In our last episode, the British in Georgia and South Carolina forced what was left of any organized resistance into the western mountains. Leaders including Elijah Clark, Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter all had to escape from the British and loyalist forces under the overall command of General Charles Cornwallis.
Cornwallis’ main focus in late 1780 was in securing the more heavily-settled eastern parts of the southern colonies and moving north to secure North Carolina and hopefully eventually Virginia. With a limited number of men, his main focus kept him looking forward. As I discussed last time, Cornwallis devoted almost none of his resources to securing the lands in Georgia and South Carolina that were already considered retaken.
Major Patrick Ferguson had the responsibility to raise new provincial regiments from within the conquered colonies, mostly with the support of provincial regiments that had been sent south from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Raising new regiments and pacifying the colonies had proven disappointing. But as the summer of 1780 wore on, the British position seem to improve, especially following the destruction of the Continental Army at Camden.
The British also hoped to recruit more Native warriors to support the king in his time of need.
Native Views on the Revolution
As I’ve discussed before, a great many native tribes really hoped to remain neutral in what they saw as a fight between two different groups of Europeans. That is mostly what the Continentals wanted since if the natives did take a side, it would likely be with the British.
|Battle of Piqua|
I’ve already covered the Iroquois in western New York, who largely sided with the British operating out of Quebec and who had been forced by the Sullivan Campaign (see Episode 230) in 1779 to move into what is today Canada.
To the south of the Iroquois were the Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee who controlled the Ohio Valley. Below them were the Cherokee, who controlled the areas west of settlements in Virginia and North Carolina. South of the Cherokee were the Creek and Choctaw, which dominated the areas west of Georgia and South Carolina, as well as parts of Florida. None of these tribes were particularly unified and there were many sub-tribes within these larger populations, which I won’t discuss too much as I could probably write an entire book on that topic alone.
I have discussed in earlier episodes how especially the Cherokee had tried to take advantage of the divisions early in the war to take back territory in the Carolinas, only to be beaten badly and forced to cede more land.
British agents hoped to use this discontent to encourage the native warriors to back British efforts to subdue the rebellious colonies. They argued convincingly that the government in Britain was the Indians’ best hope of holding back the westward expansion that the colonists wanted. As such, many local tribes were willing to give some backing to the British, but it never became the united all-out effort that might have made some difference.
Retreat to the Watauga Valley
As I mentioned last week, Colonel Thomas Brown was meeting with Creek leaders in Augusta, Georgia when they were attacked by Elijah Clarke’s militia. This resulted in the British chasing Clark’s militia into the western part of North Carolina, which was still being disputed by settlers and natives. Most of those doing the chasing were Creek and Cherokee warriors who had been the main defense available to Brown at Augusta.
|Fort Watauga, NC|
This loyalist force chased down and hanged many of the men they captured. They burned the farms that belonged to families of the men who had taken up arms against Britain and were by this time on the run. As a result, Clarke’s forces in North Carolina left them with about 300 militia and about 400 women and children who were families of his militia.
Although the British still considered the area where Clarke’s men ended up to be Cherokee Territory, the Cherokee had been forced to cede it after their 1775 uprising. As a result, Clarke’s men and their families received a friendly welcome by the settlers living there. These settlers were patriots by temperament, probably at least in part because the British government did not recognize the legality of their land claims in this area, but the patriot government did.
Clarke’s retreat into this region spurred many of the locals, known as the “overmountain men” to activate their militias and move east to confront the loyalist forces under Patrick Ferguson, eventually leading the Battle of King’s Mountain, which I hope to get to soon. Had the Cherokee still been in control of this region, Clarke might have found himself with nowhere to go. His men would have had to surrender or fight to the death. Fortunately for them, the patriots still had this haven west of the mountains where they could regroup and attack again.
To the North of Watauga, the Virginians under George Rogers Clark, no relation to Elijah Clarke, had secured most of the land up to the Ohio River in what was known as the Kentucky County of Virginia. There were really no British settlements in the region. The few non-Indian settlements in the region were Spanish or French settlers. As I’ve discussed most recently, in Episode 249, George Rogers Clark had been fighting off encroachments mostly supported by British agents opening out of Detroit. Most of those who Clark and his Virginians were facing were native warriors.
