Tagged: FrontierWars

The Battle of Derna: To the Shores of Tripoli

With the end of the American Revolution, American merchant ships lost the protection of the British Navy. Soon, they became the favorite prey for the Barbary corsairs (Muslim pirates) of the North African coast, particularly the Ottoman province of Tripolitania. Hundreds of American sailors were seized and those not ransomed were either forcibly converted to Islam or sold into slavery. In 1796, President George Washington and Congress paid $900,000 ($15 million today), or 1/6th of the American Federal budget (633 billion with a “b” today), to free 113 American hostages and a yearly tribute of $43,000 (2.5 million today). The hostages were freed, but as ransoms usually go, it was still not enough to stop the depredations.

The US Congress authorized the creation of a navy in 1794, but the initial six frigates weren’t ready until 1798. In 1801, the US declared war on the Barbary States of Morocco and Tripolitania. After three years of blockade and inconclusive fighting during the First Barbary War, President Thomas Jefferson authorized the regime change of Tripolitania, replacing its ruler Jusef Qaramanli with his pro-American exiled brother, Hamet.

In early 1805, a former army captain and consul to Tunis, William Eaton, traveled to Egypt with a Marine detachment under 1st Lt Presley O’Bannon. They recruited 500 Greek, Arab, and Berber mercenaries. They then made a 600 mile trek to capture Derna, the capital of Cyrenacia and the stepping stone to the capital, Tripoli.

The Marines put down several mutinies during the grueling march and the small expedition finally met a small squadron of US ships off of Derna on 26 April, 1805. The next morning, Eaton demanded the Bey of Derna surrender. The Bey, who thought he was safe behind his 4000 warriors, replied, “My head or yours!”. Eaton and his small army, led the Lt O’Bannon and his eight Marines, stormed the town. At 4 pm, they raised the Stars and Stripes over the fortress protecting the harbor.

It’s the first time the American flag had flown over an overseas foreign territory. Impressed with the professionalism and fighting spirit of the U.S. Marines, Prince Hamet gave his Mameluke sword to Lt O’Bannon as a sign of gratitude and respect.

The Battle of Derna is immortalized in the second line of the Marine Corps Hymn, “to the shores of Tripoli” and USMC officers wear a replica of Prince Hamet’s sword with their Blue Dress Uniform to this day.

The Battle of Bushy Run

After Great Britain’s victory in the Seven Year’s War, or the French and Indian War as it was known in the colonies, the British Empire took control of all of France’s North American territory. The new Governor General, Jeffery Amherst, instituted policies greatly expanding trade and settlement in the colonies but he did so at the expense of the Native American tribes. Most of the normally British aligned Indian tribes followed the Iroquois example and stayed neutral during the conflict and many even sided with French. The French were thought to be less of a menace than the expansionist British colonists who pushed the frontier ever westward. But those that stayed neutral were bought with gifts to influential chiefs and matrons. At the end of the war, Amherst greatly reduced these gifts, and completely discontinued those for tribes that sided with the French. The British debt for the French and Indian War needed repaid, and Amherst had to find ways to cut costs. To allay Indian fears of colonial expansion, the British confirmed 1758’s Treaty of Easton and stated no colonial settlements were permitted east of the Appalachian Mountains. The British army even kept regular regiments in America to enforce the proclamation and confrontations between settlers and the regulars were common that spring, much more common than encounters between soldiers and the Indians. This led to a general feeling that British were pro-Indian at the expense of their colonial subjects.

Despite the British Army’s presence on the frontier, settlers continued staking claims west of the Appalachians. Since most of the Indian normally pro-British Indian tribes stayed neutral during the war, or even fought for the French, British colonists felt no empathy to their plight and little respect for their boundaries. The colonists believed that they had defeated the French without Indian assistance. The colonists assumed they had lost the war just as surely as the French. While this not technically true, there were drastically fewer friendly Indians fighting with the colonists, on several orders of magnitude, compared to those with the French.

