Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Some letters from General Duncan McArthur

General McArthur in the uniform of a regular army Brigadier General in 1813.

One of the most important, if little known leaders of the War of 1812 was Brigadier General Duncan McArthur (1772-1839). He's appeared on this blog more than a few times, in connection with events ranging from the William Hull campaign of 1812 to the last months of the war on the Detroit frontier. But a brief prospectus of his career is in order:

1790s: Acted as a "spy" or Indian scout and works in a Kentucky saltworks.

1793-96: works with fellow surveyor Nathaniel Massie to lay out the Ohio portions of the Northwest Territory. Lays out the town of Chillicothe, which is to become the state capital. As a result of land speculation, he becomes one of the richest landowners in the new state.

1803: State of Ohio joins the Union.

1804: McArthur serves the first of three nonconsecutive terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. He also serves several times in the state senate during his life, with the first term starting in 1805.

1805: Commissioned colonel in the state militia; 1808 commissioned major general. 

1812: Recruits a regiment of Ohio volunteers for Hull's campaign and is elected Colonel. Is elected to Congress that year on the Republican ticket but never assumes the office, being preoccupied with military affairs. Is captured and paroled with the American army at Detroit; not before plotting to remove the commanding general as unfit for command.

1813: While waiting to be exchanged, McArthur is appointed a regular-army Brigadier General and charged with raising several new 12-month regular infantry regiments in Ohio, which is part of the 8th Military District under the command of Major General Harrison. He is involved with operations to raise the siege of Fort Meigs, leads a regular infantry brigade as part of the Thames Campaign, and is transferred to Sackett's Harbor in the Autumn. Like many of his men he falls on the sick list, and finds time to travel to Albany, NY for the treason trial of former commanding officer William Hull.

1814: Assumes command of the 8th Military District following the resignation of General Harrison. Led the last major foray of American troops into Canada, successfully raiding grist mills and defeating a small force of Canadian militia at Malcom's Mills. 

1815: Returns to civilian political life. Serving as a commissioner for United States negotiations with the Indians, he was a key figure in the Treaty of the Maumee Rapids (Fort Meigs) in 1817 and the Treaty of St. Marys in 1818. These two treaties were some of the final concessions of Indian land in Ohio and Indiana, and opened most of the remaining land in those states to white settlement. They were also a direct result of the War of 1812, and foreshadowed the end of any major Native American cultural presence in the region.

1830-32: Elected and served as Governor of Ohio.

While McArthur is sometimes portrayed by modern historians as a thug, a poorly-educated frontiersman who rose to prominence in the "mobocracy" of the Jeffersonian Republican party, his letters reveal a sharp, businesslike mind--and definitely a literate one. He could be quite ruthless: one wonders if his "scorched-earth" campaign in Canada inspired later Ohio generals such as William Tecumseh Sherman, U.S. Grant and Phil Sheridan. He was also very anti-Indian, dedicated like many of his contemporaries to removing them from Ohio. In 1813 he executed a number of soldiers who had been found guilty of desertion (some several times); like Andrew Jackson, these wartime executions would come back to haunt his political career.

I will leave you with the first of several letters from McArthur to other American leaders (in this case Senator Thomas Worthington, an old associate of his) that help illustrate the ongoing affairs of the Ohio front of the War of 1812:

Chillicothe June 30th 1813
Dear Sir
I have just written to the secretary of war informing that there are about 300 men enlisted in the 26th Regt and that about 240 of them marched last week for Sandusky -- That there is now in this state nearly 1000 imen enlisted under the act of the 29th Jany, and that there may perhaps be another Battalion raised but I think not more within a reasonable time. I have taken the liberty of suggesting the propriety of dismissing part of the officers appointed to the 26th Regt and of raising one Battalion of said Regt in the back parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia in case the recruiting service is not carried on in their parts under the act of the 29th Jany 1813. It is only running government to an unnecessary expense, to keep a host of recruiting officers where no men can be had.
Every exertion is made by the Tories to prevent the success of the recruiting business every pains is taken to vilify and abuse those engaged in it, every recruit who signifies his wish to leave the service and sues out a writ of "habeas corpus" is certain of being dismissed by some of our Judges, and from their decision there is no appeal.
From every discovery which I can make the Creighton part have endeavored to create a jealousy between Genl. Harrison, and Genl Cass or myself by insinuating that we will intrigue against him for the command of the Divisions, and that we were the means of bringing Hull to disgrace &etc, and also that you are a violent enemy to Genl Harrison &etc and that Creighton is the only friend from this state that he has in congress. Those insinuations have frequently fallen from those in the family of Genl H so that you can see that if those Tories cannot succeed in our way, they appear determined to do so in another yes, those patriots who last winter could eulogize the speeches of Mr Quincy and ridicule those of Mr. Clay, are no doubt at this time cap in hand [illeg. ] whilst they carry on private intrigue with Mr Q. party against the administration if not against the government.
I am sorry to trouble you with those unpleasant remarks; I doubt not but you have trouble enough already.
respectfully yours
Duncan McArthur
Genl. Worthington