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Clarke felt that he could not render a greater service to his countrymen than by cutting off a number of these their worst enemies.
"And pray, Colonel Clarke," called out Major Hay, "whom do you mean by Indian partisans?"
"I consider Major Hay one of the principal ones," was the prompt, threatening reply.
The other turned pale and trembled when he thus unexpectedly heard himself especially designated as an object of that vengeance which had just been so fiercely denounced. So excessive was his agitation that his own commander blushed for his open exhibition of cowardice; and Clarke, who admired the dignified demeanor of the latter under misfortune as much as he despised that of his subordinate, relented in his heart toward the former, and told him that he "would reconsider the matter, and let him know the result by a flag of truce."
The American officers advised concession, and on the 24th of February, 1779, Fort Sackville was once more surrendered into the hands of our countrymen, the garrison being received as prisoners of war. This victory permanently secured the conquests of the country, and fixed the authority of Virginia on a firm basis; thenceforward it only remained for Clarke to defend that which he had so gallantly won.
At the age of twenty-seven Clarke had reached the goal when he himself thought he had only overcome the first difficulties of the ground, and with powers braced by the previous exertion, saw, or thought he saw, a still further and brighter career opening before him. He felt, indeed, that his plan was only half executed, and his work yet unfinished while Detroit and the other posts along the lakes remained in the hands of the enemy. And it may be, there had floated dimly through his mind the splendid dream of accomplishing the design in which Montgomery had failed, and of striking once more for the possession of the St. Lawrence upon the Plains of Abraham and under the walls of Quebec. And certainly no one of his contemporaries was more worthy of trying his fortune on that "battle-#eld of empire," where the great prize had twice already been lost and won, and where so many heroes had fallen amidst glorious victory or equally glorious defeat.
Of all the English posts which gave them a direct communication with the savage nations of the Northwest, that of Detroit alone remained to them, and to its capture Clarke's whole attention was now directed. "If I but had five hundred men when I first arrived in this country," he wrote to Mr. Jefferson, "or, when at Vincennes, could I only have secured my prisoners and had three hundred men available, I would have attempted it." But even with his small force of two hundred he was preparing to risk the attempt, when ho received a letter from Governor Henry informing him that an additional battalion was to be raised to complete his regiment, and advising a postponement of farther offensive operations until it should join him.
About the same time he received another note, part of which we insert:
"Sir," writes Lieutenant-Governor Page, on the 4th of September, 1779, "I have the honor to inform you that by Captain Rogers I have sent the sword that was purchased by the Governor to be presented to you by order of the General Assembly, as a proof of their approbation of your great and good conduct and gallant behavior. I heartily wish a better could have been procured; but it was thought the best that could be purchased, and was bought of a gentleman who had used it but little, and judged it to be elegant and costly. I am," etc., etc.
We suspect one of our gallant officers of the present day would not feel much flattered by being presented with a second-hand sword, however "elegant and costly" the gentleman "who had used it but little" might judge it to be.
The sword duly arrived; but not so the promised battalion. A change had come over the councils of Virginia; and although at a later period an entire new regiment was formed and placed under Clarke's orders, it was only for purposes of defense, and he was forbidden any offensive operations against the remaining British posts, but ordered to take up his quarters at the falls of the Ohio, and with seven hundred men protect a frontier eight hundred miles in length, exposed at every point to savage incursions. I—Here was the turning point in the history of Clarke. Restrained from the prosecution of those plans whereon his heart had from the first been fixed, and the immense utility of which he alone seems clearly to have understood, and compelled to watch the petty attacks of wandering parties of savages, which, though a source of unceasing annoyance, could add nothing to his fame; and reduced all at once to a position of comparative obscurity after having made himself an object of admiring observation to a whole nation by the most dashing and brilliant series of exploits performed during the war; and cut off from those personal adventures in which he had formerly delighted by the duties and proprieties of his position as Brigadier-General of the forces in the West: it is not to be wondered at if his spirits became depressed, or that he should be tempted to seek relief from the dreary monotony of a garrison life in the use of stimulants, as too many men of his ardent temperament have done before and since. It is always painful to speak of the weaknesses of a great man, or the sins of a good one; but truth compels the admission that, from about this time, Clarke began to yield himself more and more to the dominion of this pernicious habit. But the native vigor of his mind long upheld him, and for years he still maintained his high reputation, and even down to the last moment of his command he continued zealously and actively to discharge its onerous duties; and his zeal was always wise as his activity was always prompt and efficient.