The Indians’ complete dependence on the colonials did not help matters. They were totally reliant on the colonists for the trade goods. Metal pots, knives, needles, hatchets, muskets, gunpowder, linen, fabric, even their currency, small beads called wampum, came from the colonial traders. The American Indians on the colonial frontier had no way to manufacture their own, and even worse, the old ways were gone for good. Delaware prophet Neolin preached a return to the old ways and gained many converts. However the knowledge was lost and the Indians couldn’t return to the old ways even if they wanted to. Neither the Indians nor the colonial traders wanted to close down their trading posts. Where trading posts were established, settlers followed, whom demanded protection. So hypocritically, the British refused to abandon forts on the frontier, even substantially expanding Fort Pitt. This greatly dismayed the Ohio Indians, the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo and others who wanted colonial trade goods, but not colonial settlements.

Settlers pointed to the Albany Congress in 1754, where the Iroquois sold most of the Ohio Country to land speculators from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, and New York, sometimes the same land to all four. The Iroquois wanted to chastise their troublesome vassals, the Ohio Indians, who had pretenses of independence from Confederation suzerainty during King George’s War in the 1740s, so they sold their land out from under them. The sales weren’t ratified by the Iroquois ruling Council Fire at Onondaga, but the colonials didn’t care. They assumed the Iroquois negotiators had the authority to sell the land since payment already changed hands at Albany. In any case, any excuse was enough reason to push the frontier. The colonial population was rapidly expanding, and the Indian population was not. Land was needed, and the only land left was held by the Indians.

The French and Indian War just delayed then exacerbated the problem. The tribes could no longer play the British and French against each other, as they had for nearly seven decades. The perception was the colonials had received little help from the Indians during King George’s War and the French and Indian War. The British paid for their neutrality, but the colonials never saw that. And in 1763, the British Army was seen as playing both sides: siding with the Indians against the colonials to stop frontier settlement while still maintaining the dozen or so forts in “Indian territory”. The colonials saw the Indian territory as far too vast compared to their population size, though they never took Indian cultural need for wilderness hunting grounds into consideration. This especially applied to former French allies, whose claim to lands were seen as forfeit since they lost the war.

In 1763, the Ohio Indian and former French allied tribes formed a loose confederation led by Ottawa chief Pontiac to drive the British off of the continent. The Iroquois Confederation stayed neutral, as they had for the last two wars on the frontier. The resulting war is variously known as Pontiac’s War, Pontiac’s Rebellion, or Pontiac’s Uprising. All are accurate, though “uprising” or “rebellion” may be more so due to nominal Iroquois suzerainty over the Ohio Indians, who provided most of the warriors against the British. Pontiac’s Uprising was initially extremely successful as his warriors ranged up and down the hills and slopes of the Appalachian Mountains killing or enslaving any white settlers they found and burning all settlements to the ground. By June, thousands were driven from their homes, hundreds were killed or captured, and there was nary a colonial settlement left west of the mountains. Eight British forts fell to Pontiac or his allies, and only one was left, Fort Pitt, at the strategic confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers that then formed the Ohio River. But it was newly built over the ruins of the French Fort Duquesne, and the strong blockhouse was completed just that spring. Pontiac and his main force led by Mingo chief Guyasuta settled in for a siege when efforts to storm it were deemed futile.

The loss of Ft Pitt, would have ended British power west of the mountains. Even worse, Amherst feared the loss of Fort Pitt would convince the Iroquois to join the war. The Seneca alone could put more warriors into the field than all of the tribes of Pontiac’s coalition combined. Moreover, the easternmost Iroquois, the Mohawk, sat astride the vulnerable New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut frontier. The other Iroquois tribes, including the vehemently anti-British Tuscarora had a clear avenue into Pennsylvania via the refugee choked Susquehanna Valley. Amherst would be forced to request additional troops from elsewhere in the British Empire, something that would inevitably lead to his replacement. Fort Pitt could not fall under any circumstances.

