George Rogers Clark, The Conquest of the Illinois, 1778-1779

Excerpts from George Rogers Clark, The Conquest of the Illinois, edited by Milo Milton Quaife (Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1920)

[20] I frequently feared the settlers would consider making peace with Detroit and suffer themselves and families to be carried off. Their distress may be easily conceived from our situation; yet they remained firm in the hope of relief, which they received by the arrival of a company of men under Colonel John Bowman on the second of September [1777]. This reinforcement, though small, gave an appearance of new life to the situation . . .

[21] The whole of my time when not thus employed was devoted to reflecting upon things in general; particularly whether or no it accorded with the interest of the United States to support Kentucky. This led me to a long train of thinking, the result of which was to lay aside every private view and engage seriously in the war, having the interest and the welfare of the public my only concern until the fate of the continent should be known; divesting myself of prejudice and partiality in favor of any to pursue what I considered to be the interest of the whole. This has influenced my conduct throughout the course of the war, and enabled me better to judge the importance of Kentucky to the Union, situated as it was almost in the midst of the Indians, who had commonly engaged in the Kentucky war as an impediment in their to the more interior frontiers. I saw that as soon as they should accomplish the destruction of Kentucky they would descend upon our frontiers; and instead of the states receiving supplies from thence, they would be obliged to keep large bodies of troops for their defense. It would be almost impossible to
[22] move an army at so great a distance to attack their towns, even if they could be found. By supporting Kentucky and encouraging its growth these obstacles would in great measure be removed; for should the British officers perceive their mistaken policy in carrying the war against Kentucky by the Indians and, withdrawing from them, bend their whole force against the interior frontiers as a certain mode of distressing the states, we might, with a little assistance, march with ease at any time from this country to any part of their country we might choose. (This is the only circumstance that can excuse their conduct.)

These ideas caused me to view Kentucky in the most favorable point of view, as a place of the greatest consequence, which ought to meet with every encouragement, and to perceive that nothing I could engage in would be of more general utility than its defense. As I knew the commandant of the different towns of the Illinois country and the Wabash was busily engaged us, their reduction became my first object. I sent two young hunters, S. Moore and B. Linn, to those places as spires, with proper instructions
[24] for their conduct. To prevent suspicion, neither they nor anyone in Kentucky knew anything of my design until it was ripe for execution. They returned to Harrodsburg with all the information I could reasonably have expected. I found by them that the Illinois people had but little expectation of a visit from us. Things were kept in good order, however, the militia trained, etc., that they might be prepared in case of a visit. I learned that the greatest pains were taken to inflame the minds of the French inhabitants against the Americans, notwithstanding which the spies had discovered traces of affection for us on the part of some of the inhabitants; and that the Indians from that region were generally engaged in the war upon us. . .

[34] Every preparation was now made for our departure. After spending a day of amusement we parted with our friends from Kentucky, they to return to the defense of the country and we in search of new adventures. On the twenty-fourth of June, 1778, we left our little island and running about a mile up the river in order to gain the main channel, we shot the Falls [of the Ohio] at the very moment the sun was under a great eclipse, which caused various conjectures on the part of the superstitious among us.

[35] Knowing that spies were watching the river below the Illinois towns, I had planned to march part of the way by land. I therefore left behind all of our baggage except enough to equip the men after the Indian fashion. Our entire forces, after leaving behind those who were judged unequal to the expected fatigues of the march, consisted of but four companies, under Captains Montgomery, Bowman, Helm, and Harrod. My force being so much smaller than I had expected, I found it necessary to alter my plan of operations. As Vincennes was a town of considerable strength, having four hundred militia, besides which their was an Indian town adjoining an large numbers of Indians always in the neighborhood, and since it was more important than any other from the view-point of Indian affairs, I had thought of attacking it first; but I now found myself too weak to undertake this, and accordingly resolved to begin operations against the Illinois towns. Although they had more inhabitants than Vincennes they were scattered in different villages. There was less danger of our being immediately overpowered by the Indians; in case of necessity, too, we could make good our retreat to the Spanish side of the river, while if we were successful here the way might be paved for us to take possession of Vincennes.

