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Indiana Historical Bureau

George Rogers Clark > Letter from George Rogers Clark to his Friend George Mason > Letter - Part Six Letter - Part Six

By the 4th day of January (February), *[It was the 4th day of February, 1779.] I got everything complete, and on the fifth I marched, being joined by two volunteer companies of the principal young men of the Illinois, commanded by Captains McCarty and Francis Charlaville. Those of the troops were Captains Bowman and William Worthington of the light horse. [No such name as William Worthington is found on the roll of persons receiving land in Clark's grant, but the name of Captain Edward Worthington is found there.] We were conducted out of the town by the inhabitants and Mr. Gibault, the priest, who, after a very suitable discourse to the purpose, gave us all absolution, and we set out on a forlorn hope indeed, for our whole party, with the boat's crew, consisted of only a little upwards of two hundred. I can not account for it, but I still had inward assurance of success, and never could, when weighing every circumstance, doubt it but I had some secret check.

We had now a route before us of two hundred and forty miles in length, through, I suppose, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but at this time, in many parts, flowing with water, and exceeding bad marching. My greatest care was to divert the men as much as possible, in order to keep up their spirits. The first obstruction of any consequence that I met with was on the 13th. Arriving at the two Little Wabashes, although three miles asunder---they now make but one---the flowed water between them being at least three feet deep and in many places four. Being near five miles to the opposite hills, the shallowest place, except about one hundred yards, was three feet. This would have been enough to have stopped any set of men not in the same temper that we were. But in three days we contrived to cross by building a large canoe, ferried across the two channels; the rest of the way we waded, building scaffolds at each to lodge our baggage on until the horses crossed to take them. It rained nearly a third of the our march, but we never halted for it. In the evening of the 17th we got to the low lands of the river Embarrass,* [The Embarrass river enters the Wabash on the west, a little below Vincennes; course, southeast.] which we found deep in water, it being nine miles to St. Vincennes, which stood on the east side of the Wabash, and every foot of the way covered with deep water. We marched down the little river in order to gain the banks of the main, which we did in about three leagues, made a small canoe and sent an express to meet the boat and hurry it up. From the spot we now lay on, (it) was about ten miles to town (Vincennes), and every foot of the way put together, that was not under three feet and upwards under water, would not have made the length of two miles and half, and not a mouthful of provisions. To have waited for our boat, if possible to avoid it, would have been impolitic. If I was sensible that you would let no person see this relation, I would give you a detail of our suffering for four days in crossing those waters and the manner it was done, as I am sure that you would credit it, but it is too incredible for any person to believe, except those who are as well acquainted with me as you are, or had experienced something similar to it. I hope you will excuse me until I have the pleasure of seeing you personally. But to our inexpressible joy, in the evening of the 23d, we got safe on terra firma within half a league of the fort, covered by a small grove of trees, had a full view of the wished for spot. I should have crossed at a greater distance from the town, but the White river coming in just below us, we were afraid of getting too near it. We had already taken some prisoners that were coming from the town. Lying in the grove some time, to dry out clothes, by the sun, we took another prisoner, known to be a friend, by which we got all the intelligence we wished for, but would not suffer him to see our troops, except a few.

A thousand ideas flashed in my head at this moment. I found that Governor Hamilton was able to defend himself for a considerable time, but knew that he was not able to turn out of the fort; that if the siege continued long a superior number might come against us, as I knew there was a party of English not far above in the river; that if they found out our numbers (they) might raise the disaffected savages and harass us. I resolved to appear as daring as possible, that the enemy might conceive, by our behavior, that we were very numerous, and probably discourage them. I immediately wrote to the inhabitants in general, informing them where I was, and what I determined to do; desiring the friends to the states to keep close to their houses, and those in the British interest to repair to the fort and fight for their king, otherways there should be no mercy shown them, etc., etc. Sending the compliments of several officers that were known to be expected to reinforce me to several gentlemen of the town, I dispatched the prisoner off with this letter, waiting until near sunset, giving him time to get near the town before we marched. As it was an open plain from the wood that covered us, I marched time enough to be seen from the town before dark, but, taking advantage of the land, disposed the lines in such a manner that nothing but the pavilions could be seen, having as many of them as would be sufficient for a thousand men, which was observed by the inhabitants who had just received my letter, counted the different colors, and judged of our number accordingly. But I was careful to give them no opportunity of seeing our troops before dark, which it would be before we could arrive. The houses obstructed the fort's observing us, and were not alarmed, as I expected, by many of the inhabitants.

