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Bowman's Journal Telling How Clark and His Men Took Fort Sackville

The introduction to the memoir and text of the memoir, which follows in nine parts, are quoted from Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark by William Hayden English. The two volumes were published by The Bowen-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897.

Journal of the Proceedings of George R. Clark
from the 27th January, 1779, to March 20th inst. [1779]
Written by Major Joseph Bowman

Mr. English writes:
The narrative known as "Bowman's Journal" first appeared in print November 24, 1840, in a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky, known as The Louisville Literary News, with the following introduction:

Journal kept by Major Bowman during a portion of the campaign-the taking of Post St. Vincent [Vincennes]-and revised by some unknown "person who was in the expedition." The manuscript of this journal was at one time in the possession of the Historical Society of Kentucky, but has unfortunately been lost:

We publish below a journal of the expedition of General Clark against the British post at Vincennes in 1779, commencing with his march from Kaskaskia. It was kept by Joseph Bowman, one of the captains in the expedition, and is referred to by Mr. Butler in his History of Kentucky as "Major Bowman's Journal," the writer having subsequently held the rank of major.

At the time when this journal commences Clark was in possession of Kaskaskia and Cahokia. Vincennes had once been gained over to him through the influence of a French priest, M. Gibault, but as Clark had not soldiers to spare sufficient to maintain a garrison there, it had been retaken by Governor Hamilton. The journal will explain the sequel.

The original manuscript of this journal-much defaced and in some places illegible-is in possission of the Kentucky Historical Society. The Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society has a copy, which we transcribed for them and for the use of our friend, Judge Law, of that place.

Mr. Vigo, a Spanish subject, who has been at Post St. Vincent on his lawful business, arrrived and gave us intelligence that Governor Hamilton, with thirty regulars and fifty volunteers and about four hundred Indians, had arrived in November and taken that post, with Captain Helm and such other Americans who were there with arms, [two or three words illegible] and disarmed the settlers and inhabitants, on which Colonel Clark called a council of his officers, and it was concluded to go and attack Governor Hamilton at St. Vincent for fear, if it was let alone till spring, that he, with all the force that he could bring, would cut us off [a part of a leaf is here torn off from the MS.].

Jan. 31st. Sent an express to Cahokia for volunteers and other extraordinary things.

Feb. 1st. Orders given for a large batteau to be repaired and provisions got ready for the expedition concluded on.

2d. A pack-horse master appointed and ordered to prepare pack saddles, etc., etc.

3d. The galley or batteau finished; called her The Willing. Put her loading on board, together with two four-pounders and four swivels, ammunition, etc., etc.

4th. About ten o'clock Captain McCarty arrived with a company of volunteers from Cahokia, and about two o'clock in the [after]noon the batteau set off, under the command of Lieutenant Rogers, with forty-six men, with orders to proceed to a certain station near St. Vincent till further orders.

5th. Raised another company of volunteers, under the command of Captain Francis Charleville, which, added to our force, increased our number to one hundred and seventy men [torn off] artillery, pack-horses, men, etc.; about three o'clock we crossed the Kaskaskia with our baggage, and marched about a league from town. Fair and drizzly weather. Began our march early. Made a good march for about nine hours; the road very bad, with mud and water. Pitched our camp in a square, baggage in the middle, every company to guard their own squares.

8th. Marched early through the waters, which we now began to meet in those large and level plains, where, from the flatness of the country [the water] rests a considerable time before it drains off; notwithstanding which, our men were in great spirits, though much fatigued.

9th. Made another day's march. Fair the part of the day.

10th. Crossed the river of the Petit Fork upon trees that were felled for that purpose, the water being so high there was no fording it. Still raining and no tents. Encamped near the river. Stormy weather.

11th. Crossed the Saline river. Nothing extraordinary this day.

12th. Marched across Cot plains; saw and killed numbers of buffaloes. The road very bad from the immense quantity of rain that had fallen. The men much fatigued. Encamped on the edge of the woods. This plain or meadow being fifteen or more miles across, it was late in the night before the baggage and troops got together. Now twenty-one miles from St. Vincent.

Clark's Approach to Vincennes

13th. Arrived early at the two Wabashes. Although a league asunder, they now made but one. We set to making a canoe.

14th. Finished the canoe and put her into the river about 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

15th. Ferried across the two Wabashes, it being then five miles in water to the opposite hills, where we encamped. Still raining. Orders not to fire any guns for the future, but in case of necessity.

16th. Marched all day through rain and water; crossed Fox river. Our provisions began to be short.

