Capture of Vincennes
In 1777-78 George Rogers Clark made a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. His goal was to gain the support of Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee so he could raise a force of soldiers, mainly frontiersmen, to capture the British settlements of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. After talking it over with Governor Patrick Henry they managed to obtain 1200 pounds from the House of Burgesses if they used the money for the defense of the Kentucky/Indiana frontier.
On a quest to capture and conquer the American Midwest George Rogers Clark, along with soldiers and some of their families, made camp at an island in the Falls of the Ohio. This island was named Corn Island on May 27, 1778 and will be later known as the present day Louisville, KY. Here the troops were trained and their families remained protected from the all- too- common American Indian attacks on the frontier.
On July 4, 1778 after a strenuous march from the Kentucky /Tennessee border the fort at Kaskaskia was spotted. No trouble was expected because most of the inhabitants were Frenchmen who were under British rule, but who had no loyalty to the King. The fort was unguarded and easily taken over without a single shot being fired. From here a small regiment was sent to secure the fort at Cahokia, a smaller settlement even than Kaskaskia. It was also taken over easily without a shot.
Most of the French at these settlements were persuaded to give their allegiance to the American Flag instead of the British crown. One particular Frenchmen, Father Pierre Gibault, offered to make the long journey to Vincennes and likewise persuade the French there to give their loyalty to America as well. Father Gibault was highly successful and soon another small regiment from the army was sent out to settle Fort Sackville (at Vincennes).
The British Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton, also known as the “Hair Buyer” (he obtained this nickname by paying the Indians for every American scalp that they brought back, thus encouraging them to attack settlers on the frontier) set off from Detroit to capture Vincennes on October 7, 1778. After a 400-mile journey through Indiana Lt. Hamilton arrived at Vincennes on December 17, 1778, where they were surprised in seeing all the inhabitants of Vincennes rushing out and claiming themselves as English citizens. Soon after the small army at Sackville sensed that they were outnumbered, out of adequate supplies, and unsupported so they were forced to surrender.
Settlers at Cahokia and Kaskaskia began to panic at the news of the capturing of Vincennes. William Clark, along with Father Gibault tried their best to put hope and heart back into the frontiersmen at the smaller forts. The decision to pursue Hamilton and his hold on Fort Sackville was made at this time despite the 180 miles of flooded land. Hamilton depended on the flooded terrain to keep the Americans away from the fort. Little did he know that frontiersmen were a little tougher than what he expected and would attack regardless of the current conditions.
In the mild winter of 1779 Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark along with about 200 men set off to capture Fort Sackville at Vincennes. They made their way across the flooded plains, forging a total of four rivers on their epic journey to capture Fort Sackville and keep the British from settling in the Midwest.
The men were constantly wading through water from ankle to chest high of sometimes freezing water. Game was scarce and spirits began to disintegrate, but Clark prevailed. A Frenchman was captured from Vincennes and the troops learned that Hamilton didn’t have any idea that they were coming. They soon reached a dry patch of land nearly two miles from Sackville. Here they dangerously built fires to dry their soaked clothes and finished off the rest of their rations.
Another Frenchman was captured and from him they were informed that nearly 200 Indians had joined Hamilton in the fort. This was bad news because Clark was now not only outnumbered, but ammunition supplies were low. This captured man was sent back to inform Hamilton that he was going to capture the fort that night and that anyone loyal to the United States should stay in their homes while those partial to England should fight at the fort.
As soon as their messenger had departed, Clark formed his men into two groups and they marched down the main streets of Vincennes. Here he split these groups into even smaller groups and they marched down the side streets and back into the main street in hopes of appearing much larger than what they were. His plan worked and no one left their homes to join forces at the fort. The citizens opened secret ammunition caches; Clark was not expecting this but took it anyways. Stories began reaching Sackville of the massive amount of American troops assumed to be at Vincennes and out of fear, most of the Indians left the fort and fled into the safety of the forest.
At the end of the day the American army marched, drums beating, toward fort Sackville. To back up the rumors Hamilton had probably heard Clark marched his men around Sackville several times to give the illusion of a large army. It was also thought that the men carried enough flags for an army of nearly 1000 troops. Not many shots were fired, but mainly negotiation was the factor in Hamilton’s decision to surrender, not to mention his fear of being defeated.
Clark’s recapturing of Fort Sackville at Vincennes closed the British off to settling in the Midwest. It also established a higher boundary line for the Canada-United States border, which could have been much lower if Hamilton had not been defeated.
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