Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Update

 Colonel Richard M. Johnson and Major General Harrison depicted at the Battle of the Thames.

I have been working very slowly on the War of 1812 book project, as work and my personal life allow. Currently I'm nearly done with the bit of narrative that spans the early summer of 1813, as General William Henry Harrison sought to reestablish his army along an Ohio coastline that was vulnerable at all points to an amphibious attack by the British fleet on Lake Erie. Here's an early draft:
Despite Secretary of War John Armstrong's admonition not to employ more volunteer militia, Kentucky congressman Richard M. Johnson lobbied the War Department and President Madison himself for permission to raise an independent mounted regiment of 1,000 men. Johnson had spent much of the previous year raising and leading a battalion of mounted volunteers as a Kentucky militia major. His troops assisted General Harrison in the relief of Fort Wayne before heading home late in 1812. Returning to Congress in the winter, Johnson argued for a highly mobile, mounted regiment of riflemen to scour the Indian settlements along the northwest frontier, conducting in effect a scorched earth campaign. Harrison, who had tried this at great expense with Colonel Cambell's mounted raid against the Mississinewa River towns in December, was skeptical when he got word. Nevertheless, the President and the Secretary of War gave Johnson the go-ahead. He eagerly returned to Kentucky in the early spring of 1813 to begin recruiting.
Congressman, now Colonel Johnson was a War Hawk, and a key ally of Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Ambitious and headstrong, he was a characteristic member of the second generation of Kentucky settlers. His parents had fought off Indian raids during the Revolutionary War, but he himself was an educated man, a lawyer who dabbled in many businesses. Later in life, he would earn some notoriety by living in a common-law marriage with one of his father's former slaves. When his first wife died, he took another slave as a lover, but sold her “down the river” when she spurned him for another man—and subsequently had a relationship with the unfortunate woman's sister, also his slave. Thus Abraham Lincoln ironically used him as an example of a southern slave-owner being in favor of equality between whites and blacks during the Lincoln-Douglass debate.
The scandals were in the future, as was a stint as Vice President. However, they do provide some insight into the man who now used his influence and connections to raise an independent force expressly to fight Indians. His younger brother John T Johnson had already distinguished himself as an aide-de-camp to General Harrison at Fort Meigs. Another brother, James, became the Lt. Colonel and second in command of the new regiment.
In May, the siege of Fort Meigs caused Colonel Johnson to order his volunteers to muster and ride north to join the battle: “That Crisis has arrived! Fort Meigs is attacked--the North Western army is Surrounded by the enemy, and under the Command of Gen'l Harrison nobly defending the Sacred Cause of the Country against a Combined enemy, the British & Indians. They will maintain the ground until relieved...”1 The Colonel ordered the men who had already volunteered to rendezvous at the Great Crossing, near Georgetown Kentucky. The volunteers would draw weapons and tents from the Federal Arsenal at Newport. He added “An Extra powder horn, Bulletbag, forage-bag, five flints &c will be important.”
Soon several companies of mounted men had assembled and were on the road north. Captain Robert B. McAfee had raised 78 volunteers whom he led towards the rendezvous. When his company got word that General Harrison had dismissed the Ohio volunteers, they assumed the order included them. The bearer of this bad news was Colonel Johnson's brother, John. “Great dissatisfaction and confusion prevailed for some time until we met Colonel Johnson who ordered us on again, which again restored us to order.”2 The Colonel refused to disband his regiment, arguing that the Secretary of War himself had authorized it.
Avoiding Newport, most of Johnson's riders traveled to Dayton, Ohio, by way of North Bend. There they were issued Federal muskets, rifles, and tents. Colonel Johson ordered that “the riflemen should take as much powder and lead as possible and the musket-men as much fixed ammunition.” Every captain was to take responsibility for keeping the arms in good order. He set up a workshop staffed by the regiments gunsmiths to repair weapons that needed skilled work, like replacing main springs or re-hardening frizzens. Eventually, each company designated men as blacksmiths, farriers and saddlers to maintain the mens' arms, mounts and tack.
Despite being termed “mounted riflemen,” Johnson's regiment was equipped relatively equally with muskets and rifles. McAfee recorded that his company drew 30 rifles and 27 muskets, which only partially supplied them. Johnson organized his men into two battalions, one with six and the other with five companies. The captains drew lots to determine the order of their companies. Robert McAfee drew first captain of the first battalion, which made it the first in the line of battle. A separate company of sharpshooters was organized to function as scouts and outriders. To assist them, the colonel also recruited a dozen Shawnee scouts from the town of Wapakoneta, led by a half-French, half-Ottawa man named Anthony Shane who had known Tecumseh personally. Shane had already participated in General William Hull's campaign at Detroit, and had assisted General Harrison during the ensuing winter. The Indian scouts would be a valuable asset for a force intended to punish the hostile tribes.
As the regiment moved north from Dayton, Johnson issued strict orders for his men to be drilled in light cavalry maneuvers. The captains were to train their men to form a battalion line on the center company, to form by sections into line, and other techniques that were designed to convert a long column of mounted soldiers into a firing line in minutes. The role of mounted riflemen was to be that for which dragoons were originally intended in 18th century armies: a highly mobile infantry force that dismounted to fight. Johnson's soldiers were for the most part completely new to this kind of warfare. Each officer and his men needed to know their place in line and each of the standard movements required to get from a single-file column of horsemen to a fighting line—without entangling themselves with other platoons and companies.
Johnson paid close attention to drilling the men. They marched in a formation of five columns across, each made up of two or three companies, with an advanced guard several hundred yards in front and another guard bringing up the rear. In the event of a battle, most of the companies would form to the front or on the flanks as needed, dismount and fight as infantry. One or two companies would remain mounted as a reserve, to shore up gaps in the line or to disperse groups of Indian warriors with a charge. At night the regiment formed a square to camp, protecting the horses and baggage wagons behind the lines. Despite the drilling, the volunteers lacked much discipline: the colonel had to repeat his orders for the men not to fire their rifles without orders.
