At the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which ended the American Revolution, Great Britain ceded parts of the province of Quebec west of Pennsylvania, south of the Great Lakes, and north of the Ohio River to the nacent United States of America. Known as the “Old Northwest” or “Ohio Country”, the cessation consisted of the present day American states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and northeastern Minnesota. Since the government under the Articles of Confederation had no provision to tax, the new US government expected raise money to pay off its war debt through the selling of land in the Northwest Territory to settlers. In the Ohio Country lived Britain’s Indian allies during the American Revolution, whose lands were recognized by the Americans, but forfeit, as per the terms of the Treaty of Paris. The area was a vast wilderness punctuated by only a few Indian nations, but the Indian culture demanded vast amounts of land for hunting grounds in addition to their semi nomadic system of agriculture. The settlers arriving in the Northwest Territory to claim their land naturally led to conflict with the Indian nations and led to increasing bloodshed along the frontier. Moreover, despite the Treaty of Paris, the British had no plans to evacuate their troops from the area, and still occupied Fort Detroit in the late 1780s. The British secretly desired a client buffer state between Canada and the United States, which would keep the Great Lakes under British control, and provide an exclusive market for their manufactured goods, upon which the Indians were dependent but had no way of producing on their own.
At various times between 1783 and 1785, the leadership of the Indian nations of the Northwest Territory, primarily the Wyandot (Huron), Miami, Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware) Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and the Wabash Confederacy, came together at Fort Detroit to form a bulwark against the expansion of the United States westwards. They formed the United Indian Nations in 1785, which was a loose confederation of generally Algonquin speaking Indian nations who agreed not to treat with the United States separately. The decentralized nature Western Confederacy, as UIN was known in the US, was exploited by the land hungry Americans. Less than a year later in January 1786 the Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot signed the Treaty of Fort Finney which allowed Americans to settle on their lands along the Ohio River. The Confederate Council Fire at Fort Detroit rejected the treaty which violated the Confederacy agreement. The Americans didn’t care.
The Northwest Territory was formally organized in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The governor, Arthur St. Clair, was instructed to “re-establish peace and harmony” with the Western Confederacy, but by 1789 peace negotiations broke down and Indian war parties and American militias raided each other’s settlements regularly. About 1500 American settlers were killed or enslaved, along with an unknown number of Indians, in the two years before the beginning of the Northwest Indian War.
The ratification of the US Constitution in 1787 permitted the authorization for the Executive Branch to raise a permanent army, funded by yearly appropriations by the US Congress. The first 300 American regulars were barely enough to keep up with settlers floating further and further down the Ohio and enforce the treaties with the various nations of the Western Confederacy. The big problem was not the Indians, but the settlers, just as the British found out 30 years before after the French and Indian War. Congress only authorized one regiment for operations on the frontier, and then only for year one terms as per US Constitution. That wasn’t nearly enough time, or men, to train the men properly, man the forts, maintain the treaties, protect the surveyors, much less act on the delicate situation. The untrained, ill equipped, ill funded, and inexperienced soldiers of the First American Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmer could not keep the squatters and settlers inside the treaty lands, the Shawnee and Miami war parties from attacking homesteads and settlements, nor the Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania militia from conducting reprisal raids.
In 1786, Harmar built Fort Knox at Vincennes, (the old Fort Knox in present day Indiana, not today’s Fort Knox in Kentucky) specifically to prevent Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark and his Virginia militia from raiding Confederacy lands. In 1789, newly inaugurated President George Washington suffered significant blowback from American citizens in the West to do something about the bloodshed. Washington, always a friend to the Indians, at least until he wasn’t, asked St. Clair if the Western Confederacy was inclined to peace or war, St. Clair responded, “War”.
In 1790, Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox authorized Harmar to conduct a “punitive expedition” against the Shawnee and Miami to deter further attacks. Harmar might have been a dandy, but he didn’t need instructions on how to prevent Indian attacks. He was the senior officer in the American Army. As the Indians and settlers knew, the American frontier was too large and too untamed to defend outside a few forts where refuge could be found, the only choice was to attack, something the Pilgrims and Puritans figured out 125 years previously in the Pequot War. Western New York was just at that time open for settlement because of Sullivan’s Campaign in 1779 broke the Iroquois permanently, even though the Iroquois continued to raid from Fort Niagara and reservations in Canada for years.
Along with the First American Regiment, Harmar, now promoted to major general, mustered the militia at Fort Washington (present day Cincinnati, Ohio), and Fort Knox at Vincennes. The two forces, one under Major Jean Hamtramck at Vincennes and the other under Harmar, were to converge on the large Miami town of Kekionga (present day Fort Wayne, Indiana). They’d destroy any Confederacy villages and British trading posts along the way. The destruction of the British trading posts was key. Their loss would economically tie the Western Confederacy to the United States, no matter how many villages were destroyed. The Indians simply had no choice: the old ways were lost forever, if not completely in knowledge, then certainly in will. With the trading posts gone, the British would be in the same position France was in before the French and Indian War: without massive subsidies, British goods would be too expensive, too few, and of lesser quality than American goods produced nearby. The Indians would have no choice but to buy from American traders. Once Kekionga and the surrounding Miami villages were destroyed, the combined army would go on to Fort Detroit, weather permitting, and expel the British, completing the subjugation of the Western Confederacy.
