Tag Archives: Frontier

Fort Stanwix: The Key to the West

Ft. Stanwix

Located near what is today Rome, New York Ft. Stanwix at one time was one of the primary guardians of the frontier world. When the construction began on August 26, 1758, during the French and Indian War, it was designated to defend the Oneida Carrying Place. An important portage that could command traffic from the Atlantic seaboard to Lake Ontario. British General John Stanwix oversaw the construction of the fort which is done in a standard star design.


In 1768 the fort was the site of a treaty conference between the British and Iroquois. The purpose of the conference was to redraw the boundary lines between the white settlements and the Indian lands based on the Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation basically forbid British subjects from settling across the Appalachian Mountains. Thus giving the Indians control of the land. Both sides hoped that the conference would lead to an end to the frontier violence that was costing both sides lives. They also cost the British a lot of money to maintain a defense force in North America.

Of course, as with most treaties of the time, no one got everything they wanted. The Iroquois maintained their boundaries in the north, much to the chagrin of the white settlers. In return, the Iroquois ceded the better part of what would become Kentucky. There was just one problem, the tribes that actually lived in that area Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee were not represented at all in the negotiations! So, of course, this treaty just paved the way for the next round of frontier violence.

American Revolution

After the treaty was signed Ft. Stanwix was abandoned and fell into disrepair until American troops occupied it in July of 1776. Officially renamed Ft Schuyler, it was repaired and fortified. In August of 1777, it came under siege by the British. At the time British General Burgoyne was leading one arm of the British army on his ill-fated Hudson River campaign. General Barry St. Ledger led another arm against the Continentals at Ft. Stanwix.

On the day that the siege began the defenders of the fort raised the flag that was based on the designed approved by Congress. For the first time, the flag of the United States of America was flown in battle. The Americans held out, thanks to General Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany, and double thanks to General Benedict Arnold. St. Ledger retreated to Canada and his defeat helped set the stage for Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga months later.

In May 1781 the fort burned down and was not rebuilt. During the War of 1812, a blockhouse was built on the site. Designated a National Monument in 1935 the fort was reconstructed between 1974 and 1978 and remains in place, run by the National Park Service and open year-round.

A. Lincoln, Soldier

A. Lincoln, Soldier

A. Lincoln, Soldier

At Lincoln’s Tomb, as you leave the entrance way and walk the hallway to the antechamber where the sarcophagus is, you are shown a number of statutes that represent certain periods of Lincoln’s life. The one above is of Lincoln the soldier. While his actual time spent in that role was short, it shaped him in a number of ways.

In early 1832 Black Hawk and a band, his followers crossed the Mississippi River in an attempt to reclaim their lands from the white settlers. This attack caused Illinois to call out there militia, among them a young man named Abraham Lincoln who would serve over the next couple of months.

Lincoln served in a number of roles during the war as he came in out of the service. At one point he was elected captain of his company, his first brush with an electoral process. Most accounts show he was a well thought of and capable leader. While he never actually saw combat during the war, he was on hand for the aftermath of several battles, tasked with helping to bury the dead each time.

Later in life, Lincoln would reflect on his time in the service. It would be one of the many starting points for his famous stories. During this period he made a number of contacts that would serve him in his career. The images of the aftermath of the war would never stray far from his mind. Of the many roles, Lincoln undertook in his life this was one of the smallest. Certainly not a legendary one. Still, that brief time did help make the 23-year-old into the man he would later become.

Book Review: Illinois in the War of 1812

Review: Illinois in the War of 1812


It is actually quite a shame that the War of 1812 does not get more focus outside the hallowed halls of academia. It was a war that didn’t need fought, was almost lost and the most famous battle was fought after the treaty was signed. Some very interesting stuff. Most of the time the focus of studies of the war deal with the fight for Canada and the Great Lakes, or the sack of Washington DC or the Battle fo New Orleans. This book by Gillum Ferguson forgoes all that t do with one certain aspect of the larger war, the frontier war in Illinois.

For the most part this was a side of the war fought between the Native Americans and the American settlers. What few regular troops were engaged by the US and the British had an impact but never enough to sway the outcome one way or the other. No, this was a war fought against the old by the new. As such the topic is one that can a little difficult because we know the ending.

Ferguson, to his credit. does not shy away from the brutality on either side.  For every Native village burned a dead settler family can be found. For every attempt at justice there was an ambush. This was not so much war as it was a contest to see who would be standing at the end.

One of the most fascinating aspects was learning about some of the Native leaders, the ones who knew that siding with the US was in their best interest, but took up the fight against them anyway. Some of the leaders, such as Gomo of the Potowatami was one of these that would do whatever was needed to protect his people. the political interplay between the tribes is something in this book that brought a new aspect to the time and struggle.

The other really great thing about the book was the author’s use of primary sources to “debunk” local legends. Some communities claim to have been the site of a famous battle, yet oddly no records of the fight exists.  Or even using sources from the time to locate where battles actually occurred in a frontier that no longer exists.

The down side is that it can be a little dry. Keeping track of the names and the geography can get a little overwhelming. It’s not a long book, but it is a meaty read. Don’t take this one lightly.

I recommend this book for anyone that more insight into the frontier wars and the impact of British and Native interactions in the period. If that sounds interesting dig in.

As always you can get a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the cover image above.