Johnson's column reached Fort Wayne on June 7. Captain McAfee noted that “One hour before we got to the Fort the Indians about ten or fifteen in number, shot and scalped two boatmen...another man jumped out in the St. Mary's and was drowned. The men were killed at the first bend of the river in sight of the fort.”3 The boats had been manned by 18 men and carried about 1800 barrels of flour destined for the supply dumps at Fort Meigs. The colonel immediately sent some of his men in pursuit, but they were unable to pick up the Indians' trail.
Three days later, the 700-man regiment left the Maumee Valley on its first combat mission: to destroy and disperse the hostile Pottawatomie villages in the Michigan Territory. They drew rations for ten days and set off through the muddy trails leading north. They found the towns of Five Medals and White Pigeon deserted, and crossed the trail from Detroit to Chicago without encountering any Indians. Although they had no way of knowing at the time, Johnson's men had missed by a few days the force of nearly 1,000 warriors from the western tribes recruited by British agent Robert Dickson at Chicago, who were then marching to Amherstburg.4 After riding for 180 miles cross country in six days, the regiment returned to Fort Wayne.
Johnson's men and horses were now severely fatigued, with little forage available in the swamps and forests of the Michigan Territory. When General Harrison recommended another raid into Indian country, the colonel had to decline while the regiment rested and refitted at Fort Wayne. However, General Clay at Fort Meigs became apprehensive at the reports of a large force massing at Amherstburg-- among them the Indians that Johnson's regiment had missed. Clay requested that Johnson reinforce him with his regiment, and after a few days the riflemen were back in the saddle. They arrived opposite the fort in the evening of June 21 and bivouaced. Early the next morning, the gunners at Fort Meigs fired a morning gun. The report of the 18-pounder startled Johnson's horses and caused a stampede.
As the garrison at Fort Meigs nursed the wounded and repaired the damaged suffered during the siege, the rest of the Northwest Army was in motion. General Harrison was anxious to consolidate his position and prepare for another invasion of Canada. He knew that he could not advance until the navy built a new fleet and won control of Lake Erie and the Detroit River. Those ships, building in the protected shallows of Erie, Pennsylvania, were under the protection of the Pennsylvania militia. At the same time, a flotilla of smaller boats was under construction at the village of Cleveland, and supplies were arriving at Lower Sandusky and the Maumee Rapids. The three latter posts, especially Cleveland and Lower Sandusky, were all within striking distance of the British fleet and amphibious landings by General Procter's troops.
Faced with a long, open flank along the Lake Erie shoreline, Harrison took immediate steps to secure his outposts. He ordered Major Ball's dragoons to ride for Cleveland early in June and rode out himself with his staff and Engineer officer, Captain Wood, to inspect the fortifications and boatyards there. It was none too soon. The village, garrisoned only by a company of the Second Regiment of Artillery under Captain Stanton Sholes and a few militiamen, was commanded by Major Thomas Jessup-- a career Army officer who had been captured at Detroit and paroled, and who would later win fame during the bitter fights at Chippewa and Lundy's Lane.
By June 5 Jessup reported that he had 47 boats finished or nearly complete. However, his large flotilla was vulnerable to British raiders. Already, on June 7 the British fleet's biggest ships, HMS Queen Charlotte and Lady Prevost, approached the cove and hovered offshore for a while before disappearing over the horizon. Not intimidated by the meager garrison, the captain sent a longboat on shore and requisitioned an ox, leaving a promissory note for eight dollars in payment.5
Despite the strong artillery contingent, there was only one old six-pounder available to protect the boatyards. Captain Sholes put himself to work building a military hospital, pegged together entirely from wood for lack of nails. Harrison, alarmed at the lack of protection for the boats, ordered Captain Wood to build a proper fortification which was called Fort Huntington. The completed boats were sunk in the Cuyahoga River, to be raised when Harrison needed them. The food and other supplies were rigged for burning if Procter did decide to land at the village. Major Ball's men stayed for two weeks while the Cleveland defenses were reorganized. Ball's dragoons arrived without tents, and made lean-tos out of chestnut tree bark, which coincidentally helped conceal them from British ships cruising offshore. Half the men at a time worked on the fort, while the other half guarded the village. By the end of July, the fort was nearly complete and the dragoons were ordered back to the main encampment of the army near Lower Sandusky.
There were large reinforcements already on the march for Fort Meigs. In addition to the new 12-month regular infantry regiments (the 26th, 27th and 28th United States Regiments of Infantry) being raised in Ohio and Kentucky, the 24th Regiment of Infantry was marching north with 500 men. The 24th, under Colonel William P Anderson, was a Tennessee outfit that had spent much of its service in the west guarding the frontier. After a long march along the muddy tracks leading through the Black Swamp, they arrived at the Maumee rapids on June 28.
General Harrison chose to mass what troops he had near his main line of supplies, the military road running north from Franklinton at Lower Sandusky. The latter fort was too small to accommodate his forces, and was also vulnerable to a naval landing, so he chose a point a few miles south along the road as an encampment. Since it was near a Seneca Indian village, the camp became known as Fort Seneca. From here, Harrison could reinforce Fort Meigs, Fort Stephenson, or Cleveland—or retreat southwards if a larger force of British troops and Indians sought him out.
1Robert B. McAfee, “Book and Journal”.
3“Robert B. McAffee's Journal,” 10.
4McAffee, 297-98.
5Diary of Stanton Sholes; Raleigh Register and North Carolina Gazette, 9 July 1813.