17th. Marched early; crossed several runs, very deep. Sent Mr. Kennedy, our commissary, with three men to cross the river Embarras, if possible, and proceed to a plantation opposite Post St. Vincent, in order to steal boats or canoes to ferry us across the Wabash. About an hour, by sun, we got near the river Embarras. Found the country all overflowed with water. We strove to find the Wabash. Traveled till 8 o'clock in mud and water, but could find no place to encamp on. Still kept marching on, but after some time Mr. Kennedy and his party returned. Found it impossible to cross Embarras river. We found the water falling from a small spot of ground; staid there the remainder of the night. Drizzly and dark weather.

18th. At break of day heard Governor Hamilton's morning gun. Set off and marched down the river. Saw some fine land. About 2 o'clock came to the bank of the Wabash; made rafts for four men to cross and go up to town and steal boats, but they spend day and night in the water to no purpose, for there was not one foot of dry land to be found.

19th. Captain McCarty's company set to making a canoe, and at 3 o'clock the four men returned, after spending the night on some old logs in the water. The canoe finished, Captain McCarty, with three of his men, embarked in the canoe and made the third attempt to steal boats, but he soon returned, having discovered four large fires about a league distant from our camp, which seemed to him to be fires of whites and Indians. Immediately Colonel Clark sent two men in the canoe down to meet the batteau, with orders to come on day and night, that being our last hope and [we] starving. Many of the men much cast down, particularly the volunteers. No provisions of any sort, now two days. Hard fortune!

20th. Camp very quiet but hungry; some almost in despair; many of the creole volunteers talking of returning. Fell to making more canoes, when, about twelve o'clock, our sentry on the river brought to a boat with five Frenchmen from the post, who told us we were not as yet discovered; that the inhabitants were well disposed towards us, etc. Captain Willing's brother, who was taken in the fort, had made his escape to us, and that one Maisonville, with a party of Indians, was then seven days in pursuit of him, with much news; more news to our favor, such as repairs done the fort, the strength, etc., etc. They informed us of two canoes they had seen adrift some distance above us. Ordered that Captain Worthington, with a party, go in search of them. Returned late with one only. One of our men killed a deer, which was brought into the camp; very acceptable.

21st. At break of day began to ferry our men over in our two canoes to a small hill called [Mammelle?]. Captain Williams, with two men, went to look for a passage, and were discovered by two men in a canoe, but could not fetch them to. The whole army being over, we thought to get to town that night, so plunged into the water, sometimes to the neck, for more than one league, when we stopped on the next hill of the same name, there being no dry land on any side for many leagues. Our pilots say we can not get along-that it is impossible. The whole army being over we encamped. Rain all this day; no provisions.

22d. Colonel Clark encourages his men, which gave them great spirits. Marched on in the waters. Those that were weak and famished from so much fatigue went in the canoes. We came one league farther to some sugar camps, where we staid all night. Heard the evening and morning guns from the fort. No provisions yet. Lord help us!

23d. Set off to cross the plain called Horse-shoe Plain, about four miles long, all covered with water breast high. Here we expected some of our brave men must certainly perish, having frozen in the night, and so long fasting. Having no other resource but wading this plain, or rather lake, of waters, we plunged into it with courage, Colonel Clark being first, taking care to have the boats try to take those that were weak and numbed with cold into them. Never were men so animated with the thought of avenging the wrongs done to their back settlements as this small army was.

About one o'clock we came in sight of the town. We halted on a small hill of dry land called Warren's [Warrior's] Island, where we took a prisoner hunting ducks, who informed us that no person suspected our coming at that season of the year. Colonel Clark wrote a letter by him to the in habitants, in the following manner:

GENTLEMEN-Being now within two miles of your village with my army, determined to take your fort this night, and not being willing to surprise you, I take this method to request such of you as are true citizens, and willing to enjoy the liberty I bring you, to remain still in your houses, and those, if any there be, who are friends to the king, will instantly repair to the fort and join the Hair-buyer General [alluding to the fact that Governor Hamilton had offered rewards for the scalps of Americans], and fight like men. And if any such as do not go to the fort shall be discovered afterwards, they may depend on severe punishment. On the contrary, those who are true friends to liberty may depend on being well treated; and I once more request them to keep out of the streets, for every one I find in arms on my arrival I shall treat as an enemy.
[signed] G. R. Clark.