His plan of defense included an armed galley that plied along the river monthly, from the Falls to the mouth of the Licking, together with a strong and well-trained body of rangers, who secured both shores from the mouth of the Tennessee to that of the Sciota: whose duty it was to report every movement of the savages that fell under their notice at head-quarters, then fixed at Fort Nelson, which occupied the site of the present city of Louisville. This corps of scouts and spies—for they acted in both capacities—contained many of the choicest spirits of the frontier, among whom were such men as Simon Kenton and Bland Ballard: in connection with the latter of whom there is related a little incident, which also illustrates well the difference between those times and the present. Being out on a scout one foggy morning along the Kentucky shore of the river, a few miles below the Falls, he heard the voices of Indians evidently approaching from the other side. Concealing himself in the bushes he lay in wait for an adventure, and soon a canoe, containing three Indians, became visible through the fog, making directly for his point of ambush. When within range he fired and killed one in the bow, whereupon the others sprang overboard and tried to escape by swimming, but were both slain in the water before they could get out of reach from the hunter's rifle. Thinking that he had now done enough for one morning's work, he returned to the fort and reported his adventure to the General, who, as a reward for his gallant conduct, presented him with a linen shirt, which was the first garment of the kind the hardy borderer had worn for many years, except those made of buckskin.
In the year 1780 Congress had been so far influenced by the intrigues of the Spanish and French ministers, who desired to exclude the new State from the Mississippi, that they had actually instructed their envoys in Europe to be guided on this point by the advice of the French Government in any negotiations for peace, and not even to insist on the free navigation of that stream below latitude 30° north. Compliance with this short-sighted policy of concession would have made Kentucky a Spanish province. But fortunately America had some statesmen who looked beyond the passing moment, and who determined to strengthen their claim by taking actual possession of the whole of the disputed territory. Clarke therefore received orders in the spring of this year to move down with a part of his State regiment and construct a strong fort on the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio. This order he promptly executed, and called the new post Fort Jefferson, in honor of the Governor of Virginia, under whose orders it was built.
But the position of commander on the frontier was, in those times, one of ceaseless vigilance and constant activity, and Clarke had scarcely finished this labor when he heard of the irruption of Colonel Byrd into the country along the Licking. It was his settled policy never to let any attack of the enemy pass without immediate retaliation. As soon, therefore, as he heard the news of the capture of the two northern stations he resolved to set out for that region and arouse Vol. XXIII.—No. 133.—E
the people to attempt an expedition into the Indian country beyond the Ohio. For greater safety he disguised himself and his two companions as red men, and struck boldly into the forest, traversed by scores of marauding bands; for the savages, after more than a year of comparative quiet, had this spring again broken out into hostilities with redoubled fury. The wisdom of Clarke's plan for the reduction of the English posts on the lakes was now made manifest, and bitter cause had the Kentuckians for the next four years to curse the short-sighted parsimony by which their execution had been thwarted. During those four years more than one thousand of their people were murdered or captured, besides their enormous losses in other respects. But Clarke was not one of those who, when they can not have their own way, sit down in sullen idleness to complain. Since he could not do what he thought best for the protection of the settlements, he resolved to do what was next best, to carry the war into the villages of the savages. With this purpose in view, he now set out on that perilous journey from Fort Jefferson to Harrodstown, then the largest town in the country.
