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McIntosh’s Military Expedition and Command 1778 – 1779

General Lachlan McIntosh

General Lachlan McIntosh

McIntosh’s original grant from Congress, originally near $1,000,000, and later reduced to $935,000, was for the reduction of Detroit. Detroit was key to the British strategy to use local Native Americans as insurgents against an American interior front during the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress and General Washington assigned General McIntosh the task of campaigning against Detroit to eliminate the source of munitions, supplies, leadership, and encouragement that sustained the Indian aggression. General McIntosh was selected for this assignment for a number of reasons. He was considered by General Washington to be a very capable leader, having solid experience with the frontier, and being neutral with regard to the politics of Pennsylvania and Virginia. However, McIntosh did not get good odds to succeed in fulfilling Washington’s orders.

There were a number of problems. First, the Delaware Indians were the only tribe friendly to the American cause. A treaty with them was required before military operations could begin. McIntosh needed their permission to cross their lands and more significantly, needed knowledge and scouts. The campaign did not begin until fall due to the delay in negotiations, making it late in the season to begin the campaign.

Second, the complexity of supplying a substantial military force 300 miles west over mountains was seriously underestimated. Delays, spoilage, theft, graft and other events resulted in derelict and negligent logistics support. In short, McIntosh was not supplied adequately to assure a successful campaign. Locals were very reluctant to provide scarce provisions to the military. The currency used by the military to buy local goods depreciated at a high rate. Locals, if willing to sell, charged excessive amounts as a hedge against devaluation of the currency. Many locals had little food to spare.

Third, locals were not favorably disposed to the accommodation of Native Americans by making treaties with them. The army, in their eyes, was part of the eastern seaboard establishment that imposed undesirable frontier policy by attempting to implement government objectives, including accommodation and support of friendly Native Americans. Accordingly, they were disinclined to be of much assistance. General McIntosh, against these odds, went after the stated objective as best he knew how.

The 13th Virginia and the 8th Pennsylvania were to be augmented by militia from Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania and three counties in Virginia, comprising the force to attack Detroit. The Delaware Indians were to provide guides and possibly warriors. First a treaty had to be negotiated. The talks were scheduled for July, however the troops and negotiators were unable to get there in time; negotiations were postponed until September. Virginia was reluctant to support a campaign if it did not start by early September, and Pennsylvania could not spare militia due to extensive Indian incursions in Westmoreland County. Nonetheless, the process went forward as if the delays were not serious impediments to success.

As stated previously, Colonel Brodhead took his time getting his troops to their post and arrived at Fort Pitt on September 10, 1778. Under his command, Joseph Hancock and the rest of the troops saw hundreds of Indian encampments surrounding the Fort with campfires burning and Native Americans milling around preparing for the upcoming negotiations, led by Chief White Eyes. This was in stark contrast to the previous years experience. The military conquest was to change from the most advanced warfare known to mankind at the time to the most barbaric and savage warfare imaginable.

On September 12, 1778 negotiations began and on September 17, 1778 the treaty was signed. The treaty with the Delaware provided for an offensive and defensive alliance, recognition of the tribe as an independent nation with guaranteed territory, establishment of a judiciary system, and provisions for entry of a Delaware State into the American Union. Chief White Eyes was a visionary, believing the 14th State would be a Delaware Nation. The commissioners were deceitful in the negotiations, including a clause that required approval by the Continental Congress, knowing full well that it would not approve a Delaware State. Later, there was significant disagreement between the parties as to the commitment made by the Delaware to provide warriors, not just scouts, for the offensive maneuvers of the army.

Once the treaty was made, McIntosh began to execute his orders to reduce Detroit. Prior to the signing of the treaty he had rallied 800 Virginia militias. By the beginning of October McIntosh marched out of Fort Pitt with 500 regular troops from the Pennsylvania 8th and Virginia 13th Regiments and the Virginia Militia constituting a force of 1300 men. Westmoreland County could spare no militia, confronted as they were with Indian incursions they deemed a priority. McIntosh’s troops moved along the Ohio River constructing a road as they went. When they reached the point where they had to leave the Ohio River, on the west side of Beaver River coming into the Ohio River from the north, McIntosh ordered a fort built that he named after himself. A French engineer following accepted French designs directed the construction. It was a substantial fortification for a wilderness outpost. To help make it formidable, six-pound cannons were mounted on the walls. The Native Americans were terrified of cannon fire. Making the fort endurable for the rank and file, barracks were constructed. Joseph helped build this fort and although he did not know it at the time, he would spend the winter there. He must have wondered what the future would hold, for Detroit was a long way off and a winter campaign was a grave possibility

Fort McIntosh was designed as an advanced depot for munitions and provisions and could be supplied by water route on the Ohio River. It was also located where it was necessary to turn inland to march toward the objective. While building the fort, McIntosh attempted to move supplies forward to support the march into the wilderness towards Detroit. The going was very slow. The 60 Delaware Indians that accompanied the army did not understand why so much time was spent building a fort when it would not be needed once Detroit was taken. Many officers, including Colonel Brodhead, considered it a month lost and a waste of time. When he took command of the Western Department the following spring, Colonel Brodhead wrote General Washington with reproachful remarks concerning General McIntosh’s conduct in the 1778 campaign against Detroit. Washington’s return letter was a terse rebuke of Brodhead’s allegations concerning McIntosh. Brodhead would later write letters to fellow officers in which he referred to Fort McIntosh as McIntosh’s “hobby horse” stating that his men would have “rather fought than wrought.” McIntosh’s actions were conservative and may have been his way of recognizing, given the circumstances, that reaching Detroit was unrealistic. Instead he would do as much as possible to provide the platforms that would later make the reduction of Detroit possible. A large sum had been appropriated for the expedition in view of the beleaguered financial state of the colonies. McIntosh’s sense of honor as an officer required something tangible be done to justify the expenditure.

