My 1812 Book Project


The fighting men of the Union are reckoned at a million. Not a twentieth part of that are needed to reduce Canada—And shall we not have it?
--Franklinton, Ohio Freeman’s Chronicle, October 19, 1812.


Mud, Whiskey and Cannon: Ordinary Soldiers in the Struggle for the Northwest 1812-1815 is a book project that takes a different approach, by profiling an individual small unit in the American Northwest Army. It follows the trials and tribulations of Captain Daniel L Cushing's Company of the 2nd United States Regiment of Artillery. 


Cushing's men were ordinary civilians, recruited and led by equally inexperienced officers from their own neighborhoods on the Ohio frontier. From recruiting in the frontier towns of Ohio to the march through a winter landscape--and Indian ambushes, cannon duels, a commando raid, and and amphibious landing on a hostile shore-- these ordinary men served in an extraordinary campaign, one that is all but forgotten in the very places where it was fought.

An Excerpt:

In the darkness before dawn on November 7, 1811, Private William Bingham, 4th United States Regiment of Infantry,  posted on sentry duty in front of an American army. His commander, William Henry Harrison, expected an attack from a nearby hostile force of Indians sometime during the night. 
Individual sentinels were ordered to take forward posts outside of the encampment in order to provide early warning of the assault. The weather had turned rainy and overcast, and visibility was so low that Bingham couldn’t see any further than his immediate surroundings. Rain drops rattling on the forest leaves concealed any other noise. His neighboring sentinel, invisible in the bushes several yards away, called out to him. He dared not answer, at first. The sentinel called several more times, giving away his position, and finally Bingham hailed him back. “Look sharp” the other responded—the signal for caution. 
Bingham was exhausted from days of marching in the Indiana wilderness. Most evenings the soldiers had been ordered to build breastworks of brush and logs around their tents. Since yesterday’s encampment was on a ridge protected by ravines on three sides, Harrison decided to order only the fourth side of camp fortified. Every night, several privates were selected for sentry duty outside the perimeter. Tonight was Bingham’s shift, from 10 to midnight and again from 2am to reveille at 4. Sleeping on sentry duty was dealt with harshly by military justice: a sentinel found dozing could be court martialled and shot. For the American sentries the cold rainy November night and the proximity of a hostile Indian force somewhere in the dark woods made sleep less likely.  
The man they called the Prophet stood on a low, wooded hill. Shrouded in darkness, it stood about a mile away from the American camp. He had promised his followers that the Great Spirit would protect them from the bullets and bayonets of the long knives. Six or seven hundred of his men were now creeping toward the hill where the Americans slept, encamped in a rough triangle without their normal protective breastworks.  A special force of one hundred warriors had been instructed to steal into the American tents and seek out Harrison, the American commander and arch-foe of the pan Indian confederation. Guided and protected by the Master of Life, these picked men would single out and slay the leader of the long knives. Then the rest of the Americans would crumble. Anticipating a rout like that which had occurred at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791, the Prophet began to chant prayers and work his medicine among the foes. 
In a few minutes, the drummers in the American camp would beat three times, summoning the men from their tents to assemble under arms for morning parade.  Private Bingham earnestly hoped the drums would beat soon. Instead, he heard footfalls. Someone was stumbling through the brush, towards him. He fumbled with his long flintlock musket, its bright metal barrel lengthened by a two foot bayonet attached to the muzzle. Instead of the normal .65 caliber lead ball and three buckshot, Bingham and the rest of the Americans had been issued buckshot cartridges, even more powerful at close range. Cocking the hammer back, he peered into the darkness to see a target. Before he could squeeze the trigger, the approaching figure spoke. “Bingham, let us fire and run in! You may depend on it there are Indians in the bushes!” It turned out to be his neighbor, Private William Brown, looking panicked. Both men heard an arrow-like missile land in the brush next to where they were standing. Without firing, they scrambled up the hillside and into camp.  
Behind the fleeing sentinels, like a horde of vengeful ghosts, a wave of dark silhouettes dressed in animal skins burst through the tree line. Only one of the sentries managed to fire his musket. Its muzzle flash and priming would have flared orange briefly in the darkness, illuminating both shooter and target. The duty of a sentinel was to fire a shot off in order to create an alarm. As the musket shot echoed through the woods, it gave just enough warning of the impending assualt.  In camp, the men were either in their tents of huddled around smoldering fires. A parley had been exchanged with the Indians the previous day, and no one knew for sure if an attack would come before dawn. Orders had come down to sleep on their arms, and the men slept with cartridge boxes and loaded muskets within arm’s length. 
Though they did not know it yet, the men at the fires were brightly lit for the enemy marksmen.