The most recent offensive against the Virginians had come in the Spring of 1780 when tribes, mostly from Canada, came down armed with British weapons and supplies, to attack the Spanish in Saint Louis and the Clarke’s Virginians in Cahokia. The closest Continentals were up in Fort Pitt, in what is today western Pennsylvania.
|George Rogers Clark|
Although Clarke had fought off the spring offensive, war chiefs among the Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo thought that they were in grave danger of losing their lands and had formed mutual defense pacts to support one another. Further, small raiding parties from across the Ohio River continued to incite terror among isolated farms in the region.
In June, British officers supplemented by native warriors conducted several raids into the Kentucky region of Virginia. Captain Henry Bird (aka Byrd), a British regular officer stationed in Detroit, marched a war party over 600 miles as part of the effort to retake the region. Byrd’s warriors secured Martin’s Station, where he used field artillery to threaten the stockade. The people inside surrendered. As the natives plundered their property, Byrd took charge of the prisoners and eventually marched them back to Detroit over a six week period. Byrd went on to destroy a number of other outposts before his return to Detroit.
The Virginians under Colonel Clark had built Fort Jefferson near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The fort was named after Virginia’s current Governor, Thomas Jefferson. While the fort itself was secure, and established Virginia’s presence in the region, it did not protect the many farms and homesteads in the region.
Clark determined that he would need to lead a force across the Ohio River to exact retribution and deter further attacks. In late July, Clark assembled a force of about 1000 men. Most of these were locals who turned out with the militia, but it also included his regiment of Virginia regulars. All of these men were experienced Indian fighters, including Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone.
With Clark was Colonel Benjamin Logan, a veteran of Pontiac’s Rebellion and Lord Dunmore’s war. He had been raised in Virginia and was one of the early settlers in Kentucky. Logan would lead one of the three divisions.
Colonel William Lynn (aka Linn) also took command of a division. Lynn had served as a scout for the Braddock expedition to Fort Duquesne back in 1755. He also served on the Forbes Campaign of 1758, along with Colonel George Washington, in the second British effort to take Fort Duquesne. He was wounded during his service in Lord Dunmore’s war in 1774. It is likely during this conflict that he first met George Rogers Clark. Like the others Lynn had settled in Kentucky and was regularly involved in actions against the natives.
Also joining the expedition from Louisville was a Battalion under the command of James Harrod, a Pennsylvania native who had settled in Kentucky in 1774. Colonel Clark also took with him an artillery company with a brass six-pounder field gun that he had captured at Vincennes the year before.
Even as Clark gathered his army, the native forces were on alert and hostile to any movements. A small hunting detail from the Louisville militia moved away from the main force as it traveled to meet up with Clark. They stumbled across an abandoned Indian camp and were shortly thereafter ambushed by a small group of native warriors. The group suffered ten casualties, including two killed and two wounded so badly they had to be returned to Louisville for care.
The other six wounded were able to make it to the rendezvous at Licking, where they remained to convalesce and protect the supplies left there. The fort that Clark established there at Licking, as a supply base, later became the site of the town of Cincinnati.
|Kentucky Theater - 1780|
Clark’s targets were two Indian towns that operated as supply bases for the raiders: Chillicothe and Piqua. The force reached Chillicothe the evening of August 5. Reconnaissance found the villagers were in the process of abandoning their homes. Word of their arrival had reached the inhabitants, who fled their homes. The column rushed ahead to attack whoever might be left, but found Chillicothe empty, although food left cooking over the fires indicated that some had fled just moments before their arrival.
The Shawnee had set on fire a council house and a fort. The Virginians then went about looting what they could in the town and burning what they could not carry. This included all the buildings and several hundred acres of crops.
Clark received word that the local Shawnee were prepared to stand and fight an Piqua, about twelve miles away. After two days in Chillicothe, Clark ordered his Virginians on a night march through a downpour. The weather forced the column to stop, so that they did not reach the fort until the following afternoon, August 8.
Piqua was a center of activity for the Shawnee, who had settled in this region about twenty-five years earlier. It consisted of large log houses in a line that stretched about three miles. The homes were spread out so that residents could grow beans and corn in large gardens around the homes. On an elevation the people had built a stockade for defense. It was also used as a meeting place for political gatherings and for the local council.
Black Hoof was an experienced warrior. Twenty-five years earlier he had been a warrior at the Battle of the Monongahela, near modern day Pittsburgh. He and his fellow warriors decimated the British Army under General Braddock, and gave young Colonel George Washington his first experience in a major battle.
It is believed he also participated in the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774, and was involved in the siege of Boonesborough in 1778. He had devoted his entire life to staving off the encroachment of Virginians into his tribe’s land.
