On the morning following the disaster related in my last communication, [in the “ Spirit” of Saturday last,] the brave Commander of the Volunteers set about collecting the scattered fragments of his terrified band. This he found no easy task, as they were spread over a large tract of uninhabited country. He, however, with his characteristic assiduity, succeeded during the day in assembling together the greater part of his companions in arms, and related to them the manner of his escape. How, after finding himself surrounded on every side by the enemy, he had been three times knocked from his horse in attempting to charge the line, stripped of coat and hat, and by a dexterous “ coup de main” had forced his way through a part of the Sable Warriors, eluded the grasp of others, and thanks to the superior fleetness of his horse, enabled to leave them all behind.

He expressed his displeasure that his men should have deserted him at such a critical moment ; they had chosen him for a leader, but they could not expect him to fight their battles alone. He hoped he would not have occasion to speak to them again in terms of disapprobation, but that they would in future, show by their gallantry, that Citizen Soldiers, as well as Regulars, could place confidence in each other ; and that it was not the mercenary soldiers alone, upon which our country must depend to fight its battles.

These sentiments of their brave Col. were applauded with a hearty “ three times three,” and they again set forward to revisit the scene of their defeat. When they arrived upon the ground, they found every thing in the same condition that they had left it ; all the paraphernalia of the camp, lay scattered about upon the grass as it was previous to the disaster. It was evident to all at a glance that no Indians had been near, and that they must have been alarmed without cause. While they were gathering up their camp kettles, mess-pans, &c., and searching in vain for traces of Indians, a long, lean, leather-stocking backwoodsman, who went by the soubriquet of “ Hoosier Sam,” mounted upon an ugly little brute of an Indian poney, with the most savage looking head covered with long bushy hair extending below the end of the nose ; and his hind legs (from the hock down) spread out at an angle of forty-five degrees with the earth’s surface—apparently forced into that particular angle by the weight of his rider, whose long legs happened at this juncture, to come in contact with the ground, and thus assisted the poor little devil to retain an upright position. Sam carried a rifle of enormous dimensions across his gigantic shoulders, and from his belt protruded the handle of a hatchet, and a huge knife. He approached the Colonel in a very unceremonious manner, and thus addressed him :

“ I say, Gineral, or Capting, or whatever you call yourself—how big a chance of those thar varmints do you calculate thar mought have been, what circumbobulated you here, when you broke for tall timber ?”

To illustrate the question, he at the same time brushed back his hair with one hand, pulled out his coat tail behind with the other, and leaned forward upon his poney in the attitude of trying to force him along with kicks. This was an insinuation which the Colonel considered not exactly in keeping with the respect due from a private soldier to his commanding officer, and he ordered the man back to his place in the ranks, in a very peremptory manner. Sam returned to his place in the line, but on the way, looked around at the Colonel, applied the thumb of his right hand to his nose after the most approved style, and with his left hand repeated the operation of pulling back his coat tail. This scene produced a good deal of merriment among the men, and our hero saw, that, unless something was done to redeem his character for courage, he would soon lose all control over his command.

A scout who had just come in, reported that he had seen Indians but a short distance from where they now were ; and the Colonel thinking this a favorable opportunity to display his military genius, commenced the march immediately in the direction pointed out ; hoping to fall in with them before night. All exhibited the most eager impatience for an encounter, and it was with great difficulty, that they could be kept in anything like order ; every one appeared to act on his own account, and to have a plan of operations peculiar to himself ; Hoosier Sam was riding around in every part of the column, sometimes in front, sometimes in rear, and occasionally by the Commander ; and always commenting upon the adventure of the night before.

“ I say, Gineral, don’t you calculate you run the thing a leetle into the mud last night ? That thar horse of yourn is a screecher—if he ain’t, damn me.”

“ This horse of mine is of the very best blood in the country, sir, but your remarks are out of order, sir, and I must insist upon your keeping your place in ranks ; I am the commander here, and by ——, sir, discipline must be observed.”

Sam made no reply, but, looking significantly at his commander, rode off to another part of the column. Thus they pursued their course, following the direction indicated by the guides, passing over a rolling prairie country, interspersed here and there with streams of pure water, whose banks were skirted with trees arranged along the borders in such beautiful regularity, as to convey the impression to the eye of the beholder, that the hand of man had placed them there centuries before for the use of present generation.

While following the course of one of these streams, a scout returned in great haste, rode directly to the Colonel, and reported that he had discovered Indian signs but a short distance ahead ; judging from the number of fires, and other infallible indications (known only to those well versed in woodcraft) he had no doubt but that they had arrived in the immediate vicinity of the noted Brave and his followers, who constituted a large portion of the nation at war.

They quickened their pace, and proceeded at a rapid rate until the front of the column arrived upon the summit of a hill, when they wheeled suddenly round, and fell back upon the main body. [1] The Colonel hastened forward to ascertain the cause of this, when casting his eyes over the horizon beyond the hill, he discovered something which presented very much the appearance of a long line of mounted savages, drawn up in battle array, ready to receive him. Their numbers took him by surprise, but he determined upon this occasion to act with coolness and deliberation ; and if his hasty retreat on the previous night had been detrimental to his reputation as a soldier, he was determined that he would now show his companions in arms that their confidence was not misplaced, and that they had chosen a leader who knew how to do his duty.

He called his officers around him to council upon the mode of attack. It was decided, that, as the enemy were in such a position that it would be difficult to reach him with their horses, they would dismount and make the attack on foot. With this in view, and to inspire his troops with more courage, the Colonel caused a square against cavalry to be formed, placed himself within, and thus addressed them :—

“ Fellow soldiers, and gentlemen—This is an era in your lives of the utmost importance to yourselves and to your country. The question is about to be decided, whether you are brave men or cowards ; whether you are to bear through life the glorious reputation of heroes, or whether you are to be branded with everlasting disgrace and ignominy. Your fate is in your own hands ; those of you who distinguish yourselves by signal acts of bravery will be richly rewarded ; but those who fail to do their duty as soldiers, will meet the just execrations of all those connected with them.

