« ZurückWeiter »
found that the country was too weak to justify the withdrawing of many troops from thence. Clarke therefore engaged but one company, and about half of another, from that quarter, expecting them to be replaced by those recruited by Smith.
Here Colonel Clarke disclosed to the troops his real destination ; and however strange it may seem at the present day, the information was received by the whole detachment (except Dillard's company,) with rapturous applause. Avarice had not then closed the avenues to human sympathy, nor had a desire for wealth benumbed every faculty of the soul. The gallant sons of Kentucky thought with their commander, that the secret of Indian hostilities lay somewhere at the west, and demanded therefore to be conducted thither.
Colonel Clarke, intending to start on the next day, ordered the boats to be well secured, and sentinels to be stationed at every point where he supposed the Ohio fordable. Notwithstanding, however, these precautions, it was discovered, before day, that a considerable portion of Captain Dil. lard's company, with a lieutenant, (whose name Colonel Clarke, in his journal, has spared,) had passed the sentinels unperceived, and reached the opposite shore. “ The disappointment,” says Clark, “ was cruel, and its consequences alarming.” A party, mounted on horseback, was dis. patched immediately for the deserters, with orders to “ kill all who resisted." The fugitives were overtaken about twenty miles from thence, and with the exception of seven or eight who were brought back, dispersed themselves through the woods. After enduring every species of distress, they reached Harrod's town, where the people, swayed by that generous impulse which actuates noble and exalted minds, felt the baseness of the lieutenant's conduct so keenly, and resented it with such indignation, that on arriving at the fort, the lieutenant and his party were for some time refused admission.
The troops sent by Clarke in search of the fugitives, having returned, a day of rejoicing was had between those who were about to descend the river for Kaskaskia, and those who were about to return to defend Kentucky-a duty of equal peril and danger.
After reviewing his little army of four companies, (the number in each is nowhere given,) commanded by Captains Montgomery, Helm, Bow. man and Harrod, and equipping them in the simplest Indian manner for a march across the country, (to mask his design) from the nearest point on the Ohio to Kaskaskia ; he passed the falls at Louisville on the 24th of June, 1778, during a remarkable eclipse of the sun, and descending the river to a point above Fort Massac, he landed his troops and concealed his boats, intending from thence to march through the State of Illinois by the nearest and most practicable route, to “ the ancient French village of Kaskaskia."
The eclipse above alluded to, though it occasioned some curious re. marks in his camp, did not excite that terror and alarm with which armies in ancient times had been filled; nor did it for a moment arrest his
progress. It served merely to fix the time, when the first army of the Republic descended the Ohio in search of a hostile foe.*
Colonel Clarke had previously meditated an attack upon the British fort St. Vincent, (now Vincennes, in Indiana,) but on account of the insuffi. ciency of his force for that purpose, thought it safer to prosecute his original design. The vicinity of Kaskaskia to the Spanish settlements in Upper Louisiana, whither he proposed to retreat in case of a repulse, added force to this conclusion ; and the hope of attaching the French res. idents to the American interest, and through the influence of the former, which he knew to be extensive over the savages, give peace to an extended and now bleeding frontier, after much reflection, induced him to persevere.
While descending the Ohio, he was overtaken by a messenger from Colonel Campbell, of Fort Pitt, who apprised him that an alliance, offensive and defensive, had been entered into at Paris, between the United Colonies and the King of France, and that a fleet and army of the latter would shortly be sent hither. This circumstance, as subsequerìt events showed, became afterward important. He had scarcely landed and concealed his boats near Fort Massac, when a person by the name of John Duff, and a party of hunters, were stopped by his guard. Duff was an American by birth and was directly from Kaskaskia. With great free. dom, he now communicated to Colonel Clarke intelligence that was all important. Among other things, he stated that Mr. Rocheblave (or Rocheblawe, as Mr. Jefferson writes it,) commanded there—that the militia were well disciplined—that sentinels were posted along the Mississippi and that the Indians and hunters were ordered to keep a sharp look out for “the rebels,” the Virginians or Big Knives, as they were sometimes called. He further stated, that the town had no regular garrison—that its military operations were matters only of parade, and that no one supposed it necessary to guard even against surprise—that the fort, however, which commanded the town was in good condition, and capable, in case of an attack, were it anticipated, of making, by the mere force of the place, a formidable resistance. He confirmed also the statements of Dunn and others sent thither before, in relation to the horrid apprehensions which the inhabitants entertained of Virginians. He stated further, that if they could reach Kaskaskia without discovery, success he thought would be certain. Duff and his party offered their services, and sought to be employed. The offer was accepted--the information, thus obtained, acceptable, and every circumstance indicated a prosperous issue.
