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The Crawford Expedition

Okay, so we looked at the Gnadenhutten Massacre of 1782, here:
where Pennsylvania Militiamen under the American Army murdered 96 peaceful Christian Native Americans in Ohio. Their people vowed revenge. Today we are going to take a quick look at what led up to this period, and then happened next.

A few years prior to the slaughter at Gnadenhutten, in February 1778 Captain Pipe, a Chief of the Delaware Indians had lost several family members to the Americans in continuously retaliatory acts of violence between the two factions. The Americans, led by General Edward Hand, and consisting of a band of 500 Pennsylvania men had led a surprise march into Ohio, with the hope of locating and destroying British supply camps being used to feed and arm supporting Natives, whilst they carried out their raids on American settlements. The objective failed and the army were forced to withdraw and return to their base. On their return journey, several small incidents occurred whereby the militia committed their own violent attacks on Native villages. It was during one of these incidents, later named the ‘Squaw campaign’ as a derisive nod to the victims being only women and children, that Captain Pipe lost his family members.

Despite this, Pipe determined to remain neutral and as such was one of the signatures on the Fort Pitt Treaty devised and offered to the Americans by fellow chief White Eyes in September of that year. White Eyes passed away shortly after the treaty was signed, although it remains uncertain whether by disease or murder, and the agreement was not ratified. As a consequence, it was put to one side and the terms of the Treaty were not upheld. The main conditions of the treaty being that in return for the Natives in the agreeing tribes remaining neutral, they would receive their lands in Ohio in Perpetua as a Native state following resolution of the conflict between America and Britain. The American forces in their signing, were hoping that the treaty would enable them to cut through the Indian territories to reach British held land and enable them to cut marching times and distances.

Following the death of White Eyes, the alliance fell apart and the Americans resumed their campaign against the Natives, irrespective of whether they were neutral or part of the enemy raiders allied with Britain. Pipe lost his patience with the Americans, and reluctantly moved towards the British side, leading his tribe towards Detroit, re-settling near the Sandusky River. By 1780 violence had increased with several hundred colonists being killed or captured by the British-Indians in the area of Kentucky, and revenge attacks by the American forces led by George Rogers Clark of Virginia decimating two Shawnee towns in August of that year.17359186_429987677343320_1950803457753709285_o

By April 1781 Colonel Daniel Brodhead, as we saw in part one, destroyed Coshocton with those natives finding their way to British held territory, and support, whilst Clark rounded up volunteers for an attack on Detroit, but were defeated and routed by a 100 strong Native force along the Ohio River. Survivors escaped towards Sandusky, where there remained American held towns. Raids continued, between the two opposing forces, during which a white woman and her baby were allegedly killed by Natives. This act enraged Colonel David Williamson who given orders to take part in a further expedition to Sandusky in order to defeat the British and neutralise the threat from the Natives, took 160 Pennsylvania men and rode on towards Native held areas, coming across the Christian Moravians at Gnadenhutten as we have already seen, with the resulting slaughter in March 1782.

This expedition was the brainchild of General William Irvine, commander of the western branch of the Continental Army, following requests from American settlers in the Frontier areas around Ohio to act to stop the persistent Native raids on their settlements. It was felt that if the British were defeated in the West as they all but had been in the East, following a surrender at Yorktown, then their support of the Native raiding parties would be removed and the threat would end. Irvine formulated a plan of attack, and wrote to Commander-in-Chief George Washington, in December 1781 outlining his proposed objective of capturing Detroit, forcing British surrender and then quashing the Indian threat.

Washington agreed the plan was necessary. Irvine worked out his needs, and in February 1782 requested 2000 men, cannon and supplies. Washington refused his request for the supplies and equipment citing US Congress bankruptcy. He did however agree to the outline of the plan, but instructed Irvine to recruit the men, and order that the force provide their own horses, weapons and supplies. None of the men would be paid, however they would receive two months’ exemption from military duty, and would be allowed to plunder and keep whatever gains they could from the Natives.