The expedition got off to a rough start. In early October 1790, Hamtramck’s column burned a few abandoned villages of the Wabash Confederacy, but his Virginia militia began to desert soon after. The militia that Hamtramck, and Harmar, had for the offensive was not the same that took part in the raids. The campaign was in the middle of the harvest and many farmers paid for substitutes, who not fighting for their homesteads and strictly for pay, made for poor militia. As soon as the festive atmosphere of the original muster at the fort was replaced by the hard living and imminent fear of death or mutilation endemic to campaigning, the militia trickled away. Hamtramck was only out for a few weeks before he turned around and returned to Vincennes.
Harmar’s column departed Fort Washington on 7 October had much more success initially. At the head of 320 regulars of the First American Regiment, and 1,200 militia from Kentucky and Pennsylvania, Harmar headed directly at Kekionga, burning villages along the way. On 15 October, about 25 miles from Kekionga his scouts captured a Shawnee scout who told him that the warriors of the Miami and Shawnee tribes were massed at Kekionga waiting for more warriors from the other nations of the Western Confederacy and 320 Cherokee warriors, traditional British allies. Determined to surprise the Indians before they grew even stronger, Harmar dispatched Colonel John Hardin with 600 soldiers and militiamen to force march and surprise the Indians while he followed behind with the trains and main body. Hardin found the village abandoned and when Harmar arrived on the 16th, they confiscated the food left behind, and burned the town to the ground. There were no Confederacy warriors to be found.
The 1000 warriors of the Western Confederacy under war chiefs Little Turtle of the Miami and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee weren’t running away, they were just waiting for Harmar to divide his force. They knew everything about Harmar’s army, its morale problems, and everything about Harmar himself. They knew he spent a significant amount of time in Paris (where he delivered the ratified Treaty of Paris to Benjamin Franklin in 1783) and got addicted to the good life. They knew he was up to his eyeballs in debt because of it, but refused to give up the lifestyle. They knew he would have a sumptuous wagon filled with top shelf booze. They knew he was a drunk. Hell, everyone knew Harmar was a drunk: Henry Knox even referred to it in one of the specified objectives of the campaign “Don’t drink, sober generals are good generals.” Little Turtle and Blue Jacket knew it was only a matter of time before Harmar made a mistake they could exploit and his army disintegrated as a result. There was no reason to waste warriors’ lives, who could not be replaced, in a straight up battle for Kekionga, They didn’t have to long to wait.
As Harmar and the main body established a camp outside Kekionga, Harmar sent raiding parties out to destroy the smaller villages and find the elusive warriors. These raiding arties were exactly what Little Turtle and Blue Jacket were waiting for. On 19 October, Hardin set off to attack the village of Miami chief Le Gris. On the way, Hardin’s 30 regulars, 30 cavalry and 180 militia spotted a lone Indian and they gave chase. The Indian ran into a swampy marsh along the Eel River known as “Helle’s Corner”. He was a decoy. Once inside the marsh, Little Turtle attacked the spread out Americans. The militia immediately broke, mainly without coming into contact, though a few stayed with the regulars and died fighting. Only 8 regulars survived, including the company commander who had words later with Hardin. Though most of cavalry and militia survived, including Hardin, they mostly went home, but not before spreading the tales of their defeat back at Harmar’s camp.
The next day, another 300 strong mixed American force was ambushed eight miles north of Kekionga, leaving 20 dead, including the well-liked ensign who commanded the force. Almost certainly drunk, Harmar surprisingly pulled the camp back two miles further south of Kekionga in response to the attack. Even worse, Harmar refused the men’s request to recover and bury the bodies. They were no strangers to the Indians’ proclivity to mutilate the dead. Morale plummeted at Harmar’s obstinacy.
On the night of the 21st, Hardin decided to attack on his own, if only to bury the bodies. He also said he hoped to catch the Indians digging up their possessions that they buried, but more likely Hardin was looking to redeem himself after the Battle of Helle’s Corner. With sixty regulars and 300 militia, Hardin set out into the darkness. When Hardin arrived at Kekionga, he was surprised to find the ruins occupied by about a thousand Confederacy warriors, well-armed with British Brown Bess muskets. Little Turtle and Blue Jacket occupied the town after Harmar withdrew out of sight the day before. Hardin sensed an opportunity to trap the Indians in Kekionga, which was nestled in the bend of the Maumee River. Hardin sent a rider back to the camp for Harmar to bring up the main body, while he fixed the Indians in place.
Hardin divided his small force and one column rode around the town on the far bank to attack after crossing the river to the north. Unfortunately for Hardin, Little Turtle and Blue Jacket struck first as the small groups moved to their assault positions. Attacking and feigning retreat, the Indians spread Hardin’s command out further. Systematically defeating the small isolated detachments, the Indian warriors surrounded Hardin and the remaining regulars defending the ford over the Maumee River. Hardin’s men held firm and they were confident in the imminent arrival of the main body, just a few miles away.
Harmar wasn’t coming. When the rider told him of the Indians’ strength he began shaking. He was almost certainly drunk by several accounts. He formed the 900 men remaining in the camp into a hollow square to await the Indian attack. After about three hours, and low on ammunition, Hardin and what remained of his command broke out of the Indian encirclement and rejoined Harmar back at camp.