Clark divided his men into three divisions. Colonel Logan led one division along the river to prevent any Shawnee from escaping from Piqua to the east. Colonel Lynn led a second division against the defenders’ left flank. Colonel Clark brought his regulars and artillery against the center toward the stockade.
Upon seeing the size of the attacking force, many of the Shawnee warriors withdrew from the town. They were able to escape because Colonel Logan’s forces, who were supposed to be in a position to attack these retreating men, got mired down in a swamp turning their march, and were unable to get into position in time.
|Piqua Battle Map|
The fight lasted for several hours, with each side attempting to outflank the other, and sometimes involving brutal hand to hand combat. The Virginians had to ford a river while taking enemy fire Eventually the defender’s of Piqua withdrew and made their escape from the much larger force of attackers.
After some time, Clark managed to bring up his canon, which fired about fifteen rounds into the stockade. The native defenders attempted to sally forth and take the cannon. Clark ordered two white flags raised and called for a cease-fire. The native warriors continue to move forward, causing the artillery company to abandon the cannon. At that point, Rogers order the white flags lowered and fired on the enemy. The advancing warriors quickly dispersed and fled into the cornfields to make their escape.
During the battle, an American prisoner of the Shawnee, Joseph Rogers, attempted to escape and flee to the American lines. He was shot during the battle but managed to reach his cousin, George Rogers Clark, before dying in the colonel’s arms.
The Virginians spent the rest of the day trying to track down and kill any remaining enemy. That night, they camped around the burned remains of the enemy fort. The following day, the Virginians found a native man in a field tending to his wounded son. They executed both of them. They also executed a female prisoner that they had captured. They also dug up several graves for the purpose of obtaining loot and scalps.
In response after the army withdrew, the Shawnee brought several militia prisoners who had been captured weeks earlier. At the site of the destroyed town, the natives tied their prisoners to stakes and burned them alive. They also dug up the graves of several attackers who died in battle and scalped the corpses.
Total casualties for the battle are unclear. Clark reported only fourteen of his men killed and thirteen wounded. However, a review of other witness accounts indicates that American casualties were probably three times that number. Clark also noted only five enemy dead, and three wounded, but since the Shawnee often carried off their casualties, and we have no good records for them, their losses were almost certainly much higher as well.
With Piqua in the possession of the Americans, Clark and his men set about burning the town and all of the surrounding corn fields. They also burned a nearby British trading post known as Loramie’s Store. Passing through Chillicothe on their return, they continued to destroy more crops in that area. Once back across the Ohio River on August 14, they separated, and the militia returned to their homes. Clark would travel east back to Richmond, where he attempted to get Governor Jefferson to back a larger invasion force to take Detroit from the British.
Among the witnesses of the destruction at Piqua was a twelve year old boy named Tecumseh. The future war chief observed the destruction of his hometown personally and carried the pain of the destruction with him for the rest of his life. The Shawnee abandoned Piqua and established a new town about twenty miles further north. The loss of their crops led to a hungry winter, and a desire to seek revenge in the following spring.
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Martin’s Station: https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/443
Destruction of Ruddle’s and Martin’s Fort: https://kynghistory.ky.gov/Our-History/History-of-the-Guard/Documents/DestructionofRuddlesandMartinsFort.pdf
Fraser, Kathryn M. “Fort Jefferson: George Rogers Clark’s Fort At The Mouth Of The Ohio River, 1780-1781.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 81, no. 1, 1983, pp. 1–24. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23379603
Rauch, Steven J. “Southern (Dis)Comfort: British Phase IV Operations in South Carolina and Georgia, May–September 1780.” Army History, no. 71, 2009, pp. 34–50. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26296758
Conkwright, Bessie Taul. “A Sketch OF THE Life and Times OF GENERAL BENJAMIN LOGAN.” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, vol. 14, no. 41, 1916, pp. 19–35. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23368558
J. Martin West, George Rogers Clark and the Shawnee Expedition of 1780 http://npshistory.com/series/symposia/george_rogers_clark/1991-1992/sec1.htm
Battle of Piqua http://touringohio.com/history/battle-of-piqua.html
(from archive.org unless noted)
Bodley, Temple George Rogers Clark: His Life and Public Services, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1926.
Clark, George R. George Rogers Clark Papers 1771-1781, Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1912.
James, James A. The Life of George Rogers Clark, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1928.
Randall, E. O. History of Ohio; The Rise and Progress of an American State, vol. 2, New York: Century History Co. 1912.
Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*
Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995 (read on archive.org).
Nester, William R. George Rogers Clark: “I Glory in War”, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2012.
* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.