perogues.  We arrived at K [one or two words illegible] at 4 oClock called [sic; camped?] 10 miles from Weatono.  Us as our tents were Pitched five Savages from that Plase Arrived in camp, who acquainted us that there was no less than 200 of their nation ready to Join us the moment we arrived at the above Place.  They further told us that the Rebels had abandoned Au Post.  How true this is alittle more time we discover.  But it agrees with my own opinion for I never once thorough they would make a Stand either there or at the Illinois with So numbers especially on hearing that the Lieut. Govr. was coming who they know had all the Indians read at [hi]s call.”

William A. Evans and Elizabeth S. Sklar, eds., Detroit to Fort Sackville, 1778-1779: The Journal of Norman MacLeod, (Detroit: Friends of the Detroit Public Library/Wayne State University Press, 1978), 87.  The spelling and grammar errors are all from the original as transcribed by Evans and Sklar.  Evans and Sklar suspect “Weatono” is MacLeod’s reference to “Ouiatenon.”