“ As your enemy does not give quarter, you can expect no mercy should you have the misfortune [2] to fall into his hands. Your lives, therefore, as well as your reputation depend upon the result of the action. Let us take for our motto “victory or death ;” death upon the field of battle is a thousand times better than the disgrace which will cling to those who basely desert their comrades in the hour of danger. I trust there are none of you who would be guilty of such meanness, but that all are ready to lay down their lives in the service of their country.

“ In conclusion, I would impress upon your minds the necessity of obedience of orders ; discipline is of vital importance ; by a prompt and cheerful compliance with the rules of discipline, you will give to the world a practical illustration of the superiority of modern tactics, over the predatory warfare of the savage. Without discipline you can expect nothing but defeat and disgrace.

“ Fellow soldiers,—On yonder hill you see the enemy of your country ; he possesses the advantage in position and numbers ; in order to meet him upon more equal grounds, I shall commence the attack by the exercise of a feature in warfare, which military men call strategy, that is, by endeavoring to draw him from his intrenchments by certain hostile movements made beyond the reach of his guns.

“ The right wing under the Lieutenant Colonel will charge the enemy in front, while the left wing under command of the Major, will defile around the hill, and take position in the rear, to cut off his retreat in that direction. “

With these remarks I close. Now to action.” Standing in the rear of the column he then in a loud voice gave the following orders :— " Prepare to dismount. Dismount. Charge bayonets [3]. Forward, quick march.” Then in a low tone of voice he added, “And I’ll stay here and hold the horses.”

In looking over the Colonel’s journal, I find his remarks upon the occasion are as follows :­­

I found that was no place for me, and I put spurs to my horse and made tracks for the settlements. I felt the utmost confidence in my horse ; he was a thorough-bred animal, and I was sure of his bottom, yet as I had a long distance to ride before reaching the settlements, I kept him steadily at his work at a moderate gait, leaving him sufficient wind for a hard push in case of an emergency. I did not look back until I heard horses coming upon my track. Thinking I might be pursued, I looked around, and perceived my own troop fleeing, panic stricken, in every direction. My charger led off in fine style for a few miles, until I came opposite (as I supposed) a small body of my troops returning in more order than any others I had seen. Always an advocate for good order and military discipline, I approached them to assume command, and conduct the retreat.

“ When I arrived near enough to examine their head gear (it was getting quite dark by this time) I discovered that these men, instead of being part of my own command,, were some of the ‘ bare headed gentry,’ flourishing their tomahawks in a most terrific manner. I no sooner made this discovery, than wheeling my horse suddenly around, and giving him a furious dig in the flanks, I bade them good evening, and the way he shewed them his heels upon that occasion, no doubt excited their admiration.

“ At the rapid pace I was going, I soon found myself far ahead of all my comrades ; still I pushed forward at a spanking gait over ‘ hill and dale,’ and after a few hours’ hard riding, found myself comfortably housed at C­­­­­‘s ‘ diggins.’

“ I had been in about two hours, when I heard some one calling my name on the outside. I got up and went to the door, and there was my evil genius, Hoosier Sam, just dismounting his pony. I was about returning into the house, but he saw me and cried out—

“ ‘Arr you thar ? I been on your trail five hours or better, stranger ; I treed you at last in a mineral hole. You gin that thar hoss of yourn a breather, if you didn’t, damn me ! Now straanger, I calculate, that prehaps, one of us two has got to be licked, and I’ll be damn’d if it’s me.’

“ I saw that the fellow was very much excited, and wishing to conciliate him, I said—

“ ‘ Sam, have you ever heard of the celebrated Napoleon Buonaparte ?’

“ ‘ No, stra-a-anger, I reckon I never hearn of that critter afore.’

“ ‘ Well, Sam, I flatter myself that the retreat of to night, is one of the most brilliant achievements of the age ; Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, although it involved a greater number of troops, will not, for celerity of movement and promptness of execution, compare with this. Wellington says that one of the best characteristics of a great general is, to be able to act with promptness and decision in a sudden emergency, and to perceive, and take immediate advantage of the most favorable circumstances that may arise during an engagement. Now, Sam, I fancy you will allow some credit for the manner in which I conceived and carried out this retreat. I perceived immediately after I ordered the charge, that our enemy was in much greater number than I had at first supposed, and that an engagement would only result in a total defeat and massacre ; I therefore changed my plans at once, and led off a retreat, knowing that my brave comrades would follow.”

“ Sam put on a serious expression of countenance, and asked—

“ ‘ How big a heap of the varmints did you reckon on, capting ?’

“ As near as I can judge, I should say from about fifteen hundred to two thousand, sir.’

“ ‘ Ha ! ha ! ha ! Wall, straanger, if you aint a leetle sprinklin of the damndest coward that ever was skeered up in these ere diggins, then my name ain’t Hoosier Sam. You are too mean to lick ; such sort o’ varmints don’t pay for skinning.’ ”

It appears from Sam’s story, that after the volunteers left, he remained behind to reconnoitre, and he found that they had been deceived by a grove of trees upon the crest of the hill, which in the twilight presented very much the appearance of a large body of mounted men, moving in an opposite direction to themselves, but he could find no Indians.

FORT GRATIOT, April 2, 1844.


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 14.8 (20 April 1844): 85.(University of Virginia Alderman Library).

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Probable typesetter error; original text reads "man body."

[2] Probable typesetter error; original text reads “misfortunate.”

[3] Probable typesetter error; original text reads “bagonets.”

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