Memoirs of Col. John Stuart, of Greenbrier – Part 2

The mouth of the Great Kenawha is distant from Camp Union about one hundred and sixty miles,—the way mountainous and rugged. At the time we commenced our march no track or path was made, and but few white men had ever seen the place. Our principal pilot was Captain Matthew Arbuckle. Our bread stuff was packed upon horses, and droves of cattle furnished our meat; of which we had a plentiful supply, as droves of cattle and pack-horses came in succession after us.

A view of the New River Gorge, from Grandview overlook in present day Raleigh County, WV. The entire mid-section of present day West Virginia was a formidable barrier separating the Greenbrier Valley area from the Kanawha Valley area, and beyond.

But we went on expeditiously, under every disadvantage, and arrived at Point Pleasant about the 1st of October, where we expected the Earl of Dunmore would meet us with his army, who was to have come down the river from Fort Pitt, as was previously determined between the commanders. In this expectation we were greatly disappointed; for his lordship pursued a different route, and had taken his march from Pittsburg, by land, towards the Shawanee towns. General Lewis, finding himself disappointed in meeting the Governor and his army at Point Pleasant, despatched two scouts up the river, by land, to Fort Pitt, to endeavor to learn the cause of the disappointment; and our army remained encamped, to wait their return.

This is what Point Pleasant itself looks like now, which is a small state park, containing memorials of the battle, some of the men buried thereon, and Cornstalk’s grave:

Some pics we took a couple miles up the Kanawha from Point Pleasant:

A view of the North bank of the Kanawha River, about two miles upriver from Point Pleasant. Gen. Lewis’ army marched along the river at this very spot – which later became the farm and cabin of my 4th and 5th great grandfathers, James Bryan and his son Robert Bryan, circa 1786-1840.
The same spot looking back towards Point Pleasant. Note the bridge in the distance, and the Ohio hills about two miles away.
Drone view of the same spot near Point Pleasant, looking up the Kanawha towards Charleston. The army marched on the North Bank, and later had to gather up horses in this area following the battle.

Before we marched from Camp Union, we were joined by Colonel John Fields, with a company of men from Culpeper, and Captain Thomas Buford, from Bedford county ; also three other companies, under the command of Captain Evan Shelby, Captain William Russell, and Captain Harbert, from Holston, now Washington county. These troops were to compose a division commanded by Colonel William Christian, who was then convening more men in that quarter of the country, with a view of pursuing us to the mouth of the Great Kenawha, where the whole army were expected to meet, and proceed from thence to the Shawanee towns. The last mentioned companies completed our army to eleven hundred men.

This is what Camp Union looks like now, in what is now Lewisburg, WV:

During the time our scouts were going express up the river to Fort Pitt, the Governor had despatched three men, lately traders amongst the Indians, down the river, express to General Lewis, to inform him of his new plan and the route he was about to take, with instructions to pursue our march to the Shawanee towns, where he expected to assemble with us. But what calculations he might have made for delay or other disappointments which would be likely to happen to two armies under so long and difficult a march through a trackless wilderness, I never could guess ; or how he could suppose they would assemble at a conjuncture so critical as the business then in question required, was never known to any body.

A Youtube video I did on the site of the Lewis Spring, as it now exists. This was the site of Camp Union, aka Fort Savannah.

The Governor’s express arrived at our encampment on Sunday, the 9th day of October, — and on that day it was my lot to command theguard. One of the men’s name was M’CulIough, with whomI had made some acquaintance in Philadelphia, in the year 1766, at the Indian Queen, where we both happened to lodge. This man, supposing I was in Lewis’s army, inquired and was told that I was on guard. He made it his business to visit me, to renew our acquaintance; and in the course of our conversation, he informed me he had recently left the Shawanee towns and the Governor’s camp. This made me desirous to know his opinion of our expected success in subduing the Indians, and whether he thought they would be presumptuous enough to offer to fight us, as we supposed we had a force superior to anything they could oppose to us.

Old photo of Point Pleasant. Note the Silver Bridge, which later collapsed.