On reaching the Tennessee River with his companions they found it in a state of flood, foaming from bank to bank; while, to add to the danger, they became aware that they were in the close neighborhood of a large band of Indians. Springing down the bank, they set vigorously to work upon a raft, whereon to transport their guns and baggage. Upon this they piled their arms, and, pushing it off, plunged into the roaring current. They had hardly made one-quarter of the passage when a party of painted warriors came leaping down to the shore they had just quitted, and in a few moments a similar band appeared on that which they were approaching. Here the disguise of the adventurers stood them in good stead, as it concealed their true character until the rapid current had whirled them beyond the effective range of their enemy's rifles. As they shot swiftly past the mouth of a large creek, their minds, practiced in all the arts and devices of forest warfare, instantly perceived in it the means of escape. Running their raft quickly ashore, they plunged into the dense forest at full speed, and thus, while their enemies were making a long detour to reach a ford, gained a start that rendered pursuit hopeless. Shortly after this, while passing through "the barrens," they met a band of forty emigrants, who, though scarcely ever out of sight of large herds of buffalo, were actually on the point of starvation from the inexpertness of their hunters. Clarke and his companions soon gave these unskillful hunters a practical lesson in this branch of business by killing for them fourteen out of the next herd that came in sight.
On arriving at Harrodstown he found it crowded with people from all parts of the country eager to enter land in the office just opened there by George May, surveyor of the newly-erected county of Jefferson. No speculative mania ever raged more virulently than did the "land fever" at this time in Kentucky; and the Colonel knew how useless it would be to ask men to volunteer in defense of the very country of which all were so anxious to secure a portion as long as the office remained open. The mere speculator, who resided at a safe distance and relied on the bravery and industry of others to render his purchase valuable, would, of course, heed no appeal of the kind: on the other hand, he could not expect the real settlers, and those who intended becoming such, to leave the field clear for the former class to secure all the finest lands in the country while they themselves should be absent defending it. It was one of those cases when the good of the country made the violation, or rather suspension, of the laws a solemn duty— cases with which very great and very pure men only are competent to deal. The emergency was too pressing to allow of any communication with the superior authorities of the State at Williamsburg, four hundred miles distant; and Clarke determined to take upon himself the responsibility of closing the office "until"—as the notice to that effect stated—" the return of an expedition, about to be organized under the orders of Brigadier-General Clarke, against the Indian towns on the Great Miami." The success of the measure justified its adoption; for the popularity and high military standing of the leader at once commanded any number of volunteers as soon as the counter-incitement of avarice was removed, and in a very few days two regiments were raised, equipped, and on the march for the place of rendezvous, at the mouth of the Licking, opposite the present site of Cincinnati, while the State troops, with the artillery, moved up the Ohio to the same point: whence the whole army, one thousand strong, advanced into the country of the enemy about the middle of July.
There is no need to describe this expedition minutely, as it differed but little from the half dozen similar ones subsequently set on foot, except in its more complete success—which was indeed too complete to allow of any of those interesting adventures so common in Indian campaigns. Dashing forward with his characteristic celerity the General came upon the town of Pickaway almost by surprise, and after a sharp fight, in which seventeen on each side were killed, the savages were forced to fly, leaving every thing in the power of the spoilers; and were taught for the first time that the arm of the Big Knife could reach them even in their own wigwams, and that hereafter every incursion of their own was to be followed by a speedy and certain vengeance. Every town within reach was burned, the fruit trees girdled, and the standing crops destroyed. This may seem a barbarous method of warfare—and so it undoubtedly was, and so it was meant to be; but it was waged against the most savage and merciless people the world ever saw. To talk of conducting hostilities according to the practice of civilized nations against such a people is the height of sentimental folly.
Such war to them would be no worse, nay, would occasion less of suffering, than they are accustomed to in their ordinary state of peace. War is justifiable only because the dread of its horrors enforces and secures peace; and that to accomplish this the horror must be such as will be felt by those upon whom it is inflicted.