In early November a herd of lean cattle driven over the mountains arrived at Fort McIntosh. On November 9, 1778 the army headed out. The cattle and packhorses were in such poor and weakened condition they progressed only five or six miles per day. On November 19, 1778 they reached the Tuscarawas River near present day Bolivar, Ohio. McIntosh, in keeping with treaty provisions providing for a fortification to protect the Delaware, had intended to build a stockade in their capitol of Coshocton. Coshocton was a substantial distance from the army’s location. Mitigating circumstances intervened. According to most accounts, a reckless and opportunistic Virginia militiaman murdered Chief White Eyes. When informed of the event, 60 Delaware Indians left the expedition in disgust, making the army’s welcome in Coshocton dubious at best. The murder of White Eyes was one of many senseless, reckless and destabilizing acts perpetrated by misguided whites against the Native Americans during this period. These incidents incensed a virulent hatred for the intruding military and settlers. In any event, McIntosh found himself deprived of the Indian guides upon which he was dependent. There was nothing but hostile uncharted Indian Territory between his location and Detroit, and without guides he had no choice but to end the march.

Faced with the reality that the campaign would go no further in 1778, McIntosh decided he could at least build a stockade at their present location. He believed the stockade would be useful in launching a campaign against Detroit in the spring. He also rationalized that this stockade would satisfy the treaty pledge to build a fortification for protection of Delaware elderly, women and children as stipulated in the treaty. McIntosh also envisioned launching war parties during the winter along the Sandusky. The stockade would be named after the President of the Continental Congress and personal friend of McIntosh, Fort Laurens. The fort penetrated the farthest of any American fort west into what is now Ohio, causing a great deal of apprehension in Detroit. Although later derided by Brodhead in letters to General Washington, the fort took on significant strategic importance the following year in keeping Detroit off guard and totally surprised by campaigns conducted by General Sullivan up the Susquehanna and Colonel Brodhead up the Allegany. Brodhead maintained the fort under orders from General Washington until it was no longer needed as a decoy. The location of the fort was deemed useless by the Delaware since it was not remotely close to their capitol.

The fort was a relatively small enclosure taking in about an acre of land. High embankments of land were topped with pickets made of logs set upright and pointed at the top. McIntosh discovered during construction that he could not provision the entire army at the fort during the winter. If he could not provision the entire army as he had planned then incursions into Sandusky towns would not be possible. Moreover, the militia was signed up only to the end of the year and the loss of 800 men would substantially reduce the size of the army. He decided to return to Fort Pitt and leave a contingent force of 150 men from the 13th Virginia Regiment to be commanded by Colonel John Gibson, a seasoned frontiersman. Brodhead and the Pennsylvania 8th Regiment were garrisoned for the winter at Fort McIntosh.

Joseph Hancock would spend a very difficult winter lacking provisions, adequate clothing and shoes, but however winter would be far less harrowing for Joseph than those left to man Fort Laurens. The winter provisions at Fort McIntosh were only marginally better than Fort Laurens. However Fort McIntosh did not draw the attention of hostile Indians and the British, as was the case during the winter at Fort Laurens. The relative calm would have allowed hunting parties to assist in provisioning Fort McIntosh, which was not possible at Fort Laurens. Whether Joseph and his comrades merely survived the winter or were able to be on active duty is not known. However, they were fit enough to relieve Colonel Gibson in the spring, which would indicate that they were physically much better off than their compatriots at Fort Laurens. Assuming the 8th Regiment was active during the winter, it can be reliably speculated that Brodhead would have begun to train and deploy his men for reconnaissance and interdiction of Indian activities as well as forming elite rangers activities that would subsequently be lead by Samuel Brady. Brodhead was a professional soldier and would keep his command as active as conditions permitted.

After returning to Fort Pitt McIntosh concluded that he was not up to the task of commanding the Western Department and requested General Washington to reassign him. Washington reluctantly agreed in the spring and sent McIntosh to the South where he was a successful commander. Colonel Brodhead replaced General McIntosh as commander of the Western Department with no change in grade. Although Brodhead would frequently bluster in letters to his peers that he was ready and waiting for the order from Washington to campaign against Detroit, Washington and the Continental Congress decided to take a more defensive posture and disrupt Indian activities rather than again risk large expenditures of men and material to attempt to reduce Detroit. Accordingly, sufficient funds and manpower were not forthcoming to support such an endeavourer.

