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be any doubt that the western troubles must be put down vigorously and by the armed hand. Even while he was negotiating in the north and south, therefore, he threw himself heart and soul into the preparation of St. Clair's expedition, pushing forward all necessary arrangements, and planning the campaign with a care and foresight made possible by his military ability and by his experience as an Indian fighter. While the main army was thus. getting ready, two lesser expeditions, one under Scott and one under Wilkinson, were sent into the Indian country; but beyond burning some deserted villages and killing a few stray savages both were fruitless.
At last all was ready. St. Clair had an inter. view with Washington, in which the whole plan of campaign was gone over, and especial warning
iven against ambuscades. He then took his departure at once for the west, and late in September left Cincinnati with some two thousand men. The plan of campaign was to build a line of forts, and accordingly one named Fort Hamilton was erected twenty-four miles north on the Miami, and then Fort Jefferson was built forty-four miles north of that point. Thence St. Clair pushed slowly on for twenty-nine miles until he reached the head-waters of the Wabash. He had been joined on the march by some Kentucky militia, who were disorderly and undisciplined. Sixty of them promptly deserted, and it became necessary to send a regiment after them to prevent their plundering the baggage
trains. At the same time some Chickasaw auxiliaries, with the true rat instinct, deserted and went home. Nevertheless St. Clair kept on, and finally reached what proved to be his last camp, with about fourteen hundred men. The militia were on one side of the stream, the regulars on the other. At sunrise the next day the Indians surprised the militia, drove them back on the other camp, and shattered the first line of the regulars. The second line stood their ground, and a desperate fight ensued; but it was all in vain. The Indians charged up to the guns, and, though they were repulsed by the bayonet, St. Clair, who was ill in his tent, was at last forced to order a retreat. The retreat soon became a rout, and the broken army, leaving their artillery and throwing away their arms, fled back to Fort Jefferson, where they left their wounded, and hurried on to their starting-point at Fort Washington. It was Braddock over again. General Butler, the second in command, was killed on the field, while the total loss reached nine hundred men and fifty-nine officers, and of these six hundred were killed. The Indians do not appear to have numbered much more than a thousand. No excuse for such a disaster and such murderous slaughter is possible, for nothing but the grossest carelessness could have permitted a surprise of that nature upon an established camp. The troops, too, were not only surprised, but apparently utterly unprepared to fight, and the battle was merely a wild struggle for life.
Washington was above all things a soldier, and his heart was always with his armies whenever he had one in the field. In this case particularly he hoped much, for he looked to this powerful expedition to settle the Indian troubles for a time, and give room for that great western movement which always was in his thoughts. He therefore awaited reports from St. Clair with keen anxiety, but in this case the ill tidings did not attain their proverbial speed. The battle was fought on November 4, and it was not until the close of a December day that the officer carrying dispatches from the frontier reached Philadelphia. He rode at once to the President's house, and Washington was called out from dinner, where he had company. He remained away some time, and on returning to the table said nothing as to what he had heard, talked with every one at Mrs. Washington's reception afterwards, and gave no sign. Through all the weary evening he was as calm and courteous as ever. When the last guest had gone he walked up and down the room for a few minutes and then suddenly broke out: “It's all over — St. Clair 's defeated — routed; the officers nearly all killed, the men by wholesale; the rout complete — too shocking to think of — and a surprise into the bargain.” He paused and strode up and down the room; stopped again and burst forth in a torrent of indignant wrath: “Here on this very spot I took leave of him; I wished him success and honor; "You have your instructions,' I said, “from the
secretary of war; I had a strict eye to them, and will add but one word Beware of a surprise! I repeat it - beware of a surprise! You know how the Indians fight us.' He went off with that as my last solemn warning thrown into his ears. And yet, to suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked, by a surprise, the very thing I guarded him against! O God, O God, he's worse than a murderer! How can he answer it to his country! The blood of the slain is upon him, the curse of widows and orphans, the curse of Heaven!”
His secretary was appalled and silent, while Washington again strode fiercely up and down the
Then he sat down, collected himself, and said, “This must not go beyond this room.” Then a long silence. Then, “General St. Clair shall have justice. I looked hastily through the dispatches, saw the whole disaster, but not all the particulars; I will receive him without displeasure; I will hear him without prejudice; he shall have full justice.” The description of this scene by an eye-witness has been in print for many years, and yet we find people who say that Washington was cold of heart and lacking in human sympathy. What could be more intensely human than this? What a warm heart is here, and what a lightning glimpse of a passionate nature bursting through silence into burning speech! Then comes the iron will which has mastered all the problems of his life. . “He shall have full justice;” and St. Clair
had justice. He had been an unfortunate choice, but as a Revolutionary soldier and governor of the Northwest Territory his selection had been natural. He had never been a successful general, for it was not in him to be so. Something he lacked, energy, decision, foresight, it matters not what. But at least he was brave. Broken by sickness, he had displayed the utmost personal courage on that stricken field; and for this Washington would always forgive much. He received the unfortunate general kindly. He could not order a court martial, for there were no officers of sufficient rank to form one; but he gave St. Clair every opportunity for vindication, and a committee of Congress investigated the campaign and exculpated the leader. His personal bravery saved him and his reputation, but nothing can alter the fact that the surprise was unpardonable and the disaster awful.
Immediate results of the St. Clair defeat were not so bad as might have been expected. Panic, of course, ran rampant along the frontier, reaching even to Pittsburg; but the Indians failed to follow up their advantage, and did not come. Still the alarm was there, and Pennsylvania and Virginia ordered troops to be raised, while Congress alsó took action. Another increase of the army was ordered, with consequent increase of appropriation, so that this Indian victory entered at this point into the great current of the financial policy, and thus played its part in the events on which parties were dividing, and history was being made.