Harmar attempted to throw his officers a victory banquet that evening, but there was no denying the scale of Harmar’s defeat. Over the past three days, Harmar’s command suffered 262 killed and 106 wounded, and he barely heard shots fired in anger. Most of the killed were still laying in the fields, which infuriated the men. An unknown number of Indians were killed and wounded, the best guess was about 150. Ignobly, Harmar decided that he no longer had enough strength to continue. His militia were deserting in droves, so he returned to Fort Washington.
When the sun came up on the morning of 22 October 1790, the bodies of the American regulars and militia still lay unburied on the battlefield. The scalped heads of the dead reminded the Indians of squash steaming in the autumn air. They named their great victory over the United States at Kekionga, “The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields”.
Though Harmar proclaimed victory, Knox had him court martialed. Unfortunately the politically connected Harmer convinced the board to place the blame for the defeat at The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields on the ill-disciplined militia. Washington was furious at the defeat and Congress authorized another expedition, this time with Arthur St. Clair in command. Little Turtle and Blue Jacket became Indian heroes among the Western Confederacy. Most of what we know of Harmar’s campaign comes from the meticulous detail in the diaries of Major Ebenezer Denny, a Revolutionary War veteran, Pennsylvania regular in the First American Regiment, and future first mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields was the worst defeat suffered by the United States of America against the indigenous people of North America up to that time. The Battle of the Pumpkin Fields would end up being the third worst defeat against the Indian nations in American history, after the Battle of the Wabash in 1791 and the Battle of the Little Big Horn 85 years later in 1876.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and the new state encompassed all the land from the Confederacy of Central America in the South (Not that “Confederacy”, Central America’s) to the Transcontinental Treaty Line of 1819 in the north (the borders of Oregon and Idaho, and California, Nevada and Utah today), and from the American Louisiana Purchase in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. For the next 24 years, Mexican Centralists and Federalists vied for power. Though nominally a federal republic as per the Federal Constitution of 1824, the Mexican government was always just one Centralist election victory away from dictatorship.
The liberal immigration policies of the Constitution of 1824 allowed for thousands of immigrants from the United States to settle in Mexico, mostly in the Mexican state of Texas. Far from Mexico City, the Anglo American colonists, known as “Texians”, and their Hispanic brethren the “Tejanos” had grown used to self-rule as the various factions in the newly independent Mexican government politicked and consolidated power. In particular, the Mexican law was written in the tradition of the Napoleonic Code i.e. “guilty until proven innocent” while the Texians, mostly colonists from the United States of America, were steeped in the tradition of English Common Law i.e. “innocent until proven guilty”. This fundamental difference in the understanding of law led to many accusations of tyranny against the Mexican government when it did exercise its authority. By 1835, the Mexican Centralists led by President Antonio López de Santa Anna, the “Napoleon of Mexico”, had taken power in Mexico City from the Federalists, and he repudiated the Constitution of 1824. The stage was set for a Texian and Tejano break with the Mexican government.
In 1831, Mexican authorities in San Antonio de Béxar lent the town of Gonzalez a small six pound cannon for protection against the frequent Comanche Indian raids. Four years later on 10 September 1835, amidst the tensions caused by Santa Anna’s dictatorial rule and the open formation of Texan militias to protect themselves from him, a Mexican soldier clubbed a Gonzales resident which caused widespread outrage and public protests against Mexican tyranny. The senior Mexican military commander in Texas, Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, thought it unwise for the upset residents of Gonzales to keep the cannon. He sent a corporal and five soldiers to retrieve the cannon from Gonzales’ “alcalde” Andrew Ponton. (An “alcalde” is a combination municipal magistrate, judge, and chief councilman of an area.) While the soldiers patiently waited, the town voted to keep the cannon, and sent them away.
Undeterred, Ugartechea dispatched Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda with 100 dragoons on 27 September to seize the cannon. But this time the residents of Gonzales buried the cannon in a nearby peach orchard, and sent word to other towns to send their militia to prevent the Mexicans from taking the cannon. The Texians needed time for the militias to arrive, and delayed Castañeda at the river. The residents confiscated all the boats on the west side of the swollen Guadalupe River which forced the Mexicans to cross at the ford west of town. There they were met by the 18 men of the Gonzales Texian Militia company, now known as “The Old Eighteen”. Castañeda was under orders not to start a war and opened negotiations with the Texians. Captain Albert Martin, yelling from the east bank, told Castañeda that only Ponton could give up the cannon, and he was out of town. With no easy way across the river and with orders to not force an engagement, Castañeda’s men withdrew to a nearby hill while he continued to parley with the Texians at the ford. All the while Texian militias converged on Gonzales.
The stalemate continued for two days. By 1 October, there 150 Texian militia in the town and John Henry Moore was elected commander. Moore was one of the Old Three Hundred, who were the first Texian settlers to Mexican Texas, the owner and builder of Moore’s Fort at La Grange, and one of the most respected men in the area. That afternoon the Texians voted to initiate a fight, before their stalling backfired and the Mexicans brought reinforcements of their own. The Texians dug up the cannon, mounted it on cart wheels, and in lieu of cannonballs, gathered metal scraps for ammunition. The cannon was crewed by veteran artillerymen from the War of 1812.