Amherst dispatched Colonel Henri Bouquet and the best troops in North America, if not the world. The 42nd Regiment (the Black Watch) was one of the British Army’s most senior regiments and the 77th Regt (Montgomerie’s Highlanders), though new, saw extensive action during the French and Indian War. The 60th Regt or Royal Americans (later the King’s Rifles) was formed after Braddock’s defeat during the French and Indian War specifically to provide the British Army much needed frontier fighting capability in North America. The Royal American were recruited from all over the North American colonies and Europe. Swiss mountaineers, German jaegers, colonial frontiersmen, British volunteers, and converted Indians were commanded by European Protestant officers. Col. Bouquet was originally recruited to command the Royal American’s 1st Battalion. Bouquet was a colorful Swiss mercenary and adventurer with extensive experience in frontier fighting during the French and Indian War. It was Bouquet who took command of Forbes Expedition to relieve Fort Pitt in 1758 after Forbes grew ill. There was no officer in America better suited to relieve Fort Pitt again in 1763.

Bouquet’s force, encumbered with wagons full of provisions for Ft Pitt, left Carlisle Barracks in June and began hacking its way across the mountains (His road would eventually become Rt 30). Bouquet quickly became frustrated with the very slow progress. At Ft. Ligonier, he abandoned his wagons and baggage, and loaded up his horses and mules with flour bags for the garrison whom were slowly being starved out by Guyasuta. But by this time Guyasauta knew of the relief column from his scouts. Guyasuta took most of the warriors from the siege to intercept and destroy them, just as they had done five years before to Braddock’s expedition.

Guyasuta (or Kiasutha) was originally a Seneca war chief, and was appointed by the Council Fire at Onondaga as a viceroy over the subjugated Ohio Indians. Over the years, the Iroquois viceroys, their families, and their adopted Ohio Indians (the Iroquois always took the best Ohio Indian children from their subjects into their own families) eventually formed their own identity, known as the Mingo. The Mingo grew apart from their Iroquois suzerains, and began to sympathize with their Ohio Indian charges’ desire for independence. When the Iroquois stayed neutral in the French and Indian War, the Mingo led the Ohio Indians in defiance of the Iroquois to fight for the French. Guaysuta was the most influential Mingo chief, and many earlier historians refer to Pontiac’s War as The Pontiac-Guyasuta War. Guyasuta was one of the Indian leaders at Braddock’s defeat in 1755, Guyasuta missed a confrontation with Bouquet in 1758, when he and the Ohio Indians departed Fort Duquesne ahead of Forbes Expedition in compliance with the quickly defunct Treaty of Easton. Guyasuta openly sought war with the British after the failure of the Treaty of Easton, which came with the support of Pontiac and western coalition of former French allied Indian tribes.

When Bouquet reached the ford over Bushy Run Creek (just outside of Greensburg, PA) on the morning of 5 August 1763, Guyasuta and his 800 warriors struck. Bouquet initially took many casualties. A quick bayonet charge was usually enough to break up a gathering of Indian warriors, but the initial charge was uphill to his front, and succeeded in just spreading his men out. A result that Guyasuta had planned for.

Contrary to what Hollywood, revisionist historians, or your university professor who never left the academy has told you, a properly trained soldier with a bayonet is the more than a match for any indigenous warrior with a one handed melee weapon. A musket with a bayonet is just a two handed spear, and spears have been used since time immemorial to provide its wielder a first strike and standoff capability against their non-spear wielding opponent. First strikes are almost always decisive, and surviving and overcoming a first strike is the stuff of epics. To survive a spearmen or bayonet wielding soldier requires a missile weapon, or two warriors: one to distract or fix and one to kill. If both sides have missile weapon i.e. musket with bayonet or musket and tomahawk, the wielder with bayonet has the advantage, as the time to switch between weapons systems is lessened, in addition to the standoff and first strike melee capability of the bayonet. The problem in frontier warfare was avoiding the individual over match. Guyasuta knew if he spread Bouquet’s men out, his warriors would overwhelm them individually. The typical European response to this was maintaining formation. However, if Bouquet maintained his formation, his warriors could wither it away with musket fire at such an inviting massed target while his men hid behind the abundant tree cover. After the initial bayonet charge failed to break up the Indian force, Guyasuta held all the advantages, just as the French and Indians did at Braddock’s Defeat.