The dread and horror in which the Virginians were regarded by the inhabitants of Kaskaskia and its vicinity, Clarke resolved immediately to enlist into his service, and to employ it as an auxiliary to his little armyan expedient worthy of a Hannibal.
* It will be found by referring to Ferguson's tables, that an eclipse of the sun happened in 1778, and on the 24th of June in that year.
On the last day of June, the party, with its commander at their head, sharing in every respect the condition of his men, started in a northwest direction for Kaskaskia. Its distance was one hundred and thirty miles, and the intervening country being low and flat, intersected by numerous streams, and covered with luxuriant vegetation, and being also without roads or bridges and in a state of nature, was, except to backwoodsmen, almost impassable. Through this region the intrepid leader of this gal. lant band marched on foot, with “his rifle upon his shoulder and his provisions upon his back ;" sustaining two days' march, after his provisions were exhausted, till on the evening of the 4th of July, he arrived within a few miles of Kaskaskia. Their march, though arduous, was attended with no peculiar difficulties, other than what were common in those days of privation ; perhaps none beyond the ordinary sufferings which accom. pany military expeditions through forests, where game and water are
A circumstance, however, happened on the third day of his march, which excited for the time some considerable emotion, and led almost to a disastrous issue.
John Saunders, the principal guide, lost his way, and got so bewildered that he was unable to direct their course. Suspicion was at once excited in relation to his fidelity, and a cry immediately arose among the men to “put the traitor to death.” He sought, however, and obtained permission of the colonel to go into the prairie and try to recover himself. The application was granted, and a guard appointed to accompany him thither, by whom he was told, that if he did not conduct the detachment into the hunters' road to Kaskaskia, which he had frequently described and trav. elled, and which led through a country that no woodsman could well for. get, he should be hanged. After searching a considerable time, the poor fellow discovered a spot that he recollected, and his innocence was at once established.
On arriving near Kaskaskia, they waited till dark, when they continued their march. There stood at that time on the west side of the river, and about three-quarters of a mile above the village, a small house, into which the Americans first entered, and there learned that the “militia had been called out the day before ; but as no cause of alarm existed, they had been dismissed, and that everything was quiet—that there was a great number of men in the town, and but few Indians; the greater part having recently gone.” Some boats were immediately procured, and two divisions of the party crossed the river, with orders to repair to different parts of the village, while Colonel Clarke himself, with the third divis. ion, was to take possession of the fort on the east side of the river, commanding the town. Orders were given, that in case Clarke's division should succeed, and the fort should be taken without resistance, the two divisions on the west bank of the river, on a signal given for that purpose, should possess with a shout certain quarters of the town ; and that persons who could speak French should be sent in every direction, and give notice to the inhabitants, “that every man who should appear in the streets would be shot down." These dispositions were attended with complete success—the fort was taken-Clarke entered it by a postern gate on the river side left open,
“directed thither by a soldier he had taken prisoner the evening before.” The town was at once surrounded and every ave. nue guarded, so as to prevent the transmission of intelligence from thence, and in about “two hours, the inhabitants were disarmed without blood. shed.”
Troops had been enlisted, officered, and equipped, transported one thousand three hundred miles by land and water, through a wilderness coun. try, inhabited by the allies of England; and marched into a garrisoned town, without the slightest resistance, and without suspicion that such a movement was in contemplation. The difficulty of making such a jour. ney now, from Virginia to Kaskaskia, aided by all the improvements which modern times have suggested, is considerable ; but, when we consider what it must have been sixty-five years ago, without roads, without bridges, and almost without boats to navigate the rivers ; and when we consider, also, the difficulty of transporting provisions and ammunition through a wild, uninhabited, and hostile region, we cannot but admire the conduct of its leader, and pronounce his exploit, “a brilliant military achievement."