At the same time, Castañeda was informed by a Coushatta Indian that the Texians were massing in the town and that they’d be about 300 strong soon. Not wishing to force the ford, the dragoons decamped and moved seven miles downstream to find another ford. That night they made camp on William’s Farm. Moore and the Texian militia with their cannon, now under a new banner, followed. Legend has it the flag was made from the wedding dress of Green DeWitt, the founder of Gonzales. The new makeshift flag was white with a star and the drawing of a cannon over the words, “Come and Take It”.
About 3 am on 2 October 1835, the Texians blundered toward the Mexican camp in the dense fog. Castañeda was alerted to their presence by a barking dog and several sentries fired into the midst. Only one Texian was hurt, and only because his horse threw him and bloodied his nose. Moore ordered everyone into the woods to wait for morning. Castañeda broke camp and withdrew to a defensive position on a small nearby bluff to await the attack.
At dawn the Texian emerged from the woods at stated firing on the Mexicans. 40 dragoons charged and the Texians withdrew back into the woods. One Mexican private was wounded, who would later die, and the dragoons retreated back to the bluff, not wanting to fight in the trees.
Castañeda again attempted to salvage the situation with negotiation, and asked why Moore attacked without provocation. Moore explained that the Texians needed the cannon to defend themselves whether against Indians or Mexican oppressors. He further stated that the Texians no longer recognized Santa Anna’s Centralist government, and were faithful to the Constitution of 1824. Castañeda, a federalist himself, sympathized with the Texians, and Moore even asked Castañeda to join their new hours old revolution. However, Castañeda declined and said his honor as a soldier was tied to following his superior’s orders.
Moore returned to camp and under their new flag the Texians fired their cannon at the Mexican camp. There would be second shot: the shot was too powerful for the makeshift carriage and the cannon fell apart. The one shot was enough though. One Mexican dragoon was killed. Outgunned and outnumbered, Castañeda, who did not wish further bloodshed and had specific orders to avoid stating a war, rode back to San Antonio de Béxar.
Despite Castañeda’s wishes, “the fight at Williams’ place”, which was just a small skirmish with few shots fired, was the first battle of Texas Revolution. Two days later Texian leader Stephen F Austin wrote, “War is declared – public opinion has proclaimed it against a Military despotism – the campaign has commenced” News of the fight spread like wildfire across the continent and it was renamed “The Battle of Gonzales” which made better headlines. Adventurers and settlers in the United States flocked to Texas. In Texas, Texian militias mobilized and concentrated at Gonzales. Austin was elected their commander. Within a few months after the Battle of Gonzales, Mexican troops were driven from Texas. Texian success sparked Federalist rebellions across the length and breadth of Mexico.
Gonzales’ cannon, the defense of which sparked the Texas Revolution, eventually ended up in San Antonio de Béxar. It was subsequently used in the defense of the Alamo in March 1836. Some would snarkily say that, “Santa Anna came and took it”. Though a Mexican victory, Santa Anna paid a heavy price for that cannon: the defense of the Alamo was instrumental in Texas winning its independence from Mexico. In April, the Texian army under Sam Houston, formed and trained during time bought with the blood of Alamo’s defenders, captured Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in April. After a short time as an independent republic, Texas’ admission to the United States led to the Mexican-American War. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the war in 1848, Mexico ceded to the United States all of its northern states, including present day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and all Texan territory north of the Rio Grande.
Threatened by British economic dominance among the Indians of the Ohio country, the French secured the lines of communication between their two most prosperous colonies in North America, Quebec and Louisiana. In the 1750s, the French expelled British traders, and constructed a string of forts in the Ohio country, connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin. These forts controlled waterways and portage points from Lake Erie south to the Ohio River, and included Fort Presque Isle on the shores of Lake Erie, Fort La Boef, Fort Machault, and most importantly, Fort Duquesne, at the strategic confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which form the headwaters of the Ohio River.
In 1754, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia attempted to force the French out twice, once with diplomacy, and once with force. Both attempts were carried out by a young Virginia militia officer, George Washington. The French ignored the diplomatic attempt, and the second ended in the disastrous Battle of Great Meadows, in which Washington surrendered Fort Necessity. In the winter of 1755, British planners in Whitehall secretly authorized a “madly ambitious” four pronged assault to throw the French out of North America. Their plan did not take into account North American realities of distance, climate, ecology, logistics, nor had any regard for colonial and Indian culture and politics. In their comfortable London offices, they drew lines on maps over terrain that was nearly impossible to traverse with the troops assigned who for the most part didn’t exist. One prong was given to Major-general Edward Braddock and his two understrength Irish regiments, the 44th and 48th, who sailed for Virginia in the spring of 1755. Among the officers of the 44th, was young Lt Charles Lee.
Edward Braddock was a highly experienced and well placed officer of the Coldstream Guards. Though blunt, uncouth and boorish in polite society, he was a “soldiers’ general” and cared deeply for his men, like his idol, The Duke of Marlborough. The 44th and 48th were garrison units in the Irish Establishment, who had last both seen action in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. With the exception of a few officers, the men of neither regiment had been in battle or even on campaign. Due to their garrison duties, they had never drilled at the regimental level, much less together, and rarely at company level. Spread out in small platoon formation across the countryside, the strict rhythm and monotony of garrison duty in Ireland meant that most junior officers knew nothing of life on campaign, and little of the manual of drill beyond what was needed for daily tasks. For the expedition to America, the two regiments were reinforced by stripping other Irish regiments of “their dregs”. Still far below their authorized strength, the two regiments recruited in Virginia to make up the shortfall.