I detached Lieutenant Bailey and a party to attack the fort at a certain signal, and took possession of the strongest posts of the town with the main body. The garrison had so little suspicion of what was to happen that they did not believe the firing was from an enemy, until a man was wounded through the ports (which happened the third or fourth shot), expecting it to be some drunken Indians. The firing commenced on both sides very warm; a second division joined the first. A considerable number of British Indians made their escape out of town. The Kickepous and Peankeshaws, to the amount of about one hundred, that were in town, immediately armed themselves in our favor and marched to attack the fort. I thanked the chief for his intended service, told him the ill consequence of our people being mingled in the dark,---that they might lay in their quarters until light. He approved of it and sent off his troops, appeared to be much elevated himself, and staid with me, giving all the information he could. I knew him to be a friend. The artillery from the fort played briskly but did no execution. The garrison was entirely surrounded within eighty and a hundred yards behind houses, palings, and ditches, etc., etc. Never was a heavier firing kept up on both sides for eighteen hours, with so little damage done.

In a few hours I found my prize sure, certain of taking every man that I could have wished for, being the whole of those that incited the Indians to war. All my past sufferings vanished; never was a man more happy. It wanted no encouragement from any officer to inflame our troops with a martial spirit. The knowledge of the person they attacked, and the thoughts of their massacred friends, was sufficient. I knew that I could not afford to lose men, and took the greatest care of them that I possibly could--- at the same time encouraged them to be daring but prudent. Every place near the fort that could cover them was crowded, and a very heavy firing during the night, having flung up a considerable intrenchment before the gate, where I intended to plant my artillery when arrived.

I had learned that one Masonville had arrived that evening with two prisoners taken on the Ohio, discovering some sign of us, supposed (us) to be spies from Kentucky. Immediately on his arrival Captain Lamothe (was) sent out to intercept them; being out on our arrival, could not gain the fort; in attempting, several of his men were made prisoners. Himself and party hovering round the town, I was convinced that they would make off to the Indians at daybreak if they could not join their friends. Finding all endeavors fruitless to take him, I withdrew the troops a little from the garrison in order to give him an opportunity to get in, which he did, much to his credit and my satisfaction, as I would rather it should receive that reinforcement than they should be at large among the savages.

The firing again commenced. A number of the inhabitants joined the troops and behaved exceedingly well in general. Knowing of the prisoners lately taken, and by the description I had of them, I was sure of their being the express from Williamsburg, but was mistaken. To save the papers and letters, about 8 o'clock in the morning, I ordered the firing to cease and sent a flag into the garrison with a hand-bill, recommended Mr. Hamilton to surrender his garrison, and severe threats if he destroyed any letters, etc. He returned an answer to this purpose: That the garrison was not disposed to be awed into anything unbecoming British soldiers. The attack was renewed with greater vigor than ever, and continued for about two hours.

I was determined to listen to no terms whatever until I was in possession of the fort, and only meant to keep them in action with part of my troops while I was making necessary preparations with the other. (I) neglected calling on any of the inhabitants for assistance, although they wished for it. A flag appeared from the fort with a proposition from Mr. Hamilton for three days' cessation, (with) a desire of a conference with me immediately; that if I should make any difficulty of coming into the fort, he would meet me at the gate. I, at first, had no notion of listening to anything he had to say, as I could only consider himself and officers as murderers, and intended to treat them as such, but, after some deliberation, I sent Mr. Hamilton my compliments and begged leave to inform him that I should agree to no other terms than his surrendering himself and garrison prisoners at discretion, but if he was desirous of a conference with me I would meet him at the church. We accordingly met. He offered to surrender, but we could not agree upon terms. He received such treatment on this conference as a man of his known barbarity deserved. I would not come upon terms with him, and recommended him to defend himself with spirit and bravery; that it was the only thing that would induce me to treat him and his garrison with lenity, in case I stormed it, which he might expect. He asked me what more I could require than the offers he had already made. I told him, which was really the truth, that I wanted a sufficient excuse to put all the Indians and partisans to death, as the greatest part of those villains was then with him. All his propositions were refused. He asked me if nothing would do but fighting, I knew of nothing else. He then begged me to stay until he should return to the garrison and consult his officers. Being indifferent about him, and wanting a few moments for my troops to refresh themselves, I told him that the firing should not commence until such an hour; that during that time he was at liberty to pass with safety.