« PreviousContinue »
at Kaskaskia and from other posts on the river, but the day after the "Willing" (for so he named his barge) sailed, he moved out of Kaskaskia, with a hundred and seventy men following him, to march the two hundred and thirty miles across the wintry wilderness to Vincennes. How he fared and how he accomplished his desire you may read in the selection from his journal.
Clark's activity did not end with the capture of Vincennes, but that was the most remarkable of his long series of military achievements. No more heroic man ever lived, and few Americans have left such a memory for high patriotism, self-sacrifice and wonderful achievement. His accomplishments are unparalleled in the history of the Mississippi valley, and the youth of the region may well be proud that to such a man they are indebted for their right to live in the United States.
Unfortunately, Clark's later years were not in keeping with his early character. He felt that his country was ungrateful to him, the liquor habit mastered him, he was mixed up in unfortunate political deals with France, and at last sank into poverty and was almost forgotten. It is said that once when in his latter years the State of Virginia sent him a sword in token of their appreciation of his services, he angrily thrust the sword into the ground and broke the blade with his crutch, while he cried out: "When Virginia needed a sword I gave her one. She sends me now a toy. I want bread!"
He lived until 1818, and then died at his sister's house near Louisville, and was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in that city.
THE CAPTURE OF VINCENNES1
By George Rogers Clark2
EVERYTHING being ready, on the 5th of February, after receiving a lecture and absolution from the priest, we crossed the Kaskaskia River with one hundred and seventy men, marched about three miles and encamped, where we lay until the 7th, and set out. The weather wet (but fortunately not cold for the season) and a great part of the plains under water several inches deep. It was very difficult and fatiguing marching. My object was now to keep the men in spirits. I suffered them to shoot game on all occasions, and feast on it like Indian war-dancers, each company by turns inviting the others to their feasts, which was the case every night, as the company that was to give the feast was always supplied with horses to lay up a sufficient store of wild meat in the course of the day, myself and principal officers putting on the woodsmen, shouting now and then, and running as much through the mud and water as any of them.
1. The first permanent settlement in Indiana was made on the Wabash River 117 miles southwest of the present city of Indianapolis. On what was originally the location of a prominent Indian village, the Freneh established a fort in 1702. and it was generally known as The Post. In 1736 the name of Vinsenne, an early commandant of the post, was applied to the little settlement, and this name later came to be written Vinccnnes, in its present form.
The English took the place in 1763; in 1778 the weak English garrison was driven out by the forerunners of George Rogers Clark, who from Kaskaskia sent Captain Helm to take charge. The same winter Captain Helm and the one soldier who constituted his garrison were compelled to surrender to the British General, Hamilton, who had come from Detroit to recapture the fort. It was in the following February that Clark made the final capture as told in these memoirs. Thereafter Vineennes belonged to Virginia, who ceded it to the United States in 1783. Vineennes was the capital of Indiana territory from 1801 to 1816.
2. The selection is taken from General Clark's Memoirs.
Thus, insensibly, without a murmur, were those men led on to the banks of the Little Wabash, which we reached on the 13th, through incredible difficulties, far surpassing anything that any of us had ever experienced. Frequently the diversions of the night wore off the thoughts of the preceding day. We formed a camp on a height which we found on the bank of the river, and suffered our troops to amuse themselves.
I viewed this sheet of water for some time with distrust; but, accusing myself of doubting, I immediately set to work, without holding any consultation about it, or suffering anybody else to do so in my presence; ordered a pirogue to be built immediately, and acted as though crossing the water would be only a piece of diversion. As but few could work at the pirogue at a time, pains were taken to find diversion for the rest to keep them in high spirits. In the evening of the 14th, our vessel was finished, manned, and sent to explore the drowned lands, on the opposite side of the Little Wabash, with private instructions what report to make, and, if possible, to find some spot of dry land. They found about half an acre, and marked the trees from thence back to the camp, and made a very favorable report.
Fortunately, the loth happened to be a warm, moist day for the season. The channel of the river where we lay was about thirty yards wide. A scaffold was built on the opposite shore (which was about three feet under water), and our baggage ferried across, and put on it. Our horses swam across, and received their loads at the scaffold, by which time the troops were also brought across, and we began our march through the water.
By evening we found ourselves encamped on a pretty height, in high spirits, each party laughing at the other, in consequence of something that had happened in the course of this ferrying business, as they called it. A little antic drummer afforded them great diversion by floating on his drum, etc. All this was greatly encouraged; and they really began to think themselves superior to other men, and that neither the rivers nor the seasons could stop their progress. Their whole conversation now was concerning what they would do when they got about the enemy. They now began to view the main Wabash as a creek, and made no doubt but such men as they were could find a way to cross it. They wound themselves up to such a pitch that they soon took Post Vincennes, divided the spoil, and before bedtime were far advanced on their route to Detroit. All this was, no doubt, pleasing to those of us who had more serious thoughts.
We were now convinced that the whole of the low country on the Wabash was drowned, and that the enemy could easily get to us, if they discovered us, and wished to risk an action; if they did not, we made no doubt of crossing the river by some means or other. Even if Captain Rogers, with our galley, did not get to his station agreeable to his appointment, we flattered ourselves that all would be well, and marched on in high spirits.
The last day's march through the water was far superior to anything the Frenchmen3 had an idea of. They were backward in speaking; said that the nearest land to us was a small league called the Sugar Camp, on the bank of the [river?]. A canoe was sent off, and returned without finding that we could pass. I went in her myself, and sounded the water; found it deep as to my neck. I returned with a design to have the men transported on board the canoes to the Sugar Camp, which I knew would spend the whole day and ensuing night, as the vessels would pass slowly through the bushes. The loss of so much time, to men half-starved, was a matter of consequence. I would have given now a great deal for a day's provision or for one of our horses. I returned but slowly to the troops, giving myself time to think.
On our arrival, all ran to hear what was the report. Every eye was fixed on me. I unfortunately spoke in a serious manner to one of the officers. The whole were alarmed without knowing what I said. I viewed their confusion for about one minute, whispered to those near me to do as I did: immediately put some water in my hand, poured on powder, blackened my face, gave the war-whoop, and marched into the water without saying a word. The party gazed, and fell in, one after another, without saying a word, like a flock of sheep. I ordered those near me to begin a favorite song of theirs. It soon passed through the line, and the whole went on cheerfully. I now intended to have
3. These were men from Vincennes whom Clark had taken from canoes and from whom he obtained much information, although it was not given with perfect willingness.