This unexpected blow relieved Kentucky for the remainder of the year from any repetition of such inroads as had just spread terror throughout her borders. The Shawanees—the most implacable and powerful of the hostile tribes—were employed in rebuilding their ruined habitations, and procuring the means of subsistence during the ensuing winter. Clarke therefore discharged the volunteers, and returned with his own troops to Fort Nelson, there to recommence his distasteful routine of garrison duties, and, it is to be feared, to sink still deeper into those habits that were undermining his powers and destroying his usefulness as a public officer. Not that any deficiency can at this distance of time be discovered either in judgment or vigor of his acts, for it takes dissipation a long time to produce a sensible effect on a mind so strong and well-balanced as his. On the contrary, he is seen for the next twelve or eighteen months watching every where his restless and stealthy foes, and ready to swoop at any moment, or upon any point, at which they ventured to make their appearance in force. During this year he removed with his command from the falls of the Ohio to Kaskaskia, in the now regularly organized county of Illinois, where the condition of things had become such as to require his presence.
In the summer of 1781 he was once more summoned to the far south by the pressing danger of his new fort on the Mississippi. It had been built without permission on the lands of the Chickasaws, who, offended at the encroachment, had broken ont into hostility against the whites for the first, and, we believe, for the last time; and under the command of a Scotch gentleman named Colbert, laid siege to the place, and seemed resolved to carry in spite of every effort of the little garrison of thirty fever-stricken men. The assault had been urged with unfaltering valor for five days, notwithstanding the terrible slaughter committed in their ranks by the light guns of the fort, and they were apparently on the eve of success when the arrival of Clarke, with a small reinforcement, compelled them to retire. But the fort being only erected in order to strengthen by actual possession the title of the United States to the country on the Mississippi north of latitude thirty, and that object having been shortly afterward accomplished, the place was dismantled, and peaceful relations thus restored with the Chickasaws, the most civilized of all the North American tribes.
Again for almost a year General Clarke lay at Fort Nelson in comparative idleness until, in the summer of 1782, he was once more called forth to vigorous exertion by that terrible disaster—the defeat of the Lower Blue Licks. No event ever made so deep an impression on the public mind of Kentucky, and none occupies a more conspicuous place in her early history. Every Kentucky boy is familiar with the events of that day, when men and officers seemed suddenly stricken with idiocy, and with open eyes rushed headlong into certain destruction. The narrative may not be so familiar to others, but there are few Kentuckians who have not heard how, at the call of the people of Bryant's Station, one hundred and eighty of the most gallant spirits of the land, under Boone, Todd, Trigg, Harland, M'Bride, and M'Gary, hastened to their aid, and finding Girty and his host of savages gone, resolved to follow upon their trail without waiting the arrival of Logan, who was hastening on with the men of Lincoln; and how, on coming in sight of a few stragglers who seemed to invite observation and pursuit, the veteran Boone at once saw that they were only left as a decoy, and told his friends that an ambush was prepared for them if they dared to cross the river, describing the situation of the ground exactly, and telling them the precise spot where the five hundred Indians were lying in wait for their approach; how, in the midst of the debate, the taunt of a hot-brained bravo seemed suddenly to sting the whole party into madness; how they all—men and leaders—plunged pell-mell into the river, without caution and without order, each intent only on proving that he was not a coward, and rushed confusedly onward, no one commanding and no one obeying, till all at once they found themselves huddled in a confused mass upon a bare and rocky ridge, and inclosed in a triangle of fire, without cover, with a deep and narrow ford behind them; how Todd and Trigg and Harland and M'Bride fell, and the survivors fought on until the enemy sprang forth from the ravines, rushed forward tomahawk in hand. The retreat, the route, the massacre in the river; the magnanimity of young Reynolds in dismounting in the midst of the butchery, and giving up his own swift horse to his wounded captain, who had sat down in despair to await the approach of the enemy; the cool conduct of the supposed cowardly Netherland, who wheeled his steed upon the bank, and gathering a few horsemen around him, drove back the savages, who were tomahawking the footmen in the water; the escape of Boone, who, having seen his son shot down at his side, dashed through the savage lines; and, last of all, the sickening appearance of the battle-field, two days afterward, when Logan found the mangled bodies of sixty Kentuckians blackening in the hot sun upon the rocks and in the river. All these are familiar to the ears of the present generation, and render the Lower Blue Licks a name to be shuddered at even to this day.
