Staying in Step with George Daily Accounts
Each of these daily accounts is taken from primary sources of George Rogers Clark's march to Vincennes. They include Clark's Memoir (written ten years after the capture of Fort Sackville), Clark's letter to George Mason (written in November 1779, nine months after his capture of Fort Sackville), Captain Joseph Bowman's journal (kept throughout the entirety of the march), and Lt. Governor Henry Hamilton's Journal (kept during his countermarch against Clark and his time inside of Fort Sackville). These resources are available online through the Indiana Historical Bureau. Click here for more details.
Staying in Step with George
(Daily accounts from February 1 through February 28, 1779)
Feb. 1, 1779 - In his plan to capture Fort Sackville, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark, today, ordered that a large bateau be repaired and that provisions be readied for his key military campaign. Ample stores were available. Clark said, ". . . Every man was compleatly Riged with what (he) could desire to withstand to coldest weather."
Feb. 2, 1779 - Yesterday, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark planned for a naval operation to take Fort Sackville in Vincennes. Now, his focus shifted to an overland march. A packhorse master would get packsaddles and essentials for a nearly 157-mile trek across the Illinois prairies which were "under water for several inches."
Feb. 3, 1779 - The bateau, The Willing, was finished. Aboard were 2 four-pounders (cannon), artillery, and ammunition. The bateau's commander, John Rogers, would travel the flooded Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash rivers in order to anchor about 10 miles south of Vincennes. Clark's army of 170 men would march overland to meet The Willing's crew. Together, they would attack Fort Sackville.
Feb. 4, 1779 - About 2 p.m., the boat called The Willing, left Kaskaskia along the Mississippi River. On board were 40 to 46 men. Meanwhile, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark sought French-Canadians to join his 85 Americans for an overland march to Vincennes. At about 10 o'clock, Capt. Richard McCarty arrived with Cahokia's French-Canadian volunteers who joined a similar group from Kaskaskia.
Feb. 5, 1779 - The march that made Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark and his army legendary began today. His 170 men took the first steps toward victory by stepping away from Kaskaskia at 3 p.m. There would be countless steps in traversing the 157 miles to Vincennes. Prior to departure, Father Pierre Gibault provided "Absolution." The weather was "drisly" - an omen of the unrelenting wet conditions ahead.
Feb. 6, 1779 - While Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army was marching toward Fort Sackville, that garrison's security was being strengthened. British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, in command of Fort Sackville, said that his men were working on a blockhouse "to be erected at the West Angle of the Fort." Blockhouses are structures often with projecting upper stories whose loopholes are used for cannon.
Feb. 7, 1779 - The Wabash River's condition was of concern for 18th century travelers. British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton noted that today the "River Ouabache (Wabash) rose to a great heighth." This was the start of severe flooding which Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army soon would battle in order to reach Vincennes.
Feb. 8, 1779 -- This is the fourth day of Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's march to Fort Sackville. Capt. Joseph Bowman was keeping a journal. Today, he reported, ". . . our men were in great spirits, though much fatigued." He explained that the exhaustion came from marching through "those large and level plains, where, from the flatness of the country (the water) rests a considerable time before it drains off."
Feb. 9, 1779 - Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army had marched 44 miles. The Wabash at Vincennes rose while progress occurred at the fort, whose commandant said, "The little salient Angle (a projecting part) in the N.E. side of the Fort (was) taken down, the Stockades made to range with that front, and (were) lined."
Feb. 10, 1779 - Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army was about 100 miles from Fort Sackville. Capt. Joseph Bowman told of stormy weather and of the lack of tents for shelter. This day, the men crossed the "river of the Petit Fork upon trees that were felled for that purpose, the water being high there was no fording it." In Vincennes, the Wabash River reportedly continued "to rise considerably."