I was well aware of the fact that the French inhabitants of these western settlements had great influence over the Indians, by whom they
[36]were more beloved than any other Europeans. I knew also that their commercial intercourse extended throughout the entire western and northwestern country, while the governing interest on the Great Lakes was chiefly in the hands of the English, who were not popular with the natives. These reflections, along with others of similar import, determined me to strengthen myself, if possible, by adopting such a course of conduct as would tend to attach the whole French and Indian population to our interest, and give us influence beyond the limits of the country which constituted the objective of our campaign. . .

[40] On the evening of July fourth we arrived within a few miles of the town [of Kaskaskia], where we threw our scouts in advance and lay until dark. We then resumed our march and took possession of a house on the bank of the Kaskaskia River, about three-quarters of a mile above the town, occupied by a large family. We learned from the inmates that the people had been under arms a few days before but had concluded the alarm to be groundless and at present all was quiet, and that there was a large number of men in town. Although Indians were for the most part absent. We obtained from the
[41] man boats enough to convey us across the river, where I formed my force in three divisions. I felt confident the inhabitants could not now obtain knowledge of our approach in time to enable them to make any resistance. My object was now to get possession of the place with as little confusion as possible, but to have it if necessary at the loss of the whole town. I did not entirely credit the information given us at the house, as the man seemed to contradict himself, informing us among other things that a noise we heard in the town was caused by the negroes at a dance. I set out for the fort with one division, ordering the other two to proceed to different quarters of the town. If I met with no resistance, at a certain signal a general shout was to be given and a certain part of the town was to be seized immediately, while men from each detachment who were able to talk French were to run through the streets proclaiming what had happened and informing the townspeople to remain in their houses on pain of being shot down.

These arrangements produced the desired effect, and within a very short time we were in complete possession of the place, with every avenue guarded to prevent any one from escaping and giving the alarm to the other villages. . .

[50] I ordered Major Bowman to mount his company and part of another on horses to be procured from the town, and taking with him a few townsmen to inform their friends of what had happened, to proceed without delay to Cahokia and if possible gain possession of the place before the following morning. I gave him no further instructions on the subject, leaving him free to exercise his own judgment. He gave orders for collecting the horses, whereupon a number of gentlemen came to inform me that they were aware of the design. They pointed out that the soldiers were much fatigued, and said they hoped I would not reject their offer to execute whatever I might wish to have done at Cahokia. The people there were their friends and relatives and would, they thought, follow their example. At least, they hoped, they might be permitted to accompany the detachment.

Conceiving that it might be good policy to show them that we put confidence in them (which, in fact, I desired for obvious reasons
[51] to do), I told them I had no doubt Major Bowman would welcome their company and that as many as chose might go. Although we were too weak to be other than suspicious and much on our guard, I knew we had sufficient security for their good behavior. I told them that if they went at all they ought to go equipped for war. I was in hopes that everything would be settled amicably, but as it was the first time they had ever borne arms as freemen it might be well to equip themselves and see how they felt, especially as they were about to put their friends in the same situation as themselves.

They appeared to be highly pleased at this idea, and in the evening the Major set out with a force but little inferior to the one with which we had entered the country, the Frenchmen being commanded by their former militia officers. These new friends of our were so elated over the thought of the parade they were to make at Cahokia that they were too much concerned about equipping themselves to appear to the best advantage. It was night before the part moved and the distance being twenty leagues, it was late in the morning of the sixth before they reached Cahokia. Detaining every person they met, they entered the outskirts of the town before they were discovered. The townsmen were at first much alarmed by this sudden appearance of strangers in hostile array and being ordered even by their friends and
[52] relatives to surrender the town. As the confusion among the women and children over the cry of the Big Knives being in town proved greater than had been anticipated, the Frenchmen immediately informed the people what had happened at Kaskaskia. Major Bowman told them not to be alarmed; that although resistance was out of the question he would convince them that he would prefer their friendship to their hostility. He was authorized to inform them that they were at liberty to become free Americans as their friends at Kaskaskia had done. Any who did not care to adopt this course were free to leave the country except such as had been engaged in inciting the Indians to war.