Upon our ancestors the blow fell like a clap of thunder. Sixty men killed! To us who count our populations by the million it seems an insignificant loss, but to them it had a terrible significance; for it meant one-fourth of the fighting men north of the Kentucky River, and that too, at a time when the Shawanees, Wyan
dots, Ottawas, and Delawares, supported by the English in Canada, had just formed an alliance for the extermination of these settlements, and this was but the first effort of their confederated power. Who could tell then what the end would be when the beginning was so disastrous? The early settlers of Kentucky were probably as brave a race as ever lived; but this defeat following close upon those of Holder, Estell, and Floyd, struck them with bewilderment and dismay, and for the first time they really quailed before the arms of the savages. Almost every family in the country had lost some member in one of those actions, and the gloom was therefore universal, and was increased by the fact that so many of the recognized leaders were among the fallen. Todd, Trigg, Estell, Holder, young Boone, Harland, M'Bride, and Floyd, to whom the people had been accustomed to look for encouragement and guidance, had been cut off in the short space of three months. But happily the greatest of them all still remained, ready and able as ever to meet the crisis.
Clarke was at the Falls when the tidings of the massacre of the Blue Licks reached him, and in pursuance of his plan of never permitting any invasion to pass uupunished, he at once called the superior officers of his brigade to consult on the best means of inflicting a prompt retaliation. The council recommended a draft of men to make up any deficiency of volunteers, and the impressment of horses and provisions, should it be found necessary. But the public spirit of the people precluded the necessity of any harsh measures, and men and horses and beeves poured in so rapidly, that in a remarkably short space of time two entire regiments were formed and on the march for tho Ohio. Before the enemy, who had won the late battle, were safe in their own homes again the avengers of blood were upon their footsteps. On the last day of September Clarke assumed the command on the same spot from which he had set out on a similar enterprise the summer before. At the head of one thousand mounted riflemen—the most efficient of all troops for such service, and now first employed— he crossed the Ohio on the same day, and pushing forward with his wonted energy, arrived undiscovered at the nearest Indian town, and within half a mile of the camp of the triumphant victors of the Blue Lick. Here a straggler caught sight of the advancing whites, and at once gave the alarm. The savages instantly fled, bearing the alarm to the various towns in the valley, whose inhabitants, thus warned, succeeded in making their escape without serious loss of life, but leaving their homes to the vengeance of the white men. The effects of this expedition is not to be caleulated by the amount of blood shed, but by its influence on the future conduct of the Indians. Tried by this test its success was nearly complete. "It put an end to the formidable invasions of Kentucky." The Indians had at last learned that every aggression would be sure to bring a desolating army into the midst of their own villages, and they became shy of offering the provocation. They were also now made to realize for the first time the immense disproportion between their own numbers and those of the Big Knives, who immediately after receiving a blow that would have prostrated the power of the strongest among their own tribes for many years, were able to send so overwhelming a force to revenge that disaster. No considerable body ever afterward ventured across the Ohio, and the war thenceforward resumed the desultory form it had borne during the years 1775-76.
