Friday, September 4, 2015

Wilderness War

Jacob paused briefly to wipe the sweat away from his forehead, looking over his small field of corn he felt good. This land was bountiful and beautiful. It had been hard work clearing the field for his cabin and his crops. Hard but worth it.

But something was wrong, the cicadas had stopped their noise, there was a heaviness in the air, almost as if a storm was brewing. Then he saw the glint of, something, there in the brush on the far side of his squash plants. Something, someone was there.

"Caleb, go get your Ma and get everyone into the cabin. Now son. Move!"

As he watched his young son run to to the cabin, Jacob reached for his fowling piece. Quickly he picked up the weapon which had been passed down to him from his father and checked that the flint was seated, then he checked the priming.

Damnation, the boy had been playing with the frizzen again, all the powder had fallen out of the pan, no doubt when the young lad snapped it opened and closed. Fumbling with his powder horn, for a brief moment Jacob had to chuckle at the boy's curiosity.

Out of the forest, with a whirring noise, an arrow flew from the bow of a hidden Huron warrior. With a meaty sounding thump , the arrow smacked into the young farmer's chest, puncturing his left lung.

For a moment Jacob was puzzled, it felt as if he had been punched hard. His wind was gone, he could scarcely breathe. Then the sharp agony came, overwhelming his senses. As he sank to the ground, his weapon falling from his nerveless hands, his last thought was of his wife and children.

He never saw the Huron raiding party which had killed him.

Long ago, the great forest stretched from the shores of the Atlantic to the Mississippi River, from the Gulf of Mexico north to the Canadian tundra. Within those forests lived a variety of native cultures many of whom were hostile to the Europeans. After all, they drove away the game and took the land for themselves.

So the original people fought back as best they could. But stone knives and flint arrowheads were no match for lead ball, driven by the explosion of black powder. The Europeans could, and did, kill from a distance. So, many of the original peoples went west, displacing other populations, a story which has played out for as long as humans have lived on the planet.

Those who were strong enough, and numerous enough, were courted by the Europeans. In the northeast the French and the English made allies of the various tribes. The Iroquois Nation was aligned (more or less) with the English. The Huron, driven from their homeland and north to Quebec by the Iroquois, allied themselves with the French.

In the 1700s a struggle began for dominance of the northeastern portion of North America. New France, which stretched from the Atlantic coast of Canada to what is now Louisiana encircled the possessions of His Majesty George II, the King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire.

France and England were ancient enemies so it is not a surprise that they would eventually come to blows over their possessions in North America.

The war which eventually drove the French from their North American possessions and broke the power of France in the New World was fought from 1754 to 1763. It was known by the English colonists as The French and Indian War. In Europe the war spread to involve all of the major powers and was known as The Seven Years War. One of the truly great soldiers of the era was a man from a small country called Prussia. Does the name Frederick the Great ring any bells?
The Seven Years' War was fought between 1754 and 1763, the main conflict occurring in the seven-year period from 1756 to 1763. It involved most of the great powers of the time and affected Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. The two major opponents were Great Britain and France. In the historiography of some countries, the war is named after combatants in its respective theaters: the French and Indian War in the United States. In French-speaking Canada, it is known as the War of the Conquest, while it is called the Seven Years' War in English-speaking Canada (North America, 1754–1763), Pomeranian War (with Sweden and Prussia, 1757–1762), Third Carnatic War (on the Indian subcontinent, 1757–1763), and Third Silesian War (with Prussia and Austria, 1756–1763). W
The war was bloody and violent in the New World. Native raids along the periphery of the English colonies killed many men, women and children. Reprisal raids into the native heartlands killed many men, women and children as well.

The armies were small, the forces committed by France were very limited as Louis XV and his advisers concentrated on the European aspects of the war. Only a small number of regular French regiments came to the New World, for the most part the French tended to rely heavily on their native allies.

Great European style fortresses were built along the lines laid down by the great Vauban.

One which I have visited often was rebuilt to its early splendor, Fort Ticonderoga. Originally built by the French and named Carillon, after the sound made by the nearby river flowing between Lake George and Lake Champlain. To them it sounded like bells.

Fort Ticonderoga (Source)

The French also had the Fortress of Louisbourg on what is now known as Prince Edward Island. This protected the entrance to the St Lawrence seaway and the French cities of Quebec City and Montréal. A great siege was conducted by the British in 1757. They seized the fortress and destroyed it. It too was rebuilt and is now a National Historic Site of Canada. The picture below is just a portion of the old fortress


The fortress and its environs in 1751. (Source)

One of the results of the British seizure of Louisbourg and the surrounding territory was the deportation of many of the area's French-speaking, Catholic inhabitants. They were known as Acadians, many were deported to France, many wound up in the southern parts of the Louisiana territory which remained in French hands until Napoléon sold it to the United States. We know them today as Cajuns.