Cries of liberty and freedom, and huzzahs for the Americans rang through the whole town. The gentlemen from Kaskaskia dispersed among their friends and in a few hours all was amicably arranged, and Major Bowman snugly quartered in the old British fort. Some individuals said the town had been given up too tamely, but little attention was paid to them. A considerable number of Indians who were encamped in the neighborhood (Cahokia was an important center of Indian trade) immediately fled. . . . By July 8, Major Bowman had everything settled agreeably to our wishes. All of the
[53] inhabitants cheerfully took the oath of allegiance, and he set about repairing the fort and regulating the internal police of the place.

The neighboring villages followed the example set by Kaskaskia and Cahokia, and since we made no strict inquiry concerning those who had been engaged in encouraging the Indians to war, within a few days the country appeared to be in a state of perfect harmony. . .

Being now in position to procure all the information I desired, I was astonished at perceiving the pains and expense the British had incurred in inciting the Indians. They had sent emissaries to every tribe throughout that vast country, even bringing the denizens of Lake Superior by water to Detroit and there outfitting them for war. The sound of war was universal, there being scarcely a nation among them but what had declared and received the bloody belt and hatchet.

Vincennes I found to be a place of infinite importance for us to gain. This was now my
[54] object, but realizing that all the force we had, joined by every man in Kentucky, would not be able to take the place, I resolved on other measures than those of arms. I determined to send no message to the Indians for the present, but wishing an interview between us to be arranged through the agency of French gentlemen, to assume the appearance f carelessness about the matter. In all the papers I wrote I referred to myself as at the Falls of the Ohio, in order that it might appear that the troops we had with us were only a detachment from that place. I sought to spread the impression that the main body of our troops were fortifying that point, and that large reinforcements were daily expected, on the arrival of which we intended to continue the war. Every man we had was instructed to talk in this strain. Indeed, from many hints and pretended information of mine, before I left that place the greater part of them believed the most of this to be true. In short, as I had early perceived, an excuse for our marching into the Illinois country with so small a force was really necessary.

I inquired particularly into the manner the people had been governed heretofore and found, much to my satisfaction, that the government had generally been as severe as though under martial law. I resolved to make capital of this, and took every step in my power to cause the people to appreciate the blessings enjoyed
[55] by an American citizen. . .

[59]Everything in this section now wore a promising appearance, but Vincennes was never absent from my mind. I had reason to suspect from some things I had learned, that Mr. Gibault, the priest, had been inclined to the American interest previous to our arrival in the country. I had no doubt of his fidelity to us. Knowing he had great influence over the people, and that Vincennes was also under his jurisdiction, I sent for him and had a long conference on that subject. In response to my questions he stated that he did not think it worth my while to cause any military preparation to be made at the Falls for an attack on
[60] Vincennes although the place was strong and there was a great number of Indians in the neighborhood. . . . He thought that when the inhabitants should be fully informed of what had happened at the Illinois and the present happiness of their friends there, and should be fully acquainted with the nature of the war, their sentiments concerning it would undergo a great change. He was certain that his appearance there would have great weight even among the savages. If it were agreeable to me, he would take this matter upon himself, and he had no doubt of being able to bring the place over to the American interest without my being put to the trouble of marching troops against it. His business being altogether of a spiritual character, he desired that another person might be charged with the temporal part of the embassy, and named Dr. Laffont
[61] as his associate, but he agreed that he would privately direct the whole undertaking.

This was quite in line with what I had been secretly aiming at for some days. The plan was immediately settled upon, and the two doctors with their intended retinue, among whom I placed a spy, set about preparing for their journey. . . . Mr. Gibault and party arrived safely, and after spending a day or two in explaining matters to the people they universally acceded to the proposal
[62] (except for a few Europeans who had been left there by Mr. Abbott and who immediately left the country) and went in a body to the church, where the oath of allegiance was administered tot hem in the most solemn manner. A commander was elected and the fort was immediately taken possession of and the American flag displayed, to the great astonishment of the Indians.