He answered, “Aye, they will give you grinders, and that before long :” and reiterating it with an oath, swore we would get grinders very soon. I believe that he and his companions left our camp that evening, to return to the Governor’s camp. The next morning two young men had set out very early to hunt for deer; they happened to ramble up the (Ohio) river two or three miles, and on a sudden fell on the camp of the Indians, who had crossed the river the evening before, and were just about fixing for battle. They discovered the young men and fired upon them; one was killed, the other escaped, and got into our camp just before sunrise. He stopped just before my tent, and I discovered a number of men collecting round him as I lay in my bed. I jumped up and approached him to know what was the alarm, when I heard him declare that he had seen above five acres of land covered with Indians, as thick as they could stand one beside another.

A Map of the Point Pleasant Battlefield, likely drawn by a veteran of the battle, from the collection compiled by Lyman C. Draper in the mid-1800s that is currently located at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

General Lewis immediately ordered a detachment of Augusta troops, under his brother Colonel Charles Lewis, and another detachment of the Botetourt troops, under Colonel William Fleming. These were composed of the companies commanded by the oldest captains; and the junior captains were ordered to stay in camp, to aid the others as occasion would require. The detachments marched out in two lines, and met the Indians in the same order of march, about four hundred yards from our camp, and in sight of the guard. The Indians made the first fire and killed both the scouts in front of the two lines. Just as the sun was rising, a very heavy fire soon commenced, and Colonel Lewis was mortally wounded, but walked into camp and died a few minutes afterwards; observing to Colonel Charles Simms, with his last words, that he had sent one of the enemy to eternity before him.

During his life it was his lot to have frequent skirmishes with the Indians, in which he was always successful; and gained much applause for his intrepidity, and was greatly beloved by his troops. Colonel Fleming was also wounded [he survived serious wounds, being the camp surgeon, he operated on himself, and casually wrote a letter about it, which survives today – as does his powder horn]; and our men had given way some distance before they were rein forced by the other companies issuing in succession from the camp. The Indians in turn had to retreat, until they formed a line behind logs and trees, across from the bank of the Ohio to the bank of the Kenawha, and kept up their fire till sundown.
The Indians were exceedingly active in concealing their dead that were killed. I saw a young man draw out three, who too recovered with leaves beside a large log, in the midst of the battle.

A portion of the flood wall mural at Point Pleasant.

Colonel Christian came with troops to our camp that night, about eleven o’clock, General Lewis having despatched a messenger up the Kenawha to give him notice that we were engaged, and to hasten his march to our assistance. He brought about three hundred men with him, and marched out early next morning over the battleground, and found twenty-one of the enemy slain on the ground.

Twelve more were afterwards found, all concealed in one place ; and the Indians confessed that they had thrown a number into the river in time of the battle; so that “it is possible that the slain on both sides, were about equal. We had seventy-five killed, and one hundred and forty wounded. The Indians were headed by their chief, the Cornstalk warrior ; who, in his plan of attack and retreat, discovered great military skill. Amongst the slain on our side, were Colonel Charles Lewis, Colonel John Fields, Captain Buford, Captain Murray, Captain Ward, Captain Wilson, Captain. Robert M’Clenachan, Lieutenant Allen, Lieutenant Goldsby, Lieutenant Dillon, and other subaltern officers. Colonel Fields had raised his company, I believe, under no particular instructions; and seemed, from-the time he joined our army at Camp Union, to assume an independence, not subject to the control of others. His claim to such privileges might have arisen from some former military service in which he had been engaged, entitling him to a rank that ought to relieve him from being subject to control by volunteer commanders ; and when we marched from Camp Union he took a separate route. On the third day after our departure, two of his men, of the name of Coward and Clay, who left the company to look after deer for provisions, as they marched fell in with two Indians, on the waters of the Little Meadows. As Clay passed round the root of a large log, under which one of the Indians was concealed, he killed Clay— and running up to scalp him, Coward killed him, being at- some distance behind Clay. They both fell together, on the same spot. The other Indian fled, and passed our scouts unarmed. Abundle of ropes was found where they killed Clay, which proved that their intention was to steal horses. Colonel Fields joined us again that evening, and separated no more till we arrived at Point Pleasant, at the mouth of the Great Kenawha.