Another of the ramifications of this war was its cost. It was so expensive that the British Parliament decided that the Colonies, for whom the war was fought they claimed, should shoulder some of the cost.

Which led to a tax on tea, and the Stamp Act and a number of other things which led to the American Revolution. Which so bankrupted the French monarchy that the French had their own revolution, which led to Napoléon and all that followed. Funny isn't it how things reverberate down through history? (It's a damn shame that most of our politicians know very little of history.)

So how did this war start?

Well, landowners in Virginia and other parts of the Eastern Seaboard were a bit miffed that New France stood in the way of their hunger for more land. So the British Crown pushed patrols out into the Ohio Valley. Which irked the French no end.

So the French began to beef up their military presence in the Ohio Valley. A patrol was sent out from Fort Duquesne (which was on the site of modern downtown Pittsburgh) under the command of Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, a French military officer born and raised in North America.

Fort Duquesne (Source)

Some historians say it was a scouting mission to determine British strength in the area. The French maintain that Jumonville was on a diplomatic mission, he was to deliver an ultimatum to the British demanding that they withdraw their forces from the Ohio Valley. Or incur the wrath of Le Roi, Louis XV!

Jumonville's patrol was discovered by a band of Indians allied to the British, they reported back to Fort Necessity where a young colonial officer by the name of George Washington (yes, that George Washington) decided to take action.
Washington took a detachment of about 40 men and marched all night in a driving rain arriving at the encampment at dawn. What happened next, like so much about the incident, is a matter of controversy. The British claimed the French discovered their approach and opened fire on them. The French claimed the British ambushed their encampment. In either event, the battle lasted little more than 15 minutes and was a complete British victory. Ten French soldiers were killed and 21 captured, including the wounded Jumonville.

Washington treated Jumonville as a prisoner of war and extended him the customary courtesies due a captured military officer. Washington attempted to interrogate Jumonville but the language barrier made communication difficult. During their conversation however, the Half King walked up to Jumonville and without warning struck him in the head with a tomahawk, killing him.

Why the Half King did this has never been clear. He had been kidnapped by the French and sold into slavery as a child. He claimed that the French had boiled and eaten his father. He was also a representative of the Iroquois Confederacy, which stood to lose its authority over other Indian peoples in the Ohio River Valley if the French were able to assert their control. W
The site of the battle, Jumonville Glen, near present day Uniontown, Pennsylvania (Source)

Another account of that battle gives you an idea of the confused nature of what happened and the many points of view, depending on who you talked to I guess. (Too bad there were no cell phones back then, neh?)

George Washington is often called the Father of Our Country and with good reason. Most folks don't know that he was involved from the beginning of those great events which drove the French from Canada and the British from what would become the United States. You could argue that Washington's actions that day planted the seed for all that was to come.

But in the years which followed, many soldiers and Indians would die and many settlers would be killed in sight of their homes. Until that fateful day on the Plains of Abraham, a battle which sealed France's doom in the New World. A battle in which the commanders on either side (Wolfe and Montcalm) were both killed in action.

History is oft written in blood.

"Hold up Ensign Macready, do you smell that?"

The young British officer paused and sniffed the air. His sergeant nudged him and said, "It's smoke young sir, look over yonder."

Macready did, he could see the faint wisps of smoke just above the next ridge line. The wind had shifted and now the young ensign could also smell the smoke.

"Yes sir, I smell it sir, it's smoke!"

"Yes, yes, Ensign, now get your flankers out, let's go see what's burning."

Though the common British foot soldier is a hard man, used to a rough existence and harsh treatment at the hands of his betters, even the most brutish of the men were taken aback at the scene as they crested the low ridge, deep inside Pennsylvania.

The farmhouse and all the outbuildings had been put to the torch. Even the farmer's mule and cow had been slaughtered. The farmer himself was nearly unrecognizable his remains had been so badly abused.

From what the Seneca scout could discern, the farmer's wife and children, maybe one, maybe two, had been dragged off. Captives, bound for Canada. There was no sign of their bodies anywhere.

The captain of His Majesty's 44th Foot sighed and gestured at his sergeant. "Get the men together Sergeant, we'll camp here tonight.


"Ensign, let's bury that man. Hop to it lads. Nightfall is not far off. I wish to be away from this place first thing in the morning."

Shivering, the captain dreamt of tomahawks and war whoops in the night. He heartily wished he was back in London.


  1. Exceptionally fine post Sarge, and a perfect way to start my day.

    Of course there would have been no strife and bloodshed and everything would have been rainbows and obamacorns if that mean old dude with the wooden teeth hadn't started the Bush dynasty.