The presence of the Army was required to demonstrate territorial claims in future peace negotiations and hopefully provide some assurance to the settlers. The settlers were not appeased, and were not happy with the continued threat of Indian raids. They petitioned state government to respond with the use of militia, mostly emanating from Governor Jefferson of Virginia. Some militia expeditions were launched independent of the Western Department’s command. A few were very successful but many ended in torturous losses of life. Had there been a more cohesive blending of State and Continental forces, the capture of Fort Detroit might have been possible but there was little or no coordination or cooperation. American forces never threatened Detroit during the Revolutionary War. Meanwhile the settlers became more annoyed with the Continental Army as time went on.

During the winter the difficulty of provisioning troops west of the Allegany Mountains was exacerbated by the addition of two new forts. In particular, Fort Laurens did not have sufficient supplies to last the winter and required nearly impossible provisioning from the other forts. Hunting parties were stopped due to hostile Indians around the fort. It drew a lot of attention from the Wyandotte, Miami, and Mingo tribes that were not pleased with an American military presence on their lands. Moreover the British at Fort Detroit had also become alarmed.

When he left Fort Laurens, McIntosh promised to provide provisions. On January 21, 1779 Captain John Clark arrived with 15 regimental troops and the promised supplies. By this time the men at Fort Laurens were boiling and eating their shoes and searching just outside the fort for edible roots. Clothing was inadequate. Many of the men were unable to stand to defend themselves. Clark’s arrival with food was just in time. He stayed two days and left. Three miles from Fort Laurens, Simon Girty and a band of Indians ambushed the detail. Girty was an embittered American who defected to the British. He spent some of his childhood as an Indian captive learning the language and warrior skills of his tribe. He often planned and led war parties against the Americans. In this case, he attacked Clark and his party with 17 Mingo Indians, resulting in two dead, four wounded and one captured. Clark and the remaining men made it back to the fort and several days later left again for Fort Pitt. They returned successfully and reported to General McIntosh. Meanwhile the captive was taken to Detroit for interrogation. He informed his captors that Fort Laurens was not well provisioned, which encouraged a winter assault. Despite providing the requested information he was ritualistically staked and burned. Later his scalp was displayed prominently on a pole.

Girty returned to Fort Laurens in the middle of February 1779 with a much larger Indian force of approximately 200 Mingo and Miami. Gibson first became aware the attack was in progress when on February 23, 1779 he sent 18 men to the outskirts of the fort to fetch wood previously cut in preparation for the winter. Unknown to the detail there were Indians taking cover out of sight behind a mound. As the men approached the mound on the way to the woodpile the Indians attacked from two directions. The troops inside the fort watched helplessly. The distance was too far for effective use of muskets from the fort or to send reinforcements in time. The Indians killed and scalped all but two who were taken captive. Gibson managed to get a messenger through the Indian lines to McIntosh alerting him to the impending danger. In the letter he vowed to “defend the fort to the last extremity.”

The Indians laid siege to the fort. At night the Indians built fires and cleverly walked about the fires in such a fashion that it created an illusion. Counts from the fort reached an estimate of at least 800 Indians which was three or four times larger than the actual force. During the day the Indians would wave the scalps of the slain soldiers from a safe distance taunting the soldiers in the fort to come out and fight. Due to the shortage of provisions, Colonel Gibson cut the food ration to one-quarter pound of meat and flour a day. He sent another messenger who was also able to elude the Indians and reached Fort McIntosh on March 3, 1779 seeking immediate relief. It took two weeks for General McIntosh to gather enough troops to support a relief effort.

Colonel Gibson meanwhile, was confronted with few options and in desperate straits. An attack in force was considered, but ruled out based on the estimated strength of the Indian warriors. British Captain Bird, who had accompanied Simon Girty on the raid, offered Gibson and his men safe passage if he surrendered. Gibson refused. Bird then promised to withdraw if Gibson provided them with a barrel of flour and meat. Bird believed correctly that the garrison was down to its last provisions and would refuse the request. A refusal to provide the provisions would embolden the Indians to continue the siege. Gibson called their bluff even though they were down to their last few barrels and rolled out the requested provisions. The Indians were also very hungry, ate the food, lost interest in the raid, and went home.

On March 23, 1779 McIntosh appeared at the fort with a relief force of 300 regulars and 200 militiamen. The garrison was elated at the arrival of McIntosh’s troops with the desperatly-needed food. In their excitement the troops at Fort Laurens fired a volley of gratitude. The packhorses panicked and headed off in all directions. Only half of the provisions were recovered and many horses were never found.

McIntosh stayed several days and returned to Fort Pitt taking Colonel Gibson and his men with him. He left major Vernon, Joseph Hancock and 100 men from the 8th Pennsylvania to garrison Fort Laurens. These men took the remains of the 18 men killed in action and placed them in a deep pit with fresh red meat. The meat attracted the wolves that had previously fed on these men and trapped them. To help satisfy the need for revenge the wolves were shot and buried with the men. As the days wore on conditions at the fort would repeat what Colonel Gibson’s men had experienced. Due to the lack of food, the men became so weak they could hardly stand to defend themselves.