After the battle, we had different accounts of the number of Indeans who attacked us. Some asserted that they were upwards of one thousand; some said no more than four or five hundred. The correct number was never known to us; however, it was certain they were combined of different nations— Shawanese, Wyandotts, and Delawares.

Of the former there is no doubt the whole strength of the nation was engaged in the battle. And on the evening of the day before the battle, when they were about to cross over the river, the Corn-stalk proposed to the Indians that if they were agreed, he would come and talk with us, and endeavor to make peace; but they would not listen to him. On the next day, as we were informed, he killed one of the Indians for retreating in the battle, in a cowardly manner. I could hear him the whole day speaking very loud to his men; and one of my company, who had once been a prisoner, told me what he was saying; encouraging the Indians,— telling them— “be strong ,be strong!”

None will suppose that we had a contemptible enemy to do with, who has any knowledge of the exploits performed by them. It was chiefly the Shawanese that cut off the British army under General Braddock, in the year 1755, only nineteen years before our battle, where the General himself, and Sir Peter Hackett, second in command, were both slain, and a mere remnant of the whole army only escaped. It was they, too, who defeated Major Grant and his Scotch Highlanders, at Fort Pitt, in 1758, where the whole of the troops were killed and taken prisoners.

After our battle, they defeated all the flower of the first bold and intrepid Settlers of Kentucky, at the battle of the Blue Licks. There fell Colonel John Todd and Colonel Stephen Trigg. [NOTE: the Battle of Blue Licks occurred when a Shawnee force, combined with some British troops, as well as the infamous Simon Girty, attacked Bryan’s Station, near Lexington, KY, and subsequently retreated, drawing the relief force, which included many famous Kentuckians, including Daniel Boone, into an ambush, at the site of the famous Blue Licks, leading to a devastating defeat of the Kentuckians, as well as the death of Daniel Boone’s son – for which he never recovered.]

Stuart mentioned that Colonel John Todd was killed at the Battle of Blue Licks. This is believed to have been Col. John Todd’s knife, made from a cut-down sword. Todd had also served at the Battle of Point Pleasant, as well as with George Rogers Clark on his famous mission in the Illinois Country. It’s no wonder that Stuart would have mentioned Todd as the foremost loss to Kentucky at Blue Licks.

The whole of their men were almost cut to pieces. Afterwards they defeated the United States army, over the Ohio, commanded by General Harmar. And lastly, they defeated General Arthur St. Clair’s great army, with prodigious slaughter. I believe it was never known that so many Indians were ever killed in any engagement with the white people, as fell by the army of General Lewis, at Point Pleasant. They are now dwindled to insignificance, and no longer noticed; and futurity will not easily perceive the prowess they possessed.

Of all the Indians, the Shawanese were the most bloody and terrible,— holding all other men, as well Indians as whites, in contempt as warriors, in comparison with themselves. This opinion made them more wrestless and fierce than any other savages ; and they boasted that they had killed ten times as many white people as any other Indians did. They were a well-formed, active, and ingenious people— were assuming and imperious in the presence of others not of their own nation, and sometimes very cruel.

General Lewis’s army consisted chiefly of young volunteers, well trained to the use of arms, as hunting, in those days, was much practised, and preferred to agricultural pursuits by enterprising young men. The produce of the soil was of little value on the west side of the Blue Ridge— the ways bad, and the distance to market too great to make it esteemed. Such pursuits inured them to hard ships and danger. We had more than every fifth man in our army killed or wounded in the battle,— but none were disheartened ; all crossed the river with cheerfulness, bent on destroying the enemy;- and had they not been restrained by the Governor’s orders, I believe they would have exterminated the Shawanese nation.

This battle was, in fact, the beginning of the revolutionary war that obtained for our country the liberty and independence enjoyed by the United States, (and a good presage of future success;) for it is well known that the Indians were influenced by the British to commence the war to terrify and confound the people, before they commenced hostilities themselves the following year at Lexington, in Massachusetts. It was thought by British politicians, that to excite an Indian war would prevent a combination of the colonies for opposing Parliamentary measures to tax the Americans.

