Keith Hunt - Human Nature - good and bad - Page Twohundred-twentyeight   Restitution of All Things

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Human Nature - good and bad!

Even in time of war


Reading through Pierre Burton's magnificent two-volume set of the
American and Canadian war of 1812-1814, is hard, for the gruesome
facts of death, injury, destruction, pain and sorrow, that such a
war reveals. Yet there are many profitable lessons to learn from
it all. Here is one of those lessons. A lesson on the heart of
human nature - it can be good and it can be bad - even in the time 
of warfare.

The Americans and the British have been busy as bees, building
war ships to face each other on lake Erie. This battle will
determine who will own that lake of the Great Lakes of North
America. The final outcome is that the Americans win that battle
and all of lake Erie will go to the USA. But I want you to note
the lessons of human nature in the final outcome.

Perry is the USA man: Barclay is the British man.
The *** are mine.

Pierre Burton writes:

     Around the lake the sounds of the battle have been heard,
but none can be sure of the outcome. At Amherstburg, fifteen
miles away, Lieutenant-Colonel Warburton, Procter's deputy,
watches the contest from a housetop and believes the British to
be the victors. At Cleveland, seventy miles away, Levi Johnson,
at work on the new court house, hears a sound like distant
thunder, realizes the battle is under way. All the villagers
assemble on Water Street to wait until the cannonade ceases.
Because the last five reports come from heavy guns - American
carronades - they conclude Perry has won and give three cheers.
At Put-in Bay, only ten miles away, Samuel Brown watches the
"grand and awful spectacle" but cannot be sure of the outcome
because both fleets are half hidden by gun-smoke.
     Perry returns to Lawrence to receive the official surrender.
A handful of survivors greets him silently at the gangway. On
deck lie twenty corpses, including close friends with whom he
dined the night before. He looks around for his little brother,
Alexander, finds him sound asleep in a hammock, exhausted by the
battle. He dons his full-dress uniform and, on the after part of
the deck, receives those of the enemy able to walk. They pick
their way among the bodies and offer him their swords; he refuses
to accept them, ***instead inquires after Barclay's condition.
His concern for his vanquished enemy is real and sincere.***

     The September shadows are lengthening. Perry's day is over.
The fever, which subsided briefly under the adrenalin of battle,
still lurks. Oblivious of his surroundings, the Commodore lies
down among the corpses, folds his hands over his breast, and,
with his sword beside him, sleeps the sleep of the dead.

PUT-IN BAY, LAKE ERIE, September 11, 1813

     The American fleet, its prizes and its prisoners, are back
at anchorage by mid-morning. In the wardroom of the battered
Lawrence, Dr.Usher Parsons has been toiling since dawn,
amputating limbs. The seamen and marines are so eager to rid
themselves of mutilated members that Parsons has had to establish
a roster, accepting his patients for knife and saw in the order
in which they were wounded. His task completed by eleven, he
turns his attention to the remainder of the disabled; that
occupies him until midnight. In all, he ministers to ninety-six
men, saves ninety-three.
     ***A special service is held for the officers of both
fleets. Barclay, in spite of grievous wounds, insists on
attending. Perry supports him, one arm around his shoulder. The
effort is too much for the British commander, who is carried back
to his berth on Detroit. Perry goes with him, sits by his side
until the soft hours of the morning when Barclay finally drops
off to sleep. The prisoners are struck by the American's
courtesy. Now that the heat of battle has passed, he looks on his
foes without rancour, makes sure his officers treat them well,
urges Washington to grant Barclay an immediate and unconditional
parole so that he may recover.***

     ***To Barclay, Perry is "a valiant and generous enemy."
"Since the battle he has been like a brother to me," he writes to
his brother in England.*** Later, the British commander, who will
never again be able to raise his right arm above the shoulder,
writes to his fiancee, offering to release her from their
engagement. The spirited young woman replies that if there were
enough of him left to contain his soul, she would marry him. The
inevitable court martial follows, at which Barclay, not
surprisingly, is cleared - his mutilated figure drawing tears
from the spectators. But the navy, which has used him ill on Lake
Erie with help that was too little and too late, puts him on the
shelf. Almost eleven years will pass before he is promoted to
post rank.
     ***In the meantime, a more acrimonious drama is in the
making. Most of Perry's officers are enraged at Elliott's
behaviour during the action; but Perry, intoxicated by victory,
is in an expansive mood. There is little doubt in his mind that
Elliott has acted abominably, but in his elation, as he later
tells Hambleton, there is not a man in his fleet whose feelings
he would hurt. It is certainly in his power to ruin Elliott's
career, but that is not his nature. Nor does he want the
decisiveness of his victory marred by any blemish. "It is better
to screen a coward than to let the enemy know there is one in the
fleet," he remarks, quoting a long-dead British admiral. In his
official report, he cannot ignore his second-in-command; that
would be tantamount to condemnation. So he laces his account of
the battle with ambiguities: At half past two, the wind springing
up, Captain Elliott was enabled to bring his vessel, the Niagara,
gallantly into close action. And: Of Captain Elliott, already so
well known to the government, it would almost be superfluous to
speak. In this action he evinced his characteristic bravery and
judgement; and since the close of the action, has given me most
able and generous assistance.***