Feb. 11, 1779 - It had been a week since Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army marched out of Kaskaskia. Nearly the entire trip had been a wet one. Today Capt. Joseph Bowman wrote, "Crossed the Saline river." Clark said his men "had frequently waided . . . in Water, but perhaps seldom above half Leg deep." Soon the men would reach deeply flooded areas. As the water levels rose, so did Clark's "Ancziety" level.
Feb. 12, 1779 - "Twenty-one miles from St. Vincent (Vincennes)." That was Capt. Joseph Bowman's journal entry for today. He sadly added, "The road (was) very bad from the immense quantity of rain that had fallen. The men much fatigued." Meanwhile, British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton reported the "embarras overflowed, and the low Country entirely drowned." The Wabash also was rising.
Feb. 13, 1779 - Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's soldiers battled an "enemy" which would be conquered by a canoe and by Clark's optimism. The army was at the Little Wabash River, three miles west of the Fox River. The waters of the two rivers had created a "sheet of Water" about three-feet deep. While the men built a canoe, Clark acted "as though crossing the water would be only a piece of divertion."
Feb. 14, 1779 - About 4 p.m., Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's soldiers completed a canoe necessary to cross the swollen waters of the Little Wabash and Fox rivers. Clark stated that "our Vessel was . . . sent to Explore the Drownded Lands. . . . (and) to find . . . dry Land on the Bank of the opposite small river which they did (--) about half a Acrae (acre)." The actual ferrying operations would begin the next day.
Feb. 15, 1779 -- Rain fell as Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's troops erected a scaffold over the Little Wabash River. Baggage was ferried to it. Their horses swam, the men followed, and a canoe was "Loaded with those (men) that was sickly. . . . By the eavening (evening) we (were) . . . Incamped on a pretty Height in high spirits . . . and (they) now began to View the main Waubash (Wabash) as a (mere) Creek."
Feb. 16, 1779 - As the Wabash overflowed its banks. Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton said, ". . . many head of Cattle were lost by the low land being drowned." Meanwhile, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army was wading the Fox River. They were "convinced that the whole of the Low Cuntrey on the waubach was drowned (and) that the Enemy could Easily get to us." An added dilemma - rations were running low.
Feb. 17, 1779 - Imagine not being able to see where the Embarras River ends and the Wabash begins. That was Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's predicament. Capt. Joseph Bowman said, ". . . we got near the river Embarras . . . We strove to find the Wabash, Traveled till 8 o'clock in mud and water." Yet, only 14 miles away at Fort Sackville, the British commander said, "Nothing extraordinary" occurred today.
Feb. 18, 1779 - British Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton noted, "The South side of the river appears like a lake for two leagues below the fort (six miles south)." Meanwhile, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army was close to their goal. Capt. Joseph Bowman said, "At break of day (we) heard (the firing of) Governor Hamilton's morning gun (cannon)." By day's end, they were near the current town of St. Francisville, IL.
Feb. 19, 1779 - For Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army, there was activity amid anxiety. Before them were deep flooded river currents. Within them were deeply empty stomachs, having gone unfed for two days. Capt. Joseph Bowman exclaimed, "Hard fortune!" Four men searched for some canoes. None was found. The men began to build canoes. There was talk of retreat. Clark laughingly suggested, ". . . go out and kill some deer." Such optimism proved he "had no doubt of suckcess (in crossing the Wabash)."
Feb. 20, 1779 - This day began with the "Camp very quiet but hungry; some almost in despair." Still, the river had fallen a foot. A sentry caught a boat with five occupants who said nobody knew that Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army was nearby. The villagers "were well disposed" toward the Americans. Additionally, a deer was killed, which, Capt. Joseph Bowman said, was "very acceptable."
Feb. 21, 1779 - Rain added to the misery which Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army endured. Capt. Joseph Bowman said, ". . . (we) began to ferry our men over (the Wabash) in our two canoes to a small hill." Once the hazardous current was crossed, the sick were put in the canoes while the others marched. ". . . we thought to get to town that night, so plunged into the water, sometimes to the neck, for more than one league (three miles), when we stopped on the next hill . . . (still) no provisions."