Unfortunately for Guyasuta, Bouquet was not Braddock. He had trained his men in tactics that combined the discipline and efficacy of the bayonet armed soldier with the realities of frontier warfare . The trick was to avoid individual overmatch while maintaining the advantages of the bayonet equipped musket without being in an exposed formation. Bouquet’s men accomplished this by breaking up into pairs. One man with loaded musket and bayonet guarding another who reloaded. When both were reloaded, one would pick a target and fire, then the process would repeat. It took great discipline to maintain that posture. Only under extreme circumstances would both fire and be empty at the same time. To break this tactic in an old-growth deciduous forest demanded at least four, preferably five individual warriors attacking simultaneously. This is a level of coordination that was uncommon among Indian warriors on the 18th century frontier.

Bouquet’s tactic was effective but temporary. Guyasuta’s warriors hunted and fought for a living, and Bouquet knew they would quickly find and exploit a weakness in the jagger bush infested broken forested terrain. He knew his men stood no chance fighting it out with Guyasuta’s warriors if they got among them. So Bouquet ordered a retreat to a small hill overlooking the Bushy Run ford. In the clearing at the top of the hill, he collected his wounded and formed an ad hoc fort out of flour sacks and dead horses. Most of Bouquet’s men were outside the fort in their pairs or in formation. They then fought off all of Guyasuta’s attempts to storm it. That Guyasuta convinced his warriors to storm it at all is a testament to his leadership. By the afternoon, the battle was at an impasse. However, a new siege had begun, a siege that Bouquet had no hope of winning by staying put.

There was no possible relief force. And even if there was the siege of Bouquet’s flour fort wouldn’t last that long. The day was hot, as only a humid Pennsylvania August day can be, and Bouquet’s men were out of water and thirsty. Any attempt to secure water from the nearby creek failed. Prisoners and survivors from failed attempts to gather water were gruesomely tortured in full view of their comrades on the hill. Guyasuta planned to wait Bouquet out.

Bouquet’s devised a desperate and merciless course of action. Ruthless not just for the Indians, but also for his own men. He planned to break out with every remaining able bodied man, but he would leave his wounded and baggage behind. He knew Guyasuta did not a have as strong a hold on his warriors as he had on his soldiers. Indian war bands formed based on leadership and strength of will of their leader, honor gained from the kill, and immediate material gain. Any warrior was free to come and go as he pleased, no questions asked. Bouquet callously planned to exploit this. The ill-disciplined warriors would jump at the chance to loot and torture the wounded in the makeshift fort, and let the survivors escape. At 6pm, he did exactly that and soon the war whoops of the Guyasuta’s warriors were replaced by the screams of the wounded as they were scalped and mutilated.

Bouquet didn’t escape. Once the Indians were committed to their blood orgy, he quietly surrounded the hill and trapped Guyasuta just as he had been trapped hours before. At 7 pm, the remaining Highlanders and Americans attacked from all directions and stormed the hill at bayonet point. No quarter was given and the Guyasuta’s warriors immediately broke. Any that managed to escape continued home to their lodges and did not return to Pontiac or the siege of Fort Pitt.

The Siege of Fort Pitt was lifted the next day. Two more years were needed to completely subdue all of the Indians involved in the Pontiac War, including more raids in 1764 and the winter of 1764/65 by John Armstrong and Henri Bouquet to destroy Indian villages: the standard frontier tactic to defeat your enemy. The Pennsylvania Assembly passed another “Scalp Act” in 1764 which significantly sped up the process.

Pontiac’s Uprising and the Battle of Bushy Run was the culmination of 150 years of Indian, colonial, and imperial diplomacy and warfare on the American frontier. Sadly, they are indicative of the depths to which Indian and colonial relations fallen in that time. The perception that lines were crossed that could not be uncrossed hardened in the minds of colonials and Indians alike. The savage nature of the fighting, and the remorseless decisions of both Guyasuta and Bouquet showed the lengths that both sides would go for victory. The British and colonial victory at Bushy Run meant that the Appalachian frontier was permanently open for colonial settlement and expansion, regardless of Indian wishes on the matter, including the Iroquois.

In the words Delaware chief Keekyuscung, “They (the Indians and colonials) will never come to peace again.”

Prepared and Loyal

On 3 March 1855, the US Army constituted its fourth regiment of mounted troops.

