George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Lee, 4 December 1791

From Henry Lee

Richmond [Va.] Decr 4th 1791

My dear President

Altho the enclosed account which came to hand yesterday is by no means complete, yet I think it worthy of transmission, as I am sure you will be very anxious to receive every additional information on the late disaster in the west.1

The writer I am told is entitled to full credit—We may I think truely infer from this communication that the enemy paid dearly for their victory, or General St Clair after so heavy a loss could not have effected his retreat to Fort Jefferson thirty miles distant from the field of battle & also that the remains of the army are not as the first accounts stated destitute of provision, but will be able to subsist until the releif shall arrive.

The district of Kentucky evince on this occasion a zeal & alertness which does the highest honor to their character.

I have not thought it worth while to send General Scotts circular letr, or the extract from the Kentucky gazette, as they only mention the defeat briefly & I have reason to beleive must ere now have reached the secretary of the department of War.

The fate of the detachment Under the mountain leader seems full of peril yet the character of the Indian cheif inspires me with hope that he will elude the efforts of his enemy. I have the honor to be sir with the most entire & Affectionate respect your most ob: h: servt

Henry Lee


1The enclosed letter of 26 Nov. 1791 from John Rogers of Campbell County, Va., to Henry Lee reads: “On my way from Spanish America across by Land, I passed the Kentucky country, where a few days after my Arrival, and three days previous to my departure from thence (which was on the 15th instant) we received certain intelligence of the defeat of our Army under the Command of General St Clair; and as I think it requisite, that Government should have the earliest intelligence thereof, I have inclosed your Excellency a copy of General Scott’s circular Letter to the County Lieutenants of Kentucky, also an extract from the Kentucky Gazette, with a List of the officers said to be killed and wounded. It does not appear that the Army was taken by Surprize, as the Centinels fired above Sixty shots at the Enemy before the action came on; during which time, I suppose, the Veterans of the forest were taking their position, as it appears they had completely surrounded the Army, and attacked it on all sides at day break tommahawk in hand against bayonets. They twice Surrounded St Clairs Tent, being (as he generally is) so ill with the Gout, that he could not get out, until he was set on Horse back, and then conducted the retreat. The Indians fought the Army five miles on the Retreat; and were prevented from tommahawking the General in his tent by the Vigilence of the troops who defended it. The battle was fought 30 miles from fort Jefferson, and about 15 miles from the ground, on which Harmar was defeated last Year. The remains of the Army are in the above named fort, and have only 12 days provisions, the flesh of Pack Horses. The Indians appeared in force around the fort the next day. St Clair passed on himself to the next fort about 60 miles distant from fort Jefferson, where, it is said, he is waiting assistance to relieve fort Jefferson. All the leading Characters in Kentucky are turning out, and it was thought, that a body of 1500 or 2000 Horsemen would go to the relief of the Army. The Mountain Leader, a Chickasaw, with a party of his nation, and a part of the first Regiment, were out on Command, said to have been ordered to some small town. There is no word of them; it is generally feared they will be cut off, as they could know nothing of the defeat of the Army. There was a second party of the chickasaw Nation under the great Leader Colbert, on their way to join our Army, but had not reached it; they will now go on with the relief. There was one fellow only of that nation in the Action, who it is said killed and scalped eleven of the Enemy with his own hands, and engaging with the twelfth he fell, greatly lamented by the Americans. General Butler was wounded and carried to his Tent to have his wounds dressed; an Indian watched where he was carried to, then broke through our men and tommahawked the General and the Doctor who was dressing his Wounds before he was killed by our men.

It is thought the whole of the loss, including the Army and its followers amounts to 800 persons. The above appears to be the general Account as received in Kentucky by sundry persons from the Army, generally corresponding, and I believe may generally be relied on” (DLC:GW). GW received Lee’s letter and its enclosure before the official report of Arthur St. Clair’s defeat arrived in Philadelphia (see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 12 Dec., and GW to Lee, 14 Dec. 1791).

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