Keith Hunt - Pride goes before Destruction - Page Onehundred-nintynine   Restitution of All Things

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Vanity goes before Destruction!

A lesson everyone should learn!


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...General Winchester warning that a combined force of British
redcoats and Indians is marching south. Winchester's intelligence
is accurate but out of date. The British, believing themselves
outnumbered, have already withdrawn.
     Now Harrison breaks the news that he is in full command of
the new Army of the Northwest, charged with the task of subduing
the Indians in his path, relieving Detroit, and invading Canada.
Winchester is crestfallen. Convinced that Harrison has secretly
connived against him, he seriously considers resigning, then
thinks better of it and decides to hang on until Fort Amherstburg
is captured. Harrison determines to mollify him by giving him
command of the army's left flank and naming in his honour the new
fort being built not far from the ruins of the old: Fort
     The troops are unaware of Harrison's presence. Half starved,
inadequately clothed, they have lost the will to fight. A
delegation of Kentucky officers wakes Harrison to warn him that
one regiment intends to quit and go home. All attempts to
dissuade them have been met with insults.
     Early the next morning, Harrison acts. He orders Winchester
to beat the alarm instead of the customary drum roll for
reveille. The Kentuckians pour out of their tents, form a hollow
square, and, as Winchester introduces them to their new
commander, holler their enthusiasm.
     Harrison knows exactly what to say. He tells them they can
go home if they wish to, "but if my fellow soldiers from
Kentucky, so famed for patriotism, refuse to bear the hardships
incident to war ... where shall I look for men who will go with
     Cheers and shouts greet these words and continue as the
General reveals that two hundred wagons loaded with biscuit,
flour, and bacon are on their way; some supplies, indeed, have
already arrived. This kills all talk of desertion. One Kentuckian
writes home that "Harrison, with a look, can awe and convince ...
where some would be refractory ... All are afraid and unwilling
to meet with his censure."
     Harrison has been given authority to requisition funds and
supplies, to protect the northwestern frontier, and after
retaking Detroit to penetrate Upper Canada "as far as the force
under your command will in your judgment justify." For this
purpose he expects to have ten thousand troops.
     His strategy is to move the army to the foot of the Rapids
of the Maumee in three columns. Winchester, protecting his left
flank, will march from the new fort along the route of the
Maumee. A central force of twelve hundred men will follow Hull's
road to the same rendezvous. The right division, under Harrison
himself, is proceeding from Wooster, Ohio, by way of the Upper 
Sandusky. But Winchester is pinned down at the newly constructed
fort that bears his name. He dare not move without supplies, and
the promised supplies are not forthcoming. Harrison has ordered
Brigadier-General Edward Tupper's mounted brigade to dash to the
foot of the Rapids of the Maumee to harvest several hundred acres
of corn for the famished troops. But the scalping of a ranger not
two hundred yards from the camp has the men in such a panic that
only a handful will follow. The mission is abandoned.
     On October 8, the day after Tupper's fiasco, Frederick Jacob
of the 17th Regiment is caught asleep at his post, and
Winchester, faced with growing insubordination, decides to make
an example of him. A court martial sentences Jacob to be shot.
The following morning Winchester's entire force, reduced now to
eighteen hundred, forms a hollow square to witness the execution.
Drums roll, the chaplain prays, the prisoner is led to the post,
blindfolded, made to kneel. The troops fall silent, waiting for
the volley. Then, at the last instant, a reprieve arrives. The
General has judged the wretched guard "not to be of sound mind,"
a verdict which if unjustified at the outset may well be
applicable in the days following the ordeal.
     There are other punishments: "riding the wooden horse," in
which the offender is placed astride a bent sapling and subjected
to a series of tossings and joltings to the great amusement of
the troops, or a dozen well-laid blows on the bare posterior with
a wooden paddle bored full of holes to help break the skin. In
spite of these salutary examples, the army is murmuring its
discontent over the continued lack of supplies. Rations remain
short, Harrison's promises to the contrary. There is little
flour, almost no salt, and the beef-what there is of it-is
     Disdaining strict orders, men wander out of camp and waste
their ammunition in search of game, many barefoot, their clothes
in rags. They sleep on frozen ground, some without blankets. More
than two hundred are sick at one time. By November, three or four
die each day from typhus. Civilian contractors reap a harvest;
the price of hogs goes sky high while clothing ordered for the
troops comes in sizes so small it seems to have been designed for
small boys. Materials are shoddy, delays calculated. One
contractor's profit, it is said, amounts to $100,000.
     Nothing seems to be going right. In late September, the new
governor of Kentucky, Isaac Shelby, has ordered two thousand
mounted thirty-day volunteers - "the most respectable citizens
that perhaps were ever embodied from this or any other State in
the Union" - to march under Major-General Samuel Hopkins, one of
Clay's congressional War Hawks, against the Indians of Indiana
and Illinois territories. Shelby does not wait for war department
authorization or equipment. The men, whipped to a high pitch of
enthusiasm, bring their own arms and blankets. The quota of
volunteers is exceeded; twelve hundred disappointed Kentuckians
have to be sent home.

