By Kyle Willyard
On an August day in 1774, a company of forty men headed west from the county of Culpeper. They were on their way to join forces under Colonel Andrew Lewis who, by orders of Virginia's governor Dunmore, was preparing to march on Indian Nations, principally Shawnee, that were attacking along the frontier in the latest of sporadic uprisings.
At the head of the company was Colonel John Fields, a veteran of the French and Indian War and one of the most prestigious men in the county. Colonel Fields was born in Culpeper County in 1720. He married Anna Rogers Clark, sister of General George Rogers Clark. In 1756, he entered the military to help protect the frontier and served as a captain under Forbes in 1758. In 1764 he served under Bouquet as a major. It was with this tide that many still addressed him. After serving in the legislature in 1765, he was made colonel of the militia.
Only a month before, a party under Colonel Fields was on an exploring trip down the Kanawha River when they were attacked by Indians. Field's son Ephraim and a negro maid were captured. Colonel Fields and the rest of the party narrowly escaped. (Thwaites and Kellogg, p.113)
Enraged by the event and eager for revenge, Colonel Fields returned to Culpeper County and enlisted a company of men for the purpose of joining Lewis.
Along with Colonel Fields, were two of his son-in-laws, Lawrence and George Slaughter. In less than two years, George would find himself a captain and over a company of the Culpeper Minutemen. After the revolution, he traveled west with George Rogers Clark, and later commanded a fort at the falls of the Ohio. (Thwaites and Kellogg, p.197)
By September 8th, Field's company had joined lewis at Camp Union on the Great levels. By the 10th, they were on the move again. Shortly after leaving Camp Union, some of the Culpeper men were out hunting when a man named Clay was shot by an Indian. According to accounts, "the Indian was killed before he scalped him."
Continuing west, they traveled through country that few Englishmen, only longhunters, surveyors and explorers, had seen before. Crossing Gauly Mountain, they marched down the New River some eight or nine miles, where they found sulphur springs, "the Vapour of which kindles quick as Gunpowder and burns with a surprizing force." (Thwaites and Kellogg, p.284)
They traveled through the steep narrow gorges of the New River, marching upwards of 10 miles a day. On the 23rd, they encamped at the mouth of the Elk River. Many of the men were put to work building canoes that would be used to transport supplies across the river. On the 30th, the army crossed the Elk River and continued.
In his papers entitled "An Extract from a Journal keept by An Officer in the Army under Col. Andw. Lewis on the expidition against Our Enemy Ohio Indians," Colonel William Fleming gives one of the best accounts of the expedition. Fleming writes on October 1st, "The Troops were ordered to form two Colums in their march from this, each Colum made two grand divisions... Bullocks, Pack horses fell in betwinxt the Front; Rear divisions, and had each Flank covered with One hundred Men." Colonel Fields company formed one of the right flank guards.
Fleming writes on the 5th, "We marched this day about twelve miles through several defiles, over three or four muddy runs with very high, Steep banks, in many Places the hills came so cloase to the river that the two Colums were oblidged to march in One path."
The army reached the Ohio on the 6th. Spies were sent out every day to gain intelligence about the Indian's strength. Large parties of Indians had been spotted for the past several days.
On the 8th, Colonel Lewis was encamped at Point Pleasant with 800 men, "most of them Woodsmen well Armed, such as may be depended on." The camp was made on a peninsula of land bounded on the West by the Ohio, the South by the New River and on the East by a creek.
On the evening of October the 9th, a war party from the united tribes of Shawnee, Delaware, Mingoes, Taways and several other Nations crossed the Ohio in over 70 rafts. The plan was to attack the army camp by surprise. They had left warriors posted on the north shore of the Ohio to kill any soldiers that might try to retreat across the river.
Some men had left the camp on the morning of the 10th. About three miles from the encampment, they were attacked by a large party of Indians just after day break. Not long after, the men were being chased back into camp. The battle that followed was one of the fiercest ever fought between the colonists and the Eastern Indians. Fleming gives the best account of what happened.
He writes, "Imagining this to be some scouting party, Col. Lewis ordered a detachment from every Company. so as to make up One hundred fifty men from each line, to go in quest of them." Colonel Lewis's brother, Charles, also a colonel, led one of two detachments that marched out of camp. Fleming continues, "We Marched Briskly - 3/4 of a mile or better from Camp, the Sun then, near an hour high, when a few guns were fired on the Right, succeeded by a heavy fire, which in an Instant extended to the left and the two lines were hotly engaged." Colonel Charles Lewis received a mortal wound at the start of the engagement, and was led off the field. Soon after, Fleming received a serious wound to the breast and arm and was "Obleedged to quit the Field."
It was now realized that the Indians had a greater force than was first thought. Reinforcements were ordered up from the camp. Colonel Fields raced to the front with reinforcements. He arrived just in time for the men there had just been pushed back 150 to 200 yards. With the aid of the fresh troops, the ground was quickly regained and the enemy began to give ground.
