I’ve been intermittently visiting Winchester, VA for years, usually with an eye toward understanding its place in the Civil War. Tradition has it that no town changed hands more frequently. But, the town also has a prominent, if sometimes overlooked, role in America’s colonial and Revolutionary War history. In particular, it enjoyed a close relationship with George Washington and Daniel Morgan, helping shape both men.
Winchester, or Frederick Town, as it was then known, was the largest village in the lower Shenandoah Valley when Lord Thomas Fairfax decided to relocate from England to his land grant in northern Virginia and became a way-station of sorts for people traveling along the Great Wagon road that ran from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in the 18thcentury. So, when the Fairfax family hired a teenaged George Washington to help survey its grants in the Shenandoah, Winchester was a logical place for the surveying team to make its temporary home base. (In truth, surveying teams were constantly moving to maximize their efficient use of time: the saddle might be considered home.) While the teenager was less than impressed with most accommodations on the frontier, he was pleased with Fredericktown. He recorded in his diary: Continue reading “George Washington, Daniel Morgan, and Winchester, Virginia on Memorial Day”→
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.
By February 23, 1779–two hundred and forty years ago—Virginia Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark had marched his little army from the Mississippi across the flooded plains of what would become southern Illinois to the French town of Vincennes on the Wabash River, in modern Indiana. His men were tired, hungry, and waterlogged, but they had made it safely across the Wabash and delivered themselves to the same shore as the town and Fort Sackville, then defended by the much-hated British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton. His river scouts had managed to find a small, dry hillock covered by a grove of trees and within sight of the town and Clark’s force, about 170 strong, lay in the grove drying their clothes by the sun, occasionally taking a wandering citizen from the town prisoner. Clark later reported:
(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.”
(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.)
Lieutenant Governor Hamilton’s army continued its progress towards Vincennes, but it was slow and backbreaking work. Building dams to raise river levels did not work everywhere and his army often had to resort to the simple and monotonous task of unloading its vessels, dragging them through the shallows, carrying supplies forward, and then reloading boats to continue making progress the next day. MacLeod’s diary entries for November 7th and 14th highlight the sheer fatigue involved in moving supplies on the frontier.
In the summer of 1778, Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark of the Virginia militia launched one of the most daring American military operations of the Revolutionary War when he invaded the “Illinois country” and captured Cahokia and Kaskaskia in modern-day Illinois and Vincennes in southern Indiana, effectively neutralizing British power on the Illinois, Wabash, and Mississippi Rivers. Henry Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec and Britain’s Superintendent for Indian Affairs in Detroit, could not allow such audacity to succeed, lest Britain’s influence with the western Indian nations wane. Learning of Fort Sackville’s fall at Vincennes on the Wabash River, he set out to recapture it.
Over the summer, I took a family excursion to several Revolutionary War sites in Ohio, some of which I recently wrote about. In particular, I wanted to trace the experience of several Moravian missionaries and their congregations in the no-man’s land of the frontier. Traveling a back road along the Tuscarawas River between the villages of Gnadenhutten and New Schoenbrunn, we stumbled across the graves of David Zeisberger (1721-1808) and several notable missionaries at the crossroads of Goshen.
For those men separated from the retreating main body in the pell-mell retreat, Crawford’s expedition had become a nightmare, beginning with the panic on the night of June 5. James Paul remembered being shaken awake with word that the men were leaving and attempting to retrieve his horse in the dark before finding it had already slipped its bridle and wandered away.
“I groped about in the dark and discovered two other horses tied to the same sapling and my horse standing at their tails. This revived my drooping spirits. On finding my horse standing quiet, I bridled him and mounted, and about the same time a number of other horses were mounted by their owners, and all put out from the camp ground together, amounting in all to nine in number, and we made as much haste to get away as we could, considering the darkness of the road, and no roads but open woods to ride through, and no one to guide us.” Paul and his fellows realized Colonel Williamson, now leading the main body, was retreating on a longer route home, “leaving us nine and many other stragglers behind to take care of themselves as best they could, and to steer their own course homeward, and, as it turned out afterward, but few of these stragglers ever got home.”