Braddock’s Expedition was to follow Washington’s trail north, capture all of the recent French forts in the Ohio Country, proceed up Lake Erie, capture Fort Niagara, and head east to link up with another prong sent to clear the French from Montreal. To prepare for this wildly fantastical plan, Braddock demanded support from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, and the Carolina’s. After browbeating the governors, assemblies, and the Ohio Company for men and resources at the Alexandria Conference in April, 1755, Braddock’s Expedition grew to an impressive size: 2100 men with siege cannon, field pieces and heavy mortars capable of leveling Fort Duquesne if need be, and all of the support necessary to make the trek across the Appalachian Mountains. 150 wagons were acquired for baggage and supply, mostly at the behest of Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. Hundreds of camp followers accompanied the column. Each regiment, regular and colonial alike was allowed 40 women to accompany them, each inspected by Braddock’s surgeon to make sure they were clean.
Braddock was meticulous and exhausting in every aspect of his preparations for the expedition, and even adapted his men’s equipment to the realities of the Appalachian wilderness, such as leaving behind the NCOs’ halberds, the officers’ short pikes and the mens’ hangers (ceremonial short swords), and even had gaiters crafted for his men, to protect them on the march. Braddock took a direct professional interest in nearly every aspect of the expeditions planning and preparation, except Indian affairs.
Braddock didn’t ignore Indian Affairs, he just delegated it to William Johnson, a trader, friend of the Mohawk, and the Crown’s Indian agent in North America who was one of the most knowledgeable Europeans on the continent in the intricacies of frontier diplomacy. Johnson felt confident that he could bring the powerful Iroquois Six Nations, and thus their nominal vassals, the Ohio Indians, to fight for the British. Furthermore, Dinwiddie promised 400 Catawba and Cherokee warriors, but these refused to join the expedition once they found out the British were negotiating an alliance with their sworn blood enemies, the Iroquois. The Ohio Indians, even without direction from the Iroquois, were more than willing to help expel the French. It was their land that the French and Great Lakes Indians were on. George Croghan, a prominent Ohio country trader and sometime Pennsylvania diplomat was the quintessential “go-between” who lived on the frontier among the Ohio Indians, smoothed over any difficulties, and maintained colonial and tribal relations. Croghan sent wampum belts to arrange a meeting between the Ohio Indian chiefs and Braddock. Six chiefs and their entourages arrived, including from the Shawnee, the Delaware chief Shingas, and Mingo Half King Scaroudy. The French had brought their Indian allies to Fort Duquesne from the Great Lakes, and the Ohio Indians were keen to have them removed. The pretentious and arrogant Braddock alienated the chiefs almost immediately. When queried on the only subject the Ohio Indians cared about, whether the British would allow settlers into the Ohio Valley, Braddock replied absolutely and, “No savage shall inherit the land.” All but seven Mingo warriors departed. Scaroudy still clung to the old notion that the Ohio Country was under the complete influence of the Iroquois. When told of Braddock’s response, most of the Shawnee warriors, and many of the Delaware, joined the French.
In late May, 1755, Braddock’s Expedition departed Fort Cumberland led by Scaroudy, his six Mingo warriors, George Croghan and Braddock’s chief of scouts, Lt John Fraser, who had a trading post on the Monongahela about 12 miles from Fort Duquesne. They followed the path that Fraser usually took to his post, the same one Washington followed the previous year. The trail was completely inadequate for Braddock’s column, and the terrain took herculean efforts to conquer. The trail led through 110 miles of nearly uninhabited wilderness, “with steep rocky mountains and impassable morasses.” The column’s logistician and engineer, the indefatigable and irascible Sir John St. Clair spent months before the expedition arrived in America laying the logistical groundwork just to get Braddock to Fort Cumberland. Now he was building a road ahead of the column to accommodate the baggage wagons and the artillery train of six pound cannon and heavy eight inch mortars. Braddock’s Expedition averaged just two miles a day.
Nearly three weeks later, the expedition had travelled just 36 miles. At Little Meadows, the exasperated Braddock formed a “flying column” of about 1400. The flying column would have only five cannon and a few dozen of the lighter and studier wagons. The flying column didn’t have to cut as substantial a road, which made the rough going faster. The “supply column” left behind under the 48th’s commander, Colonel Thomas Dunbar, enlarged the road for the heavier wagons and artillery train. Braddock’s flying column averaged six miles a day, and soon left the supply column far behind.
Just behind the scouts in the flying column was a formation of 200 light infantry and grenadiers under a young Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage. Behind Gage was an independent militia company form New York commanded by Captain Horatio Gates. Gates was tasked with securing St. Clair’s 250 or so pioneers, with six tool laden wagons, who widened the road. The main body followed the pioneers, and consisted of the wagons, artillery, cattle, camp followers, and more workmen, flanked in the trees by two columns of 250 regulars. Braddock and his staff, including a dysentery wracked Washington who volunteered as Braddock’s aide, accompanied the main body. Small parties of flankers watched for French scouts. 100 Virginia rangers, most of whom were at Fort Necessity with Washington, brought up the rear of the column.