The blood, therefore, spilt upon this memorable battle, willl long be remembered by the good people of Virginia and the United States with gratitude. [NOTE: there has been incessant arguing back and forth in the 20th century, up through now, about whether the Battle of Point Pleasant was the “first battle of the revolution.” At first West Virginia historians declared that it was; but then they reversed course. The most recent book by Glenn Williams doesn’t quite say that. The controversy has surrounded whether Lord Dunmore purposefully led the Virginians into a trap, in order to destroy this formidable first American army. Glenn Williams concluded that he did not, as he was financially invested in cashing in on all of his land in Virginia. But Stuart himself, who was at the battle, has a good way of looking at it. He didn’t accuse Dunmore, and nor does that have to be the case in order to consider it the first battle of the revolution. If you take Dunmore, and his own interests, out of the equation, a good argument is to be made that the British were financing and encouraging the Shawnee – albeit not necessarily with the involvement of Dunmore….]

The Indians passed over the Ohio river in the night time, after the battle, and made the best of their way back to the Shawanee towns, upon the Scioto. And, after burying our dead, General Lewis ordered entrenchments to be made around our camp, extending across fftm the Ohio to the Kenawha, to secure the officer, with an adequate number of men, to protect them in safety, and marched the army across the Ohio for the Shawanee towns.

An old postcard I found showing the supposed powder horn belonging to Col. Charles Lewis when he was killed at Point Pleasant. Be on the lookout for this one…

In this command he had many difficulties to encounter, that none can well judge of who have never experienced similar troubles, to preserve, order arid necessary discipline, over an army of volunteers who had no knowledge of the use of discipline or military order, when in an enemy’s country, well skilled in their own manner of warfare. And let it be remembered that the youth of our country, previous to those times, had grown up in times of peace, and were quite unacquainted with military operations of any kind. Ignorance of these duties, together with high notions of independence and equality of condition, rendered the service extremely difficult and disagreeable to the commander, who was, by nature, of a lofty and high military spirit, and who had seen much military service under General Braddock and other commanders. [NOTE: he’s referring to Gen. Andrew Lewis’ experience. General Lewis was actually arguably a better candidate for Commander in Chief than Gen. Washington – who actually had a record of defeat, with no experience leading actual large army movements, and whom had been retired for over a decade at the outbreak of the revolution. Supposedly Washington recommended that Lewis be given the office, rather than himself.]

He was appointed First Captain under General Washington, together with Captain Peter Hogg, in the year 1752, when General Washington was appointed Major by Governor Gooch, to go to the frontiers and erect a gar son at the Little Meadows, on the waters of the Monongahela, to prevent the encroachments of the French, who were extending their claims from Port Pitt (then Fort De Quesne) up the Monongahela river and its waters. During the time they were employed about that business, they sustained an attack, made on them by a party of

French and Indians, sent out from Fort DeQuesne for that purpose, on account of an unfortunate affair that took place soon after they had arrived at the Little Meadows. A French gentleman of the name of Jumenvail, with a party, was making some surveys not far from Major Washington’s encampment, who ordered Captain Hogg to go and examine him as to his authority for making such encroachments on the British claims and settlements. Captain Hogg discovered Jumenvail’s encampment, which he approached in the night time ; and, contrary to his orders, or the instructions of Major Washington, he fired on Jumenvail and killed him. [NOTE: this was the attack on the French at Jummonville Glen, which in essence started the French Indian War. Most of what I have read states that the leader of the Indian allies of Washington’s detachment, and I believe Washington was present at the time, actually murdered the wounded  Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. with his tomahawk. Tanacharison, or the “Half King,” I believe he was known by, had his own agenda supposedly, having taken advantage of the naive and inexperienced Washington.]

The French, in order to retaliate, sent out a party to attack Washington. They were discovered when within one mile of the encampment, and soon appeared before it, commencing firing as they approached. Our people had made some entrenchments, from which they returned the fire. In this engagement General Lewis received two wounds. The French at length cried out for a parley; the firing ceased on both sides; the parties intermixed indiscriminately, and articles of capitulation were drawn up” by the French, which Major Washington signed and acknowledged.