    1. Hey, it's no coincidence they were both named George! :)

      Thanks Shaun!

  2. Really looking forward to the book Sarge!

    1. Research continues, I want to make it as accurate as possible.

      The story about Washington I knew, just never put all the pieces together before. This came out of the research.

  3. Another excellent post Sarge. Made me look at some secondary sources to better my understanding of the events -always a fun and good thing.

    1. Thanks Ron. Entertaining and educational, it's what I strive for.

  4. Great stuff, Sarge. (are you sure you don't have an advanced degree in history? :) ) I grew up on a college campus in the early 50s and went to the Lab School there grades 1-8. Almost ALL of your narrative was avail in either the basic text-books we used or secondary sources in our school library which, taken together, painted the same in-depth details. To review the elementary texts used today and their superficial coverage of that era is to weep. As the obsequious maitre de in Ferris Buller said: "I weep for the future."

    1. Thanks Virgil. Same here on what we had available in my school days. I shudder to think what passes for basic history studies these days.

      My minor in college was history, that and I'm a voracious reader.

      Good to have you back, we missed you round these parts.

  5. Heretic! If accurate history is taught then people are deprived of the chance to relive it on their own. (Sarcasm font)

  6. Excellent post, and thank you. It was a bloody and merciless war waged by both (well, maybe all three) sides.

    Pedantic gun nut quibble: You show a "Pennsylvania" (or "Kentucky" ) rifle, which were not around during the period discussed, their very earliest use being about 1770.
    Pick. Pick ;-)

    1. Thanks Cap'n.

      As to the faulty illustration, Mea maxima culpa...

      I plead artistic license.

      Though truth be told, the Research Department only did a cursory search. Those responsible will be sacked. And no doubt rehired immediately as it's hard to get good help. I know, I'll put them on unpaid leave Monday and Tuesday! That'll show me!

    2. Well, to be fair, those rifles are muc h more graceful--and attractive--than a "Brown Bess" ;-)

    3. True. Thanks for understanding.


  7. Debbie Reynolds (doorkeeper)September 4, 2015 at 8:51 PM

    Wonderful piece! Also, next time you're in my neck of the woods, please let me know! I saw the pic and blinked hard--World's End is just south of me, I live by the "PA Grand Canyon" which is just a little steeper and more narrow than your pic.

  8. I've said this before, but I have to say it again. You write THE best history lessons I have ever had the pleasure of reading. If my history teachers in school had given me your texts to read, I definitely would have had a higher interest in the subject back then. Magnificent.

  9. Sigh, i suppose this means I have to buy another of your books.

    1. Hahaha! I haven't written one yet Scott. But yeah, you'll have to.

  10. You were forgetting, the reason so many scotch/irish/welsh were here. In your list of troubles you were not mentioning the rebellions in their lands. The rebellions were a result of the changes in laws to return lands to the overseers, after stealing the lands from the church, and creating the "nobility" and the giving of lands to the nobility, the dues for the ownership were adjusted to more then a tithe. and the roads were deteriorated to the point of no upkeep, by the nobility. Then came the switch of what the nobility wanted grown on the lands, dictating, sheep instead of foodstuffs for people. People starved, were forced to move to "cities" where they fell upon the dole, and this created strife in the name of the king, laws were enacted, to stifle the strife, prisoners taken, jails filled, starve them or feed them, and this new area opened up, you could grow what you want there, foodstuffs and tobacco. Ship the prisoners keeper but an overlord/governor, Indians all around...Now, who supported the rebellions still going on in europe? The scotch/ french connection, and the irish spanish/portigese connection, the church who noticed, that they were not any more in england. From there it gets interesting, no one expects the "". Durn monty python.

    1. Good points. One thing many of the landowners in North America wanted was a similar setup as they had in the Mother Country. Those folks whom you mention wanted nothing of the kind.

      Quote Monty Python to me and you have my attention.

      (Fetch the soft cushions!)

  11. Sorry to bother you again... (Followed the link, again)
    This woke memories of "Last of the Mohicans" (book and movie) and the book "Drums along the Mohawk"
    I have distant ancestors on my Dad's "the mutt" side, arriving on the Mayflower. And through family research my wife and kids had an ancestor that was supposedly the first "white man" to winter west of the Allegheny Mts. in Penn. last name of Scott. I will be very interested in this new story. Again, good luck, and thanks.

  12. OH, one last thing, both my wife's ancestors and mine lived (for a time)in Lancaster Co. Penn (where some of those beautiful rifles were made) Fuzzy on the dates, been about 17 years since I did the ancestry thing. Strange we met in Calif. on the other side of the continent. Just fascinating history. Again, thank you, to you and your Muse.


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