     The euphoria does not last. By October 14, after two hard
weeks in the saddle, the volunteers are dispirited. They cannot
find any Indians, their rations dwindle away, they become
hopelessly lost. At this point, their unseen quarry fires the
tall prairie grass, threatening all with a painful death.
Hopkins's choice is retreat or mutiny, a situation that leaves
the Governor aghast. What has happened to Kentucky's "elan"?
"...the flower of Kentucky are now returning home deeply
mortified by the disappointment." On mature consideration, Shelby
decides to put the blame on "secret plotting."

     There is worse to come. A note of uncertainty begins to
creep into Harrison's dispatches to Washington: "If the fall
should be very dry, I will retake Detroit before the winter sets
in; but if we should have much rain, it will be necessary to wait
at the Rapids until the Margin of the Lake is sufficiently frozen
to bear the army and its baggage."
     "The one bright ray amid the gloom of incompetency" (to
quote John Gibson, acting governor of Illinois Territory) is the
news of Captain Zachary Taylor's successful defence of Fort
Harrison - a desperate struggle in which a handful of soldiers
and civilians, many of them ill, withstood repeated attacks by
Miami and Wea warriors until relief arrived. It is the first land
victory for the United States, and it wins for Taylor the first
brevet commission ever awarded by the U.S. government. Nor will
the moment of glory be forgotten. One day, Brevet Major Taylor
will become twelfth president of the United States.

     The news from the Niagara frontier banishes this brief
euphoria. Another army defeated! A third bogged down. By October
22, Harrison finds he can no longer set a firm date for the
attack on Detroit. There are no supplies of any kind in Michigan
Territory; the farms along the Raisin have been ravaged. He will
require one million rations at the Rapids of the Maumee before he
can start a campaign; but the fall rains have already begun and
he cannot move his supplies, let alone his artillery. By early
November, the roads are in desperate condition and horses,
attempting to struggle through mozass and swamp, are dying by the
     The army switches to flatboats, but just as these are
launched the temperature falls and the boats are frozen fast
along the Sandusky, Au Glaize, and St.Mary's rivers. By early
December, Harrison despairs of reaching the rapids at all and
makes plans to shelter his force in huts on the Au Glaize. He
suggests that Shelby prepare the public for a postponement in the
campaign by disbanding all the volunteer troops except those
needed for guard and escort duty. But Washington will have none
of it. The Union has suffered two mortifying failures at Detroit
and Queenston; it will not accept a third.
     The setbacks continue. Hopkins's failure has left Harrison's
left flank open to Indian attack. He decides to forestall further
Indian raids on Winchester's line of communications by striking
at the Miami villages along the Mississinewa, a tributary of the
Wabash in Indiana Territory. On November 25, Lieutenant-Colonel
John Campbell and six hundred cavalry and infantry set out to do
the job. The result is disastrous.
     In spite of Campbell's attempts at secrecy, the Miami are
forewarned. They leave their villages, wait until the troops are
exhausted, then launch a night attack, destroying a hundred
horses, killing eight men, wounding forty-eight. A false report
is spread that the dreaded Tecumseh is on the way at the head of
a large force. Campbell's dejected band beats a hasty retreat.
     It is bitterly cold; provisions are almost gone; the wounded
are dying from gangrene, the rest suffer from frostbite. A relief
party finally brings them into Greenville, where it is found that
three hundred men - half of Campbell's force - are disabled. One
mounted regiment is so ravaged it is disbanded. Harrison has lost
the core of his cavalry without any corresponding loss among the
Indians. The General decides to put a bold front on the episode:
he announces that the expedition has been a complete success. He
has learned something from the experience of Tippecanoe.