Shortly after arriving on the scene, Colonel Fields was killed. According to Colonel William Preston, Fields was "shot at a great tree by two Indians on his Right while one on his left was amusing him with talk the Col. endeavouring to get a shot at him. Captain Shelby then took command of the wing. (Thwaites and Kellogg, p.294)
As the day progressed, the pinnacle of land that the Indians supposed would entrap the army actually may have worked to its advantage. When the battle began, the army's front was narrow (bounded by water on each flank) so, the men were compact. Every enemy bullet had a better chance of hitting someone because of the close quarters. But, as the Indians were pushed back, the army was not so constricted and the Indian line was forced to spread thin to contain the advance of the army, least they should be flanked. What followed was a melee of close quarter hand to hand fighting.
The fierce fighting went on for hours. Fleming writes, "We at last with difficulty dislodged them from a fine long ridge... This advantageous post being gained about 1 o'Clock all the efforts of the enemy to regain it proved fruitless."
This was not the fight the Indians had envisioned. They believed this would be an easy victory. Fleming continues, "About 3 or 4 o'Clock the Enemy growing quite dispirited; all the attempts of their Warriors to rally them proving vain they carried off their dead & wounded, giving us now & then a shot to prevent a pursuit; so that about an hour by sun we were in full possession of the field of Battle."
Colonel Fleming wrote, "We had 7 or 800 Warriors to deal with, Never did Indians stick closer to it, nor behave bolder. the Engagement lasted from half an hour after [sunrise], to the same time before Sunset. And let me add I believe the Indians never had such a Scourging for the English before. they Scalpd many of their own dead to prevent their falling into Our hands, burried numbers, threw many into the Ohio and no doubt carried off many wounded. We found 70 Rafts. we tooke 18 Scalps, the most of them principle Warriors amongst the Shawnese camp."
On the 12th, a wounded Fleming wrote in his orderly book, "This day The Scalps of Enemy were colleeted & found to be 17 they were dressed & hung upon a pole near the river Bank & the plunder was colleeted & found to be 23 Guns & Blankets 27 Tomahawks with Match coats Skins Shout [shot] pouches pow[d]erhorns Wardlubs. The Tomahawks Guns & Shot pouches were sold & ammounted to near 100 L."
The army's losses varied according to different accounts, however a figure that is considered accurate is around seventy-five killed and one-hundred and fifty wounded. Among the dead, the only known chieftain killed, was Puck-e-shin-wa, father of Tecumseh. Accounts vary also as to the number of Indian participants and those injured. Fleming reports that he believes the number to be at least equal to the army's losses, while prisoners among the Shawnee stated their loss as twenty-eight. Whatever their losses, they were now anxious to sue for peace. Cornstalk the principle chief of the Shawnee, opposed to the war from the start, was now being begged to treat with Dunmore.
After burying their dead and strengthening the position, Colonel Lewis led the main body of the army across the Ohio River on the 17th. leaving the wounded behind, lewis intended to quickly strike the villages. Captain Slaughter (George?) was given command of the Culpeper troops who were to remain at Point Pleasant working the defenses. As Lewis was within some distance of the villages, a message was received from Dunmore, who had already concluded a peace agreement with the Indians. Dunmore instructed Lewis to halt his troops there. The place being inconvenient to encamp, Lewis marched on. Dunmore sent another express telling lewis to halt and that Lewis and some of his officers might join him in his camp. lewis believing it imprudent for a few men to venture alone, decide to march the whole army to Dunmore's camp.
Lewis's guide however, mistook the path and continued to march toward the village. The continuance towards the village was a simple mistake, that was verified by several officers' writings. Dunmore supposed that Lewis's intent was to attack the village in disregard to his orders.
Dunmore rode out and intercepted Lewis before he reached the village. And after a brief discussion, the incident was settled. There exists no evidence of a confrontation between lewis and Dunmore as has been suggested by some contemporary writers.
Some have suggested that Dunmore was disliked by most of the troops under lewis and that lewis and Dunmore had a particular hatred for one another. Some have even suggested that Dunmore sacrificed Lewis's troops at Point Pleasant by intentionally delaying the rendezvous with Lewis. Lewis's son in later years would write that his father was obliged to double and triple the guard around his tent when the Governor was present to protect him from the wrath of the frontier soldiers who were incensed at being turned back when in sight of their prey.
This may be true. However most of the hatred that Virginians had for Dunmore would grow later in the year, while at this time he was still regarded fairly well. As for Dunmore delaying the joining of Lewis's wing, logistics is probably more to blame than any contempt that the Governor may have had for provential militia.
The peace concluded, the army began to return home in little companies. For most of the men, the visit would be short. By the Spring of 1775, tempers were flaring between the colonies and British authority. Governor Dunmore ordered the removal of the gun powder from the public magazine at Williamsburg. On the night of April 20, British Marines, under the cover of darkness, removed the colony's powder touching off an explosion of public indignation. Militia's were formed, and now many of the men from Culpeper would find themselves in the largest of Virginia's district militia. Some of the same men who had just served under Governor Dunmore, would by the end of the year find themselves fighting against him.
Copyright 1995 by Kyle Willyard
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