     Perry shows the report to Elliott, who first says he is
satisfied but later asks for changes. He does not like the
reference to his ship coming into action so late. Perry, fearing
he may have gone too far, refuses to revise the document.
     Elliott takes to his bed, calls for Dr.Parsons, who can find
nothing wrong with him. He calls for Perry, who finds him in
"abject condition" and listens sympathetically while Elliott
laments that he has missed "the fairest opportunity of
distinguishing (himself] that ever a man had." Elliott follows
this up with a letter in which he reports that his brother has
heard rumours that Lawrence "was sacrificed in consequence of a
want of exertion on my part individually." He urges Perry to deny
this allegation.
     ***The good-natured Perry has already ordered his officers
not to write home with their doubts about Elliott's conduct in
action and to silence all rumours about any controversy. He can
do no less himself. Thus he falls into Elliott's trap and writes
a letter (which he will later describe as foolish)...I am
indignant that any report should be in circulation prejudicial to
your character ... I ... assure you that the conduct of yourself
... was such as to meet my warmest approbation. And I consider
the circumstance of your volunteering and bringing the smaller
vessels to close action as contributing largely to our

     ***This letter will be part of the ammunition that Elliott
will use in his long and inexplicable battle for vindication.
There is more: he is already twisting the arms of his own
officers to prepare memoranda in his favour. And after Perry
takes his leave of Lake Erie to go to another command, Elliott
approaches Daniel Turner of Caledonia asking for a certificate
praising his conduct in battle. Elliott tells Turner he wants
only to calm his wife's fears - she has heard the rumours - and
promises on his honour to make no other use of the document. But
after Turner complies, Elliott has the certificate published.***
     And to what end? In the hosannas being sounded across the
nation, Elliott shares the laurels equally with his commander.
Congress takes the unprecedented step of striking not one but two
gold medals - the first time a second-in-command has received
one. In this one divines the subtle hand of Elliott's friend and
mentor, Mr.Speaker Henry Clay. Elliott's share of the prize money
- a staggering $7,140--also equals Perry's. (Chauncey, who
begrudged the Erie fleet its seamen, gets one-twentieth of the
total, almost thirteen thousand dollars.) ***As far as the public
is concerned, Elliott is a hero. Why does he not keep quiet? But
that would be contrary to Elliott's temperament; he is a man with
a massive chip on his shoulder and an unbridled hunger for fame.
He is also a man with a guilty conscience.***

     ***And so, as the news of the great victory spreads, as
bonfires flare and triumphant salvos echo across the Union, as
public dinners, toasts, orations, songs, and poems trumpet the
country's triumph, the seeds of a bitter controversy begin to
     ***Elliott cannot let the matter die. For the next thirty
years the Battle of Lake Erie will be fought again and again,
with affidavits, courts of inquiry, books, pamphlets, newspaper
articles, even pistols. By 1818, Perry's own good nature
evaporates; he calls Elliott "mean and despicable," retracts his
letter when Elliott challenges him to a duel. Perry responds by
demanding Elliott's court martial (a request that is pigeon-holed
by the President). A hasty court of inquiry settles nothing, and
even Perry's unfortunate death of yellow fever in 1819 does not
still the verbal war. Elliott persists in his unflagging campaign
for exoneration. In 1839, when James Fenimore Cooper enters the
fray with a book that tends to support Elliott, Perry's friends
rush again to his defence, and the literary battle goes on. Nor
does it die until the last of the participants have gone to their
final rest to join those others who, in the bloom of youth,
bloodied the raw new decks of the two fleets that tore at each
other on a cloudless September afternoon in 1813.***

(Now we move to a short time after this Lake Erie battleship war,
when the Americans are pursuing the British and their Indians
along the Thames river of Upper Canada. It is a little history of
the mighty Indian called Tecumseh - Keith Hunt)

