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Valley of the Ohio.
BY MANN BUTLER, ESQ.
Continued from page 272, vol. XII. No. 4. RECAPTURE OF VINCENNES BY THE BRITISH. CAPT. HELM. GOV,
HAMILTON. BRITISH PLAN OF CONQUEST FOR THE WESTERN COUNTRY. CLARK'S PLAN FOR RECOVERING VINCENNES FROM THE BRITISH.
After all this success in this distant and most adventurous command, Col. Clark began to entertain great apprehensions for St, Vincents; no news had been received from that place for a considerable length of time. About the 29th of January, 1779, Col. Francis Vigo, an Italian merchant, then in partnership with the Governor of St. Louis, still (in 1832) at the age of 86, a most respected and patriotic citizen of Vincennes, * brought intelligence that Governor Hamilton, of Detroit, had marched from that place in December, 1778, had captured St. Vincents and again reduced it under the power of the British.t
Owing to the advanced stage of the season, the British commandant postponed his operations against Kaskaskia; and in order to employ his restless Indian auxiliaries, whom he had brought with him, to the number of about four hundred, he detached some of them against the settlements of Kentucky; and others to watch
• At this advanced age he inost cheerfully instituted inquiries for the author among his compatriots, alas now gone with a long line of ancient friends to his last account.
† There is an anecdote respecting Capt. Leonard Helm connected with the capture of that place, then under his charge, evincing a fearless intrepidity which would ill be onnitted. It was communicated to me by the friendly interest of Judge Underwood (now, 1852, in the Senate of the U.S.,) and his venerable relative Edmund Rogers, Esq., of Barren county, Ky., a brother of Captain John Rogers, appointed to the galley called the Willing, which was sent from Kaskaskia to ascend the Wabash. The latter gentleman was personally intimate with Clark and his officers for years. When Gov. Hamilton entered Vincennes, there were but two Americans there, Capt. Helm, the American commandant, and one Henry. They had charged a cannon and placed it in the fort-gateway, while Helm stood by with a lighted match in his hand. When Hamilton, at the head of his troops, got within hailing distance. Helm cried out, in a loud voice, “Halt.” This stopped the movement of Hamilton, and in reply, he demanded a surrender of the garrison. Helin exclaimed with an oath, no man shall enter here until I know the terms. Hamilton then told him, “You shall have the honors of war;" and then the fort was surrendered with its whole garrison of one officer and one private. Such is a specimen of the character of Col. Clark's followers. They were the very choice men of Virginia and the western frontier, superior to the Indians in arms, equal to them in hardihood, and nearly so in the peculiar arts of the forest. Dangers they scarcely counted, and difficulties pres, ented themselves but to be overcome. -Correspondence of Judge Underwood with the author,
on the Ohio river. In the spring, he contemplated re-assembling his forces for a grand campaign, which should first be directed against Kaskaskia. At this point, which he had no doubt of car. rying, he was to be joined by two hundred Indians from Michillimackinack, and five hundred Cherokees, Chickasaws, and other tribes.* With this force united to his own, Goy. Hamilton had orders from the commander in chief in Canada, “to penetrate up the Ohio to Fort Pitt, sweeping Kentucky on his way, and taking light brass cannon for the purpose. So flushed was the British commander with the hopes of conquest, that he made 20 doubt, he could overrun all West Augusta.†
The same gentleman (Col. Vigo,] informed Col. Clark, that Gov. Hamilton had not more than eighty men in garrison, three pieces of cannon and some swivels mounted. Stimulated by this information, with the promptitude inspired by his eminent genius for war, our daring commander determined, in the opinion of the late John Randolph, like his most suitable prototype, the great Hannibal, to carry the war into the enemy's country — as Clark said, “I knew if I did not take him [Hamilton], he would take
A large Mississippi boat was immediately fitted up by Clark, as a galley mounting two four pounders and four swivels, obtained from the enemy's fort at Kaskaskia. It was placed under the command of Capt. John Rogers with a company of forty-six men. This party had orders to force their way up the Wabash, if possible, station themselves a few miles below the mouth of White river, suffer nothing to pass and wait for further orders. This expedition being determined on, the French inhabitants of Cahokia and Kaskaskia raised two companies to join it. The author delights to record this harmony between the ancient French inhabitants of the Illinois and his own countrymen. The men from the
• Clark's Letter to Gov. Jefferson, in the Correspondence of the latter , vol.
† The western part of Virginia adjoining the Blue Ridge.
• The Revd. Mr. Peck in his edition of the Western Annals, by the lamented Perkins, p. 207, says that Clark "employed Col. Francis Vigo, then a resident of St. Louis, to make an explanation of the circumstances and strength of the enemy at Post Vincennes."
There is no intrinsic improbability in this statement; yet I have not met with any authority for it, either in the Memoir of Clark or his Letter to Gov. Jefferson, [I. 451, Dillon, p. 151.] All the writers that I have seen, have rested, and very properly their statement of this matter, on the Memoir of Clark himself, first published by the author in his History of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I think I have heard of a life of Col. Vigo, but have not met with it.
former village were commanded by Capt. McCarty, and the latter company by Capt. Francois Charleville. These added to the Virginians made a party of one hundred and seventy men in the age gregate.