Colonel Clarke was a man of few words—his merit consisted principally in deeds. The speech, however, he made to his troops on arriving at Kaskaskia, was “brief and pointed ;” and we should do him great injustice were we to omit it here.
The speeches which Livy puts into the mouths of his heroes, no matter whether genuine or not, are frequently admired; why not follow his example ?
McDonald, who commanded a regiment of Highlanders in the English army, under Sir Ralph Abercombie in Egypt, at the battle of the Pyra. mids, when the French troops were approaching, addressed his gallant followers in a speech, which has often, and we think very justly, been admired :
“ Ye are,” said he, “the muckle lads of Scotland, and I am Donald McDonald, your chief--yonder are Bonaparte's invincibles; but ye are to convince them, this day, that they are vincible—so out with your muckle whangers."
: Yonder,” said General Starke, at the battle of Bennington, “are the red.coats; ere the sun goes down they must be ours, or Molly Starke sleeps a widow to-night.
Colonel Clarke's speech at Kaskaskia was not only more brief, but more pithy than either. It consisted of but one sentence, so condensed as to convey, without circumlocution, the precise idea he intended,
66 The town,” said he, “is to be taken at all events." And it was taken,
* Hall's Sketches of the West.
The dread and horror which the name of Virginians had created, now came to his aid. It was, perhaps, one of the most innocent stratagems of war that could have been devised ; and although painful and alarming to the inhabitants for the time being, the occasion unquestionably justified its use, and the effect was astonishing.
During the night Clarke ordered his troops, in small parties, to patrol the town in every possible direetion, making the utmost tumult, and whooping after the Indian fashion—while the inhabitants, shut up in their houses, preserved the most perfect silence.
The British governor, Mr. Rocheblave, was taken in his chamber during the night. The public papers, however, had been destroyed or secreted by his wife ; and it was thought “ten thousand times better” to forego the advantages arising from their possession, than that “a gallant son of Virginia” should “ tarnish the ancient fame of his State,” by offering an insult to a female. Although many important papers were supposed to be concealed in her trunks, they were “honorable respected, and not even examined.” It is, we believe, the first instance on record, where gallantry has been carried so far.
Efforts were made during the night to obtain intelligence of the situation and force of the British and their allies in the vicinity, but with little success. A considerable body, however, of Indians, it was early ascertained were encamped at Cahokia, about fifty miles from thence, up the river; and that Monsieur Cere, the principal merchant at Kaskasia, an inveterate enemy of the American cause, was then at St. Louis, on his way to Quebec, from whence he had lately returned, to prosecute extensive operations. The family of Monsieur Cere were in Kaskaskia, and a large stock of his merchandise; and Colonel Clarke, deeming his influ. ence important in the (then) state of affairs, thought, by means of these pledges in his power, to obtain the good opinion of this opulent and respectable merchant. A guard was thereupon stationed about his house, and seals were put upon his property, as well as upon the whole mer. chandise of the place. On the day after the surrender, the troops were all withdrawn, and stationed in different positions about the town. All in tercourse with the soldiers was strictly forbidden, and those sent for by Clarke were forbidden to converse even with each other. The whole town was at once overspread with terror. In presence of an enemy, of whom the inhabitants entertained the most horrid apprehensions, all intercourse with each other and their conquerors strictly forbidden, the most gloomy forebodings filled every bosom. After the troops had been removed, the inhabitants were permitted to walk about as before. Con. gregating, however, together, and being seen by their conquerors apparently in earnest conversation, some of their number, and among them the principal militia officers, were arrested by Colonel Clarke, and put in irons, without assigning any reason for so doing, and without permitting them to speak in their own defence. The consternation which had hitherto prevailed, was now increased; and neither mercy nor compassion any