He was then a very young man, and unacquainted with the French language; and, it seems, that in that instrument he acknowledged thea assassination of Jumenvail. This was sent to Europe, and published. Hostilities soon after commenced between the two rival nations, England and France, the chief foundation of the quarrel being this transaction in America. I have seen Bliss’s account of the beginning of the war of 1755, in his history of England. It differs somewhat from this; but I have narrated the facts as I heard them from General Lewis, and have no doubt of their being correct. The French had brought in their party a large number of Indians, which gave them a great superiority of numbers.

An accident took place during the intermixture of the parties, which might have proved fatal to Washington and his party, had not General Lewis, with great presence of mind, prevented it. An Irish soldier int he crowd seeing an Indian near him, swore, in the well known language of his country, that he would “send the yellowson-of-a-bitch to hell.” General Lewis was limping near him with his wounded leg, struck the muzzle of his gun into the air and saved the Indian’s life, and the lives of all the party, had the Irishman’s intention taken effect.

When the war of 1755 began, General Washington was appointed the commander of the first regiment ever raised in Virginia, and Genera Lewis, Major. Lewis was afterwards on a command with the British Major Grant, under General Forbes, to reconnoiter the vicinity of the French fort, (now Fort Pitt) against which General Forbes’ army was then on their march, to endeavor to demolish.— When Grant and Lewis drew near the garrison undiscovered, Major Grant began to apprehend that he could surprise the garrison, and disappoint his General of the honor of the conquest. Against this unjustifiable attempt, General Lewis in vain remonstrated. He represented that the garrison was reinforced by a number of Indians, then at the place in great force, and the difficulty of reaching the garrison privately and undiscovered.

Grant, however, was unwilling to share so great an honor with any other, and ordered Major Lewis to remain with their baggage, with the provincial troops which he commanded,— whilst he, with his Scotch Highlanders, advanced to the attack; which he began early in the morning, by beating drums upon Grant’s hill, as it is still called. The Indians were lying on the opposite side of the river from the garrison, when the alarm began, in number about one thousand five hundred. The sound of war, so sudden and so near them, soon roused them to arms; and Grant and his Highlanders were soon surrounded, when the work of death went on rapidly, and in a manner quite novel to Scotch Highlanders, who, in all their European wars, had never before Seen men’s heads skinned. General Lewis so perceived, by the retreating fire, that Major Grant was overmatched and in a bad situation. He advanced with his two hundred provincials, and falling on the rear of the Indians, made way for Major Grant and-some of his men to escape; but Lewis’s party was also defeated, and himself taken prisoner.

The Indians desired to put him to death, but the French, with difficulty, saved him ; however, the Indians stripped him of all his clothes, save his shirt, before he was taken into the fort. An elderly Indian seized the shirt, and insisted upon having it; but he resisted, with the tomahawk drawn over his head, until a French officer, by signs, requested him to deliver the shirt, and then took him into his room and gave him a complete-dress to put on.”

When he was advancing to the relief of Grant, he met a Scotch Highlander under speedy flight; and inquiring of him how the battle was going, he said they were “a beaten, and “he had seen Donald M’Donald up to his hunkers in mud, and a the skeen af his heed.” Grant had made his escape from the field of battle with a party of seven or eight soldiers, and wandered all night in the woods. In the morning they returned to the garrison and surrendered themselves to the Indians, who carried them into the fort. Major Grant’s life was preserved by the French; but the Indians brought the soldiers to the room door where Major Lewis was, where his benefactor refused to let them come in, and they killed all the men at the door.

The French, expecting that the main army, under General Forbes, would soon come on, and believing that they would not be able to defend the attack, blew up the fort and retreated to Quebec, with the prisoners, where they were confined till a cartel took place, and they were exchanged.

This is the same Colonel Grant who figured in the British Parliament in the year 1775, when Mr. Thurlow, the Attorney General, affirmed that the Americans were rebels and traitors,— but did not prove his position by comparison of their conduct with the treason lafl^j; and Colonel Grant in particular, told the house that he had often acted in the same service with the Americans; he knew them well; and from that knowledge, would venture to predict— ” that they would never “dare to face an English army, as being destitute of every requisite to constitute good soldiers. By their laziness, uncleanliness, or radical defects of constitution; they were incapable of going through the service of a campaign, and would melt away with sickness before they would face an enemy, so that a very slight force would be more than sufficient for their complete reduction.” But during the time of their captivity, this philosophical hero was detected in an act of the most base hypocrisy, in Quebec.