Williamson’s foray came first, as we have seen, resulting in the murders at Gnadenhutten. Meanwhile in May 1782 a report of the murder and scalping of a Baptist Minister’s wife and children ensured no shortage of volunteers to back up the expedition. Around 500 men, mostly of Scots-Irish descent from the county areas of Washington and Westmoreland, Pennsylvania rendezvoused at Mingo Bottom, Ohio (now Mingo Junction). Several were veterans of the Continental Army and had taken part in previous conflict between colonists and natives, prior to the Revolutionary War. As a volunteer force, the men were given the right to vote on their own commander; the two candidates being Williamson – who was out of favour with the regular officers for his part in Gnadenhutten, but a favourite of the men – and Irvine’s own choice, retired Continental Army Colonel William Crawford, who had taken part in the distasteful ‘Squaw’s campaign’ some years earlier. Crawford was also a friend of Washington’s and his land agent. He won the vote by a majority of just five. Williamson took second in command. Other Officers included Majors Thomas Gaddis, John B McLelland and James Brenton. Dr John Knight, another Continental Army officer was added as expedition Surgeon, and foreign volunteer John Rose was appointed as Crawford’s Aide-de-camp. (More about him in a later post!)

The force’s march towards Detroit began on May 25th 1782, in high spirits. However, the majority of the men were not professional soldiers, and soon found themselves very much out on a limb they didn’t care for. They were ill-prepared, poorly trained and lazy. They ate their rations in the first few days, and resorted to shooting for game, despite orders to the contrary. They were belligerent, slow to muster in a morning and often failed to show up for guard duty. Crawford, for his part, was an equally ineffectual commander. His man struggled to understand his directives which were poorly presented, and they soon lacked respect for him. Rose documented this atmosphere in his journal. As a result of his poor command, the party often had to stop and debate their advance; the men meanwhile began to desert.

On June 4th, the force reached the edge of Upper Sandusky. Unknown to them, the village had relocated a few days previously to a position 8 miles further North. Close to the new village was Captain Pipe’s town, near modern Carey, Ohio. The Americans were unaware of the proximity. A call was made by Williamson to burn the deserted settlement, but Crawford refused on the grounds that this would divide the force, leaving them vulnerable should they be attacked. Many of the men were concerned that the abandonment of the town proved that the enemy were aware of their plans and stated that they should retreat and return home immediately. This proposal was also denied. Instead a scouting party under the leadership of John Rose was sent North to investigate. Two of the men returned shortly thereafter to report that the rest of their group were engaged in a skirmish with a large body of Natives in an effort to delay their advance on the Americans.

In the planning stages, Irvine had reiterated the necessity for surprise attack on the Indians of Sandusky. Washington had also advised the men to avoid being captured alive, at all costs. British forces had been somewhat efficient in their attempts to prevent the traditional torture of prisoners by Indians, prior to their execution, but following Gnadenhutten, all bets were off and torture had recommenced. A captured American had given extensive details of the expedition to his captors before the Americans had even left the meeting point at Mingo Bottom, 10 days prior. British agent, Simon Girty had passed those details to the British Forces in Detroit in order for them to prepare a counter. Girty and his comrades, Alexander McKee and Matthew Elliott – working under Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster, had forged close ties with American Natives. DePeyster was in turn answerable to Sir Frederick Haldimand, Governor-General of British North America.

After a meeting with Tribal chiefs, in the middle of May when they first became aware of the expedition in planning, DePeyster and McKee had warned the Natives of the plan and told them to recruit and prepare. McKee had journeyed to Shawnee territory to recruit further warriors and Captain William Caldwell accompanied by a mounted force of Butler’s Rangers – British Loyalist Troops from the colonies – Detroit Natives and Matthew Elliott headed for Sandusky. A reserve force of British Troops were positioned nearby, and reinforcements from the Shawnee were half a day away and en route. Scouts had spied on the American force from the outset and as they neared, all the women, children and other non-combatants had been hidden in nearby ravines and safe places. British traders had been warned of the impending conflict and had packed up and left town. Captain Pipe appeared with his Delawares and Dunquat with his force of Wyandots and Mingos also arrived.