Thus everything was settled beyond our most sanguine hopes. The people here at once assumed a new attitude; they began to talk in a different style and to act like perfect freemen. With a United States garrison at hand their language to the Indians was immediately altered; they informed the latter that their old Father, the King of France, had come to life again, and that he had joined the Big Knives and was angry at them for fighting for the English. They advised the Indians to make peace with the Americans as soon as possible; otherwise they might expect the land to be deluged with blood. Such was now the language the natives throughout that whole region received through correspondence from their ancient friends of the Wabash and the Illinois, and throughout all those tribes they began to reflect seriously upon it. . .

[66] An Indian chief, the son of Tobacco, a Piankeshaw at this place, lived in a village adjoining Vincennes. This man was called by the Indians the Grand Door to the Wabash, as the great Pontiac had been to the St. Joseph, since nothing of
[67] importance could be undertaken by the league on the Wabash without his consent. Perceiving that it was an object of great importance to win his support, had sent him by Mr. Gilbault a very complimentary message, and he had returned the compliment. I now sent him a message by Captain Helm calculated to influence him in the same fashion I had already done the townsmen. I also sent the following speech with a belt of wampum, and gave Captain Helm directions how to act, both if he should be pacifically inclined and in the contrary event. The Captain arrived safely at Vincennes, and was received with acclamation by the people. After the usual ceremonies were over, he sent for the Grand Door and delivered my letter to him. After reading it, the chief informed the Captain that he was happy to see him, one of the Big Knife chiefs, in this town. He admitted that he had joined with the English against the Americans, but confessed that he had always thought the sky looked gloomy. As the contents of the letter were a matter of great moment, he could not return an answer to it immediately, but must first hold a council on the subject, and he hoped the captain would be patient. In short, he displayed all the courtly dignity he was master of, and Captain Helm followed his example. Several days elapsed before this business was concluded.

At length the Captain was invited to the Indian council, where he was informed by
[68]Tobacco's son that they had carefully considered the case in hand, and the nature of the war between the English and ourselves had been explained to their satisfaction. He had always thought that he was in the dark as to the truth of the matter, but now the sky was clear. He perceived that the Big Knife was in the right, and observed that if the English should conquer us they would perhaps treat them in the same manner they intended to serve us. In short, his ideas were quite changed, and he would tell the Indians of the Wabash to bloody the land no more for the English. At this, he sprang up, struck his breast, called himself a man and a warrior, and saying he was now a Big Knife, took Captain Helm by the hand. His example was followed by all present, and the evening was spent in merriment. Thus ended this important negotiation, which resulted in the saving of much blood. To the day of his death (which happened two years later) this man proved a zealous friend. He desired to be buried near the Americans; his body was therefore conveyed to Cahokia and buried with the honors of war.

Within a short time almost all the tribes on the Wabash as far up as Ouiatanon came to Vincennes and followed the example of their head chief, and since expresses were continually passing back and forth between Captain
[69] helm and myself while these treaties were being arranged, everything was settled to my entire satisfaction and greatly to the public advantage. The British lost cause lost ground daily in this section, and in a short time our influence over the Indians extended to the River St. Joseph and the lower end of Lake Michigan. The French gentlemen at the different posts in our possession engaged themselves warmly in our cause. They appeared to vie with one another, by means of their correspondence and their trade with the Indians, in promoting our interest. In a short time large numbers of Indians belonging to tribes inhabiting the Illinois country, came to Cahokia to make peace with us . . .

The treaties we made during the three or four weeks beginning the last of August were negotiated in a different fashion, probably, than any others in America prior to that time. I had always been convinced that our general conduct of Indian affairs was wrong. Inviting them to treaties was considered by them in a different manner than we realized; they imputed it to fear on our part, and the giving of valu-
[69] able presents confirmed them in this opinion. I resolved, therefore, to guard against this. I took great pains to acquaint myself th the French and Spanish methods of treating with the Indians, and with their disposition and manners in general. Since the Indians in this section had not been spoiled by us yet,. I made up my mind they should not be. I was fully prepared for the business, having at hand copies of the British treaties. After the ceremonies commonly employed at the commencement of Indian treaties, they, as the petitioning party, made the opening speech. They laid the entire blame for their taking up the bloody hatchet to the deception of the English, acknowledging their error and making protestations that they would guard in future against those bad birds (alluding to the British emissaries sent among them) flying through the land. They concluded by expressing the hope that as the Great Spirit had brought us together for good, as he is good, they might be received as our friends, and that peace might take the place of the bloody belt, at the same time throwing down and stamping on the implements of war such as flags and red belts of wampum, which they had received from the British. I told them I had given attention to what they had said, and that I would give them an answer the next day . . .