In order to give time to publish this letter we lay still till about sundown, when we began our march, all in order, with colors flying and drums braced. After wading to the edge of the water breast high we mounted the rising ground the town is built on about eight o'clock. Lieutenant Bailey, with fourteen regulars, was detached to fire on the fort while we took possession of the town, and ordered to stay till he was relieved by another party, which was soon done. Reconnoitered about to find a place to throw up an entrenchment. Found one, and set Captain Bowman's company to work. Soon crossed the main street, about one hundred and twenty yards from the first gate. We were informed that Captain Lamath [Lamothe], with a party of twenty-five men, was out on a scout, who heard our firing and came back. We sent a party to intercept them, but missed them. However, we took one of their men, and one Captain Maisonville, a principal man, the rest making their escape under the cover of the night into the fort. The cannon played smartly. Not one of our men wounded. Men in the fort badly wounded. Fine sport for the sons of Liberty.

24th. As soon as daylight, the fort began to play her small arms briskly. One of our men got slightly wounded. About nine o'clock the colonel [Colonel Clark] sent a flag with a letter to Governor Hamilton. The firing then ceased, during which time our men were provided with a breakfast, it being the only meal of victuals since the 18th inst.

Colonel Clark's Letter, as Follows:

Sir-In order to save yourself from the impending storm that now threatens you I order you to surrender yourself, with all your garrison, stores, etc., etc., etc. For, if I am obliged to storm, you may depend on such treatment as is justly due to a murderer. Beware of destroying stores of any kind, or any papers or letters that are in your possession; for, by heavens, if you do, there shall be no mercy shown you.
[signed] G. R. Clark.

Answer from Governor Hamilton.

Governor Hamilton begs to leave to acquaint Colonel Clark that he and his garrison are not disposed to be awed into an action unworthy of British subjects.

The firing then began very hot on both sides. None of our men wounded; several of the men in the fort wounded through the portholes, which caused Governor Hamilton to send out a flag with the following letter:

Governor Hamilton proposes to Colonel Clark a truce for three days, during which time he proposes there shall be no defensive work carried on in the garrison, on condition that Colonel Clark shall observe, on his part, a like cessation of any offensive work. That is, he wishes to confer with Colonel Clark as soon as can be, and promises that whatever may pass between these two, and another person mutually agreed upon to be present, shall remain secret till matters be finished, as he wishes that whatever the result of their conference, it may be to the honor and credit of each party. If Colonel Clark makes a difficulty of coming into the fort, Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton will speak to him by the gate.
[signed] Henry Hamilton.
24th February, 1779.

Colonel Clark's Answer.

Colonel Clark's compliments to Governor Hamilton, and begs to inform him that he will not agree to any other terms than that of Mr. Hamilton's surrendering himself and garrison prisoners at discretion. If Mr. Hamilton is desirous of a conference with Colonel Clark, he will meet him at the church with Captain Helm.
February 24, 1779.
G. R. C.

The messenger returned with the above answer, during which time came a party of Indians down the hill behind the town, who had been sent by Governor Hamilton to get some scalps and prisoners from the falls of the Ohio. Our men having got news of it, pursued them, killed two on the spot, wounded three, took six prisoners-brought them into town. Two of them proving to be white men that they took prisoners, we released them, and brought the Indians to the main street before the fort gate, there tomahawked them and threw them into the river, during which time Colonel Clark and Governor Hamilton met at the church. Governor Hamilton produced certain articles of capitulation, with his name signed to them, which were refused. The colonel told him he would consult with his officers and let him know the terms he would capitulate on. Terms as follows:

1. That Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton engages to deliver up to Colonel Clark Fort Sackville, as it is at present, with all the stores, etc., etc., etc.

2. The garrison are to deliver themselves as prisoners of war, and march out with their arms and accoutrements, etc., etc.

3. The garrison to be delivered up at 10 o'clock to-morrow.

4. Three days' time to be allowed the garrison to settle their accounts with the inhabitants and traders of this place.

5. The officers of the garrison to be allowed the necessary baggage, etc., etc.

Signed at Post St. Vincent, 24th February, 1779.

Agreed to, for the following reasons: The remoteness from succor, the state and quantity of provisions, etc.; unanimity of officers and men in its expediency, the honorable terms allowed, and, lastly, the confidence in a generous enemy.
[signed] Henry Hamilton,
Lieutenany-Governor and Superintendent.

25th. About 10 o'clock Captain Bowman's and Captain McCarty's companies paraded on one side of the fort gate. Governor Hamilton and his garrison marched out, while Colonel Clark, Captains Williams' and Worthington's companies marched into the fort, relieved the sentries, hoisted the American colors, secured all the arms. Governor Hamilton marched back to the fort, shut the gate. Orders for thirteen cannon to be fired, during which time there happened a very unlucky accident, through mismanagement. There blew up twenty-six six-pound cartridges in one of the batteries, which burned Captain Bowman and Captain Worthington much, together with four privates. No account of our batteau yet.