     Tecumseh, meanwhile, has fought a rearguard action at the
forks of the Thames - two frothing streams that remind him,
nostalgically, of his last home, Prophetstown, where the
Tippecanoe mingles its waters with those of the Wabash. In this
strange northern land, hundreds of miles from his birthplace, he
hungers for the familiar. His Indians tear the planks off the
bridge at McGregor's Creek and when Harrison's forward scouts,
under the veteran frontiersman William Whitley, try to cross on
the sills, open fire from their hiding place in the woods beyond.
Whitley, a sixty-three-year-old Indian fighter and Kentucky
pioneer, has insisted on marching as a private under Harrison,
accompanied by two black servants. Now he topples off the muddy
timbers, falls twelve feet into the water, but manages to swim
ashore, gripping his silver-mounted rifle. Major Eleazer Wood,
the defender of Fort Meigs, sets up two six-pounders to drive the
Indians off. The bridge is repaired in less than two hours, and
the army pushes on.
     That evening, Tecumseh reaches Christopher Arnold's mill,
twelve miles upriver from the forks. Arnold, a militia captain
and an acquaintance from the siege of Fort Meigs, offers him
dinner and a bed. He is concerned about his mill; the Indians
have already burned McGregor's. ***Tecumseh promises it will be
spared. He sees no point in useless destruction; with the other
mill gone, the white settlers must depend on this one.***
     In these last hours, fact mingles with myth as Tecumseh
prepares for battle. Those whose paths cross his will always
remember what was done, what was said, and hand it down to their
sons and grandsons.
     ***Young Johnny Toll, playing along the river bank near
McGregor's Creek, will never forget the hazel-eyed Shawnee who
warned him, "Boy, run away home at once. The soldiers are coming.
There is war and you might get hurt." Sixteen-year-old Abraham
Holmes will remember the sight of Tecumseh standing near the
Arnold mill on the morning of October 5, his hand at the head of
his white pony: a tall figure, dressed in buckskin from neck to
knees, a sash at his waist, his headdress adorned with ostrich
plumes-waiting until the last of his men have passed by and the
mill is safe. Holmes is so impressed that he will name his
first-born Tecumseh. Years from now Chris Arnold will describe
the same scene to his grandson, Thaddeus. Arnold remembers
standing by the mill dam, waiting to spot the American vanguard.
It is agreed he will signal its arrival by throwing up a
shovelful of earth. But Tecumseh's eyes are sharper, and he is on
his horse, dashing off at full speed, after the first glimpse of
Harrison's scouts. At the farm of Arnold's brother-in-law,
Hubble, he stops to perform a small act of charity - tossing a
sack of Arnold's flour at the front door to sustain the family,
which is out of bread. Lemuel Sherman's sixteen-year-old son,
David, and another friend, driving cows through a swamp, come
upon Tecumseh, seated on a log, two pistols in his belt. The
Shawnee asks young Sherman whose boy he is and, on hearing his
father is a militiaman in Procter's army, tells him: "Don't let
the Americans know your father is in the army or they'll burn
your house. Go back and stay home, for there will be a fight here
soon." Years later when David Sherman is a wealthy landowner, he
will lay out part of his property as a village and name it

***Billy Caldwell, the half-caste son of the Indian Department's
Colonel William Caldwell, will remember Tecumseh's fatalistic
remarks to some of his chiefs: "Brother warriors, we are about to
enter an engagement from which I shall not return. My body will
remain on the field of battle." Long ago, when he was fifteen,
facing his first musket fire against the Kentuckians, and his
life stretched before him like a river without end, he feared
death and ran from the field. Now he seems to welcome it, perhaps
because he has no further reason to live. Word has also reached
him that the one real love of his fife, Rebecca Galloway, has
married. She it was who introduced him to English literature.
There have been other women, other wives; he has treated them all
with disdain; but this sixteen-year-old daughter of an Ohio
frontiersman was different. She was his "Star of the Lake" and
would have married him if he had only agreed to live as a white
man. But he could not desert his people. Now she is part of a
dead past, a dream that could not come true, like his own
shattered dream of a united Indian nation.***

     ***In some ways, Tecumseh seems more Christian than the
Christians, with his hatred of senseless violence and torture. He
is considerate of others, chivalrous, moral, and, in his struggle
for his people's existence, totally selfless.***

     But he intends to go into battle as a pagan, daubed with
paint, swinging his hatchet, screaming his war cry, remembering
always the example of his elder brother Cheeseekau, the father
figure who brought him up and, in the end, met death gloriously
attacking a Kentucky fort, expressing the joy he felt at dying
not like an old woman at home but on the field of conflict where
the fowls of the air should pick his bones.....

     The personal struggle between Harrison and Tecumseh, which
began at Vincennes, Indian Territory, in 1810, has all the
elements of classical tragedy. And, as in classical tragedy, it
is the fallen hero and not the victor to whom history will give
its accolade. It is Harrison's fate to be remembered as a one-
month president, forever being confused with a longer-lived
President Harrison - his grandson, Benjamin. But in death as in
life, there is only one Tecumseh. His last resting place, like so
much of his career, is a mystery; but his memory will be for ever

End quote


Human nature - even in war - can be good or bad, noble or
defiled, kind or vainly grasping.

We look forward when war will be no more, and when God's spirit
will be poured out on all persons, when mankind will have a heart
of flesh and not stone; when there will be peace and kindness and
love between all the nations of mankind.

Keith Hunt

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