[71] On the following day I delivered this speech: Men and warriors, pay attention. You informed me yesterday that the Great Spirit had brought us together, which you hoped was good as He is good. I also have the same hope, and whatever may be agreed upon by us at the present time, whether for peace or war, I expect each party will strictly adhere to and henceforward prove ourselves worthy of the attention of the Great Spirit. I am a man and a warrior, not a councillor. I carry War in my right hand and in my left Peace. I was sent by the great council of the Big Knives and their friends to take control of all the towns the English possess in this country, and to remain here watching the conduct of the red men. I was sent to bloody the paths of those who continue the effort to stop the course of the rivers, but to cleat the roads that lead from us to those who wish to be in friendship with us, in order that the women and children may walk
[71] in them without anything being in the way to strike their feet against; and to continue to call on the Great Fire for warriors enough to darken the land of those who are hostile to us, so that the inhabitants shall hear no sound in it but birds that live on blood. I know that a mist is yet before your eyes; I will dispel the clouds in order that you may see clearly the cause of the war between the Big Knives and the English, that you may judge for yourselves which is in the right. Then if you are men and warriors, as you profess to be, prove it by adhering strictly to what you may now declare, without deceiving either party, and thus proving yourselves to be only old women.

The Big Knives are very much like the red med; they do not know well how to make blankets, powder, and cloth; they buy these things from the English (from whom they formerly descended) and live chiefly by raising corn, hunting, and trading, as you and your neighbors, the french do. But the Big Knives were daily becoming more numerous, like the trees in the woods, so that the land became poor and the hunting scarce; and having but little to trade with, the women began to cry to see their children naked, and tried to make clothes for themselves, and soon gave their husbands blankets of their own making; and the men learned to make guns and powder, so that they did not want so much from the English. Then the English became angry and
[73] stationed strong garrisons through all our country (as you see they have done among you on the lakes and among the French) and would not let our women spin nor the men make powder, nor let us trade with anyone else. They said we must buy everything from them, and since we had become saucy thy would make us give them two bucks for a blanket that we used to get for one. They said we must do as they pleased, and they killed some of us to make the rest afraid. This is the truth and the cause of the war between us, which did not begin until some time after they had treated us in this fashion. Our women and children were cold and hungry, and continued to cry. Our young men were lost, and there were no counsellors to set them in the right path. The whole land was dark, and the old men hung down their heads for shame, for they could not see the sun.

There was thus a mourning for many years. At last the Great Spirit took pity on us and kindled a great council fire that never goes out, at a place called Philadelphia. He stuck down a post there and left a war tomahawk by it, and went away. The sun at once broke out, and the sky became blue. The old men held up their heads, and assembled at the fire. They sharpened the hatchet and put it into the hands of the young men, and told them to strike the English as long as they could find one on this side of the Great Water. The
[73] young men immediately struck the war post and blood ensued. Thus the war began, and the English were driven from one place to another, until they became weak and hired you red men to fight for them, and help them. The Great Spirit became angry at this, and caused your old Father, the French King, and other great nations to join the Big Knives and fight with them against all their enemies, so that the English have become like the deer in the woods. From this you may see that it is the Great Spirit that caused your waters to be troubled, because you fought for the people he was angry with, and if your women and children should cry you must blame yourselves for it, and not the Big Knives.

You can now judge who is in the right. I have already told you who I am. Here is a bloody belt and a white one. Take whichever you please. Behave like men, and don't let your present situation, being surrounded by the Big Knives, cause you to take up the one belt with your hands when your hearts drink up the other. If you take the bloody path you shall go from this town in safety and join your friends, the English, and we will try like warriors who can put the most stumbling blocks in the road and keep our clothes perfumed the longest. If you should take the path of peace and now be received as brothers to the Big Knives and the French, and should hereafter listen to bad birds that will be flying
[75] through your land, you will no longer be counted as men but as persons with two tongues, who ought to be destroyed without listening to what you say, as nobody could understand you. . .