26th. Rain all day. Captains Helm, Henry and Major Legare, with fifty men of the militia, ordered to proceed up the river with three boats, with a swivel each, to meet ten boats that were sent in October last, for provisions and stores, to Omi, and take the same in custody.

27th. The Willing, our batteau, arrived, to the great mortification of all on board, that they had not the honor to assist us. In the same came William Mires, from Williamsburgh, with very good news. Captain Bowman receives a major's commission enclosed from the governor.

28th. Nothing extraordinary.

March 1st. The officers discharged on parole. Nothing extraordinary.

2d, 3d and 4th. Wet weather.

5th. About ten o'clock Captain Helm arrived. His party took seven boats, loaded with provisions and bale goods, etc., taken from the enemy, with the following prisoners: Mr. Dejean, grand judge of Detroit; Mr. Adimar, commissary, with thirty-eight privates. Letters taken from the enemy, dated Detroit, the 6th February, say they are much afraid of our people in the spring. Pray Governor Hamilton to come back again. War was not as yet declared between France and England. Sent off a party of volunteers to Kaskaskia.

6th. A very rainy day. Nothing extraordinary.

7th. Captain Williams and Lieutenant Rogers, with twenty-five men, set off for the falls of Ohio, to conduct the following prisoners, viz., Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton, Major Hays, Captain Lamothe, Mons. Dejean, grand judge of Detroit; Lieutenant Shiflin, Dr. McBeth, Francis Maisonville, Mr. Bellefeuille, with eighteen privates. Nothing extraorginary.

8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th. Cloudy weather and rain all the foregoing week. This morning Mr. Mires set off for Williamsburg with two men.

15th. A pary of Peaians and Meami Indians waited on Colonel Clark and assured him of fidelity, etc., to the Americans, and begged protection. In the meantime, there arrived an express from Kaskaskia, by which we learn that Captain George, with forty-one men, had arrived there from New Orleans and taken command of Fort Clark, and also that James Willings had resigned his command to the said Captain George and that he and Captain Mackintire had embarked for Philadelphia. William Mires returned, not being able to go by land to the falls of Ohio, the country overflowing with water.

16th. Most of the prisoners took the oath of neutrality and got permission to set out for Detroit. Sent by them a copy of the alliance between France and the thirteen United States.

17th. Nothing extraordinary.

18th. Snow and rain the best part of the day.

19th. Orders for six boats to be made ready to return to Kaskaskia with prisoners.

20th. The boats ready and loaded. Captain McCarty takes command of The Willing; Captain Keller, Captain Worthington, Ensign Montgomery, Ensign Lorraine, each to take charge of one boat. Sergeant and six men to take the small boat called The Running Fly. About 4 o'clock the whole embarked, leaving Lieutenant Brashear in command of the fort, with Lieutenant Bailey, Lieutenant Chapline, forty men, sergeant and corporals included, to the care of the garrison till relieved from Kaskaskia. Captain Helm commands the town in all civil matters and superintendent of Indian affairs; Mr. Moses Henry, Indian agent; Mr. Patrick Kennedy, quartermaster. The boats, after rejoicing, are run out of sight. God send them a good and safe passage.

This journal was taken from Major Bowman, and revised by a person who was in the expedition. He has kept it for his own amusement, but it does not come near what might be written upon such an extraordinary occasion, had it been handled by a person who chose to enlarge upon it. It afforded matter enough to treat on. The season of the year, when undertaken, and the good conduct, shows what might have been done with an army, let the difficulties be what they will. Persevering and steadiness will surmount them all, as was the case with our brave commander and all his officers, not forgetting his soldiers. Although a handful in comparison to other armies, they have done themselves, and the cause they were fighting for, credit and honor, and deserve a place in history for future ages, that their posterity may know the difficulty their forefathers have gone through for their liberty and freedom. Particularly the back settlers of Virginia may bless the day they sent out such a commander, officers and men. I say, to root out that nest of vipers, that was every day ravaging on their women and children, which I hope will soon be at an end, as the leaders of these murderers will soon be taken and sent to congress. [This writer, of course, meant that "the leaders of these murderers" should be sent to the seat of government to receive the punishment congress might order.]

God save the commonwealth.


[On the next blank page:] God save the commonwealth, this 15th day of August, 1779.

Taken from: William Hayden English. Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 (Indianapolis, Indiana, The Bowen-Merrill Company, 1898), pp. 567-578.