     By December 10, Harrison has managed to get his cannon to
Upper Sandusky, but at appalling cost. He has one thousand
horses, hauling and pulling; most are so exhausted they must be
destroyed, at a cost of half a million dollars. Wagons are often
abandoned, their contents lost or destroyed. The teamsters,
scraped up from frontier settlements, are utterly irresponsible.
"I did not make sufficient allowance for the imbecility and
inexperience of public agents and the villainy of the
contractors," Harrison writes ruefully to the acting secretary of
war, James Monroe, who has replaced the discredited Dr.Eustis.
Winchester's left wing is still pinned down near the junction of
the Maumee and the Au Glaize, waiting for supplies. It is
impossible to get them through the Black Swamp that lies between
the Sandusky and the Maumee. William Atherton, a diminutive
twenty-one-yearold soldier in Winchester's army who is keeping an
account of his adventures, writes that he now sees "nothing but
hunger and cold and nakedness staring us in the face." The troops
have been out of flour for a fortnight and are existing on bad
beef, pork, and hickory nuts. Sickness and death have reduced
Winchester's effective force to eleven hundred. Daily funerals
cast a pall over the camps, ravaged by the effects of bad
sanitation and drainage (Winchester is forced to move the site
five times) and the growing realization that there is no chance
of invading Canada this year.
     On Christmas Eve, another soldier, Elias Darnell, confides
to his journal that "obstacles had emerged in the path to
victory, which must have appeared insurmountable to every person
endowed with common sense. The distance to Canada, the
unpreparedness of the army, the scarcity of provisions, and the
badness of the weather, show that Malden cannot be taken in the
remaining part of our time.... Our sufferings at this place have
been greater than if we had been in a severe battle. More than
one hundred lives ... lost owing to our bad accommodations! The
sufferings of about three hundred sick at a time, who are exposed
to the cold ground, and deprived of every nourishment, are
sufficient proofs of our wretched condition! The camp has become
a loathsome place......"
     On Christmas Day, Winchester receives an order from
Harrison. He is to move to the Rapids of the Maumee as soon as he
receives two days rations. There he will be joined by the right
wing of the army. Two days later, a supply of salt, flour, and
clothing arrives.

     Winchester, eager to be off, sets about building sleds,
since his boats are useless. On December 29, he is ready. The
troops are exuberant - anything to be rid of this pestilential
camp! But Darnell realizes what they are facing:

"We are now about commencing one of the most serious marches ever
performed by the Americans. Destitute, in a measure, of clothes,
shoes and provisions, the most essential articles necessary for
the existence and preservation of the human species in this world
and more particularly in this cold climate. Three sleds are
prepared for each company, each to be pulled by a packhorse,
which has been without food for two weeks except brush, and will
not be better fed while in our service...."

     The following day, the troops set off for the Maumee rapids.
Few armies have presented such a ragtag appearance. In spite of
the midwinter weather, scarcely one possesses a greatcoat or
cloak. Only a lucky few have any woollen garments. They remain
dressed in the clothes they wore when they left Kentucky, their
cotton shirts torn, patched, and ragged, hanging to their knees,
their trousers also of cotton. Their matted hair falls uncombed
over their cheeks. Their slouch hats have long since been worn
bare. Those who own blankets wrap them about their bodies as
protection from the blizzards, holding them in place by broad
belts of leather into which are thrust axes and knives. The
officers are scarcely distinguishable from the men. They carry
swords or rifles instead of long guns and a dagger - often an
expensive one, hand-carved-in place of a knife.
     Now these men must become beasts of burden, for the horses
are not fit to pull the weight. Harnessed five to a sleigh, they
haul their equipment through snow and water for the next eleven
days. The sleighs, it develops, are badly made - too light to
carry the loads, not large enough to cross the half-frozen
streams. Provisions and men are soon soaked through. But if the
days are bad, the nights are a horror. Knee-deep snow must be
cleared away before a camp can be made. Fire must be struck from
flint on steel. The wet wood, often enough, refuses to burn. So
cold that they cannot always prepare a bed for themselves, the
Kentuckians topple down on piles of brush before the smoky fires
and sleep in their steaming garments.
     Then, on the third day, a message arrives from Harrison:
turn back! The General has picked up another rumour that the
redoubtable Tecumseh and several hundred Indians are in the area.
He advises - does not order - Winchester not to proceed. With the
Indians at his rear and no certainty of provisions at the rapids,
any further movement toward Canada this winter would be
     But James Winchester is in no mood to retreat. He is a man
who has suddenly been released from three months of dreadful
frustration--frustration over inactivity and boredom, frustration
over insubordination, frustration over sickness and starvation,
and, perhaps most significant, frustration over his own changing
role as the leader of his men. Now at least he is on the move; it
must seem to him some sort of progress; it is action of a sort,
and at the end - who knows? More action, perhaps, even glory...
vindication. He has no stomach to turn in his tracks and retreat
to that "loathsome place," nor do his men. And so he moves on to