After the Mexican War and the various Indian wars against the Fox, Kickapoo, Dakota, and Sauk American Indians, the US Congress recognized a need for more regular mounted soldiers on the frontier. At the time the US had three mounted regiments: the 1st and 2nd Mounted Dragoons and the 1st Mounted Rifles. On 3 March 1855, the US constituted a fourth mounted regiment, the 1st Cavalry Regiment at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri under the command of Colonel Edwin Voss Sumner to augment the other troops on the frontier. After they were organized and training completed, the 1st Cavalry Regiment maintained law and order in the Kansas Territory and protect settlers from Indian attacks.

After the attack on Ft Sumter in 1861, the troopers and officers of the 1st Cavalry Regiment parted ways to fight on their respective sides during the US Civil War. 27 of those troopers became general officers during the war, including George C McClellan, Jeb Stuart, and Robert E. Lee, the commander of the regiment at the outbreak of the war.

Two months later, the US Army’s mounted regiments were re-designated by seniority. The 1st and 2nd Mounted Dragoons became the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Regiments, the 1st Mounted Rifles became the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and the 1st US Cavalry Regiment became the 4th United States Cavalry Regiment.

Prepared and Loyal!

The Battle of the Alamo

The Fall of the Alamo, by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, 1903

In the summer and autumn of 1835, Texian and Tejano separatists threw out the Mexican troops of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the reigning dictator of the Centralist Republic of Mexico, due to his heavy handed rule and revocation of the Constitution of 1824. The Texian success sparked rebellions across the length of Mexico. In the winter of 1835/36, Santa Anna’s army brutally suppressed those rebellions, and then turned north on Texas. After the disastrous Texian invasion of Matamoros, Gen Sam Houston’s volunteers needed time to retrain and organize to repel Santa Anna. To buy him that time, Col William Travis, decided to occupy and hold the old Franciscan Alamo mission outside of the town of San Antonio de Bexar.

Travis, a regular army officer, shared command with famed knife fighter Col Jim Bowie, a Texian volunteer with ties to Bexar. But even with a group of Tennessee volunteers under frontiersman and former US congressman Colonel Davy Crockett, The Texian defenders of the Alamo still amounted to less than 200 men, and Travis sent increasingly desperate (and dramatic) letters asking for reinforcements. On 23 February 1836, Santa Anna’s army arrived in Bexar. It would take ten days for Santa Anna’s entire army of 4000 to arrive, while Travis and Bowie received less than 80 reinforcements. As Santa Anna’s army gathered, he besieged the Alamo for 13 days.

At dawn on 6 March 1836, Santa attacked the Alamo to the sounds of Deguello bugle calls which announced no quarter for the “pirates” as Santa Anna had decreed the Texians. He attacked with four columns of a total of about 1800 men: one column from each cardinal direction. He hoped to overwhelm the overextended defenders of the Alamo’s long walls. However, the north, east, and west columns all massed on the north wall in the confusion of two previous failed attacks.

The third assault finally carried the north wall after a hastily patched breach, caused by ten days’ worth of bombardment, was finally captured and opened, allowing Mexican soldiers to stream into the mission. (Travis was killed defending this breach.) Texian soldiers on the south wall turned their cannons around and attempted to defend in both directions but were soon overwhelmed. (Crockett, with his Tennesseans, initially defended the low wall outside the chapel. He died fighting along the makeshift wall facing north. Or, according to one report, was captured and executed there.) Many of the remaining defenders attempted to escape but were cut down by Mexican cavalry. Those that didn’t barricaded themselves in the barracks and chapel, where they were systematically rooted out and killed (which was where an ailing Bowie died). Any prisoners were slaughtered and only a few Texian non-combatants walked away from the assault. However the defenders sold themselves dearly and the Mexicans took about 600 casualties.

Santa Anna thought the utter destruction of the Alamo’s defenders would end Texian resistance but he was gravely mistaken. Texian civilians fled Santa Anna and volunteers flocked to Gen Sam Houston’s retreating army. Santa Anna would follow but Houston’s galvanized army would turn and attack at the Lynchberg ferry on the San Jacinto river. Houston’s Texian victory at the Battle of San Jacinto captured Santa Anna, and subsequent negotiations led to the Texian independence from Mexico.