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Title: A Soldier's Life on the Western Frontier in 1813
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Language: English
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FRONTIER IN 1813 ***



            A SOLDIER’S LIFE ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER IN 1813


             Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County
                                  1953


One of a historical series, this pamphlet is published under the
direction of the governing Boards of the Public Library of Fort Wayne
and Allen County.

           BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE SCHOOL CITY OF FORT WAYNE

  B. F. Geyer, President
  Joseph E. Kramer, Secretary
  W. Page Yarnelle, Treasurer
  Willard Shambaugh
  Mrs. Sadie Fulk Roehrs

                 PUBLIC LIBRARY BOARD FOR ALLEN COUNTY

The members of this Board include the members of the Board of Trustees
of the School City of Fort Wayne (with the same officers), together with
the following citizens chosen from Allen County outside the corporate
city of Fort Wayne:

  James E. Graham
  Arthur Niemeier
  Mrs. Glenn Henderson
  Mrs. Charles Reynolds



                                FOREWORD


The following letter, written by an anonymous author to an unknown
correspondent, vividly depicts the life of an American soldier on the
western frontier during the War of 1812. Reprinted from the WEEKLY
REGISTER, this letter might have been written by a twentieth-century
soldier, for the experiences, hopes, and fears of this enlisted man in
the early nineteenth century are similar to those of an American
serviceman of our own day. Hardships, sufferings, and dangers are
illustrated; but good will, respect for authority, and companionship are
present in no lesser degree. The letter is reprinted as published except
that grammar, spelling, and punctuation have been changed to conform to
current usage.

                                                        Zanesville, Ohio
                                                          March 28, 1813

When I last wrote you from Upper Sandusky, I confidently expected that
something of considerable importance would have transpired within a very
short time; but, unfortunately, the war in this quarter is protracted to
a much longer period than I contemplated at that time. Indeed, the
best-informed people in the army think that nothing decisive can be done
before next winter. Invasions of a country with militia will never be
successful. Some militiamen will not cross the lines; others will not
submit to any kind of authority; and, in fact, they would all prefer
being at home rather than courting fame on the battlefield.

The Kentucky and Ohio militia have been discharged for some time; the
Pennsylvania and Virginia militia are to be discharged on April 1; and,
unless other troops arrive, the camp will, in a great measure, be
unprotected. No men will be left except our battalion, consisting of the
Petersburg Volunteers and two companies from Pittsburgh (fifty men in
one and fifteen in the other), together with about three hundred and
fifty regulars. Ensign James G. Chalmers, who is appointed paymaster for
all the twelve-month volunteers, and I left the rapids on the eighth. We
have to remain here until the arrival of the district paymaster.

    [Illustration: uncaptioned]

The next day after the date of my letter from Upper Sandusky, we left
that place for the rapids, together with three hundred militia under the
command of Major Orr. We had with us twenty pieces of heavy artillery
and a quantity of military stores of every description. At this time we
knew nothing of the unfortunate events at the Raisin River. On the
second day of our march, a courier arrived from General Harrison; the
artillery was ordered to advance with all possible speed. This was
rendered totally impossible by the falling snow; it was a complete swamp
nearly all the way. On the evening of the same day, news arrived that
General Harrison had retreated to the Portage River, eighteen miles in
the rear of the encampment at the rapids. It was determined that as many
men as could be spared should proceed immediately to reinforce him. It
is unnecessary to state that we were among the first who wished to
advance.

At two o’clock the next morning, our tents were struck; and in half an
hour we were on the road. I will candidly confess that on that day I
regretted being a soldier. We marched thirty miles in incessant rain;
and I am afraid you will doubt my veracity when I tell you that in eight
miles of the best road, we sank into mud over the knees and often to the
middle. The Black Swamp (four miles from the Portage River and four
miles in extent) would have been considered impassable by all except men
who were determined to surmount every difficulty to accomplish the
object of their march. In this swamp one loses sight of terra firma
altogether. The water was about six inches deep on the ice, which was
very rotten and often broke through to a depth of four or five feet.

That same night we encamped on very wet ground, but the driest that we
could find; the rain still continued. It was with difficulty that we
built fires; our clothes were wet. We had no tents, no axes, nothing to
cook in, and very little to eat. Since a brigade of pack horses was near
us, we procured some flour from them; we killed a hog as there were
plenty of them along the road. Our bread was baked in the ashes, and the
pork we broiled on the coals. A sweeter meal I have never eaten. When we
went to sleep, it was on two logs laid close together to keep our bodies
from the damp ground. Good God! What a pliant being is man in adversity.
The loftiest spirit that ever inhabited the human breast would have been
tamed amid the difficulties that surrounded us.