[The peace settlement was a success for Clark, but he soon feared his efforts would be undone when he learned that Lieutenant-Governor Henry Hamilton, known as the "hair-buying general," had marched British troops from Detroit and had captured Vincennes in December 1778. Hamilton decided to remain at Vincennes until Spring.]

[112] We now saw that we were in a very critical situation, cut off as we were from all intercourse from the home government. We perceived that Governor Hamilton, by the junction f his northern and southern Indians, would be at the head of such a force in the spring that nothing in this quarter could withstand him. Kentucky must fall immediately and it
[113] would be fortunate if the disaster ended here. . . . We saw but one alternative which was to attack the enemy in his stronghold. If we were successful we would thereby save the whole American cause. If unsuccessful, the consequence would be nothing worse than if we should not make the attempt. We were encouraged by the thought of the magnitude of the consequences that would attend our success. The season of the year was also favorable to our design, since the enemy could not suppose that we would be so mad as to attempt a march of eighty leagues through a drowned country in the depth of winter. They would, therefore, be off their guard and would not think it worth while, probably, to keep scouts out. If we could make good our advance to Vincennes we might probably surprise and overcome them, while if we should fail, the country would be in no worse situation than if we had not made the attempt. This and many other reasons induced us to resolve to attempt the enterprise, which met with the approbation of every man among us. . .

[116] Everything being ready on the 5th of February, after receiving a lecture and absolution from a priest, we crossed the Kaskaskia River with 170 men and at a distance of about three miles encamped until February 8. When we again resumed the advance the weather was wet and a part of the country was covered with several inches of water. . .

[Clark's men struggled across the countryside but keep their spirits up. In one instance, "a comical little drummer had afforded them great diversion by floating on his drum and other tricks and they really began to regard themselves as persons whom neither floods nor seasons could stop" (119)]

[125]During most of this march the weather was warm and moist for the season. This was the coldest night we had and in the morning the ice was one-half or three-fourths of an inch deep in still water and close to shore. The morning was the finest we had had on our entire march. Shortly after sunrise I addressed the men. What I said to them I do not now remember, but it may be easily imagined by anyone who can understand my affection for them at that time. I concluded by informing them that by surmounting the plain, now in full view, and reaching the woods opposite they would put
[126] an end to their suffering and in a few hours would have sight of their long-wished-for goal. Without waiting for any reply I stepped into the water and a hurrah was raised. We commonly marched through the water in single file as it was much easier to advance in this way. When about a third of the men had entered I halted them and further to prove the men, and because I had some suspicion of three or four of them, I called to Major Bowman to fall into the rear with twenty-five men and to put to death any of the men who refused to march, saying that we wished to have no such person among us. The whole force raised a cry of approbation and on we went. This was the most trying difficulty of all we had experienced. I had fifteen or twenty of the strongest men follow after me and, judging from my own sensations what must be those of the men, on reaching the middle of the plain where the water was about knee deep I realized that I was failing. There being no trees or bushes here for the men to support themselves by, I did not doubt but that many of the weaker ones would be drowned. I therefore ordered the canoes to make the land, discharge their loads, and then ply backwards and forwards with all possible diligence, picking up the men. To encourage the party I sent some of the strongest men ahead with orders to pass the word back when they reached a certain distance that the water was getting shallower, and on
[127] approaching the woods to cry out "Land." This stratagem produced the desired effect. Encouraged by it the men exerted themselves to the limit of their ability, the weaker holding on to the stronger ones and frequently one man being upheld by two. This was a great advantage to the weak, but the water, instead of getting shallower, became continually deeper. On reaching the woods, where they expected land, the water was up to my shoulders. Nevertheless, gaining these woods was a matter of great importance. All the weak and short men clung to the trees and floated on logs until they were taken off by the canoes. The strong and tall men got ashore and started fires. Many would reach the bank and fall with their bodies half in the water, not being able to support themselves outside it. This was a delightful spot of dry ground about ten acres in extent. We soon found, however, that the fires did us no good and that the only way to restore the men was for two strong ones to take a weak one by the arms and exercise him. The day was delightful and by this means they soon recovered. . .
[129] Our situation was now sufficiently critical. We were within full view of a town which contained upwards of six hundred men, counting soldiers, inhabitants, and Indians, with no possibility of retreat open to us in case of defeat. The crew of the galley, although numbering less than fifty men, would have constituted a reinforcement of great importance to our little army. But we would not permit ourselves to dwell on this. We were now in the situation I had been laboring to attain. The idea of being taken prisoner was foreign to almost all of our men. In the event of capture they looked forward to being tortured by the savages. Our fate was now to be determined, probably within the next few hours, and we knew that nothing but the boldest conduct would insure success. I knew that some of the inhabitants wished us well, while many more were lukewarm to the interest of the British and Americans alike. I also learned that the Grand Chief, the son of Tobacco, had within a few days openly declared in council with the British that he was a brother and friend of the Big Knives. These circumstances were in our favor. Many hunters were going back and forth and there was little probability
[130] of our remaining undiscovered until dark. Accordingly I determined to bring matters to an issue at once, and writing the following address to the inhabitants sent it off by the prisoner we had just taken:

