The American Revolution: western front

Meanwhile there had been stirring events in the western wilderness, where the Indians had been stirred up to hostilities against the frontier settlements, by emissaries sent out among them by Colonel Henry Hamilton, the British commandant at Detroit. Major George Rogers Clarke, an active young Virginian, was commissioned to defend the settlements and attack Kaskaskia, one of several British posts in that region. In July, 1778, he seized Kaskaskia and Cahokia, near the Mississippi River, and in August took possession of Vincennes, on the Wabash River, a hundred miles from its mouth. The latter was a most important post, for it was in the heart of the Indian country, whose tribes bore allegiance to the British. The capture of Vincennes inspired the savages with great respect for American skill and courage, and Clarke found it a comparatively easy matter to pacify them and cause them to agree to assume a neutral position. Hearing of this and fearing the consequences, Colonel Hamilton sent an armed force from Detroit to retake Vincennes. This was done in January, 1779.

Clarke was in Kentucky when he heard of the recapture of Vincennes. He immediately started with one hundred and seventy-five men for its recovery. They penetrated the dreadful wilderness in February, 1779. For a whole week they traversed the "drowned lands" of Illinois, suffering very great hardships from cold, wet, and hunger. When they arrived at the Little Wabash, where the forks are three miles apart, they found the intervening space covered with water to the average depth of three feet. The points of dry land were five miles apart; and all that distance, these hardy soldiers waded through the cold snow-water sometimes armpit deep. On the evening of the 18th of February, they arrived before Vincennes; and at dawn the next morning, making themselves hideous by blackening their faces with gunpowder, they crossed the river in boats and pushed toward the town. Had they dropped from the clouds the inhabitants would not have been more astonished, for it seemed impossible for them to have traversed the deluged country. It was like a sudden apparition of fiends in human shape. Clarke demanded the surrender of the town, fort, and garrison. Colonel Hamilton was in command in person, and refused; but after a sharp siege of fourteen hours, the garrison became prisoners of war. Hamilton was sent to Virginia, where, because he had incited the savages to make war on the settlements, he was confined for awhile in irons in the common jail at Williamsburg.

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