Such were the beneficial consequences of this last act of George Rogers Clarke in defense of his adopted State; for here his career may be said to have ended, and had his life terminated at the same time he would have departed with a fame as full-orbed and splendid as any of the worthies of our revolutionary age. And that one dark spot, ominous of the approaching eclipse, would ere now have been forgotten or have passed unnoticed amidst the general radiance of his glory. Clarke now returned to his post at the Falls as the most central point on the long frontier committed to his charge, and he applied his great mind to the petty but vexatious occupation of listening to the reports of spies and scouts, and repressing or chastising the incursions of fugitive bands of Indians bent more on plunder than war—duties befitting a superintendent of police rather than a commander of an army, and which must have been almost intolerable to a man of his ardent and enterprising temper. But he was soon to be deprived of even this poor resouree against eunui. As long as the war lasted he had never ceased to hope that his darling project for the reduction of Detroit might meet with the approbation of his government, and that the career that had been checked in 1779 might yet be successfully resumed, and the work ho had appropriated as his especial life-task completed. But the peace, which was about this time concluded, put an end at once and forever to all those long cherished hopes, and to his own public employment.
"The conclusion of the war," wrote Governor Harrison, of Virginia, on the 2d of July, 1783, "and the distressed condition of the finances of the State, call on us to adopt the most prudent economy. It is for this reason alone that I have come to the determination to give over for the present all thought of carrying on offensive war with the Indians, which, you will easily perceive, will render unnecessary the employment of a general officer in that quarter, and will therefore consider yourself as out of command. But before I take leave, I feel called upon in the most foreible manuer to return you my thanks, and those of my Council, for the very great and singular services you have rendered to your country by wresting so great and extensive a country out of the hands of the British enemy, repelling the attacks of their savage allies, and carrying on a successful war in the very heart of their country. This tribute of thanks and praise, so justly your due, I am happy to communicate to you as the united voice of the Executive," etc.
With this, and a grant of a splendid tract of land lying in the present state of Indiana, opposite Louisville, George Rogers Clarke was finally dismissed from the service of his country.
But if Virginia no longer had need of such talents, the General Government was compelled for years to continue the war against the Northwestern tribes; and why the one man who had shown himself most consummately qualified for the situation, both by natural aptitude and long experience, should have been persistently neglected is hard to explain. Certainly the captor of Vincennes would have been more efficient than the timid and luxurious Wilkinson; and would not, like Harrison, have sacrificed in weak detachments the best portion of an army of twelve hundred men; or, like St. Clair, have exposed one of three thousand to utter route and destruction by an injudicious encampment. Had either of these armies been placed under the command of Clarke, the United States would have been saved the disgraceful experiences of that long and ill-managed war between 1785 and 1795, which rendered the power of the Confederacy contemptible in the eyes even of the savages, and delayed their submission until General Wayne took the field in the latter year. But Clarke's day of glory was over, and his career finished at an age when that of many has but just begun, and at thirty-one he was laid aside like a superannuated veteran. The very prime of that powerful and active genius was lost to his country, as well as to his own fame, and left to rust away in obscurity; or, sadder still, to destroy itself by seeking a forbidden relief from vain longing and repinings, while war was raging along the whole frontier from Lake Huron to the confines of Florida; and when at times it appeared as if the misdirected power of the whole continent combined would fail to hold that country which he, with a mere handful of men, had wrested from the hands of the English.
At last, so inefficient was the protection afforded by the regular army, and so audacious had the attacks of the savages on the Ohio become, that the Kentuckians thought it necessary once more to take their defense into their own hands. After three years of retirement Clarke was again called to take the command in an expedition against the tribes in Indiana. But he was no longer the leader who had waded the flooded Wabash to recapture Vincennes, and whose swift blows had so promptly avenged the fall of Ruddell's Station, or the defeat of the Blue Licks. The army, numbering about twelve hundred men, marched from the Falls in the summer of 1786 toward Vincennes, expecting to meet at that point their provisions, which had been placed on keel-boats to be transported up the Wabash. But it soon became evident that the General no longer possessed that absolute ascendency over his soldiers which had rendered his former operations so marvelously rapid and energetic. A spirit of defiance among the superior officers, and of disaffection and insubordination among the men, quickly began to manifest