As the letters of the English officers were not suffered to be sealed until they were inspected before they were sent off, a French officer dis- covered in Major Grant’s communication to General Forbes, that he had ascribed the whole disgrace of his defeat to the misconduct of Major Lewis and his provincial troops. The officer immediately carried the letter to Major Lewis, and showed it to him. Lewis, in dignant at such a scandalous and unjust representation, accused Grant of his duplicity, in the presence of the French officers, and challenged him; but Grant prudently declined the combat, after receiving the grossest insults, by spotting in his face, and degrading language.

After the French had, blown up the fort and departed for Quebec with the prisoners, in going up the Alleghany river it was very cold, and Grant lay shivering in the boat, cursing the Americans and their country,— threatening that if he ever returned to England he would let his majesty know their insignificance, and the impropriety of the trouble and expense to the nation in endeavoring to protect such a vile country and people. For this provoking language, General Lewis did chide him severely.

General Lewis was, in person, upwards of six feet high, of uncommon strength and agility, and his form of the most exact sommetry thet I ever beheld in a human being. He had a stern and invincible countenance, and was of a reserved and distant deportment, which rendered his presence more awful than engaging. He wa sa commissioner, with Dr. Thomas “Walker, to hold a treaty, on behalf of the colony of Virginia, with the six nations of Indians, together with the commissioners from Pennsylvania, New York, and other eastern provinces, held at Fort Stanwix, in the province of New York, in the year 1768. It was there remarked by the Governor of New York, that “the earth seemed to tremble under him as he walked along.” His independent spirit despised sycophantic means of gaining popularity, which never rendered more than his merits extorted.

Such a character was not calculated to gain much applause by commanding an army of volunteers without discipline, experience, orgratitude. Many took umbrage because they were compelled to do their duty; others thought the duties of a common soldier were beneath the dignity of a volunteer. Everyone found something of imaginary complaint.

When congress determined to be independent, and appointed general officers to command our armies to prosecute the war for independence and defending our liberty, they nominated General Washington to the chief command,— who, from his great modesty, recommended General Lewis in preference to himself; but one of his colleagues from Virginia, observed that General Lewis’s popularity had suffered much from the declamation of some of his troops, on the late expedition against the Indians, and that it would be impolitic at that conjuncture, to make the appointment. He was, however, afterwards appointed among the.first brigadier generals, and took the command,at Norfolk, of the Virginia troops. When Lord Dunmore made his escape from Williamsburg, on board a British ship of war lying off Norfolk, the vessel drew up and commenced a fire on the town; but General Lewis, from a battery, compelled his lordship to depart,— and, I believe, he never afterwards set foot on American ground.

This ended the military career of General Lewis. Congress having appointed General Stevens and some other major generals, gave him some offence. He had been their superior in former services. Having accepted his office of brigadier at the solicitation of General Washington, he wrote to the General of his intention to resign. General Washington, in reply, pressed him to hold his command, and assured him that justice would be done him as respected his rank. But he was grown old, his ardor for military fame abated; and being seized with a fever resigned his command to return home, in the year 1780. He died on his way, in Bedford County, about forty miles from his own house, on Roanoke, in Botetourt county, lamented by all who were intimately acquainted with his meritorious services and superior qualities. [NOTE: Lewis’s farm in Salem Virginia, was adjacent to my sixth great grandfather, William Bryan’s farm in Salem. William Bryan is buried on the grounds of his farm, and General Lewis is buried in a public cemetery just down the road.]

Pics of William Bryan’s grave, on his farm, located near where Fort Lewis stood. The duck pond park in Salem, Virginia was the spring for the plantation. Bryan’s Spring – at that time.

Memoirs of John Stuart – Part 3 of 3

Memoirs of John Stuart – Part 1 of 3

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