On 8 July 1755, the column reached the ford at the junction of Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River. The next morning of 9 July, Braddock crossed the Monongahela and expected to make camp that night about halfway between the ford and Shannopin’s Town, about four miles north of Fort Duquesne on the Allegheny River. There he would cross the Allegheny with half his column and travel down both sides of the river, and invest Fort Duquesne from the north and east, effectively isolating it from any outside assistance.
Across the ford was Fraser’s trading post which was at the limit of the wilderness. The Ohio Indians’ hunting grounds began at the now burnt out ruins of Fraser’s cabin. Unlike the dense terrain Braddock’s Expedition had spent the last month hacking through, the hunting grounds were relatively open and easy to traverse. The Ohio Indians managed their hunting grounds. There was little ground foliage because the Indian hunters burned the undergrowth annually. This improved animal fodder, removed cover for their prey, and allowed the hunters ease of movement. Whereas the column could see no more than twenty meters ahead before, the scouts could see 200 or even three hundred meters in all directions.
Surprisingly, the crossing of the ford was unhindered, though not unobserved. If the French were going to ambush, they would have done it in the wilderness, or at the ford. The British were jubilant, and believed that the worst part of the campaign were over. Most of Braddock’s column fully expected to hear the explosions of the French demolishing the works as they withdrew ahead of the far superior force. Fort Duquesne was just ahead, and the French had failed to respond.
The French didn’t respond to their scouts reports of Braddock’s progress because they were awaiting reinforcements from Quebec, and Braddock’s original progress was slow enough to allow reaction time. The reinforcements arrived in the first week of July, but Braddock’s relatively rapid progress in the last few days took the French commander Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecœur by surprise. He had 1600 French marines, Canadian militia, and Indian warriors. However, Fort Duquesne could only house 200, and he knew his Indian allies would disperse if he allowed the British to begin the siege. Also, Contrecœur’s Indian allies held a conference on 7 July to determine if it was more beneficial to abandon the post against such an intimidating force. The stubbornness of the Potawatomis caused the conference to go another day. Only when Contrecœur opened his stores up to the Indians to take what they wished, did they agree to attack. Thankful for the war chiefs’ renewed pledges, Contrecœur gave half his men to Canadian militia Captain Daniel Liénard de Beaujeu, about seventy marines, 150 militia, and 650 Ottawas, Chippewa, Huron, Shawnee, and Potawatomis warriors, to ambush Braddock. They never got into position.
On the afternoon of 9 July 1755, Beaujeu’s force was spotted cresting the ridge about 200 meters from the advanced guard. Gage formed his men into a line and opened fire, even though the range was more than twice what the Brown Bess musket was normally accurate at. Gage hoped to surprise the French and let them know they were dealing with disciplined professionals. But Beaujeu was also a seasoned professional, experienced in the ways of warfare on the frontier and working with Indian allies.
Beaujeu knew from the morning reports from the scouts that the British crossed the river and the delay had cost the French and Indians the good ambush sites. Instead he conducted a hasty attack after making contact, and planned to do so beforehand. Every one of his officers had years and sometimes decades living among the tribes, and fighting and trading on the frontier. Many dressed and looked so similar to the Indian warriors that they could only be distinguished by their gorgets. He attached one to each of the Indian small war parties that made up the bulk of his force. As Beujeau fixed Braddock’s vanguard, his officers would advise the small bands to envelop Braddock’s mile long column, destroy the flank guards, and prevent Braddock from creating a cohesive defense. The wagons at the rear was all the incentive the warriors needed to continue moving down the column.
Gage’s plan inadvertently worked on the Canadian militia, and Beajeu’s attack was seemingly aborted before it could get started. One of the first shots Gage’s men fired struck Beaujeu and killed him instantly. Seeing their leader go down, and unwilling to get closer and weather the fire, particularly from the two cannons, the Canadian militia and many Indians broke and ran back to Fort Duquesne to report the battle lost.
The death of their commander did not dissuade the French and Indians. Beaujeu’s officers knew his intent and they had discussed the battle plan ahead of time. His officers and cadets rallied many of the fleeing Indians, while those who did not flee continued enveloping the column. Beaujeu’s second, Captain Jean-Daniel Dumas and French Canadian Ottawa war chief Charles de Langlade rallied the marines and remaining militia and followed the Indian warriors into the attack. The open spaces of the Indian hunting ground were punctuated by stout old growth trees, fallen timbers, and tall shrubberies, essentially natural breastworks. The terrain was perfect for the Indians’ bounding advances. Instead of hunting game, they hunted soldiers in bright red coats clustered in small groups. In less than ten minutes, nearly all of Gage’s officers were killed or incapacitated. And dozens of his men were wounded on the ground, many more than were standing. The war whoops, and the Indians seen behind them unnerved those who remained. Gage ordered a retreat toward the main body before he was cut off and destroyed.
Gage’s men slammed into Gates’ who had hurried forward when they heard shots fired. Crude platoons formed and blazed away at the brush, while the Indians sniped the officers, or rushed in while the British were reloading. The Indians continued to envelop the British and colonials. The flank guards were isolated and destroyed. The British regulars had no idea how to fight in the wilderness, and their bayonets unwieldy against the tomahawk and war club. Soon the main body devolved into individual clusters of regulars doing the only thing they knew how to do in tough situations: reload and fire.