To the Inhabitants of Vincennes

Gentlemen: Being now within two miles of your village with my army determined to take your fort this night, and not being willing to surprise you, I am taking the measure of requesting such of you as are true citizens and desirous of enjoying the liberty I bring you to remain quietly in your houses. If there are any that are friends of the King of England I desire them instantly to repair to the fort and there join his troops and fight like men; and if any that do not repair to the garrison shall hereafter be discovered they may depend upon being severely punished. Those, on the other hand, who are true friends to Liberty may expect to be well treated. I once more request that they keep out of the streets, for every person found under arms upon my arrival will be treated as an enemy.

[132] We advanced slowly in full view of the town, but as it was a matter of some consequence to make ourselves appear as formidable as possible, on leaving our place of concealment we marched and countermarched in a fashion calculated to magnify our numbers. Every person who had undertaken to enroll volunteers in the Illinois had been presented with a stand of colors and these, ten or twelve in number, they had brought along with them. We now
[133] displayed these to the best possible advantage, and since the plain through which we were marching was not perfectly level but was dotted with elevations rising seven or eight feet above the common level and running in an oblique direction to our line of march towards the town, we took advantage of one of these to march our men along the low ground so that only the colors (which had been fixed to long poles procured for the purpose) could be seen above the height. While we lay on Warriors' Island our young Frenchmen had decoyed and captured several hunters with their horses; I therefore caused our officers, mounted on these, to ride in and out in order more completely to deceive the enemy. In this manner we advanced, directing our march in such fashion that darkness fell before we had proceeded more than half way to the town. We then suddenly altered our direction and crossed some ponds where they could not suspect our presence. About eight o'clock we gained the heights in the rear of the town. There being still no enemy in sight, I became impatient to solve the mystery. I ordered Lieutenant Bailey with fourteen men to advance and open fire on the fort while the main body moved in a different direction and took possession of the strongest part of the town. The firing now commenced against the fort, but since drunken Indians often saluted it after nightfall, the garrison did not suppose it to be from an enemy until one of
[134] the men, lighting his match, was shot down through a porthole. The drums now sounded and the conflict was fairly joined on both sides. I sent reinforcements to assist in the attack on the garrison, while other dispositions were being made in the town.

We now found that the garrison had known nothing of our approach. Having finished the fort that evening, they had indulged in games for a time and then retired just before the arrival of my letter. . .

[136]The garrison was now completely surrounded and the firing continued without intermission (except for about fifteen minutes shortly before dawn) until nine o'clock the following morning. . .
[137] The cannon were on the upper floors of strong blockhouses located at each angle of the fort eleven feet above the ground, and the portholes were so badly cut that our troops lay under their fire within twenty or thirty yards of the walls. The enemy did no damage except to the buildings of the town, some of which were badly shattered, while their musket fire in the dark was employed in vain against woodsmen who were sheltered behind the palings of the houses (the gardens of Vincennes were close to the fort and for about two-thirds of the way around them were fenced with good pickets firmly set in the ground and about six feet high. Where these were lacking breastworks for the troops were soon made by tearing down old houses and garden fences, so that the troops within the fort enjoyed but little advantage over those outside; and not knowing the number of the enemy, they thought themselves in a worse situation than they actually were), river banks, and ditches, and did us no damage except for the wounding of a man or two.