Feb. 22, 1779 - Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's army was four miles from several sugar camps. Clark reported that stretch was covered by neck-deep water. Since he was six-foot-two, the water must have been about five feet deep. To motivate his men, Clark smeared wet gunpowder upon his face, shrieked a war whoop, and plunged into the icy water. Stunned by this unexpected action, the soldiers "fell in (the water) . . . like a flock of sheep." They struggled to reach half an acre of dry ground. In despair, Capt. Joseph Bowman wrote, "No provisions yet. Lord help us!"
Feb. 23, 1779 - Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's soldiers would reach "their long wish for Object" - Fort Sackville - about four miles away. Capt. Joseph Bowman said, "(We) Set off to cross the plain called Horse-shoe Plain, . . . all covered with water breast high. . . . we expected some of our brave men must certainly perish, having frozen in the night, and so long fasting. . . . we plunged into it(the water) with courage, . . . Never were men so animated with the thought of avenging the wrongs done (to them). . . as this small army was." Nature had failed to drown, freeze, or starve the men to death. All 170 had survived and began a siege of the fort at about 8 p.m. Lt. John Bailey's 14 soldiers fired the first shots.
Feb. 24, 1779 - The residents of Post St. Vincent (Vincennes) anxiously stayed at home, as per Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's orders. That kept them from the combat zone at Fort Sackville. British commander, Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, faced mutiny by half his soldiers. Because Clark's army had about 85 French-Canadians, the garrison's 40 to 45 French-Canadians said, ". . . it was hard they should fight against their own Friends and relations who they could see had joined the Americans." Their "treachery," along with the fort being 600 miles from aid, caused Hamilton to agree to surrender the post the next day.
Feb. 25, 1779 - The surrender of Fort Sackville was set for 10 a.m., today. The defeated troops' feelings were expressed by Lt. Gov. Henry Hamilton, who used such words as "mortification" and "disappointment." For Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's men, their success wasn't complete until an American flag flew over the post. That crucial moment was described by Capt. Joseph Bowman. "About ten o'clock . . . Governor Hamilton and his garrison marched out . . . (The victors) hoisted the American colors." The rejoicing began - and it hasn't ended yet. Each succeeding generation continues to commemorate that historic flag-raising - an event often said to be the moment of the birth of the United States north of the Ohio River.
Feb. 26, 1779 - British Fort Sackville now was American Fort Patrick Henry. Still, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark's mission wasn't finished. He would have to hold onto the post through military offensive moves. Clark learned that about four months earlier, 10 British boats had gone north for provisions. Today, 50 soldiers left to intercept this convoy. That group was successful and returned March 5 to Vincennes.
Feb. 27, 1779 - The boat, The Willing, arrived today - about 48 hours too late to participate in the siege of Fort Sackville. Capt. Joseph Bowman said this missed opportunity caused "great mortification of all on board, . . . (because) they had not the honor to assist us." Had The Willing been here to fire upon Fort Sackville, then this siege would have been the westernmost naval battle of the American Revolution.
Feb. 28, 1779 - Capt. Joseph Bowman wrote, "Nothing extraordinary," today. Yet three days earlier he was in an extraordinary fight for survival - his and his nation's. But today, life was a real let down after a dramatic 18-day march and a 38-hour siege. Still, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark had plans for the "Immediate Reduction of DeTroit and . . . (its) almost certainty of suckcess." That success never came. He said, "Detroit lost for want of a few Men (reinforcements)." No matter. The raising of an American flag at 10 a.m., Thurs., Feb. 25, 1779 at Fort Sackville won for this nation about 270,000 square miles from the Ohio River to the Great Lakes and from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi River. Today, throughout the Midwest and all the way to the West Coast, millions of American flags are being raised. Those flag raisings trace back to a single 18th century flag raising at Vincennes. If Clark's American flag hadn't been hoisted there during 1779, then another nation's flag, most likely now, would be flying from Ohio to Hawaii.