The Natives engaged with Rose’s scout party who had stashed their supplies in a small wooded grove, which formed the initial battle on that first afternoon. Rose was soon reinforced by Crawford and the main body of the men, who had hastened North after receiving word from the returning scouts. Pipe and his Delawares formed the main branch of the Native force that afternoon with the Wyandot hanging back in reserve and the British secreted nearby for reinforcement. At the end of two hours, the Americans had secured the grove, and Crawford after ordering his men to dismount, continued to engage with the natives on the plains outside the woods. Dunquat entered the fray with the Wyandots, joined rapidly by Elliott with his force. Elliott being a skilled soldier, took charge of the natives and co-ordinated the defence. The Delawares managed to outflank the Americans and attacked them from the rear. The Americans responded by climbing trees and sniping from above, the Natives hiding nearby in long grass.

With minimal losses to both sides, around five dead each and slightly more wounded from the Americans to the Natives, the battle tailed off as darkness fell. Fighting ceased and the men slept surrounded by fires, fully clothed and armed. Several of the Americans deserted that night, reporting that Crawford’s army were decimated when they reached home. Scalpings of the dead took place in the night, on both sides.

The next morning, fighting resumed, although the Natives hung back, firing from a considerable distance of around 2-300 yards, which rendered their muskets ineffectual at that range. Americans mistakenly believing that the Indians had suffered far heavier losses on the first day, leaving them reluctant to engage. In reality, it was a false lure they were providing, keeping the American’s somewhat engaged, but from a safe distance while they awaited their reinforcements. Crawford feeling that victory was within his grasp, decided to hold his position until nightfall and then mount a surprise attack in the dark, a time when Indians were well known to disengage from battle. Despite being low on water and ammunition, he was confident of defeating the natives, even after Simon Girty rode up carrying a white flag and advised them to surrender. Crawford refused. Shortly afterwards, it was noted that around 100 British forces were amongst those they were fighting. This was a bit of a surprise to Crawford and the others, who drew aside to discuss how the British managed to reinforce so quickly from Detroit, and what their next plan was in light of this development. As they debated, Alexander McKee quietly slipped in behind the American force with around 140 Shawnee warriors, led by Chief Blacksnake. The Americans were surrounded.

A great cacophony of “joyful fire” was shot into the air by the Shawnee, which alerted the Americans to their presence, and their own possible fate, which completely destroyed any morale that may have lingered. A hasty decision was taken to withdraw under nightfall, rather than mount that attack. Discreet preparations were made, wounded were loaded onto biers, the dead were buried and fires lit on their graves to prevent desecration. As darkness fell, the Americans began a quiet withdrawal, but their movement was detected by highly attentive Indian sentries, who attacked causing widespread panic and confusion. The retreating force was split into many small groups, unable to locate each other in the dark. The militia, by now terrified and disorientated, abandoned the wounded and fled. As they ran past Crawford and Dr Knight at the edge of the battlefield, Crawford called out for his missing son, John, his nephew William and his son in law William Harrison. Once alone, unable to find his boys, and with all the men now departed, Crawford, Knight and two men who had chosen to stay with them rather than go it alone, made their retreat.

