George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 1 October 1791

From Henry Knox

War Department [Philadelphia], 1st October 1791.


Yesterday I received a Letter from Major General St Clair, dated at Lexington in Kentucky the 4th ultimo. He had repaired to that place in order to meet the County Lieutenants of the district, for the purpose of obtaining such a number of militia as he judged would be necessary to enable the Army to accomplish the objects which had been directed. He agreed with the County Lieutenants, that Eleven hundred and fifty non-commissioned and privates should be drafted, although he says he neither expects or desires more than Seven hundred and fifty—They are to be at Fort Washington on the 25 ultimo—He, upon a full consideration and consultation with the County Lieutenants, decided that the Militia to be called out should not be Volunteers but to act as Infantry, and to serve for three months if necessary—The County Lieutenants were unanimous and cordial in their promises.1

In the mean time he had ordered the first division of the troops already assembled at and near Fort Washington, to move to the Miami river on the 2d ulto—about 35 miles from Fort Washington—and Colonel Darke with the second division to follow as soon as possible—This would be the first post of communication—and as soon as it should be finished, which he expects will be in ten days after its commencement, he would move forward to establish a second post, and there he shall expect to be joined by Genl Butler and the Militia from Kentucky—He seems to think it imprudent to move farther than a second, until his whole force should be collected.2

He supposes from his information, that it is possible to assemble twelve or fifteen hundred hostile Indians—but, that they cannot subsist long together, as the country is very far from being stocked with Game.

I am persuaded that General Butler must have joined with the rear about the 12th Ulto.

General St Clair, says—“I beg you to assure the President, that nothing can exceed the anxiety I feel to have the operations of the Campaign begun, and it is a point on which, for some time past, I have been uneasy to a great degree—to forward the preparations nothing has been left undone early and late, with the few men under my command.”3

Indeed, judging from the very full communications of General St Clair, which I have forborne troubling you with at present in the detail, it would appear that he has exerted himself in the highest degree—The distance of his second post will be probably about 70 miles from Fort Washington, and about 50 from the Miami Village. He will have all his regular force before he leaves his first post of communication—and it will probably be superior to all possible combinations which may be brought against him.

But although his regular force may appear to be sufficient at this distance, yet confiding in his judgment, his call of the Militia will, in all human probability give the greatest certainty to his operations, and which I flatter myself will be entirely efficacious and honorable to the government.

Had the operations commenced two months earlier, it would have been more comfortable to the troops, and have given greater time to have improved all advantages—But the extensive field from which the troops have been collected, the lowness of waters on the Ohio, and the tedious delays of some of the Agents in the business, have rendered an earlier Campaign impracticable. I have the honor to be With the highest respect Sir, Your most Obedient hume servant

H. Knox


1For the 3 Sept. 1791 meeting of Arthur St. Clair with the county lieutenants of the Kentucky District of Virginia, see Henry Knox to GW, 24 Sept., n.2. St. Clair described the meeting to Knox in an “Extract of a letter from Major General St. Clair to the Secretary of War dated Lexington September 4th 1791”: “I represented to them the necessity of aid for the campaign—that this country, for the ease and protection of which, much had been done lately by Government, and there was a disposition Still to do more was relied on for that aid, and, if a disappointment Should be met with, it would have most unhappy effects; and that of all parts of the Union this country was the most interested in rendering the efforts of Government against the Savages completely Successful; and then proposed that a draught Should be made, as the means the most likely to draw out the reinforcement that was wanted. Some objections were immediately brought forward (on the ground I believe that I formerly mentioned) apparently from a fear that the attempt would be inneffectual, as there was no General Law by which recusants could be punished. neither, it was Said, could they be Subject to punishment under the Militia law of Virginia, for that law warranted a draught under the authority of the executive of the State Government only and that authority was wanting. that they themselves would be liable to the action of every man they might call out in a way which the law of the State did not warrant. after canvassing this point for some time and perceiving that there was a great Majority decided for the right of government to call for the Militia and for their own power to draught in consequence of that call, I brought the volunteer expeditions into their view, Shewed them that the Service which would be required, could not be obtained from the corps so constituted, and that if it could be obtained the expense they were attended with, was ruinous, that if however they could propose any mode by which the men could be got more acceptable to the people than a draught, it would be perfectly agreable to me, and left them to discuss it among themselves. after Some time Spent and a great deal of altercation, all the objections were given up and the measure of a draught was come into, not only without any dissent but to appearance with much Zeal, those who had been opposed to it pledging themselves to exert themselves to the utmost both in getting the men out, and in opposing the opinion that there was ⟨any⟩ want of power in the General Governmt in the premises . . . the number I have called for is eleven hundred and Sixty non commissioned Officers and privates, but that is considerably beyond what I expect, or, I hope, have occasion for. the number was fixed upon by the advice of the county Lieutenants, who assured me that it was necessary to require more than was realy wanted, for, let the number required be what it would, there would be considerable deficiencies; and they understand that I will be Satisfied with Seven hundred and fifty. I doubt not but exertions will be made to bring into the field as many as possible of the Indians to oppose us, but I believe nothing of the many thousands that are talked of. Although it may be possible that twelve or fifteen hundred Indians may be drawn together, it is certainly impossible to Subsist them long in that country which is very far from being plentifully Stored with game. I have inclosed a copy of my circular letter to the Lieutenants by which you will see that the Militia are to be at the mouth of Licking (which is opposite to Fort Washington) on the twenty fifth” (NNGL: Knox Papers). St. Clair again informed Knox on 18 Sept. that the arrival of the Kentucky militia troops at Fort Washington was expected on 25 Sept. (Smith, St. Clair Papers, description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends 2:240–41).