The pioneers and militia however did know how to fight on the frontier. Gates’ New Yorkers immediately took to the trees. They hid in the trees and brush and fought the Indians in the same way. Unfortunately, many British regulars mistook the colonials fighting in the trees for Canadian militia and fired on them. Many flank guards fell back to the column avoid fire from the main body. French marines pushed down the road and forced the main body back into the wagon train. Many of the wagon drivers joined in, such as Daniel Morgan, but many fled, such as Morgan’s cousin, Daniel Boone. The three cannon in the train kept the Indians at bay for most of the battle: until there was no more crew to reload.
Braddock rode forward and found most of his officers dead or wounded. He ordered the regulars near the baggage to reinforce the main body, but when they arrived, all they did was add to the confusion. For the next three hours, Braddock single handedly kept the main body in the fight, relying on British discipline and firepower to defeat the French and Indian attacks. Braddock had three horses shot out from under him. Nevertheless, he reformed ranks, while the British regulars loaded and fired like clockwork, defiantly taking the punishment from unknown sources. In the confusion, several groups of regulars fired upon each other. Braddock ordered several counter attacks to retrieve the cannon in the advanced guard and some high ground further up the slope to the right. Each attack was defeated by murderously accurate Indian fire as the Indians isolated then overran the attackers.
With the death of most of the British regular officers, the American provincials took to the trees to fight, the most effective being the Virginia rangers, and the South Carolina and New York independent companies. The Virginia rangers also attempted to take the high ground on the right, but were massacred when the main body on the road mistook them for Indians and put several volleys into them from behind.
Shrouded in smoke, the remnants of the column continued firing blindly, becoming even more unnerved by the Indian war cries and the prospect of a warrior appearing out of the smoke with a tomahawk and scalping knife. At Washington’s constant urging, Braddock finally saw the utility of fighting in the trees. Washington continually pointed out that Braddock’s most effective units were not the regulars in the open, but the provincials he readily dismissed fighting in the trees. But by then it was too late, there weren’t enough officers to effect the change, and the regulars were bunched together in the open seeking safety in numbers, oblivious to hell around them. Many were terrified, and few were still shooting since many of their muskets were fowled, and they were desperately attempting to clear them.
Shortly thereafter, Braddock was shot in the arm, possibly by his own men, whose ball penetrated into his lungs. When Braddock fell from his horse, the defense collapsed with him. The French marines pushed the assault. By ones and twos, and then by whole groups the expedition fell back to the ford over the Monongahela. No one wanted to be the last one on this side of the ford. Braddock’s staff carried him across the river. A silence descended on the battlefield, punctuated only by the screams and moans of the wounded. The French and Indians were reorganizing for the final attack. As one, the Indians resumed their war cries. At the ford, the victorious war whoops of the Indians broke what remained of British cohesion, as the men assumed they were going to be massacred.
Though he had no official position in the expedition Washington took command at the ford and formed a rear guard. After a brief fight the Indians quit the pursuit. There was no reason to continue the fight. Why get killed so late in the battle when back up the hill there were captives to round up, wounded and dead to scalp, and bodies to mutilate and loot? Braddock’s Expedition had 467 killed and another 450 wounded. The several dozen men who were captured were taken back to Fort Duquesne where they were ritually tortured and burned at the stake. The cattle provided the meat for the victory feast. Of the 50 or so female camp followers who accompanied the flying column as maids and cook, only four returned. The rest taken as slaves and assimilated into the various tribes.
At the previous camp Gage, as the senior surviving regular took command and reorganized the defenders. He sent Washington, who was sick with dysentery and had just fought a battle, to ride the sixty miles back to Dunbar, and return with all of the remaining troops. Washington did so, and eventually the reorganized column withdrew back to Dunbar. Fearing the French and Indians were pursuing after their orgy of victory, Dunbar, now in command, had the men set fire to 150 wagons and headed back to Fort Cumberland. Braddock finally succumbed to his wound on 13 July. To prevent his body from being taken as a trophy by the Indians, Washington and Dunbar had him buried in the road, and the entire expedition marched over it to conceal the grave.
Many junior officers, militiamen, and soldiers, including Fraser, Gates, Boone, Gage, and Morgan blamed Braddock for the defeat and not preparing his army to fight on the frontier. While his arrogance was certainly a factor, particularly with his potential Indian allies, Braddock went to war with the army he had, not the army they wished he had in hindsight. The Battle of the Monongahela would go down in history as the defeat of a regular army which refused to learn how to fight on the frontier. Washington learned the same, but also different lessons. He saw Braddock courageously rally his men who fought on for three hours, despite the French and Indians having every advantage. The disciplined British regulars broke because of a dearth of training and leadership. Washington knew how to fight on the frontier, but he would not forget what he saw Braddock accomplish with regulars. For the rest of his life, Washington would not disparage Braddock’s memory.
For the French, the Battle of the Monongahela was a massive logistics, intelligence, and propaganda victory. The French spent the weeks collecting equipment and stores form the battlefield. There was so much that Contrecœur had to build another large building outside of Fort Duquesne to store it. After some deserters informed him, Contrecœur did the same to Dunbar’s camp. Braddock’s artillery would be used by the French through the remainder of the French and Indian War. Braddock’s captured stores fueled the French offensive in New York. The greatest find, however, was Braddock’s own papers, which detailed the British plan to remove the French from North America, leading to the thwarting of the British thrusts in other areas. The papers were partially responsible for the British loss of Forts Bull, Oswego, and William Henry, and the failed expedition to capture Louisburg. Moreover, since the two empires were still not technically at war, the papers were proof that while the British crown and parliament preached peace with France, they were secretly planning for war. Braddock’s translated papers were published across Europe and were one of the catalysts of the Seven Years War.