Since we could not afford to lose any of our men, great pains were taken to keep them sufficiently sheltered and to maintain a hot fire against the fort in order to intimidate the enemy
[138] as well as to destroy them. The embrasures for their cannon were frequently closed, for our riflemen finding the true direction would pour in such volleys when they were open that the artillerymen could not stand to the guns. Seven or eight of them were shot down in a short time. Our men frequently taunted the enemy in order to provoke them into opening the portholes and firing the cannon so that they might have the pleasure of cutting them down with their rifles. Fifty rifles would be leveled the instant the port flew open, and had the garrison stood to heir artillery most of them, I believe, would have been destroyed during the night as the greater part of our men, lying within thirty yards of the walls, and behind some houses, were as well sheltered as those within the fort and were much more expert in this mode of fighting. The enemy fired at the flash of our guns, but our men would change their positions the moment they had fired. On the instant of the least appearance at one of their loopholes a dozen guns would be fired at it. At times an irregular fire as hot as could be maintained was poured in from different directions for several minutes. This would be continually succeeded by a scattering fire at the portholes and a great uproar and laughter would be raised by the reserve parties in different parts of the town to give the impression that they had only fired on the fort for a few minutes for amusement, while those
[139] who were keeping up a continuous fire were being regularly relieved.

Conduct such as this kept the garrison in a constant state of alarm. They did not know what moment they might be stormed or sapped as they could plainly see that we had thrown up entrenchments across the streets and we frequently appeared to be busily engaged on the bank of the river, which was within thirty feet of the wall. We knew the location of the magazine and Captain bowman began some work designed to blow it up when our artillery should arrive. Knowing that we were daily liable to be overpowered by the numerous bands of Indians on the river in case they should again heartily join the enemy (as to the likelihood of which we were yet uninformed) we resolved to lose no time, but to gain possession of the fort as soon possible. Unless the vessel should arrive sooner, we determined to undermine the fort the following night and fixed upon the spot and the plan of executing this work, which we intended to begin the next day.

[142] Thus the attack continued until nine o'clock on the morning of the twenty-fourth.

[143] Towards evening a flag of truce appeared with the following proposals. I was greatly
[144] at a loss to conceive what reason Governor Hamilton could have for wishing a truce of three days on such terms as he proposed. Many said it was a stratagem to obtain possession of me. I thought differently and had no idea that he entertained such a sentiment, as an act of that nature would infallibly ruin him. I was convinced he had some prospect of succor or of extricating himself from his predicament in some way. Although we had every reason to expect a reinforcement in less than three days that would at once put an end to the siege, I did not think it prudent to agree to the proposal and returned the following answer.

We met at the church about eighty yards from the fort, Governor Hamilton, Major
[145] Hay, superintendent of Indian Affairs, Captain Helm, who was his prisoner, Major Bowman, and myself, and the conference began. Governor Hamilton produced articles of capitulation containing various provisions, one of which was that the garrison should be surrendered on being permitted to go to Pensacola on parole. After deliberating on every article I rejected the whole proposal. Hamilton then desired me to make some proposition. I told him I had no offer to make other than I had already done, that they surrender themselves as prisoners unconditionally. I observed that his troops had behaved with spirit, and without viewing us as savages they could not suppose they would be treated the worse inconsequence. If he chose to comply with my demand, the sooner he should do so the better, as it was in
[146] vain for him to make any counter proposition. He must know by this time that the fort would fall and that both of us must regard al blood that might still be spilled as murder on the part of the garrison. My troops were already impatient and begging for permission to storm the fort. If such a step were taken many of course would be cut down, and the consequences of an enraged body of woodsmen breaking into the fort must be obvious to him. It would be beyond the power of an American officer to save a single man. . .

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