2In the extract cited in the preceding note St. Clair also informed Knox from Lexington: “I left orders for Major [John Francis] Hamtramack [Hamtramck] to move to the banks of the Miami on the Second, and for Colonel [William] Dark[e] to follow him as Soon as it was possible and directed Major Ferguson to go and trace a Small work there, the plan of which I furnished him with. the Execution of it will be set about immediately. by my calculation it may be in a state to receive a Garrison in ten or twelve days, and be finished afterwards—the moment it is So far advanced I shall go On to take a second position where I expect to be joined by the Militia, and perhaps by Genl Butler. It may probably be imprudent to advan⟨ce⟩ farther into the country before our whole force is collected. but if he is not up by that time I shall despair of him, and must do the best I can with what I have” (NNGL: Knox Papers). Construction of the first post on the Miami River, Fort Hamilton, was not begun until after 15 Sept. and was not completed until after 30 September. Construction on the second post, Fort Jefferson, about forty-four miles beyond the first, did not commence until 12 Oct. (Guthman, March to Massacre, description begins William H. Guthman. March to Massacre: A History of the First Seven Years of the United States Army, 1784–1791. New York, 1975. description ends 222, 224–25, 226).

3In his letter to Knox of 4 Sept., St. Clair also discussed arrangements made by the contractor’s agent Isaac Ludlow to hire horses and oxen for the expedition and described difficulties he himself had had in recruiting the Kentucky militia in Lexington, writing: “the extreme bad weather, for I met with three days most violent rain (I hope it has reached Genl Butler) prevented my arriving before noon yesterday, and I found them all in waiting. . . . Colonel [Benjamin] Logan attended. but as he was neither a Lieutenant nor a Militia Officer he was not called to the conference. I have however good reason to believe that his influence was exerted to overcome Some of the difficulties, and will be exerted in getting the men out, and I Should not have been displeased that the command of them had fallen upon him, and Such an expectation, I thought it right to hold up to him, with which he was certainly flattered but it was impossible to manage it. there are a multitude of little interests local politics, and trifling Jealousies that operate very Strongly in this country at present, and the Board which the President was pleased to appoint here for regulating the application of the protection afforded by government has given great disgust to the militia Officers, and the appointment by them of Genl [Charles] Scott to command the first, and Genl [James] Wilkinson, the Second expedition, neither of whom are Militia Officers, has increased it. General Scott, they say, was appointed a Brigadier of Militia for a special and temporary purpose only, and that his command as Such extended only to, and expired with the dismission of the Guards. It was Colonel Logan being one of the members of that Board that occasioned his being rejected by the Lieutenants. but his influence is considerable in a part of the country, and he has promised me to exert it fully, and Should it be necessary that he will go with the Militia notwithstanding his having no appointment and at any rate will go with them to Head Quarters. It was necessary, Sir, to carry the measure of a draught to drop the volunteer business which Genl Scott had proposed for various reasons. in the first place that business having been taken up by him of his own mere motion, without concert with the other Gentlemen of the Board, and as far as I have been able to learn, without a Single person of influence to Second him, the probability was that it would fail. in the Second place Supposing that he Should be able to raise the Volunteers, the Service they would expect to be employed in, would not coincide with the movements of an Army which had posts to establish, and which consequently must be tedious, and whenever they became tired, they would go home, as was the case with General Wilkinson’s force, though he has not thought proper to mention it in his report, and was the True reason why he did not go to the Kickapoo-town—in the third place, could the volunteers be brought to Submit to that Kind of Service, and to Keep the field, which it was the opinion of the most intelligent persons I conversed with on the Subject, they would not, the expence attending them would far out go the value of their Services; and in the fourth place, there was no adequate object against which they could be employed in a desultory way with a reasonable prospect of advantage. to have pushed them forward into the indian country would have been to Sacrifice them, and their being worsted would have been attended with the most baneful effects; and to have employed them against any of the little towns that may be yet inhabited would have been to render those enterprises ridiculous. and lastly that while a volunteer expedition, where every man was to ride and receive four Shillings a day and a tour of Militia besides, which Genl Scott has ordered they should be allowed, every man who as a draughted Militia was to receive Three dollars a month and march on foot, would disobey the order for a draught at all hazards” (NNGL: Knox Papers).

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