     AT FORT AMHERSTBURG, Lieutenant-Colonel Procter has
concluded that the Americans have gone into winter quarters. His
Indian spies have observed no movement around Winchester's camp
for several weeks, and he is convinced that Harrison has decided
to hold off any attempt to recapture Detroit until spring. It is
just as well, for he has only a skeleton force of soldiers and a
handful of Indians.
     The Indians concern Procter. He cannot control them, cannot
depend on them, does not like them. One moment they are hot for
battle, the next they have vanished into the forest. Nor can he
be sure where their loyalties lie. Matthew Elliott's eldest son,
Alexander, has been killed and scalped by one group of Indians
who pretended to be defecting to the British but who were
actually acting as scouts for Winchester. Brock called them "a
fickle race"; Procter would certainly agree with that. Neither
has been able to understand that the Indians' loyalty is not to
the British or to the Americans but to their own kind. They will
support the British only as long as they believe it suits their
own purpose. But the British, too, can be fickle; no tribesman,
be he Potawatomi, Wyandot, Shawnee, or Miami, can ever quite
trust the British after the betrayal at Fallen Timbers in 1794.
Nor do the British trust them - certainly not when it comes to
observing the so-called rules of warfare, which are, of course,
white European rules. Tecumseh is the only chief who can restrain
his followers from killing and torturing prisoners and ravaging
women and children. Angered by Prevost's armistice and ailing
from a wound received at Brownstown, Tecumseh has headed south to
try to draw the Creeks and Choctaws to his confederacy. His
brother, the Prophet, has returned to the Wabash.
     Procter needs to keep the Indians active, hence his attempt
to capture Fort Wayne with a combined force of natives and
regulars. The attempt failed, though it helped to slow Harrison's
advance. Now he is under orders from Prevost to refrain from all
such offensive warfare. His only task is defence against the
     He must tread a line delicately, for the Indians' loyalty
depends on a show of British resolution. As Brock once said, "it
is of primary importance that the confidence and goodwill of the
Indians should be preserved and that whatsoever can tend to
produce a contrary effect should be carefully avoided." That is
the rub. The only way the confidence and goodwill of the Indians
can be preserved is to attack the Americans, kill as many as
possible, and let the braves have their way with the rest.
Procter is not unmindful of how the news of the victory at
Queenston has raised native morale-or of how the armistice has
lowered it.
     Prevost, as usual, believes that the British have
overextended themselves on the Detroit frontier. Only Brock's
sturdy opposition prevented the Governor General from ordering
the evacuation of all captured American territory to allow the
release of troops to the Niagara frontier. But Brock understood
that such a show of weakness would cause the Indians to consider
making terms with the enemy.
     Brock's strategy, which Procter has inherited, has been to
let the Americans keep the tribes in a state of ferment. The
policy has succeeded. Harrison's attempt to subdue the Indians on
the northwestern frontier has delayed his advance until midwinter
and caused widespread indignation among the natives. Some six
thousand have been displaced, nineteen villages ravaged, seven
hundred lodges burned, thousands of bushels of corn destroyed.
Savagery is not the exclusive trait of the red man. The
Kentuckians take scalps whenever they can, nor are women and
children safe from the army. Governor Meigs had no sooner called
out the Ohio militia in the early fall than they launched an
unprovoked attack on an Indian village near Mansfield, burning
all the houses and shooting several of the inhabitants. The worst
attacks have been against the villages on the Peoria lakes,
destroyed without opposition by a force of rangers and volunteers
under Governor Ninian Edwards of Illinois Territory. One specific
foray will not soon be forgotten: a mounted party under a captain
named Judy came upon an Indian couple on the open prairie. When
the man tried to surrender, Judy shot him through the body.
Chanting his death song, the Indian killed one of Judy's men and
was in turn riddled with bullets. A little later the same group
captured and killed a starving Indian child.
     In their rage and avarice, Edwards's followers scalp and
mutilate the bodies of the fallen and ransack Indian graves for
plunder. Small wonder that the Potawatomi chief Black Bird, in a
later discussion with Claus, the Canadian Indian superintendent,
cries out in fury, "The way they treat our killed and the remains
of those that are in their graves to the west make our people mad
when they meet the Big Knives. Whenever they get any of our
people into their hands they cut them like meat into small