Abraham Lincoln Indian Fighter

In the Spring of 1832 the native leader Black Hawk led about 1,000 members of his tribe across the Mississippi River and into Illinois. A series of bad treaties and broken promises drove him on a quest to retake his tribes ancestral lands. There was only one thing standing in his way… Abraham Lincoln. OK, that may be a little too dramatic.

Once Black Hawk crossed the river Lincoln and other men in the area formed a militia company to stem the threat. Once enough men had gathered at the Beardstown Muster they set out to elect a Captain. The choice came down to Lincoln and William Kirkpatrick, Lincoln won over three-fourths of the vote and commissioned as captain in the 31st Regiment of Militia of Sangamon County.

Through out April and May Captain Lincoln led his troops on some very scenic marches through the back woods and trails. They would march. Camp. Draw provisions. March. Camp. Etc. The one thing they didn’t do during that time was fight. They did however find themselves drawn into the aftermath of battle at Stillman’s Runs where his men helped to bury the scalped and mutilated corpses. Though this was the closest he ever came to actual combat, the experience stayed with him through out his life.

On May 27th, having done more marching, eating and camping, his unit was mustered out of the service and hung up his captain’s commission. The next day May 28, he enlisted as a private in a another company.  His unit spent several weeks marching, camping and eating and on June 16 the unit was mustered out of the service and Lincoln was once again a civilian.

Until the next day when he enlisted in yet another company, found himself again in the aftermath of a battle on cleanup duty, and on July 10th mustered out for the last time. Later on Lincoln would explain this period of his life to his law partner, “I was out of work and there being no danger of more fighting, I could do nothing better than enlist again.”

In just about three months of active military service Lincoln fought in no battles, served in three units, was a private and a captain and helped bury the dead in the wake of two fights. Not a very auspicious time of service, but for sure it had an effect later on when he found himself Commander In Chief of the entire US military!


Movie Review: The Last of the Mohicans: Director’s Definitive Cut

The Last of the Mohicans Director's Definitive Cut


Welcome to the first in the recurring feature of movie reviews. Since this is the first one of these features I’ll tell you a little bit about how I will be doing these. First I will say outright, I am not a professional movie reviewer. I will tell you what I like and don;t like, whether I think it is worth viewing and what not. When I can I will speak to the authenticity and how well the military aspects have been captured in the film. Also I will not limit myself to American Military History for this feature, so every era and conflict is fair game.

With all said let’s start with the first feature. The Last of the Mohicans: Director’s Definitive Cut is set in the American Colonies during the French & Indian War in the middle of the 18th century. Daniel day Lewis stars as Hawkeye a white man who was adopted into the Mohican tribe who falls in love with Madeline Stowe’s character Cora Munro the daughter of a British Colonel. Yep, a love story set against the frontier war fought between the French and British with both sides using the natives as pawns in the over all game of colonial conquest.

So the verdict? Considering that there are really a few movies that deal with this particular conflict in the Americas it sort of stands in the rare air. While the war itself plays out mostly in the background it does a fair job of showing the tactics and strategy involved when fighting on the frontier. The hit and run tactics of the natives, the ambushes, the sieges, all shown in fairly accurate detail.

Director Michael Mann tells a very good story and of course Daniel Day-Lewis takes Hawkeye to a different level. If you want a flavor of what warfare on the colonial frontier looks like, watch this movie. It runs 112 minutes but it flows well. Take the chance if the subject interests you.

Book Review: History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842

A small band of native people holding off a force with superior numbers and technology. Fighting  in a dense jungle and swamp environment for what seems like forever. Sounds familiar? Well, that is one of the lessons taken from this book. John K. Mahon lays out the events of the Second Seminole War in a way that really lays out what was at stake.

Now to be honest, most people were never taught about the Seminole War, let alone the Second Seminole War and that is a shame as it sets the stage for the major conflicts that the US would be involved in for the next 100 plus years. This one dragged on for over seven years and was by no means a guaranteed US victory.

In his book Mahon breaks down the combatants of both sides trying to show what they were fighting for, but at the same time he engages in a level of military history that truly brings the war into a very keen focus. Mahon does not shy away from the atrocities that were committed by both sides or even the politics that exacerbated the conflict.

It would be cliché to say that this book brings to light a little known aspect of American history, but it is true nevertheless. Conflict between the Americans and the Natives was nothing new, but this conflict would become a template in the future. This book is well worth the read and could open up an entire new world to the reader.

Book Review: Frontiersmen in Blue

Robert Utley is by far one of the most accomplished experts in his field and that shows in the composition of this book. Dealing with the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War, Utley provides several different views of the period and the task in front of the men in blue.

From the end of the Mexican War, the role of the US Army was focused on expansion of existing trading routs and helping to create settlements that would soon be feeding the great westward migration. At the same time they had to secure much of the vast new mineral wealth that was gained from the war. The men that undertook this task were a special breed and were not always fitted to the role.’

Of course at the center of the story is the many Indian tribes that already lived out on the plains. These people lived a different sort of life, one that was so different from the Americans that the two sides were never going to be able to coexist. Utley spends a lot of time on these conflicts, societal and military that lead to atrocities on both sides of the equation. Once the two groups came into conflict and the Eastern politicians got involved, things became even more messy.

The final sections of the book deal with the coming Civil War and how this small frontier force of regulars would take in and integrate the huge number of “volunteers” that would swell its ranks.

The most interesting aspect of this book is that it sets the stage for the plains wars of the post Civil War era which most people are much more familiar with. In the end it is a good read and is highly recommended.