By the following morning, the main body of around 300 remaining Americans had reached the same deserted Wyandot town that they had wanted to destroy just three days earlier. With Crawford missing, Williamson took command. The British force chased them but were slightly unorganised due to their commander, Caldwell having sustained injuries to both legs, hindering their progress somewhat. Williamson convinced the men that their only chance of escape was to stay together and retreat as a mass body, as further attacks would be forthcoming. Separation meant certain death when one was part of a small group. The Natives eventually caught up to the Americans and engaged them again. Several of the militia fled, some stood around unsure what to do. Williamson gathered a small party who defended and successfully put off the attack after about an hour of battle. The remainder remustered under Williamson and kept retreating. After about 30 miles of following, and firing from a distance, the natives abandoned the hunt the next day, knowing victory was theirs, and returned home, killing two stragglers they happened upon. The surviving Americans eventually reached Mingo Bottom on June 13th, followed over several days by small numbers of stragglers.

On June 7th, two days after the main battle ended, a band of Delawares came across Crawford, Knight and four stray men who had joined them, around 28 miles from the battlefield. Knight was prepared to stand and fight, but Crawford told him it was pointless, and they surrendered. The four militiamen managed to escape, although two were later tracked down and killed. Crawford and Knight were taken prisoner and the Delawares took them to Chief Wingenund, the same day. When they arrived, there were nine other captives already there. The eleven men were held for four days, before Captain Pipe arrived and painted their faces black, a sign of sentence to execution. They were then taken to a Delaware Town on Tymochtee Creek, near to the present town of Crawford. Four of the men were killed and scalped on the march. When they arrived, the remaining men were forced to sit as a congregation of Natives were addressed by Captain Pipe. Crawford and Knight were separated from the others during this speech. The five remaining men were executed in front of them, by the women and young boys, one of the men being beheaded. Their scalps were then slapped in the faces of Crawford and Knight.

Captain Pipe told the gathered tribes, which included some Wyandot and Chief Dunquat, that Crawford was the commander of the men during the recent battle, who had previously carried out the massacre of the Christian Delawares at Gnadenhutten, although he wasn’t there on that occasion. Pipe also stated that Crawford had been present during the Squaw campaign when his family were killed amongst others. When Pipe finished talking, Crawford was stripped naked, and the torture began. He was beaten with rocks, his ears were cut off. He was tied to a post and a fire lit nearby. As warriors shot gunpowder charges into his body. He was poked with burning sticks from the fire and red-hot coals were thrown at him, before he was forced to walk on them. Girty and Elliott looked on, and at one point Crawford begged Girty to shoot him. Girty refused, unwilling to intervene in tribal justice.
After around two hours of torture, Crawford passed out. A bucket of hot coals was thrown onto his head by one of the women, which revived him. He was scalped. Following a further period of torture, by which time Crawford was delirious, and randomly walking around, he finally died. His body was then burned. Knight witnessed the whole incident. The next day, he was taken for his own execution by the Shawnee. However, en route, he managed to knock out his guard with a log and escaped on foot. After a number of weeks, he made it to Pennsylvania where he was found completely insensible and extremely sick, by a group of hunters who carried him to nearby Fort McIntosh where he recovered.

Six other prisoners were captured on the same day as Crawford was executed. They were taken to the Shawnee village of Wapatomica, where four of them were painted black. Two lines were then formed of the gathered natives, and the six men were forced to run through the line. The natives were armed with clubs and told to focus their beatings on the men who were painted. As they ran towards the council building 300 yards away at the other end of the line, they were beaten. Before they reached the end, they were hacked to death with tomahawks. Their bodies were then cut into pieces and set on spikes around the village perimeter. Three of those men were Major McLelland, and Crawford’s son in law and nephew, William Harrison and William Crawford.
The other two men were taken the next day to the village of Mac a chack where they were told they were going to be burned. One of them, a scout called John Slover managed to escape and stole a horse, which he rode naked, until the beast collapsed. He carried on, on foot reaching Fort Pitt on July 10th. He was one of the last survivors to return.

An Historical marker stands in the place where William Crawford’s body was burned following his execution. A replica memorial close to the original, which is no longer accessible, stands in Ritchy-Crawford Cemetery, Crawford, Ohio.…