The Battle of the Monongahela was the worst British defeat at the hands of an indigenous enemy until the Battle of Isandlwana, 124 years later. The British however, did not have to worry about the French or Indians in its immediate aftermath. The Indians broke into the 500 gallons of rum in the baggage, and many Indians got drunk. Between the booze, loot and captives, teh French would not be able to convince the Indians to \complete the destruction. France’s Indian allies started departing Fort Duquesne the day after the battle. Laden with scalps, loot, and captives, many Indians only wished to triumphantly return home. By August, Contrecœur reported that he had only 260 French Canadian marines and militia remaining, and just two Abenaki Indian warriors.
The warriors’ returned to their lands with tales of victory and loot. The Battle of the Monongahela was the “most glorious in which Indians were involved.” British loot decorated Great Lakes and Ohio Indian villages for decades. The battle became the standard by which Indian warriors came to judge all future successful battlefield encounters. Hundreds more Indian warriors flocked to the French. Ohio Indian tribes attempting to sit on the fence for economic reasons suddenly began attacking the colonial settlements on the frontier. The lack of British traders was made up by pillaging colonial homesteads. The Great Lakes and Ohio Indians sent wampum belts to the Iroquois and Cherokee, urging them to “drive the colonials into the salt water”. The frontiers of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia were set aflame, and the colonies brought to their knees. The frontier was rolled back behind the Appalachian Mountains once again.
For the colonists, the Battle of the Monongahela was a great awakening. The myth of invincibility enjoyed by British regulars was shattered. They fought “la guerre terra”, large war, and were defeated by “la guerre petit”, or small war. The most effective units in Braddock’s army were American, fighting as the Indians la guerre petit. The colonials took great pride in their culture that allowed them to adapt. Furthermore, after the battle the British regular army abandoned the Middle Colonies, leaving then to fend for themselves against the Indians’ “la guerre sauvage”, the total war on the colonists. The Americans were on their own, at least in the short term. Consequently, the term “American” came into more common usage to distinguish British colonials in North America from citizens of the British Isles.
When Washington was given command of the Virginia Regiment later that year to protect the frontier, he made sure it was trained in both la guerre terra and la guerre petit. They could fight in closed or open order on command. His Virginians fought jointly with the Cherokee who turned down The Great Lakes and Ohio Indian request to drive the Americans into the sea. Ranger companies formed in the colonies to protect the frontier.
The Battle of the Monongahela had more lasting effects on the French and Indian War, and even on the future United States of America. When Major-general John Forbes and Royal American regimental commander Colonel Henri Bouquet were tasked to take Fort Duquesne three year later in 1758, they did so with an army that could fight both conventionally and against the Indians on equal terms. Even more, Forbes made sure he didn’t have to fight the Indians at all, whom abandoned the French after they signed the Treaty of Easton. Most importantly though, they chose not to take Braddock’s Road from Fort Cumberland to the Forks of the Ohio. Two expeditions had departed Virginia via that route to seize Fort Duquesne, and both had failed. A new route, one not tainted in defeat was needed. Against the protestations of Washington, Forbe’s expedition set out from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and they cut a new road, Forbe’s Road, across the Appalachian Mountains. Their successful capture of Fort Duquesne, and subsequent construction of Fort Pitt, meant that the future of the Ohio Country lay with Pennsylvania and not Virginia.
Braddock’s Road wasn’t abandoned though. After the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s War in 1763, Braddock’s Road became a high speed conduit for settlers from Virginia to enter the Ohio Country. One such was Daniel Boone. While in Braddock’s Expedition he became great friends John Findley, an associate of George Croghan, who described to Boone the wonders of the Ohio Country. 12 years after the battle, Findley took Boone on his first hunting trip to a place called “Kentucky.”
Boone was one of tens of thousands. What Braddock’s Expedition couldn’t do to the French and Indians of the Ohio Country, Braddock’s Road did
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.
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. He used the west side of the hill and a small ridge off to the south to mask his movement to quietly surrounded the hill. Once the Indians engaged the rear guard and were committed to the blood orgy in the fort, he tried to trap Guyasuta just as he had been trapped hours before. At 7 pm, the remaining Highlanders and Americans, spearheaded by the light infantry, attacked from all directions and stormed the hill at bayonet point. No quarter was given and the Guyasuta’s warriors immediately broke. Bouquet didn’t manage to completely close the trap and some Indians escaped. Only through Guyasuta’s leadership did any Indians extricate themselves from Bouquet’s maneuver. However, most Indians that escaped the trap 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. More raids were launched in 1764 and the winter of 1764/65 by John Armstrong and Henri Bouquet to destroy Indian villages: the standard tactic to defeat your enemy on the frontier. The Pennsylvania Assembly passed another “Scalp Act” in 1764 which significantly sped up the process.
Pontiac’s and Guyasuta’s War and the Battle of Bushy Run were 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 the British and Indian wishes on the matter, including the Crown and the Iroquois.
In the words Delaware chief Keekyuscung, “They (the Indians and colonials) will never come to peace again.”
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!
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.