On the 7th of February, 1779, this forlorn hope commenced its march to St. Vincents, over the drowned lands of the Wabash, in a wet though fortunately not a cold season. The march was pursued along the "old Vincennes trace,” followed by the Indians from the earliest time. It is as Reynolds* pleasantly says, "the Appian way of Illinois in ancient times. It commenced at Detroit, thence to Ouiatenon (or Weatowns,] on the Wabash,t thence to Vincennes, and thence to Kaskaskia. It is yet (1852] visible in many places between Kaskaskia and Vincennes.”+ This dreary and fatiguing march was alleviated by the politic management of Clark, who to divert his men encouraged bunting parties and invitations from one company to another, successively to feasts, or game, and to join in war dances of a night, in the manner of the Indians. In his own words, “I suffered them to shoot game on all occasions, and feast on it like Indian war dancers ; each company by turns inviting the others to their feasts; which was the case every night; as the company that was to give the feast was always supplied with horses, to lay up a sufficient store of wild meat, in the course of the day; myself and principal officers putting on the woodsmen, sporting now and then, and running as much through the mud and water as any of them.” Thus insensibly, without a murmur, were these men led on to the banks of the Little Wabash, which we reached on the 13th of February, 1779, through incredible difficulties, far surpassing anything that any of us had ever experienced. Frequently the diversions of the night wore off the thought of the preceding day. ||
At the point, the expedition had now arrived, the forks of the stream (the Little Wabash it is supposed,] are three miles, and the opposite heights of land five miles apart in the ordinary state of the water. At the time of Clark's arrival here, the interval was covered with water “generally three feet deep, never under two,
• History of Illinois. Belleville, Ills. 1852. p. 79.
† This Ouiatenon or Wea village stood on the southern bank of the Wabash or the tract of land which is now called "Wea prairie," about eight miles below the site of the town of La Fayette, in Tippecanoe county, Indiana. Dillon, p. 283.
Reynolds, p. 79. # Clark's Memoir.
and frequently over four.”* By the 18th, the party got so near St. Vincents as to hear the morning and evening guns of the British fort; and on the evening of the same day reached within nine miles of the town, below the mouth of the Embarras river. Great difficulties were now experienced in getting canoes in which to cross the river; and the men required all Clark's address and commanding spirit to keep their spirits from failing. Still there was no sight of the galley, which had been dispatched under Captain Rogers to meet them on the Wabash. Canoes could not be built in time to save the party, in the destitute condition in which they were, from starving.
On the 20th, the water guard brought a boat to, from which the cheering intelligence was received, of the good disposition of the inhabitants of St. Vincenis towards the Americans; and the continued ignorance of our movement, on the part of the enemy. There was yet a large sheet of water to cross, which proved, on sounding, to be up to the arm-pit; on the report being made, and Clark speaking seriously to an officer, the whole detachment caught alarm, and despair seemed ready to possess them. Col. Clark observing the depression on the faces of his men, whispered to one or two officers near him, to imitate him immediately, in what he was going to do; he then took a little gun powder in his hand, and mixing it with some water, blacked his face with it, raised the Indian war whoop, and marched into the water, imitated and followed by his men without a murmur.
So much does the conduct of men in large bodies depend upon the address and tone of a commander. This trick of backwoods invention communicated a new impulse to the party, and they stepped into the water with a cheerfulness, which many troops under their sufferings, would not have shown on land. A favorite song was now raised, and the whole detachment joined in the chorus. When the party had got to the deepest part of the water, then about waist-deep, where it was intended to transport the troops in two canoes, which had been fortunately taken, one of the men said he felt a path, [which is said to be quite perceptible to naked feet,] and it being concluded that it kept on the highest ground, the march was continued to a place called the Sugar Camp, where was found about half an acre of ground not under water. Here the party took up their lodging for the night. From this spot another wide plain of water was to be crossed, and what heightened the difficulty was, the absence of all timber, to afford support to the famishing and fatigued party in their wading. “The camp very quiet,” says Major Bowman in his journal, “but hun. gry. Some almost in despair.” “At break of day on the 21st, began to ferry our men over the Wabash in two canoes to a small hill called the Mamelle." "The whole party being over, we thought to get to town that night, so plunged into the water, sometimes to the neck, for more than one league, where we stopped on a hill of the same name (with the last], there being no dry land, an any side for many leagues, Our pilots say, we can not get alongthat it is impossible. The whole army being over, we encamped; rain all this day; no provisions."*
The object of all their toils and sufferings, St. Vincents was almost in sight; and after a spirited address which Clark says, “I forget, but it may easily be imagined by a person who could possess any affection for his men at such a time. I concluded by informing them, that passing the plain that was then in full sight, and reaching the opposite woods, would put an end to their fatigue--that in a few hours they would have a sight of the long wished for object; and immediately stepped into the water, without waiting for any reply. A general huzza took place.”+ The ice "in the morning had formed from one half to three quarters of an inch thick. It was the coldest night we had;” but “the morning was the finest we had on our march. Before the third man stepped off, Clark ordered Capt. Bowman to fall back with twenty-five men, and put any man to death who refused to march, for no coward should disgrace this company of brave men. The whole gave a cry of approbation, and on we went;"—they followed their fearless commander ; sometimes they were cheered with the deceptive cry of the advance guard, that the water was growing shallower; and as they approached the woods, land, land—the favorite cry of mariners was halloed out. This stratagem had its desired effect. The men encouraged by it, exerted themselves almost beyond their abilities — the weak holding by the stronger. The water never got shallower, but in reality continued deepening. Getting to the woods where the men expected land, the water was up to my shoulders; but gaining the woods was of great copse
Major Bowman's Journal. † Clark's Memoir,