The next morning we arrived at the headquarters of the northwestern army
on the Portage River. During our stay here, we were in constant
expectation of an attack. For several nights we went to sleep with our
muskets in our arms and all our accoutrements fixed for action. On the
arrival of the brigades of General Leftwich and General Crook [sic] from
Sandusky, we marched for the rapids. The Kentucky and the Ohio troops
had then only six days to serve. In a speech to them, the General
pledged to take them to Malden in twenty days, which pledge would have
been fulfilled if the cannon and military stores could have been got on.
When we arrived at the rapids, the advance guard discovered that one of
the three persons, who had been sent to Malden with a flag two days
previously, had been killed and scalped by the Indians. The other two
(we have since heard) are prisoners at Malden. So little does our enemy
respect the laws of nations.

The encampment, protected by nature in three quarters by a steep, high
bank, is opposite the Michigan Territory in a fine situation; the whole
is picketed. The stores are deposited in eight blockhouses, built around
the picketing. All of the encampment is nearly in a complete state of
defense. The handsomest country along this river is in the vicinity of
the camp, but all is a scene of desolation. After Hull’s surrender, the
whole country was laid waste by the Indians. Every half mile there had
been a house; the only remaining indication of habitation is the ruins
that cover the ground where houses once stood!

A few days after our arrival, a detachment, of which our company was a
part, was sent out to attack a considerable party of Indians fifteen
miles down the river. We started as night set in and marched all the way
on the ice. About two o’clock we came near the place where we expected
to surprise the enemy. We were put in order of battle and instructed to
proceed in silence.

      “Still was the pipe and drum—
  Save heavy tread, and armor’s clang,
      The sullen march was dumb.”

In a few minutes enemy forces were in sight; they were nearly a mile off
in a bend of the river. When we were within gunshot (I could hear the
men cocking their pieces), our company, to a man, was even at that
moment cheerful and gay! Fear was far distant from our ranks; and I do
sincerely believe that, had the enemy not flown previous to our arrival,
we would all have realized the expectations of our friends. Some of
their spies (as we have since heard from prisoners from Malden) saw us
on our march, and as a consequence they made a precipitate retreat. We
followed them to within five miles of the Raisin River and returned to
camp without any rest, except for two hours. We were absent twenty-one
hours, during which time we marched more than sixty miles. You are
already acquainted with the particulars of the last unfortunate account
at the Raisin River, likewise the failure of the expedition to destroy
the “Queen Charlotte.” Our company marched as far as the mouth of Lake
Erie to reinforce the men of the first party, but we met them on their
return. We have all built small houses, which make us very comfortable,
in front of the tents.

    [Illustration: uncaptioned]

The camp duty is very severe; there are no tents or houses for the guard
when the men are off their posts, so that it is equally as pleasant for
them to be at their posts as off. They are forbidden to leave the
rendezvous of the guard. Every other day a man mounts guard; on the day
that intervenes, he is at work within the camp. Major Alexander, who
commands the battalion, is as fine a fellow as I ever knew. The most
perfect harmony exists between the Pittsburgh company and ours; they are
the only two companies of twelve-month volunteers in camp, and the only
companies that wear uniforms. A generous emulation exists between them,
which is of infinite service to both. Officers and men all mingle
together. We visit each other’s tents of an evening, sing, tell stories,
play music, and drink grog when we can get it (which, by the bye, is not
often the case; sutlers are not permitted to sell spirits in the camp).

Poor Edmund S. Gee is no more! I saw him breathe his last. We consigned
him to his mother earth with all the decency our circumstances would
permit. We had it not in our power to dress his corpse in all the pomp
and pageantry of sorrow. The tears of his companions, more eloquent than
all the parade that sable weeds could bestow, were his due; and those he
had! All the battalion attended the funeral, as did General Leftwich,
who requested the chaplain to perform a funeral service, a thing not
done on any similar occasion.

Chalmers and I will return to the camp in a few days. It is dangerous to
travel the roads in small parties, as the Indians are all around the
camp. We will be obliged to remain in the settlement until some troops
are going on. The day before we left the camp, a lieutenant was shot and
scalped within sight of the camp. Another man was shot at, but
fortunately in his side pocket he had a Bible, which arrested the course
of the ball and saved his life. There are one hundred miles of road
between here and the rapids without a single inhabitant—all a
wilderness.


WEEKLY REGISTER, May 8, 1813



                          Transcriber’s Notes


—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Retained editorial notes, i.e. “[sic]” from the printed edition.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by
  _underscores_.





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