Paul and his group eventually became mired in a swamp and had to abandon their horses, making their way on foot, pursed by Native American warriors who forced them to scatter. After sleeping in hollow logs and under rocks, going without food other than a blackbird and occasional handful of berries, Paul eventually made his way back across the Ohio alone near Wheeling, arriving at a small fort where settlers had taken refuge against renewed Indian raids.
As the night of June 5 gave way to a dark retreat on June 6, the militia struggled eastward, attempting to reimpose some order on their main body. According to Rose, Crawford set out after one wayward company that had decided on a more circuitous route of retreat that separated it from the main body. While he was gone, the Indians began firing into the militia camp in the dark. At “that instant, every Body was pushing as if it had been a signal agreed for that purpose.”[i]
Rose fell in with a group of about fifty men, who pushed south back toward the abandoned Wyandot town on the Sandusky they had passed through just a few days earlier, seeking to avoid the Shawnee, and then rejoined Williamson with the main body of men as it returned the way the expedition had come.[ii] In the rush, they lost track of Colonel Crawford. They moved directly to the route east without much order, placing speed over the coherence of a fighting unit. Williamson did manage to separate his best horsemen into a smaller group to contest any light horsemen they encountered on the Sandusky plain, but expected to find relative safety when they reached more heavily timbered areas. On June 6, Rose had a close call. Riding ahead while trying to keep the group from breaking up into smaller parties, mounted Indians charged him and his companions from a wooded area on the left. Rose managed to make it back to the main body, which promptly counter-charged with the light horse Williamson had created.[iii] In the process, he lost contact with his two companions, Colonel William Harrison (Colonel Crawford’s son-in-law) and Mr. William Crawford, (Colonel Crawford’s nephew).[iv]
Later that day, about 24 miles into their march, the militia paused to rest along Olentangy creek. Their mounted pursuers promptly fired into the main body from behind and the militiamen detected a light screen moving into place ahead of them, the beginning of an encirclement.[v] The militia started skirmishing while Rose rode to the rear, nearly through the Native Americans behind them, retrieved the rear body, which contained a substantial portion of the light horse, and sent them to clear the woods of enemy skirmishers in front. The maneuver succeeded and the militia were able to enter the woods, losing three dead and eight wounded in the hour-long fight. Despite anticipating a degree of relative safety there, pursuers continued to harass the flanks and the rear. Simultaneously, the poorly organized militia lost still more cohesion as a fighting unit as the woods broke up formations and isolated men in small groups. To make matters worse, the skies opened up and a heavy downpour soaked everyone to the bone.[vi]
In April, 1782 local leaders, in particular David Williamson, petitioned Irvine to lead a punitive raid to the Sandusky River aimed at the Wyandot and Hopocan’s Delaware.[i] While he could provide no material support or leadership, Irvine approved the attack and laid down several conditions: that the expedition operate under laws governing the militia, that their purpose not extend beyond protecting the border, that the force assembled be large enough to accomplish the task, that the raiders equip and sustain themselves on horseback at their own expense, and that the expedition conduct the raid on behalf the United States with an eye toward bringing honor to the United States. Perhaps he had the brutality of the Gnadenhutten raid in mind and sought to avoid a repeat.[ii]
This Sandusky raid did not reflect Irvine’s strategy of either reducing Detroit or bringing the tribes to battle; it was simply another American raid on Indian towns, which would likely be abandoned by the time the expedition arrived. Irvine informed Washington that the expedition was going forward and did not seek permission. Indeed, he may not have had the power to stop it given the restlessness of the local population on the frontier. Rather that departing in early August, this raid would leave in late May, before the summer heat dried out the countryside. Speed and surprise would be important, perhaps explaining Irvine’s requirement that every man be mounted, that the expedition dispense with artillery, and that it limit baggage and supplies to 30 days’ worth.[iii] Irvine wrote Washington, “If their number exceeds three hundred, I am of opinion they may succeed, as their march will be so rapid they will probably in a great degree effect a surprise.”[iv] But, it would be a risky enterprise. Continue reading “The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Birth of an Expedition”→