     All that fall the Indians continue to concern Procter. They
have been devouring his provisions at an alarming rate. The white
leadership is shaky. At seventy, Matthew Elliott can scarcely sit
a horse, and McKee is worn down by drink. Tecumseh's restraining
hand is absent. Procter has some hope of reorganizing the tribes
around Amherstburg into a raiding party under Colonel William
Caldwell, a veteran of Butler's Rangers during the Revolution.
Caldwell possesses enormous influence among the Wyandot, whom he
has persuaded to adopt the British cause.

     Meanwhile, Procter solves part of his supply problem by
dispatching most of the Indians under Elliott to the Rapids of
the Maumee, where several hundred acres of corn are waiting to be
harvested - the same corn that Harrison has been trying vainly to
seize. Elliott may be old and infirm, but he has lost none of his
frontier cunning. He has sent Indian spies into Ohio who report
that Winchester is again advancing. Elliott dispatches couriers
to the villages of the Ottawa and the Potawatomi in Michigan
Territory and to the Miami at the ravaged villages of the
Mississinewa in Indiana. War parties begin to trickle into
Amherstburg; within a month the native force has increased from
three hundred to almost eight hundred braves, all stirred to a
fever by the depredations of Harrison's army.

     Winchester's army, meanwhile, is advancing toward the
rapids. He arrives on January 11; Procter learns of this two days
later. The British commander moves swiftly, calling out the
militia, assembling the Indians. It is his intention to scorch
the earth (whatever is not already scorched) along the Detroit
frontier to deny the Americans provisions and shelter. The
following day he dispatches Major Ebenezer Reynolds of the Essex
militia with two flank companies and a band of Potawatomi to the
little village of Frenchtown on the River Raisin. Reynolds's
orders are to destroy the village and all its supplies and to
remove the French-speaking settlers - forcibly, if necessary - to
Canadian soil.
     It is not a pleasant task. Who wants his home destroyed, his
property removed, and his cattle driven off and killed by
Indians? The settlers have worked hard to improve their farms,
which lie on both sides of the narrow, low-banked river. Their
town, a simple row of some twenty dwelling houses, squatting on
the north bank three miles from the mouth, is not designed as a
fort. Its only protection is a fence made of split pickets to
secure the yards and gardens. The villagers are in a panic; as
Reynolds and his men move in, a delegation slips away, heading
for the Rapids of the Maumee to plead with Winchester for help.
They carry with them a note for Harrison from Isaac Day, a
long-time Detroit citizen, who writes that "five hundred true and
brave Americans can secure the District of Erie - A timely
approach of our armies will secure us from being forced to prison
and the whole place from being burned by savage fury." Day has
scarcely sent off this letter when he is seized and jailed. If
Winchester is to act at all to save the settlement, he must act
at once.

     RAPIDS OF THE MAUMEE, January 17, 1813. Winchester and his
senior officers sit in council. Should they go to the relief of
Frenchtown? For almost four days word has been coming back of
Indian outrages and British highhandedness. Everything is being
removed from the village - cattle, carrioles, sleighs, grain,
foodstuffs. Citizens such as Isaac Day, suspected of pro-American
feelings, have been bundled off to confinement across the river.
Winchester's information is that the British force is
ridiculously small: between forty and fifty militia and perhaps a
hundred Indians. It is, however, building rapidly. If the
Americans move quickly, Day's note has told them, they can
provision themselves at Frenchtown by securing three thousand
barrels of flour and much grain. That possibility must seem as
tempting as the succour of the villagers.
     Lieutenant-Colonel John Allen rises - a graceful, commanding
presence, perhaps the most popular man in Winchester's army,


To be contunued

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